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Sure, Presiding Officer.
The points that Willie Coffey made about the digital single market are valid and should be taken on board by all parties in the Parliament. In addressing the issue of the skills gap, he mentioned that 12,500 IT places require to be filled and that we are producing enough skilled people to fill only 5,000 of those. That is an astonishing figure. I did some research on the issue ahead of the debate. The problem goes back to the take-up of computing science in schools. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of pupils who studied computing science dropped from 4,496 to 4,091, at a time when technology continued to expand. That correlates with a reduction in the number of teachers of the subject from 766 to 595.
I am sure that when he winds up the debate, the minister will talk up what the Scottish Government is doing on digital, but it faces a big challenge that runs all the way through schools, colleges and universities into industry.
A number of members have covered the dangers of Brexit, and Willie Rennie and Joan McAlpine made very good points about the customs union. However, we frequently hear speeches warning about the dangers of Brexit, the collapse of trading arrangements and the impact that that will have on the economy; we also heard earlier from the finance secretary that there will be £1 billion black hole in the Scottish budget up to 2023, and he attributed a lot of that to Brexit. People cannot make all those statements and submit all that evidence then propose having a second independence referendum while ignoring the fact that 60 per cent of our trade is with the rest of the UK. That is almost turning a blind eye to reality.
At a time when we need to deal with export issues, the wider issues in the economy and the crisis in public services, the Government wants to embark on the vanity project of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill and waste Parliament’s time and public money on a diversion, rather than focus on those real issues that affect people in local communities and businesses. Let us deal with the issues that we were sent to the Parliament to address.