Tourism in Scotland

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7 June 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-09340, in the name of Liz Smith, on prioritising Scottish tourism. I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak button.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

We are remarkably privileged to live in the landscape of Scotland. The beauty of our dramatic scenery, the rich diversity of our culture, our history and ancient monuments and our sporting attractions are just some of the reasons why visitors want to come here. It is true that visitors can also encounter some difficulties—usually with the weather and the perennial challenge of our midges—but tourism is in our DNA. Not only is the sector essential to our global appeal; it is the prerequisite for rebuilding our economy and stimulating economic growth, which we desperately need, given the Scottish Government’s current balance sheet, which the Finance and Public Administration Committee was scrutinising yesterday.

We should never forget that an overwhelming number of tourism enterprises are small businesses, like the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum, whose owner was in touch with me this morning about the hospitality unlimited project. Small businesses are always the backbone of any economy; according to the most recent statistics, they make up 96 per cent of the sector. Make no mistake: the sector feels so badly let down because of the Scottish Government’s failure to prioritise its needs, especially in rural and island areas.

A couple of months ago, Marc Crothall, the chief executive officer of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said:

“The industry is experiencing the double whammy from inflation and the policy pain that is adding costs which could put many out of business altogether.”

He went on to say:

“This is entirely the wrong time for the Scottish Government to be piloting policies that will do limited good and risk maximum harm.”

At the weekend, in

The Herald

, the owner of a self-catering cottage in the Western Isles—who was previously a member of the Scottish National Party, apparently—denounced what he described as “the perfect storm” of SNP policies that could potentially mirror the demographic consequences of the Highland clearances.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Liz Smith listed a number of things in her motion that she says are down to the SNP. Does she have any space in that list for energy costs, interest rate rises, inflation or the effects of Brexit—or do those not matter?

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I say to Mr Brown that I am on record as having spoken several times about the effect of Brexit and the difficulties of the labour supply, but I will not take any lectures from a Scottish Government that refuses to address the point that, despite the healthy increase in migration to the UK, Scotland is hardly seeing any benefit, which begs the question why people will not come here in the first place.

Let us examine the elements of that perfect storm. I will start with infrastructure. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry disruptions and subsequent cancellations have caused between a 30 per cent and a 50 per cent reduction in accommodation bookings for most of our islands, including Mull, Iona, Arran, Lewis, Harris and South Uist—the list goes on. Ferry disruption has played a major part in disrupting the tourism industry. I am sure that that is exactly why Alasdair Allan quite rightly questioned the First Minister last week about the serious implications of those cancellations.

There were demonstrations at Lochboisdale last weekend, with business leaders furious that there will be no compensation from the Scottish Government for all the disruption.

Then there are the significant issues on the A9 and the A96 and the broken promises regarding the dualling of those critical road networks—already the subject of so many debates and questions in this chamber. I am not sure where Richard Lochhead is today, but if he wants to hear about the long-term effects of that at first hand, he does not have to listen to just my Conservative colleagues, who have been assiduous in highlighting the dangers for many months, and perhaps years; he can listen to his own constituents, to Highland Council, to Transport Scotland and of course to his own colleagues Fergus Ewing and Emma Roddick, who know exactly what the effects are, not just for safety but for tourism across the whole Highland region. Other countries do not have to put up with such blight on their infrastructure and connectivity and it is high time that the SNP-Green Government recognises just how damaging the effects have been.

However, it is not just the weak infrastructure and connectivity that are causing problems. A third of Scottish Tourism Alliance representatives have cited the short-term lets licensing policy as the biggest challenge. The alliance has criticised the SNP-Green Government for failing to recognise the knock-on effects of self-caterers giving up their properties and leaving them lying empty on local employment and on the sustainability of small rural communities. In Edinburgh, eye-watering fees are being charged ahead of the festival and the fringe, undermining the availability of accommodation.

All of that is happening when businesses are having to cope with inflation, high energy costs and the fallout from the Scottish Government’s chaotic deposit return scheme. The UK Short Term Accommodation Association said that the introduction of the scheme could have lasting and damaging effects on Scotland’s tourism economy. On top of that, local authorities will have the power to introduce a visitor levy. UK Hospitality Scotland said that the introduction of the levy would leave so many hospitality businesses frustrated, yet again, by other costs coming to a sector that is so much in difficulty—

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I will not just now, if the cabinet secretary does not mind.

That is making Scotland uncompetitive in relation to the rest of the UK—something that we already know is happening with general taxation.

Fiona Campbell of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers condemned the visitor levy being introduced at a time when the sector was already being hit by what she described as a “juggernaut of regulation”. It is that combination of regulation and red tape, of increased costs and the failure of the Scottish Government to match the 75 per cent business rates relief that was awarded in the rest of the UK—despite it having the Barnett consequentials to do so—that is causing so much concern.

We know, too, that, along with several other sectors, tourism has made very well known its views about the general anti-business agenda of the SNP and the Greens, although I think that the current minister is trying to address some of that. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce warned that the combined effect would be that Scotland would become

“a less attractive place to live and work”.

The minister would also be well advised to listen to the concerns of the Economy and Fair Work Committee, which wrote to the Scottish Government during the pre-budget process to say that tourism has suffered a cut in cash terms from £51.2 million down to £49.4 million at the very time when many new tourism enterprises in Scotland have the lowest survival rate.

I return to my original point: a strong tourism sector should be at the heart of Scotland’s DNA but, with this Scottish Government, that is very far from being the case. I know that Richard Lochhead likes to tell us that he is the minister for tourism, but the sector feels otherwise; it feels perplexed that his role has been subsumed into the more general portfolio of small business and innovation.

I call on the Scottish Government to look at the whole issue again—it needs a blueprint to address deep-seated concerns.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that the tourism sector is a crucial element in the future sustainability of the Scottish economy; regrets the SNP-Scottish Green Party administration’s failure to prioritise tourism, and the weaknesses in Scotland’s infrastructure with the resulting detrimental effect on connectivity across rural and island areas, including failures in ferry services and the delay in progressing the dualling of both the A9 and the A96; notes the concern amongst the hospitality sector about the introduction of a visitor levy; condemns the flawed short-term lets policy and an anti-business agenda, which has resulted in additional costs and red tape for those across the tourism sector, and calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward an urgent blueprint to address the deep-seated concerns of the tourism sector and its related industries.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

As cabinet secretary for the wellbeing economy and as a proud Orcadian, I simply do not recognise the picture of Scottish tourism that the Conservatives, through Liz Smith, have just attempted to paint. The Government’s track record on tourism is one of unwavering support, and rightly so, as tourism is a jewel in the crown of Scotland’s economy, driving growth, creating employment and showcasing the beauty of our nation, our history and our culture to the rest of the world—as Liz Smith rightly outlined at the start of her speech. I assure members that our Government recognises the significance of tourism and remains committed to supporting and fostering its success.

First, let me address the claim at the end of Liz Smith’s speech that the SNP-Green Government lacks a dedicated tourism minister. Although ministerial titles change, our responsibilities are absolutely set. Placing tourism at the heart of the responsibility of the Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade—Liz Smith recognised that the majority of tourism businesses are small businesses—demonstrates and strengthens the sector’s position, rather than diminishing it.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

Why, then, is the tourism sector complaining that it is perplexed that there is no dedicated tourism minister?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I have regularly spoken to Marc Crothall and others in the sector and have reassured them. Richard Lochhead’s engagement with the sector since his appointment as minister would have confirmed that reassurance. However, it is not just Richard Lochhead who is leading energetically on that front; other ministers across Government, including me in the Cabinet, are also engaged in tourism matters. We are pooling our expertise and resources in order to drive the industry forward. All signs suggest that that approach is working.

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, which were released last week, show that there were 3.2 million visits to Scotland from overseas visitors last year compared with 3.46 million visits over the same period in 2019. That recovery in demand outpaces the rest of the UK, where the comparable figure remained 25 per cent below the 2019 figure. I will repeat that, because I think that it confirms the strength of our approach in Scotland. Recovery elsewhere in the UK in 2022 was 25 per cent below 2019 numbers, whereas in Scotland, it was 7 per cent below. Furthermore, the figures show that spending from overseas visitors in Scotland has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with spend of £3.2 billion in 2022 in the tourism sector. That is up 24 per cent in nominal terms on pre-pandemic levels. That is important, because our tourism strategy, “Scotland Outlook 2030: Responsible Tourism For A Sustainable Future”, is focused on tourism as a force for good, and encouraging visitors to linger longer and contribute more. Our strategy has social, economic and environmental sustainability at its core.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I am sorry. My time is tight.

There are also promising signs that 2023 will be another great year for Scottish tourism, with numerous businesses already experiencing strong bookings and increased investment flow into the sector. This year, new direct air routes will be introduced and there is a line-up of unmissable events, such as the highly anticipated cycling world championships. All indications point to another successful year ahead for Scotland’s vibrant tourism industry. However, we are not complacent and will keep pedalling hard for success with the tourism industry for the people and businesses that are involved and the sector’s contribution to economic growth in Scotland.

Championing a vibrant tourism sector is at the heart of our national tourism strategy, which remains highly relevant and influential, even after the experiences of the past three years. The strategy was developed in close collaboration with the sector, ensuring that it reflects our shared ambition to position Scotland as a global leader in 21st-century tourism. To drive that vision, we have established the tourism and hospitality industry leadership group. Its purpose is to provide strategic direction and ensure the successful implementation of Scotland’s tourism strategy, “Outlook 2030”. Under the co-chairmanship of the minister, Richard Lochhead, and the Scottish Tourism Alliance’s chief executive, Marc Crothall, the ILG will act as a unifying force to guide the industry towards recovery, sustainable growth and excellence. It will ensure that the tourism industry is at the forefront of our wellbeing economy.

That said, many of the most pressing challenges that the sector faces lie outwith the powers that are available to us. Keith Brown made a salient intervention. An industry survey that was published on 29 May shows that high energy costs, the need to cut VAT, the impact of high inflation and the impact of Brexit on labour shortages are all key issues facing the sector—the industry has said that itself. We will continue to call on the UK Government to use its reserved powers in a manner that supports, rather than hampers, Scottish tourism.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

I am sorry. I am in my final minute.

In conclusion, I strongly reject the Opposition’s claim that the Government is doing anything other than supporting our Scottish tourism industry. Of course, there are challenges, not least ferry maintenance, which I recognise. However, our Government has consistently prioritised the tourism sector. It recognises the importance of tourism to our economy and the wellbeing of our communities and has made strategic investments in marketing, infrastructure and workforce. We have listened to the concerns of residents, businesses and industry experts and we have taken decisive steps to address them. We have seen positive results, with increased visitor numbers, economic growth, benefits for communities and enhanced international reputation. We are actively engaged in fostering the growth and success of the sector, and will continue to work with it and our partners to develop a comprehensive blueprint for the future, ensuring that Scotland remains an attractive, welcoming, prosperous destination for visitors from around the world, and realising our shared ambition to confirm Scotland as a world leader in 21st-century tourism.

I move amendment S6M-09340.2, to leave out from “believes” to end and insert:

“welcomes the role that Scotland’s world-class tourism offering plays in creating jobs, sustaining communities and enhancing appreciation of the outstanding natural environment and cultural assets right across the country; notes that there were an estimated 3.2 million overseas visits to Scotland in 2022, which is only 7% lower than in 2019, whereas the comparable figure for the rest of the UK remained 25% below 2019; further notes that the proposed legislation for a visitor levy will provide local authorities with the powers to raise additional revenue if they choose and that revenue will be invested in improving services, with benefit for both visitors and the wider community in their area, further strengthening Scotland’s tourism offer; considers that energy costs, the need to cut VAT, the impact of high inflation and the impact of Brexit on labour shortages are the key issues facing the Scottish tourism sector; calls on the UK Government to use its reserved powers in a manner that supports rather than hampers Scottish tourism, and notes that all the signs are that 2023 will be a successful year for Scotland’s tourism sector.”

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I thank Liz Smith and the Conservatives for lodging the motion for debate, because the issue is critically important. Tourism is a hugely important industry for the whole of this country, and its impacts go far beyond the associated revenues that can be seen in the narrow economic analysis that one might initially look to.

I say to the minister that this need not be a contentious debate, because Liz Smith has raised a number of points that are important to the industry and need to be resolved. Even if one does not accept Liz Smith’s characterisation of all the points—some of which I accept and some of which I do not—they need to be addressed. That is very much the tenor that I will adopt in my speech.

I was not going to comment on this issue, but I will say, with regard to having a dedicated tourism minister, that names matter, and that although it might seem superficial having “Tourism” in a minister’s title, it sends a message to the industry. I just make that point very gently.

Overall, the reason why I think that the issue is important is that Scotland has a unique advantage in respect of our brand. We have assets in this country in its geography, people and culture. They are what draw tourists here, but they are actually part of something much larger. We have a reputation and renown around the world that not only draw in tourists but mean that we do not need to introduce ourselves. People know Scotland and they know the things that are associated with it. People are always interested when we say that we are from Scotland. We also have produce and provenance that are the envy of others.

However, all of that has not been brought together in a coherent way—that is what we lack and it is what we must all collectively focus on. Other countries have done that more successfully. When we think of Ireland, California, France or Tuscany, we see that those places have a recognisable combination of place, produce, reputation, people and culture. We need to emulate such places. We can do that because we have the necessary elements. Not only would that benefit tourism, but the tourism itself would act as a calling card for all our other economic interests.

We should be in no doubt that tourism is a vital element of our economy. We need only look around the streets of Edinburgh to see the vibrancy and revenue that tourism brings. It employs 209,000 people—8 per cent of employment in Scotland. It accounts for 479,000 visits to Scotland. That figure includes not only international tourists but domestic tourists. There are 13.6 million overnight stays by people from within the UK, and 60 million day visits. Those are vital elements of our tourism economy.

We need to concentrate on supporting the industry, which has been hugely impacted by Covid, and many business owners who were genuinely worried about whether they would survive the pandemic have been hit by the cost of living crisis. Frankly, everyone who runs a kitchen is facing a huge barrier to the continued viability of their business, with bills increasing fivefold, sixfold or sevenfold. Even despite the recent declines in cost, the fact that for those businesses the cost of utilities has gone from a few per cent of their running costs to 10 or 20 per cent represents an unsustainable situation for many of them.

We also need to consider taking specific policy measures. I think that we need to revisit the issue of non-domestic rates. For hospitality businesses, non-domestic rates act as a disincentive for investment, so we must address that.

I understand Liz Smith’s concerns about the visitor levy, but I disagree with her—I never notice paying it. However, we need to ensure that the money that the levy raises is reinvested in the quality and fabric of our tourist centres.

We must also urgently revisit the short-term lets issue. I supported tackling the numbers when the issue was last addressed. In my constituency, Airbnb registrations number some 3 per cent of all addresses. However, what was brought in was burdensome and unnecessary regulation of something that was not a problem. Licensing was tackling not the number but the standards of short-term lets. No one was talking about that before. It was unnecessary legislation, in which the tail ended up wagging the dog. I believe that my colleague, Jackie Baillie, will address that further.

Ultimately, the points that Liz Smith raised around transport are vital. People can come here but, frankly, our tourism industry will struggle if those people cannot get to other parts of the country, to the islands or up the road because the ferries are not running, the roads are not adequate, the trains are not frequent enough or air routes do not exist. Although there has been some improvement, Glasgow airport is still significantly down in terms of the number of intercontinental routes.

I very much support today’s debate, but we need to help the tourism industry to embrace the future, and that is what my amendment seeks.

I move, as an amendment to motion S6M-09340, to leave out from “notes” to end and insert:

“understands that the economic crisis and cost of living are impacting the tourism industry at a time when it is still recovering from previous shocks; notes with concern the flaws in the Scottish Government’s short-term lets policy and the issues raised by businesses in the tourism sector; recognises the need for a more joined-up and proactive economic strategy, which takes into account the reality that Scottish retail, tourism and leisure businesses are operating in, including an assessment of the impact of existing Scottish Government policy decisions on the sector, and calls on the Scottish Government to bring forward an urgent blueprint to address the concerns of business in the tourism sector and related industries.”

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

That was quite an impressive all-round tour of the various issues of the tourism industry. Daniel Johnson’s contribution was in the tenor in which we should approach the debate: there is no doubt that there are some successes, but there are some really big challenges, and there are lessons for the Scottish Government as well as for the UK Government.

I will cover some of those lessons but, first, I will pay tribute to the tourism sector. It has evolved dramatically over recent decades—from castles, golf, distilleries and festivals, to food towns and book towns, to long-distance travel routes, to conference tourism—which has really taken off—to film locations in places such as Falkland in my constituency, which has the “Outlander” tour, to mountain biking. I visited the mountain bike world cup in Fort William last week. I thank goodness that I am not doing that kind of sport, but it was really impressive, and I am looking forward to the world championships, which will show off all the different parts of Scotland.

Cruise ships have dramatically changed the nature of our tourism offer, and businesses are cropping up in order to meet that demand. There are also new venues, such as the V&A Dundee and the great tapestry of Scotland, which I visited in Galashiels just last week.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I am sorry—I have only a short amount of time.

All those things are fantastic, and they are a great tribute to the sector’s entrepreneurs, who are great assets. However, sometimes the Government does not really help. I am afraid that there has been an utterly devastating effect on the ferries. I give credit to the Government for the road equivalent tariff, because when I visited the Western Isles I saw for myself the real benefit that it has brought to the islands. However, the islands have been walloped and their businesses have been decimated. We saw the anger at Lochboisdale at the weekend, where business for June has, in effect, just evaporated, which is terrible treatment of what is quite a fragile community.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I am sorry—I have only a short time.

Lochboisdale is a very fragile community, so the Government really must understand—we will cover this tomorrow—that it needs to come up with compensation, or all the gains that the RET has brought to the islands will just be wiped away.

It is beyond me why Historic Environment Scotland is taking so long to survey buildings in order to get those great assets opened again. I cannot understand it. I know the arguments about the need to put safety first, but the work has taken so long to get sorted.

The failure to dual the A9 and A96 is an insult to the Highlands. They have been promised that repeatedly for decades, but we still have not got there, so we need to sort that.

Toilets are really important and undervalued. We do a big survey every new year and, in 2007, there were 521 public toilets. I was devastated to hear that the number dropped to 355 last year. We can just imagine how elderly tourists are feeling. They are bursting to get to the toilet, but it is closed because the Government has not funded local government sufficiently to keep those buildings open.

The north coast 500 route is a great and fantastic development, but the locals feel really irritated by the state of the roads and the lack of public toilets and camping sites. Of course, they welcome the economic boost, but the Government has not really matched all that tremendous potential with appropriate support.

I have concerns about short-term lets, as Daniel Johnson has, and I have a nuanced position on the visitor levy, but there is a lesson for the Conservative UK Government—it cannot really complain about difficult economic conditions when it allowed Liz Truss to be in charge of the budget and had a really damaging Brexit.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind all members that they need to press their request-to-speak button in order to be called to speak.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am a director of a small hospitality business in the Borders.

Every year, we hear the SNP promise improved relationships with Scotland’s business community—a great reset of Government economic policy—but it goes nowhere. Sturgeon, Yousaf and the SNP have pursued the same anti-business agenda. If the SNP values Scottish tourism and all the jobs and businesses that it supports, it has a very funny way of showing it. It is making Scottish tourism businesses pay more tax than businesses south of the border; it is introducing more red tape and more regulation; and it is even making it harder for tourists to visit parts of Scotland by leaving major roads in the Borders and the north-east uninvested in.

We have heard about no investment and island communities without ferries. Beyond the purchase of a campervan, the SNP has done very little for Scottish tourism. It did not even use the campervan. Perhaps the Greens fancy a one-way trip in it. As

The Economist said,

“the country’s political class has been on a long holiday”, but not in a campervan, clearly.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

On the campervan? Not just now, thank you.

In the past, we could address some of those concerns to the Scottish Government tourism minister. Now there is no such post; tourism has been demoted to a small footnote at the end of somebody else’s responsibilities. Therefore, it is somebody else’s problem.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

No, thanks.

That is a disappointing approach, because tourism is an integral part of Scotland’s economy. Before Covid hit, the tourism sector accounted for one in every 11 jobs. Such jobs are really important to rural communities, including those in my constituency in the Borders. On Monday, it was a pleasure to visit an agritourism business, Bairnkine farm, which is diversifying, developing its farm cottages and employing people. It is also giving walking trails to people who are visiting the area.

I also visited the River Tweed Commission. We know how important salmon fishing is to the River Tweed. One of the employees said:

“Kelso is to salmon angling what St Andrews is to golf”.

Whether it is a river, a farm or a natural asset, these fantastic events, attractions and natural assets are so important to rural areas.

However, the tourism sector is succeeding on its own, in spite of the SNP Government. While enterprises elsewhere in the UK benefit from 75 per cent rates relief, the SNP chooses not to match that relief for Scottish businesses. While other Governments try to attract visitors, the SNP wants to bring in a tourism tax to hike the price of accommodation during a cost of living crisis. While Scotland’s tourism industry gets back on its feet after Covid, the SNP has brought in harmful short-term lets legislation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member has 50 seconds left, so it would have to be very brief.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

That legislation is another SNP policy that, according to the Scottish Tourism Alliance,

“will do limited good and risk maximum harm.”

The SNP will drive tourists and the jobs that they support away from Scotland with their hardline anti-business agenda.

The Government needs to stop talking about a reset with Scottish businesses and get on with it. It can begin by abandoning short-term lets legislation, scrapping the tourism tax, providing Scottish businesses with the same support as elsewhere in the UK, ditching the independence minister, bringing in a tourism minister and producing an urgent blueprint to support Scotland’s tourism sector.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I was delighted to see that tourism was to be discussed in the chamber, and then I saw the motion. It is a misleading attempt to score political points at the expense of one of Scotland’s most important sectors. It starts off with a false assertion and continues to cherry pick problems and pretend that there can be simplistic solutions to complex issues.

Worse still, what we have heard ignores energy bills, interest rates, the impact of inflation and—

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

How important does the member think the ferries are for our island communities and other rural communities? Does he take responsibility for his Government’s utter failure to deliver the two ferries and the impact that that is having?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I am not in the Government. I have two words: Chris Grayling. He awarded £14 million to a ferry company that had no ferries.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

No—I have only four minutes.

Two years ago, the Tories promised to improve ferry service to the Isles of Scilly. They have not even put that out to tender.

Trying to ignore the real impact of energy costs, interest rates, inflation and Brexit on the tourism industry is the real hardline anti-business agenda that has been spoken about before.

In my constituency, the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal will see the Scottish Government invest £15 million to enhance the cultural, heritage and tourism offering, aiming to attract even more people from across Scotland, the UK and the world to our spectacular region.

The Scottish Government’s tourism strategy was laid out in March 2020—the month that the pandemic hit hard. This morning, I heard Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, say that the huge waiting lists in the national health service in England were due to the pandemic, which affected every Administration around the world. We hear no mention of that from the Scottish Conservatives. This is not a serious motion about the tourism industry in Scotland.

The figures show that the sector is recovering well—it is returning to the positive growth figures that we were seeing before the pandemic. The Scottish quarterly gross domestic product index for sustainable tourism, which plummeted during the pandemic, is now back to pre-pandemic levels and moving in an upwards trajectory. Indeed, employment in the sector increased by 10.6 per cent over the latest year.

It is worth mentioning employment. We used to get a monthly bulletin from Murdo Fraser celebrating every time the UK outperformed Scotland’s rate of employment, but he has not said a word for the past few months as Scotland has outperformed the UK in relation to the rates of employment, economic activity and unemployment.

There is no room for complacency, but there is no place for a doom-laden pronouncement either. It is the usual from the Conservatives: they are talking Scotland down.

The A9 was mentioned. The first priority of the Tory party, as of the Labour Party—this was certainly the case when I joined this Parliament—was to vote for £500 million to be spent on the trams in Edinburgh. That was their priority, not the A9 or the A96, which this Government has progressed. What we inherited from previous Labour and Tory Governments was in an abysmal state.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I have said that I am not taking any more interventions.

The fact is that some parts of that route present some severe engineering challenges. Everyone knows that, especially those who use it.

What has not been mentioned? The investment in the Aberdeen western peripheral route; the Borders railway line, which is the longest rail extension in the UK for 100 years; and the Queensferry crossing. As Willie Rennie mentioned, RET had a massive impact in parts of the country, too.

The two biggest on-going barriers to growth for the tourism economy in Scotland are entirely of the Tories’ making, and they should be facing up to that. The first is the fall-out from the failings of its disastrous economic policies—we have heard about Liz Truss. The second is the effect of Scotland being dragged out of the European Union against our wishes, ending freedom of movement, making it harder for visitors to come here and causing major employment headaches for many sectors, particularly, it must be stressed, the hospitality sector. The Tories are the ones who are undermining the tourism industry in Scotland. Their motion should have at least acknowledged that.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

I recognise the serious shocks and challenges that our tourism industry has overcome and is having to overcome. From the pandemic to the subsequent financial pressures, it has been an extremely tough time, and we must give the tourism sector the reassurance that it requires.

I wish to look at the reality for many working in the tourism sector. It is one of low pay, inconvenient hours and poor conditions. Despite the efforts of some, such as Living Wage Scotland and many in the industry, the uncertainty that the pandemic brought will live long in the memory of those impacted. The abrupt end to employment, people living in fear about when the next pay packet might arrive and concerns about whether food could be put on the table were too much for some. We know that many did not return—that is understandable, because the sector often feels a bit like that all the time.

If we want a thriving tourism sector, we need to support a well-paid workforce and we need to value the skill and effort that so many put into ensuring that the sector continues to survive.

I note from the cabinet secretary’s self-congratulatory amendment that he takes no responsibility for the Government’s inaction in this area. He is right to attack the Tories for their reckless decision making, their dismal management of the economy and their failure to address problems that are linked to labour shortages. However, the reality is that the Scottish Government has failed to connect our rural areas to our international and regional transport hubs, and it has cut the budgets of local authorities, meaning that it is increasingly challenging to invest in local sites that are of interest to Scots and tourists alike. Scotland’s tourism sector has two Governments that are letting it down: a reckless Tory one at Westminster and an often incompetent SNP one here at Holyrood. Scotland needs change.

I look to the historic area of Ayrshire, in my South Scotland region, and I look at the beaches, the castles and the museums. I love the fact that Willie Rennie brought in some of the other aspects of tourism such as food, culture and cycling. Those places are loved and visited by many, but they are inaccessible to so many others because of the poor connectivity and transport links and the investment that is needed at local community levels.

We are incredibly lucky to have so many historic sites in villages, towns and cities. We have a country with sites of interest at every corner. We have a brand, and we do not need to market it—it is there—but we are falling short of the mark when it comes to supporting the communities that support tourism if we do not offer strong career prospects in the sector and boost that essential connectivity.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the importance of properly supporting our rural college sector, to show that we truly prioritise our rural tourism sector where much of the training for that sector takes place. Last month, I had the honour of visiting the Borders College Newtown St Boswells campus, where I heard staff and students alike express the severe and desperate challenges that colleges face, particularly in rural areas. When it is combined with the challenges that are linked to labour shortages, the Scottish Government’s inaction as our tourism sector in rural areas is crying out for skills is apparent. Those colleges can help our rural areas boost our tourism sector.

It is right that we debate this topic this evening. As I mentioned, I understand the cabinet secretary’s will to focus on the shocking policies and decisions of the Tory Government at Westminster. There is no doubt that its actions are having a direct impact on our tourism sector. However, the Scottish Government consistently fails to recognise its own role in the challenges that many sectors in Scotland face.

It fails to invest in local authorities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude, Ms Mochan.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

Scotland needs change. It needs change now.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

I declare an interest in that I jointly own a fishery on the river Spey that relies on tourism and contributes to the £20 million that is generated by fishing on Speyside alone.

Scotland has a great story to tell when it comes to tourism. We have a sector that contributes £4.5 billion to our economy, that accounts for one in 11 jobs and that sees visitors spend over £1 billion on eating and drinking as well. That is the good news.

Only a fool would kill the goose that lays the golden egg. That is what we seem to be seeing this afternoon, and it is extremely dangerous. We seem to be hearing from industry that things are going badly wrong. We have heard from the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance that Government policies

“will do limited good and risk maximum harm”.

Why would you do that? Why would anyone do that?

Some of the failings that we have heard about this afternoon are quite interesting. We have talked about transport. We have some great destinations up in the Highlands and Islands, and we would love people to come and visit them, but they cannot. Why? Because there are no ferries, or the ferries are delayed, or they are broken down, or there is booking chaos.

I am really interested that Keith Brown is sitting at the back of the chamber and will not comment on the ferries when he is one of the people who contributed to the fact that 801 and 802 were not delivered on time. What islanders would say to Mr Brown is, “Shame on you,” because they are losing out.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that there has been more investment in ferries by this Government than by any previous Government? [


.] Does he accept that the Government that he supports gave £14 million to a ferry company that had no ferries?

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

What I will accept is that the last new ferry that was delivered to the Scottish ferry fleet was in 2015. For goodness’ sake, we are eight years on. We need some new ferries. Get on with it. We were promised them in 2016.

I know of businesses across the Highlands and Islands that are already cutting their commitments for 2024. About 10 per cent of them are wondering whether they should stop being in business. A lot of businesses are getting cancellations from repeat customers because they cannot guarantee that they will be able to arrive on time—what a sorry state of affairs that is.

We have heard briefly about the A9. I will not reiterate all the points, but I travel on the road twice a week, as I come down to Parliament and go back home on it. Tourists who use the A9 to get up to or around the Highlands will be as shocked as I am when I drive on it, not only by the potholes but by the driving and the standard of the road, which are extremely poor. In 2007, we were promised that we would get a new A9, but it still has not been delivered.

I will touch briefly on short-term lets. We have discussed those and the Government has legislated on them. That is a really bad idea in the Highlands and Islands, because we rely on short-term lets to get tourists to come to the area and spend money in the local economy. The local authority has been tasked with sorting out the licensing scheme, but it has dealt with only about one fifth of the applications that it has received. Since March this year, some applications in Highland Council have been put on hold because the process is too difficult to deliver. [



If the cabinet secretary wants to stand up and tell me that I am wrong, he should do that. If not, I would suggest—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You are about to conclude, Mr Mountain.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

Oh—I am in my last minute. I am sorry, cabinet secretary.

As well as the problem with short-term lets, which I am happy to discuss later with the cabinet secretary, the idea of a tourism tax has been raised. A tourism tax will not work. The reason why it works in Europe is that there is a lower rate of VAT there.

In summary, I say to the Government: please do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. That is exactly what it is doing at the moment.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I am delighted to speak in this debate on the hugely important tourism sector. It is important to recognise that the sector is, in effect, part of Scotland’s export economy, as it contributes to Scotland’s significance in the world and projects our culture, values and what we have to offer. The sector is also a huge contributor to inward investment and exports in other sectors, not least our hugely vibrant food and drink sector. The centrality of the tourism sector to Scotland’s economy is significant.

It has been great to see the rebound of the sector post-Covid and that it is in a better shape than the sector across the rest of the UK. Willie Rennie’s world tour of Scotland was great. He talked about traditional and new offerings in the sector as it continues to modernise. At the heart of that success has been a Government-industry collaboration and partnership that stretches back to before my time as a minister, when Fergus Ewing was a minister, and perhaps before that. I pay tribute to Fergus for working with the sector to bring forward the “Scotland Outlook 2030: Responsible tourism for a sustainable future” strategy, which the whole sector has coalesced behind. People in the industry talk about the strategy relentlessly and everybody is focused on delivering all aspects of it for people, places, businesses and memorable experiences.

It is great to hear that the Government is carrying on with the work of the industry leadership group. The setting up of that group has allowed the sector to coalesce and take forward the strategy with some really serious thinking and work on how to deliver it in the future. I am delighted that fair work is a huge part of that and that the Unite Hospitality union is part of the industry leadership group. Sustainability and achieving net zero are also important parts of the ILG. We can see the work that is being taken forward to deliver our wellbeing economy ambitions for the sector.

That kind of gives the lie to the comments in the Tory motion that the sector does not work with Government and that there is not very strong collaboration. However, it is hugely important that, to deliver on the strategy, some more immediate challenges need to be addressed. Some of those have been spoken about already. One is the issue of cost inflation and energy costs, which is a direct consequence of UK Government policy. There are labour shortages, which are largely a consequence of Brexit and the drying up of the labour pool. Skills are, of course, a central issue in the strategy for the sector.

Regulation has been mentioned, and it is a hugely important part of the work with the sector. With the transient visitor levy, there is a real opportunity to work closely with the sector at the outset to design something that works for the sector. I know that the minister, Tom Arthur, understands that and is involved in the process. We can really show how to do regulation well if we get that right and recognise that the value raised from that tax has to be used to support the tourism sector with investment.

I know that there are still wrinkles in the short-term let proposals, but the Government is working hard to iron out those anomalies.

I have a question for the Government. To be frank, I am not quite sure how the new deal business sub-group on regulation interacts with the business regulation task force and Russel Griggs’s regulatory review group, so some clarity on how all those groups knit together would be welcome.

As we all know, investment in the infrastructure that supports the sector is hugely important. Keith Brown gave some examples of investment in our rail and road networks across the country. It is too easy to forget things that have been done in the past, but we cannot get away from the fact that more needs to be done. Road connectivity has been mentioned, and it is hugely important that the work on the A9 and the A96 is taken forward as soon as possible.

International route connectivity is important, and I pay tribute to the work of VisitScotland, Scottish Development International and others in the sector. Last night, I had a great meeting with airlines in that regard. More international routes are coming on stream, but more are, of course, required. There also needs to be investment in marketing to support the sector internationally.

Reliability of connectivity, particularly to our islands, is hugely important—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude, Mr McKee.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

—and I know that the Government will work hard to ensure that that is addressed, because the last thing that we need is unreliability leading to tour operators delisting islands, which results in business being turned away.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr McKee. You need to conclude. I call Maggie Chapman.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

I look forward to the new transport minister delivering on all of that.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

The Tory motion is a highly principled one. Unfortunately, they are Tory principles. The motion represents an attempt to enforce redistribution by redistributing from the poor to the rich; to ensure sustainability through the sustaining of wealth and privilege; and to embed wellbeing—the being and the doing well of corporations and elites. As usual, the Tories have everything the wrong way round.

As the rest of us have realised, the purpose of an economy is to enable wellbeing—health, fair work, family life, a clean environment and the exchange of beneficial goods and services. Only a few diehards still indulge impossible fantasies of infinite growth on a finite planet.

For the Tories, it seems that tourism is nothing but another extractive industry—a kind of machine through which landscapes, communities and ecosystems are chewed up to produce a dribble or, better, a torrent of profit for those who already own too much.

However, from a human perspective, the purpose of tourism is to enable people to rest and relax; to explore this amazing planet and the extraordinary histories of its inhabitants; to learn about other cultures and their own; to exchange friendships, creative ideas and understandings; and to live better and more gently on our shared earth.

Of course, that requires businesses to provide accommodation, catering and activities to enable experiences and encounters for people living locally and those travelling from afar. Those businesses deserve support when they themselves are a part of the local community in acting to protect and enhance their natural and built environments, encouraging the circulation of tourist income within the local economy, being committed to fair work practices and offering affordable leisure opportunities to those who live and work nearby.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I think that the member is making a point about balance and sustainability in relation to tourism. Would that involve ensuring that all employers in the tourism sector pay the real living wage and treat their employees well? Of course, given that there is labour scarcity—

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

—we could allow our asylum seekers to work—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Resume your seat, Mr Doris.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

I absolutely agree with the sentiment that Bob Doris has expressed in relation to asylum seekers and all employees being paid the living wage.

Good tourism enhances a local area, whether rural or urban, as it brings a renewed appreciation of place, history and tradition; vibrant hospitality; retail and social initiatives; secure jobs and livelihoods; and much-needed income. That is why best practice in many of the world’s most sought-after destinations is to permit a visitor levy. Barcelona has had one since 2012, and the levy has attracted quality tourism, sustained the city’s budget and funded improvements to the city’s infrastructure. Why do the Tories think that Scottish towns, cities and communities do not deserve the same? Do they have so little faith in our country that they do not think that it is worth paying to visit?

Those of us who are proud of Scotland, whether we grew up here or chose to make it our home, know why visitors come here. Yes, it is for the beauty of our landscape, where we have rescued it from the threats of fracking or theme parks; it is for the richness of our biodiversity, which would be all the richer for bolder rewilding; it is for the purity of our rivers and streams, which would be cleaner and safer without the curse of broken glass; and it is for the opportunities to roam our countryside, which would be wider were it not for the grouse playgrounds of the rich. But it is also for our dynamic towns and cities; for what a young Kiwi visitor this week called “the vibe of the place”; for the sense of a Scotland making its own way, learning from the best practices of progressive nations around the world and opening its doors and heart in welcome, especially to those people who are not welcomed elsewhere.

There is a road that is key to Scotland’s future tourism. It is neither the A9 nor the A96. It Kenmure street and the community spirit, solidarity and culture of welcome that it represents.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Christine Grahame, who is the final speaker in the open debate, for a strict four minutes.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

You do not have to be a Borders MSP to realise the significance of tourism and its related benefits to local retail and the transport sector, but it helps. In my constituency, there are so many tourist destinations you can trip over them. They range from the large, such as Melrose abbey, Abbotsford, the Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels, and the national mining museum of Scotland in Newtongrange, which has an exhibition in Parliament today, to the small, such as the Trimontium museum—it is all about the Romans—again in Melrose, and the diminutive paper-making museum in Penicuik, where you can actually make paper.

Financial support in the form of Scottish Government grants stretches across the sectors. Almost £7 million was committed to the Great Tapestry of Scotland project from the Scottish Government’s regeneration capital grant fund, the Borders railway blueprint programme and the Scottish Borders Council.

Trimontium most recently received £400,000 via South of Scotland Enterprise, which is itself funded by the Scottish Government—I visited Trimontium on Monday to enjoy the new, funded high-spec extension, which is already being used for educational purposes. Newtongrange’s mining museum recently received further funding, too, through the £1 million that was allocated to museums, as did Abbotsford, so there is continuing support for landmark attractions.

You have to factor in, too, the support for public transport—the Borders railway, the extended concessionary fare scheme, the support for ScotRail and, of course, the funding that was put in to support the transport and hospitality sectors and other businesses during Covid, when, for example, £129 million was provided to the sector in response to the immediate recommendations of the Scottish tourism recovery task force.

Indeed, I commend local businesses during that period, some of which received Covid funding and some which did not. In Peebles, the Tontine hotel, which is an iconic building at the end of the high street, secured not insubstantial funding through SOSE—again, that is Scottish Government funding.

Stobo Castle health spa near Peebles received Covid support but, with no guests, the proprietor took the opportunity to refurbish and redecorate. That was done in the modest Central bar, too, which is a free house in Peebles that did not qualify for Covid support but where, again, the owner updated the decor both inside and out—it now looks just braw.

One of the real difficulties for hospitality now, which is raised with me time and again, and which contributed at one time to a shortage of bus drivers, is lack of staff since Brexit. When you add in inflation on all fronts—for example, for food, fuel or any building works—it remains tough, no matter the support that the Scottish Government gives. The UK has one of the highest rates of inflation in the G20, according to today’s release from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Part of the solution is in our hands. If you can, even in these austere times, try a holiday or a wee break at home, or simply visit and explore your own town or country—you will surprise yourself, certainly help the local economy and support businesses locally, which deserve it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to closing speeches. I call Jackie Baillie for a strict four minutes.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I welcome the opportunity to close the debate for the Scottish Labour Party, not least because the area that I represent is among the most beautiful in Scotland, attracting tourists and visitors who come from near and far.

Tourism matters enormously to the local and national economy. The cabinet secretary mentioned the more than 3 million visitors, spending more than £3 billion. You need only spend a few minutes in Luss, in my constituency, to see the army of visitors from America, China, Europe and the rest of the UK, who are all spending money on accommodation, food and drink, entertainment and souvenirs to take home. That value is now growing again, after the difficult years of the pandemic, with increased numbers of visitors returning to Loch Lomond. Indeed, that is happening across Scotland. It is such a joy to hear all the different accents and languages as you venture down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

But is the Government doing enough to capitalise on the opportunity that tourism presents for Scotland? This afternoon has demonstrated areas of concern, though there is much that we can agree on. There is, however, a real problem for the Government with implementation, and the problem is not confined to this area of debate. We have a plethora of legislation and policy that is all very worthy, but its implementation is poor and the unintended consequences are legion.

Let me illustrate that by talking about short-term lets. We must remember that this is the legislation that the Scottish Government has already delayed by six months to allow for dialogue with the sector, so that problems and concerns could be ironed out, which we welcomed. There has been lots of chat and there have been industry working groups, but not one single change has been made, and there are 81 days to go to implementation. In that time, all self-catering, bed and breakfast and other accommodation units need to apply to their local authority for a licence. Local authorities are struggling and there is no consistency, but, actually, that is not their fault. It appears that the Government has failed to provide any guidance whatsoever. It was promised for 12 May, but it was not delivered.

Let me tell you about the problem in Argyll and Bute. There are some 8,000 to 10,000 self-catering units across the area, including B and Bs, yurts, glamping pods and home shares—the lot. Some 2,354 of those are paying non-domestic rates. So far, 427 have applied but only 53 licences have been granted—out of more than 8,000 units—and we have 81 days to go. There is no chance of those units being licensed in time. Across Scotland, 20 per cent of units have applied and 2 per cent have received licences. Self-catering units and local authorities face an impossible task, all because the SNP Government does not think about implementation.

Of the plethora of suggested changes, such as local authorities being able to issue provisional licences to enable investment in new provision, has anything—even just one thing—been taken forward? The answer is no, not one. That disappointing position was confirmed to the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers in a letter from the Minister for Housing, Paul McLennan, yesterday. There you have it: the SNP Government is deaf to the needs of business and incompetent at the practical implementation, and it charges on regardless. Unfortunately, that is a hallmark of the SNP’s approach to government, but it has profound consequences for the tourism sector in Scotland.

I agree with much of what Daniel Johnson, Willie Rennie and Carol Mochan had to say. We need to make much more of the opportunity and potential of tourism and we need to invest in brand Scotland, but where are the new flights and ferries to get visitors to our beautiful islands, what about roads such as the A82, A83, A9 and A96 and, as Willie Rennie said, where are the toilets?

We have—

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

—amazing natural assets, but this SNP Government needs to do more to positively harness and support the opportunity for the sector to grow.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Tom Arthur to close for the Government. Minister, you have a tight five minutes.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I thank members for their contributions and Liz Smith for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

Regardless of the particular views that we might have in a political context, we all recognise that Scotland has so much to be proud of in our tourism sector. I put on record my thanks to all those who work across our tourism sector for the jobs that they create, the economic contribution that they make and the opportunities that they create for so many people.

From the significant post-pandemic recovery, we have seen just how resilient the sector is, and we have a shared ambition to see a flourishing tourism sector for all of Scotland. We particularly recognise the contribution that tourism makes to our wider economies, whether that is helping to populate our city and town centres, supporting the wider retail, hospitality and leisure offering or providing jobs and economic activity in some of our most remote and fragile communities. We all have a shared interest in seeing a flourishing tourism sector in Scotland.

In the Government, we are committed to doing all that we can to support our tourism sector. I want to turn to the points that have been raised and the substantive point around regulation, which is something that the Scottish Government has recognised and which the First Minister and the cabinet secretary have been clear on. I assure Mr McKee that we continue to take forward the work of the joint task force on regulation, which is forming part of the new deal. It is integrated into that process and is a key priority. Implementation is key.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

That is all fine, but what does he think about public toilets? [



Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

He sets me up nicely. They are incredibly important. I recognise that there were some chuckles, but Willie Rennie makes a very serious point. Recognising that they are a local government responsibility, we are committed to providing a discretionary power for local government to implement, should they wish, in order to generate additional revenue to invest in their local visitor economies.

That is exactly what the visitor levy bill will deliver, if it is passed by Parliament. I welcome the support that it has received from the Labour Party and the close collaboration that we have had with industry and COSLA. I also recognise the positive comments that have been made by the Scottish Tourism Alliance, recognising the approach that we are taking in asking VisitScotland to establish an expert group to ensure that we have the best guidance and implementation. I also highlight that the STA has also said that we should look at the visitor levy as something that can be a “force for good”.

Visitor levies are commonplace across Europe and provide an opportunity to generate additional revenue. The way in which that revenue will be deployed will, ultimately, be for local authorities to determine, but it will be the result of consultation and collaboration with businesses and communities. I would ask all members to engage constructively, including those who may have an in-principle opposition to a visitor levy. My door is open to constructive engagement, because it is vital that we get this right.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

As the minister for public finance, Tom Arthur rightly challenges us and other parties when we call for reductions in taxation. I note that the amendment from his colleague talks about cuts to VAT. Can I therefore ask him by how much he would cut VAT, how the cut would be funded and what the total cost would be?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you some of that time back, minister.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

Of course, one of the benefits that the UK Government has, which the Scottish Government does not have, is that it can go to the Debt Management Office and sell gilts. [


.] Yes, but if you operate that within a macroeconomic framework—[


.] I recognise that fiscal sustainability might be an alien concept to the Conservatives following the mini-budget, but there is an opportunity there. The member raises—[



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Minister, could you resume your seat a second.

I know that time is tight and that interventions have not been possible in every instance, but the minister has taken a couple of interventions. So, could we stop heckling from a sedentary position?

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

It is important to recognise that it is specifically a call from industry. However, the UK Government has flexibility around borrowing that the devolved Administrations do not have. It is about having that opportunity to use that tax cut to stimulate investment. That is not an option that we have within the confines of the fiscal framework. Any reasonable member assessing that would realise that.

Photo of Tom Arthur Tom Arthur Scottish National Party

I am afraid that I need to make progress. I have only a few minutes left.

Maggie Chapman touched on a lot of points in her contribution, including the importance of tourism to communities. We have to ensure that our small businesses, which make up so much of our tourism sector, continue to benefit, and that jobs and the revenue that is generated from so much of our tourism economy are used to support the resilience of our local and regional economies.

I am going to have to draw my remarks to a conclusion, but I want to touch on the points that Keith Brown made. Ultimately, he recognised that so many of the key levers that dictate and shape the macroeconomic environment in which we operate rest with the UK Government. Many of the challenges that we face, particularly around labour shortages, can fundamentally be addressed only by the UK Government. I want to work in partnership and engage to ensure that we continue to see a thriving tourism sector for all of Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Murdo Fraser to wind up the debate—you have a tight six minutes.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

This has been a wide-ranging and quite constructive debate. We have had Willie Rennie bursting for the toilet, Rachael Hamilton trying to sell us a campervan and Maggie Chapman, as usual, wired to the moon and on a different planet from the rest of us. [



Throughout the debate, we have heard that the tourism industry is one of the keystones of the Scottish economy. It generates billions of pounds of revenue and employs hundreds of thousands of people. Scotland has a great tourism product that attracts visitors from all over the world—and yet, as we have heard, the mood in the sector at present is dark. A wide range of challenges faces an industry that is—as Liz Smith reminded us—overwhelmingly made up of small and medium-sized businesses. Just as the sector seeks to recover from Covid, it has been hit with a list of problems, many of which come back to the door of the Scottish Government.

Against that backdrop, it is astonishing that Humza Yousaf, when he became First Minister, decided that in his Government there would no longer be a minister with the title of minister for tourism: there is space for a dedicated Minister for Independence, but tourism does not get a mention. What a signal that sends to the sector about its importance to this Government.

I will address some of the challenges that have been raised during the debate. A number of members quite rightly raised workforce issues and the problems that the sector has in attracting staff. It is true that many businesses struggle to get staff—they have to operate on shortened hours or even to turn away trade because they cannot find people to fill vacancies. SNP members seem to blame that entirely on Brexit, but the facts are much more complex than that, because every other western economy is currently facing workforce issues.

When I visited Germany last summer with a range of colleagues from across the parties in Parliament, the number 1 concern from German businesses, apart from the cost of energy, was the lack of available labour. It is the same in France and Italy and elsewhere. It cannot be Brexit that is causing those issues in other European countries, so it must be something else.

We see that, according to the latest figures, net immigration—

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party

We could improve on one area if, alongside the work that we are doing on a talent attraction and migration services, the UK Government would accept our proposal for a rural visa pilot. Will Murdo Fraser back that call today?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The problem with the approach that the cabinet secretary takes is that net immigration to the UK is currently double what it was prior to Brexit. It is at record levels.

The question for the cabinet secretary is this: why are the migrants who are coming to the UK not coming to Scotland? What is it about Scotland, under this SNP Government, that is not attracting them?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am sorry. I do not have time.

We need to look for other ways of attracting people into the tourism sector. My colleague Maurice Golden last week hosted, in Parliament, an excellent event highlighting the work of the charity Only A Pavement Away, which is about attracting into the hospitality sector prison leavers, people who are homeless and people who come from otherwise difficult backgrounds. It was an inspiring event, at which there were some real success stories.

I have seen for myself the success of apprenticeship schemes that are run by businesses such as Crieff Hydro, which offer younger people secure and rewarding careers in the tourism sector. There is much more to be done in the area, but it is right to highlight a key concern about the need to encourage more young people into rewarding long-term careers.

We have heard about the business rates that are paid by the sector. South of the border, businesses have been given a 75 per cent relief for the current year, but despite having the Barnett consequentials from that, the Scottish Government has made different choices. However, the rates burden is one of the major issues that are raised by the sector, and it is entirely within the gift of the Scottish Government to do something about it.

On the matter of tax, I was—to be frank—astonished that the Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance seemed to be arguing that the UK Government should increase borrowing to fund tax cuts. That is exactly what the SNP Government criticised Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng for when they were in Government, but now ministers are advocating it as a policy that the Government should follow.

A number of members talked about the licensing scheme for short-term lets. I was encouraged because there seems to be a broad reflection across the chamber, among members from all parties, that that was causing real issues. Jackie Baillie gave us the figures for Argyll and Bute, which are really worrying. I urge the Government to look again at the scheme and to consider whether something might be done with a new intervention in that area. Otherwise, we will see businesses becoming unable to operate because local authorities cannot process applications fast enough to allow them to continue.

We see the same impact resulting from connectivity issues. Just last week, I was talking in Parliament to a hotelier who was telling me about the difficulties that hotels in the islands have in attracting bookings because of the growing uncertainty about ferry services. As Willie Rennie and others said, we saw a huge public protest in Lochboisdale, in South Uist, last week, which highlights the fact that, for the month of June, the community will experience massive disruption to the ferry service. That is doing real damage to the tourism industry in the Highlands and Islands right now, and it has happened on the watch of the Scottish Government.

We are still waiting for a programme for completing the dualling of the A9 and the A96—again, those are long-awaited and long-delayed promises from the SNP Government. Just two weeks ago, there was yet another fatality on the A9, on the Tomatin to Moy section. Work was supposed to have started on that section by now, but again somebody has lost his life. That needs to change.

All the issues that I have talked about are within the gift of the Scottish Government to resolve. People across the sector are crying out for Scottish Government support but, instead, its major initiative is what? It is a new tourist tax, which will take yet more money out of a sector that is already hard pressed. As Edward Mountain said, if the Scottish Government does not change its approach, it is in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. We all want a thriving tourism sector, but we will have that only if the Government recognises that the industry—which is made up mostly of smaller operators—needs to be encouraged and supported. Instead of focusing on independence, supporting tourism should be the Scottish Government’s priority.

I have pleasure in supporting the motion in the name of my colleague Liz Smith.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I ask for your guidance on comments that were made by Murdo Fraser a few moments ago. I am probably one of the oldest MSPs in the chamber. In my 40-year working career, which has included 31 years as a police officer, I can honestly say that I have never heard such a display of inappropriate behaviour and entitlement. Therefore, I ask for your guidance on any appropriate action.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

As I have just assumed the chair, I am not wholly clear with regard to Audrey Nicoll’s comments. Members’ contributions are not generally a matter for the chair; they are a matter for members themselves. Of course, when an inaccurate statement has been made, a correction mechanism exists.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Can you advise the chamber on the opportunities that a member might have to apologise for using harmful ableist tropes that are used to ridicule people with mental health issues?

In his summing up, Murdo Fraser used the trope “wired to the moon” to describe our Green colleague Maggie Chapman. I found that to be wholly inappropriate, and it should have been dealt with when he said it.

The Presiding Officer:

I will look into the matter, and I will be back in touch with the member in due course.