Speech: National Gaelic Plan

Tapadh leibh, Presiding Officer. Unfortunately, I cannot replicate the language skills of my party colleagues the minister, Dave Thompson and John Finnie, all of whom are far more proficient in Gaelic than I am. However, as a fellow MSP for the Highlands and Islands, I know how important the continuing encouragement and development of Gaelic as a vital part of the nation’s identity are.

Last weekend, Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis followed her magnificent work for the film “Brave”, which has been referred to, with a stunning performance in front of a worldwide audience to herald the beginning of Scotland’s Ryder cup 2014 preparations. She was brought up in North Uist in a Gaelic-speaking community but, like others, she was not a fluent Gaelic speaker. She benefited first from the fèis movement and she went on to be a student of the language at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, which is Scotland’s Gaelic college in Skye.

As with many lesser-spoken languages, the spread of Gaelic has been inhibited as English and other languages have become the lingua franca. Fewer than 60,000 Gaelic speakers, who are concentrated in the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute and the Highlands, are estimated to remain in Scotland. They represent just over 1 per cent of the population. That must be a concern, given that, in comparison, more than 20 per cent of the population in Wales can speak Welsh.

If we are to witness a dramatic upturn in the number of Gaelic speakers across Scotland, we require a comprehensive and holistic approach to be taken by all the agencies whose remit is the furtherance of Gaelic. I particularly welcome the focus on early years and education in the national plan’s key outcomes. Evidence of success from that comes from my neighbour, nine-year-old Ruaraidh, who attends the local Gaelic school. He said:

“We don’t learn Gaelic, we live it—like the way you get to speak English”.

Promoters of Gaelic-medium education now focus on the benefits of bilingualism rather than the direct benefits of Gaelic, but we must never lose sight of the links to the past, people and places. We can think of all the effort that goes into curating artefacts that are of historical value. How much more precious is a living language? Common sense dictates that we must continue to focus on Gaelic-medium teaching in schools or at least on facilitating Gaelic lessons to maintain the language.

The role that artists and musicians such as Julie Fowlis play in promoting Gaelic is another reminder of how important the language is. Others acknowledge its importance. A local teacher who assumed that two Polish immigrants had arrived for an English as a foreign language course was amazed when they said that their English was fine and that they were interested in signing up to learn Gaelic.

We must never underestimate others. Scots sometimes have to be convinced by somebody else that something is a really good idea. I suspect that, across Europe, we would get massive support for our plan. In Europe, there is a determination to retain languages such as Gaelic, and we must endorse that.

I found out earlier today that the last speaker of the Cromarty dialect, Bobby Hogg, had died aged92, removing one of the more colourful threads of Scotland’s linguistic tapestry. I sincerely hope that the plan that we have will prevent similar headlines about the last Gaelic speaker in the years to come. As Ruaraidh said, we have to live it.

Speech: Women’s Employment Summit

As the deputy convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the women’s employment summit, which I was fortunate enough to attend last month. I am glad that the role of women in the workplace and in wider society has returned to the chamber for debate, although I am saddened to acknowledge the continuing need for such debates.

We have come very far in a very short space of time, but a lot of work remains to be done and I know that the minister Angela Constance and the Government are determined to take that forward. It is important that we lower—and eventually eliminate—the barriers and ceilings faced by women in the workplace, particularly given the recession’s disproportionate impact on them. After all, according to statistics, women are more likely to work part time and to be more affected by Westminster’s welfare reforms.

As I have done in the past, I draw the chamber’s attention to the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s report “Tapping all our Talents”, which sets out a strategy for increasing the number of women working in STEM areas. Produced by a working group that included the inimitable Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the report is a searing indictment of the barriers that are faced by women who wish to study and work in those areas and sets out in stark detail just how big a barrier gender can be to entering certain occupations.

On 2 August, “Women’s Hour” on BBC Radio 4 featured a discussion with Christine Ashton, who has been named as the 12th most influential woman in IT in the UK. She advertised service manager posts, hoping to attract applications from women, but did not receive any. The show-stopper was this: when she readvertised the posts, having dropped the salary by £20,000, many more women applied. We can leave a debate on the issue of reverse psychology for another day, but I think that that anecdote indicates the scale of the problem.

I believe that women will go into politics when women encourage other women to become involved. There is no doubt that they have the skills, experience, ability and talent but without the confidence to apply for posts or to get politically involved or involved in communities, women will remain reluctant. Some of those experiences must be factored into the correction strategy, and I hope that women will inform that process.

In response to Margo MacDonald’s point, I note that in the “Women’s Hour” discussion Christine Ashton said that women comprise 17 per cent of the IT workforce in the UK and 18 per cent of that workforce in Europe. It is clear that this is not just a Scottish problem. However, we should share things as widely as we can, and I was pleased to hear the minister say that that was one of her ambitions.

Members across the chamber will agree that actions speak louder than words. As someone who is always happy to speak on equality matters, I am especially heartened by the Scottish Government’s determination to pick up the baton and put in place a strategy that will complement its work in so many key areas. In the 21st century, gender, age, ethnicity and disability should not prevent individuals from fulfilling their potential.

Speech: Great Polish Map of Scotland

I would like to congratulate my colleague Christine Grahame on bringing this debate to the floor- timely, I believe, as it was announced on Monday that the Great Polish Map has been awarded listed status. It is undoubtedly worthy of protection, and I am delighted that future generations will be able to admire the attention to detail of this unique structure. The use of gravity-driven water to recreate our rivers and lochs is truly magnificent,

I am sure that those speaking this evening will all concur with the historic importance of the map, not only as a feat of architecture and a reminder of the sacrifices made by Polish soldiers during World War II, but also as a symbol of the long-standing links between Poland and Scotland forged in that era that have remained strong ever since.

It is this connection that has continued to this very day that I wish to concentrate on. While all of Scotland has benefited from its special relationship with Poland- I think particularly of the Polish food shops that can be found in any city across Scotland, and the dedication of our supermarkets to providing Polish produce- the Highlands and Islands in particular has attracted a large number of Poles.  

As late as 2004, the Highlands and Islands were threatened with yet further depopulation. However, this has dramatically changed, with Inverness still one of the Europe’s fastest growing cities, a growth that is concurrent with economic regeneration and attributable in part to its active, dynamic Polish community, forming roughly 10% of the population of the city. Across the Highlands and Islands, approximately 69% of all immigrants come from Poland, showing the strong ties that exist between our two nations. The mutual benefit of these ties is evident; they contribute hugely to civic life in Inverness and the surrounding region, and I was privileged to have the chance to recognise this by inviting along Zosia Fraser. Chair of the Polish Association, as my “local hero” for the opening of Parliament last summer. Among other activities, Zosia has organised translation services, accommodation and put in place other measures to help new arrivals to the early to settle and to truly become part of the local community.

Zosia is typical of the Polish community in Scotland in contributing so much to our society. I’m sure all of us in this chamber recognise the value to future generations of growing up in towns, cities and villages where many cultures are known and celebrated, where an awareness of our place in the world and that of others helps to inculcate a sense of internationalism and global citizenry- a sense, I am sure, will be all the more beneficial when Scotland regains its place among the community of nations.

In closing, Presiding Officer, I would like to once again welcome the continuing restoration of the Map, and support this motion.

 

Speech: Oxfam’s Humankind Index

I congratulate Ken Macintosh on bringing this debate to the chamber. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in favour of the motion and in favour of Oxfam’s vital work in the area. As members know, it is common for us to receive briefings or points of view from interested parties on the debates that we have in the chamber, but it is uncommon for those contributions to be unanimous in their tone. The overwhelming and sincere support for the humankind index from groups across Scottish civic society is welcome and telling.

For too long, Scotland and the developed world as a whole have relied on GDP figures to paint a picture of a prosperous society. However, as Oxfam has succinctly remarked, GDP is a

“consumption-oriented and distribution-blind measure”.

Sadly, a high GDP and endemic and crippling poverty are not mutually exclusive but in fact often go hand in hand, as the growing inequality of the past 30 years in the United Kingdom has shown. A reliance on GDP figures and purely economic statistics by policy makers can harm the common weal, rather than helping to ameliorate society’s scars.

The Oxfam humankind index is specifically designed to avoid those statistical pitfalls in measuring the health of our society. To Oxfam’s credit, it has gone the extra mile in reaching out to as many parts of the community as possible. It has involved those on lower incomes who, unfortunately, feel disengaged with the political process and asked them what really matters in their life. We can learn a lot from that method of consultation and participation, particularly from the efforts that Oxfam has made to accommodate participants through provision of childcare and expenses.

It should come as no surprise that the index has shown that, for most people, good health, strong communities and a healthy local environment are the priorities. Perhaps the lasting contribution of the index will be that policy makers such as us will reach decisions on the basis of how policies will help to achieve those laudable aims, rather than purely on the basis of the effect on the nation’s finances. In our future policy deliberations, it is vital that we use the humankind index. We have been provided with a tool to help deliver social justice for Scotland, so I hope that we can use it. I support the motion.

Speech: Arms Trade Treaty (June 21st)

I was pleased to sign Jamie Hepburn’s motion and I congratulate him on bringing the debate to the chamber. As I am interested in the work of the cross-party group on human rights, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the urgent need for a practical yet far-reaching arms trade treaty.

The panoply of statistics that my colleague Jamie Hepburn cited in his motion and his speech is truly harrowing. When we consider that my home town, Ullapool, has fewer inhabitants than the number of people who die every day from armed violence, one gets a sense of the enormity of this human crisis.

There is little regulation of the arms trade. It is ludicrous that weapons as devastating as grenade launchers and serious assault rifles are subject to lax control at best, while the trade in harmless commodities—such as the aforementioned bananas—is strictly regulated globally. That is madness. Those weapons are not used only by countries that are officially at war, but are in many cases used to suppress human rights within countries, with two out of every three people who are killed by armed violence dying in countries that are not at war.

That cycle of violence has obvious human costs, but what must also be borne in mind is the social cost of such needless conflict. Nations at war with themselves, whether it be over territory, resources or another struggle, will never be able to heal and to develop. An unregulated arms trade perpetuates endemic poverty across the world, harms democratic debate and tears apart communities.

For many issues, the treatment can be worse than the disease, but Amnesty’s proposals for an effective arms trade treaty are plausible. Instead of imposing a punitive weapons ban, it proposes a weapons transfer system that would prohibit the sale of weapons that are likely to be used for violations of human rights or international law. It defies belief that any nation could oppose a treaty with such laudable aims that, despite preconceptions, clearly does not call for an outright ban. The support of the UK Government and the defence community, one of the world’s major arms exporters, for such a treaty shows the impact that the lobbying of MSPs and others across civil society can have on this issue.

I urge everybody in the chamber to continue to press the UK Government to hold firm to its line on this first step towards minimising the human cost of armed conflict. This is not some esoteric debate, but a subject on which lives and communities depend, and we must never lose sight of that.

Motion:

That the Parliament understands that, in July 2012, the UN will begin negotiations on a treaty to better regulate the arms trade; notes that the process toward this was instigated in December 2006 when the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 61/89, Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms; understands that, although the trade in arms is not illegal, campaigning organisations, such as Amnesty International and Oxfam, have expressed concerns that such weapons are often used to violate human rights; considers that this view was echoed by Sergio de Queiroz Duarte who, in December 2010, in his then capacity as the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told the Arms Trade Treaty Preparatory Committee that, “in all parts of the world, the ready availability of conventional weapons and ammunition has led to human suffering, repression, crime and terror among civilian populations”; notes that Amnesty International has estimated that more than 1,500 people die every day from armed violence and 85% of all of the killings it documents involve guns; further notes that Amnesty International claims that two out of three people killed as a result of armed violence die in countries that are not at war and 60% of all of the human rights abuses it reports involve the use of arms; notes what it understands to be the concerns of many Scots, including those in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, regarding the impact of such human rights breaches; welcomes the support that has been shown by many member states of the UN, such as the UK, France and Germany, to the concept of an arms trade treaty, but understands that these three countries are among the world‟s biggest arms exporters; further welcomes the change in stance of the US Government, under President Obama, indicating that it is now in favour of a treaty; would welcome a strong arms trade treaty that all member states of the UN can ratify, which restricts the trade of arms to regimes that are likely to use them to violate human rights, and believes that such a treaty is necessary to achieve a more human rights-centric international arms trade.

Speech: Travel and Tourism (June 21st)

I declare an interest as someone with a great many years’ experience in the tourism and hospitality industry in the Highlands. I pay tribute to those who have spoken before me, who have highlighted a number of Scotland‟s attractions, taking us on a kind of verbal tour around the country.

Tourism is hugely important to Scotland as a whole, and comparatively it plays an even greater part in the mixed economy of the Highlands and Islands. That is a part of Scotland with natural beauty and an incredible landscape, which I am sure will feature strongly in the special promotion of the year of natural Scotland, next year.

Mary Scanlon has left the chamber, but I must take issue with some of the things that she said about the Sutherland way. We have to be respectful of the environment that we have in Scotland. We have to be smart about recognising the areas that need to have cafes or facilities, but we also have to recognise the special, wild nature of the land that we have. There are three identified geoparks in Scotland, and they are all in the Highlands and Islands. All of them make specific requests in terms of relevant development. The idea that the north-west Sutherland way should have a string of facilities along it makes my—well, I will say simply that that is wild Scotland.

Scotland attracts visitors from across the world and, in the past couple of years, a growing number from across the United Kingdom. Those visitors help to maintain 25,000 jobs across 3,000 businesses in my region and bring £1.2 billion every year from the region into the economy, and it is the importance of the economy that we are talking about.

By talking about Glasgow attracting conferences, Hanzala Malik reminded me that, on 9 September 1997, which was only two days before the extraordinary vote for devolution, Glasgow hosted the annual congress of the American travel trade, with several thousand delegates. The keynote speaker was Mrs Thatcher, who took the time on “Newsnight” to tell Scots that they should vote no the following Thursday. However, we are grateful that Glasgow has the facilities to take that size of conference.

Scotland is famous for its hospitality and its friendly people. To combat some of Helen Eadie’s comments, I should say that our reputation is deserved. There may be instances such as those that she talked about, but Scotland will never be perfect in everybody’s eyes. It is too easy for someone to go out and find a place that they do not like, but they do not know that, the night before, other people have had a really good time there. The spit-and-sawdust pub can offer up as great a night‟s entertainment for some people as a five-star hotel can do for a different clientele, offering a different service. We have to be careful about how we decide on these matters. We also have to be helpful. Do we want to hammer a business that is probably suffering really badly? It, too, plays a part in the economy and needs help rather than poor recognition.

That people recognise our hospitality and the friendliness of our people is evidenced by the extraordinarily high levels of repeat business that we achieve in Scotland generally and in the Highlands and Islands in particular. The figures are there for everyone to see. Familiar faces of people who have become addicted to holidays here appear regularly. That is still a factor of our industry. I have been in the hotel trade so long that I know the grandchildren of folk who stayed many years before. That is the legacy that we can and should build on. It is ironic, in some ways, that the industry should be sustained by such levels of repeat visits, given that employment opportunities in the industry often seem to be short-term and seasonal.

There have been many changes over the years and the recent festivals that the Highlands and Islands play host to are amazing. RockNess, Loopallu and the Insider festival that was held last weekend and was attended by 1,000 people, who stayed for three or four days, might seem like small beer compared with festivals such as T in the Park, but they are right for that part of Scotland and they are due recognition.

Anyone who has attended some of the smaller book festivals will know that they are hugely personal affairs, and contribute hugely to the economy. More and more are being organised outside what we choose to call the peak holiday period.

Although “Brave”, the now-released Pixar animation, is clearly getting global attention, I would like to thank members who recently supported my motion on the Hansel of Film, which came from Shetland and takes the story of Shetland and small film-makers around the United Kingdom. It is perhaps not the same in terms of marketing, but it is just as important and such projects often capture the imagination of visitors when they come here.

Tourism is an industry that does not stand alone. Like steel making and shipbuilding, it depends on all other sectors in order to flourish. Local authorities have much to contribute by keeping the infrastructure and public facilities open and in good order. The education of our children, especially in music and language, has an enormous role to play. Crofting and fishing are among our main attractions and we should never forget that folk on holiday love to watch folk at work.

Motion:

That the Parliament recognises the achievements of tourism businesses across Scotland in achieving a 14% increase in overnight visitor revenues in 2011; welcomes the new tourism strategy prepared by the industry, for the industry, which focuses on the importance of industry leadership, the quality that visitors encounter across their whole journey in Scotland and using Scotland’s assets to create the experiences that visitors are looking for; commends the efforts of the industry-led Tourism Leadership Group in developing the strategy and recognises the important role to be played by relevant agencies and non-departmental public bodies in supporting the industry’s strategy; renews calls on the UK Government to play its part by devolving air passenger duty and to consider a reduction of VAT rates for the sector; recognises the enormous opportunity for tourism in Scotland presented by The Winning Years and the Disney/Pixar film, Brave, in particular; congratulates Glasgow on its success in winning several additional conferences with the support of the Conference Bid Fund announced in March 2012, and encourages other destinations in Scotland to use the fund to win further business for Scotland.

Speech: Women and Work (June 20th)

As a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the vital work that is ahead of us to ensure that we remove as many barriers as possible for women seeking to enter their chosen career. I welcome, too, the minister’s announcement of the summit in September, which is perfect timing.

It is not just unemployment among women that should worry us, although that has doubled since early 2008. We should be equally concerned about the type of work that women undertake. Recent figures suggest that just over 40 per cent of employed women are employed part time, compared with roughly 13 per cent of men. In many cases, that is because flexible working policies have not been fully implemented by organisations, forcing those with young families to seek reduced hours in order to balance their work and home lives. That can have a knock-on effect on career progression and family income, which is not healthy for the economy or for society.

Linked to the issue of career progression is career choice. The Royal Society of Edinburgh released a report entitled “Tapping All Our Talents” in April this year, which details a possible future strategy to boost the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and halt the current situation whereby, unbelievably, 73 per cent of female STEM graduates drop out of the sector, which is an issue that we must investigate. The report also presses women to be more proactive in seeking out opportunities, to take risks and to step outside their comfort zone. I urge all of the members present to read that report and to consider how best to take on board its constructive recommendations for stopping that brain drain.

Equally striking is the disparity between economically inactive men and economically inactive women who have chosen to look after their families. Currently, 31 per cent of economically inactive women fall into that category as opposed to 5 per cent of men—those figures may be due to the continuing discrepancy between maternity and paternity leave, or they may be due to trouble accessing childcare.

As the Minister for Youth Employment mentioned earlier, the Scottish Government is beginning to tackle the issue of childcare by increasing the number of free nursery education hours from 475 to 600. That will make a huge difference to a number of women—certainly in my ken. Putting in place family-friendly structures through the national parenting strategy must continue to be one of our priorities, as must mitigating the disproportionate impact on women of Westminster welfare reform as best we can within the current constitutional parameters.

Women at all levels face challenges. Currently, there is a 10.7 per cent pay gap between men and women in full-time employment across Scotland. That gap is exacerbated by a glass ceiling whereby only 36 per cent of higher-level jobs are held by women. Indeed, only 35 per cent of the members of this Parliament are female. Like my colleague Shona Robison last week, I find it hard to believe that

“there are not equal numbers of … suitable male and female candidates across the parties”,

and even harder to believe

“that the best candidate just happened to be male on so many occasions.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2012; c 10062.]

I encourage all members to give this issue some serious thought. Although society has taken some large strides in the past few decades to level the playing field, as always there is more that can be done.

Speech: Mountain Rescue Teams (June 13th)

I welcome the debate and congratulate Liz Smith on bringing it to the chamber.

I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to the crucial work that is undertaken by every mountain rescue team in Scotland, particularly with so many being operational in my region, the Highlands and Islands. I have occasionally seen team members as they have come back from a successful search and I know the work that they put in and how exhausted they can be after a search. Success is often theirs, and I have seen that too.

As anyone who has climbed a Corbett or scaled a Munro knows, the beauty of our natural landscape viewed from atop one of our peaks is breathtaking. For helping those who fall foul of the elements in that pursuit, our mountain rescue team volunteers deserve our thanks. In 2010, the Scottish mountain rescue team volunteers went out more than 500 times, frequently contending with rugged terrain and often in poor weather conditions or when it was dark. In total, volunteers were deployed for 26,000 hours in 2010, a figure that is made all the more impressive by their year-round commitment to their voluntary role. The Lochaber mountain rescue team in my region attended 72 of those incidents, occasionally in conjunction with other teams, displaying a blend of professionalism and commitment to community service that is an example to us all.

It must be remembered that we have a part to play in ensuring the continuation of such a vital voluntary service. The Scottish Government has given £339,000 to the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland for 2011-12, increasing the general funding stream by £12,000 and providing a one-off grant of £12,000 towards communications equipment. That funding was welcomed on BBC Radio Scotland on Saturday morning by Jonathan Hart, the chair of the Mountain Rescue Committee, who hailed the support and the tremendous opportunities afforded to mountain rescue teams by the move to a single Scottish police force, while maintaining strong local connections. I was particularly pleased to hear him say that he sees the service working more effectively rather than less.

Responsibility for mountain safety must also be shared by the public at large. The Mountain Rescue Committee’s 2010 report points out that

“Summer Hill walking is responsible for more incidents than any other mountain activity.”

Therefore, although those of us who are not into winter climbing or rock climbing might think that they are the only activities that affect the mountain rescue teams, the majority of work is caused by people who just set out for a walk, sometimes, as I have seen, in high-heeled shoes.

The 2010 report also says:

“One third of all mountaineering incidents result from a slip or trip.”

Although it would be impossible to permanently eliminate human error and abnormal weather conditions, we can reduce the number of accidents by continuing to educate ourselves about how best to prepare and how best to take care of ourselves while we are enjoying Scotland’s hills and mountains. I hope that, with continuing support from the Government and the public, and the well-earned publicising of their work, we can help our mountain rescue teams to go from strength to strength. I support the motion.

Motion:

That the Parliament pays tribute to what it sees as the outstanding work carried out by Scotland’s 28 mountain rescue teams including Tayside Mountain Rescue, which it considers gives selflessly of its time to assist others; notes that Scotland’s mountain rescue volunteers went out over 500 times in 2011 to seek and rescue those in need of assistance, frequently in difficult mountainous terrain, poor weather conditions and often at night; recognises the pressure on what are largely voluntary funds and the new challenges facing Scotland’s mountain rescue teams in the face of public sector reform to emergency services, and would welcome a general public in Scotland that is educated about the responsibilities that it has to be well equipped and well prepared when heading to the hills.

Speech: Common Fisheries Policy Reform (June 7th)

I suspect that I am going to put the opposite case from that put by Margaret McDougall. As a member for a region with a real dependency on the fishing industry, I am pleased to support the motion. With fish accounting for 59 per cent of all food exported from Scotland and £500 million-worth of fish landed by Scottish vessels in 2011, the value of the industry to Scotland‟s economy cannot be overstated.

The common fisheries policy has failed to work for Scotland and for Scotland’s fishing industry. The reforms, as currently proposed, will continue that unfortunate trend to the detriment of many of the communities in my region.

One of the most important principles of the European Union is that of subsidiarity: namely, that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate and most local level possible. However, that has never been the case with fisheries. The blanket approach of the European Commission to fisheries suffocates the ability of regions and nations to adapt to their own particular circumstances and needs, and endangers the very conservation that the common fisheries policy is intended to promote.

The difficulties posed by the imposition of centrally decided targets and quotas have only been exacerbated by the lack of a distinct Scottish voice at the decision table, and that has resulted in our interests being traded away by successive UK Governments. The inability of the Scottish Government, on behalf of Scotland as an independent nation, to directly influence the policy within the Council of Ministers puts us at a unique disadvantage. It is an absolute scandal that, while we remain gagged, ministers from landlocked nations such as Slovakia and Hungary are able to directly influence policies that have a negligible impact on their economies, but a potentially devastating impact on ours.

The proposal to introduce a compulsory quota trading system, nebulously called “transferable fishing concessions”, is just one of the many proposals that should give us cause for concern. The opportunity for wealthy companies to use their financial means to purchase fishing rights from hard-pressed fishermen is one that we should all be wary of, particularly as it appears that no safeguards have been put in place to prevent that practice from devastating the principle of relative stability, which has, so far, held firm.

Although there is a commitment to retain the 6 and 12-mile limits for coastal fisheries, the lack of any explicit reference in the proposals to retain, for example, the Shetland box—a protected coastal fisheries area of great importance to the Shetland Islands and Scotland as a whole—is of grave concern. I urge the Scottish Government to clarify the future of the Shetland box and, if the Shetland box is threatened, to do its best to protect those waters from being opened up, as the Irish did some years ago when their waters were under threat.

It must be remembered that, in rural areas in particular, each industry or sector helps to support many others. A set of reforms that hurts Scottish fishing also hurts our processing industries, our food and drink sector and our tourism sector—all major employers in the Highlands and Islands and nationwide.

Regardless of our constitutional views, it is in the interests of us all to push for our voice to be heard at the negotiating table, and not just with Westminster’s permission. The decision to send an unelected member of the House of Lords rather than a Scottish representative to an informal fisheries council meeting in April 2010 is just one example of party politics stepping on the toes of national interests. Surely all of us would decry that decision.

For the first time, thanks to the treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament will have a say in reforming the common fisheries policy. As a Parliament, we must work in conjunction with Scotland‟s six MEPs to ensure that a strong cross-party and national voice is heard. Surely we can all unite on that for the fishing industry in Scotland, with its obvious history and heritage.

I once more affirm my support for the motion and urge all MSPs to back the Government’s efforts to promote our interests in Westminster and Europe.

Speech: Royal Highland Education Trust (June 6th)

I congratulate Colin Keir on bringing the issue, which is particularly relevant and important, forward for debate, and welcome the chance to comment on the educational work that the Royal Highland Education Trust is undertaking to promote the countryside, which is an essential component of Scotland‟s cultural and economic fabric.

As we have heard, the trust provides opportunities for schoolchildren across Scotland to investigate various aspects of countryside life through activities such as farm visits, school competitions and classroom talks by farmers.

It has been stated that more than 15,000 children have been able to experience working farms and estates first-hand. That is a 20 per cent rise on the previous year.  I think that we would all not only support the trust‟s aim of sustaining that level of interaction annually by 2015 but urge it to increase that level.

As always, there are lessons to be learned from the work of our neighbours. My mind is drawn to innovative efforts that are being made in Iceland, where the Alcoa Foundation has funded outdoor schoolrooms in order to make the environment in general a natural part of the curriculum.

Such events and experiences have intrinsic value. They give children in urban settings the opportunity to experience rural life, albeit briefly sometimes. As part of the curriculum for excellence, they give children the opportunity to understand better where the food in their fridges and pantries originates.

As a councillor, I visited Shetland during the Highlands and Islands convention, where I was privileged to hear from schoolchildren who had been introduced to crofting. It was inspirational to hear how enthusiastic they were about a sector that is often viewed as unattractive, largely because people have not experienced the satisfaction and contentment of seeing the benefits of their own work in an area as important as growing one‟s own food or animal husbandry.

However, the Royal Highland Education Trust does so much more than that. The food and drink sector in Scotland is truly one of our success stories: it had an £11.9 billion annual turnover in 2009, which indicates that we are well on our way to meeting our £12.5 billion target for 2017. My region, which is synonymous with world-class food and drink exports, employs some 25,900 people in that sector. That demonstrates the importance of a thriving agricultural sector to underpin the rural economy of Scotland.

Many more people take part in related activities on a part-time or self-employed basis, and crofting is a popular and long-standing part of Highland life. The inclusion of crofting in any educational materials would be welcome, and would open up even more future business opportunities for our young people. I therefore encourage the trust to work in conjunction with the Crofting Commission to integrate such material into its future programmes.

By showcasing to our young people the opportunities and careers that are afforded by our burgeoning food and drink industry, we not only instil a pride in Scotland’s produce but cultivate future generations of farmers, distillers and brewers to further support us in growing that sector.

The Royal Highland Education Trust’s work in this field is to be encouraged. I support Colin Keir‟s motion.

Motion:

That the Parliament welcomes the Royal Highland Education Trust’s work to promote Scotland’s rural and agricultural environment, farming and countryside activities and food education to Scotlan’‟s young people; considers that Scotland’s urbanisation over recent decades has meant that many children have no direct link with the countryside or experience of environmental issues and that this is a gap in young people’s education; notes that the Edinburgh-based charity has received funding from the Scottish Government to educate children about the role that food plays in their lives through farm visits, working with local companies and introducing food topics in the school curriculum; considers that food education has an important role to play in improving Scotland‟s health, helping people to make healthier choices and making them aware of the importance of eating sustainably; further notes that the programme will highlight the career opportunities available to young people in Scotland’s food and drink sector, which provides an increasing boost to the Scottish economy, and welcomes the trust’s aim to deliver its programme of farm and estate visits for 15,000 young people per year by 2015.