MSP report

Lothian Green MSPs’ report – June 2019

Climate emergency, Planning Bill, Homes First, grouse moor management, safer streets, Land For The Many, Live Exports, and more

Alison Johnstone MSP and Andy Wightman MSP report to Party colleagues, focusing on their work as MSPs in recent weeks.

To keep up with their work from day-to-day, you can follow us via our social media pages, and the Party website:

Twitter@alisonjohnstone and @andywightman
Facebook@Alison.Johnstone.Green and @AndyWightmanMSP

In an article for the National, Alison wrote about the decision by the First Minister to upgrade Scotland’s climate targets to include a net-zero date of 2045, after finally accepting the need to declare a climate emergency, and how, for Greens, this significant first step offers an unparalleled opportunity to lead change.

Ahead of three days of debate in Holyrood as the Planning Bill reaches a final vote, Andy wrote in the Evening News about how Scotland’s planning system is set to remain “complex, difficult to engage with and dominated by ­powerful vested financial interests”.

Andy has accused the SNP and Tories of conspiring to water-down changes to the Planning Bill, which would have needed planning permission in all cases where a property was being changed from a main dwelling to a commercial let. Also covered here (CommonSpace), and there is a short video from Andy here.

Alison and Patrick wrote to the First Minister to raise concerns about the Scottish Government appearing to back-track on their commitment to review all policies in light of the climate emergency.

Andy and Alison were impressed again by the huge turnout of youth climate strikers, who walked out of school and marched on the Scottish Parliament to demand far more action to tackle the climate emergency.

On Politics Scotland, Alison was asked about the Green position on Scottish Independence, and Scotland’s membership of the EU.

Andy’s Homes First campaign was highlighted by CommonSpace, in their article about calls for a new licensing system and greater regulation of short-term lets in Edinburgh.

With 2,500 early deaths in Scotland caused by air pollution every year, Alison wrote in the Evening News about Edinburgh Council’s ten-year project to improve transport and pedestrian infrastructure, and Edinburgh’s first Open Streets event that took place on Sunday 5 May.

Poorly constructed hilltracks – a consequence of intensive grouse moor management, causing landscape and ecological damage – have been a concern to environmental groups for decades, and Andy is attempting to finally bring such tracks fully into the planning system.

Alison spoke to the Sunday Post for their story about the serious health concerns facing teachers and pupils at a school built on an industrial toxic dump.

With the Scottish Government making a statement on its response to the climate emergency, immediately followed by a statement on supporting sheep farming, Andy highlighted the impact this activity – subsidised with public money – has on efforts to restore Scotland’s ecology.

In FMQs, Alison extended sympathies to the family of a cyclist killed in Glasgow, and with children on bike or on foot in the most deprived areas of Scotland more than three times as likely to be injured or killed on the roads, challenged the First Minister to show the leadership needed to make our streets safer.

Neither Andy nor Alison had a speaking slot in the debate for Mark Ruskell’s Safer Streets Bill, but both took the opportunity to intervene and question the Cabinet Secretary over his bizarre opposition to the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of making 20mph the default speed limit on restricted roads, and lack of proposals for how the Scottish Government intend to improve safety instead.

Alison asked the First Minister for more funding for GPs in the NHS budget, with a quarter of GPs currently saying they don’t think they’ll be in general practice five years from now. More information in this article.

Andy spoke in a debate on Hardline Visa Controls’ Impact on Edinburgh’s Festivals, suggesting a campaign is needed to resolve such matters as soon as possible, especially in the light of any new restrictions that might come in following Brexit.

Alison called for a substantial re-investment in social security, after the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty slammed UK Government welfare reforms for driving significantly increased poverty.

Andy spoke for the Greens in a debate on Adopting the Place Principle – a framework to recognise that communities must be central to decisions that affect them. Andy pointed out that: “The motion talks about local decision making, but there is little possibility of that when there is no real local government in Scotland”.

Alison has asked what scope citizens assemblies could have in the governance of Scotland, and highlighted the need to represent the demographics of Scotland’s population in a way that the Scottish Parliament itself has so far failed to do.

Andy lodged a motion welcoming the publication of the Land For The Many report, edited by George Monbiot and written by academics and experts to look at all aspects of land policy, from ownership data to planning policies.

Alison spoke at a demonstration against Live Exports, stating once again the absolute commitment of the Greens to see a ban on this inhumane trade that causes the suffering of thousands of young, often unweaned, animals from Scottish farms, who are crammed into lorries and sent on journeys of up to 6 weeks to France, Spain and elsewhere. A short video of Alison’s speech is here.

Andy’s Homes First campaign was again highlighted, this time by the BBC, in an article looking at land ownership in Scotland, highlighting Andy’s research showing that 750,000 acres of the country is owned in overseas tax havens.

Alison’s Social Security Committee heard from local authority and welfare advice representatives, discussing the provision and funding of welfare rights services in Scotland.

Alison wrote in the National about Scottish Ministers’ failures to deliver on transport, as greenhouse gas emissions rise, bus passenger numbers fall, and Scottish Government targets for uptake of walking and cycling are set to be missed by a huge distance.

Andy took part in a panel event at this year’s Architecture Fringe festival, discussing the current state of volume house building in Scotland.

Holyrood debated Universal Credit and Mental Health, with Alison highlighting the particular impacts that UK Universal Credit has had on those experiencing mental health conditions.

In a debate on ending the stigma of the menopause, Alison spoke about the appalling inequality facing those who have to take sick days because of symptoms, sometimes resulting in disciplinary action, and the need for workplace support to be in place for all those who need it.

Kezia Dugdale wrote in the Evening News about Short Term Lets in Edinburgh, focusing on the work Andy has been leading through his Homes First campaign, and describing his proposal for reforms as “so breathtakingly sensible – only dirty tricks could defeat it”.

Alison visited the Scottish SPCA team in Balerno, hearing about their work to ensure that young people have the opportunity to learn about animal welfare and why it matters, and to meet some of the animals in their care, including kittens, rabbits, and Peely-Wally the corn snake.

Andy joined Living Rent and PLACE Edinburgh for a CommonWeal event discussing Housing and Short Term Lets.

Alison spoke about the expanding role of community pharmacies in Scotland, how they are saving many patients from needing to visit their GP, but also the challenges facing the profession as a result.

With a row growing over fishing rights in the waters around the uninhabited islet of Rockall in the North Atlantic, Andy has urged Scotland to renounce any claim, and “reject complicity in Britain’s last act of colonialism”.

In a debate on the Treatment Times Guarantee, Alison suggested that we need a national conversation about the NHS, covering what our expectations are from the service, and how much we can meet those expectations.

Andy spoke in the debate on Scotland’s fuel poverty targets, praising the cross-party working on the Bill process, but highlighting concerns that the final result is not as bold as it could have been, and compromises the Scottish Government’s recent climate emergency declaration.

The Daily Record quoted Alison’s call for Audit Scotland to scrutinise the finances of our health and social care boards, in their story about a senior social worker on crisis-hit North Lanarkshire council who has been given an £800,000-plus deal to quit her job.

At Topical Questions on the links between air pollution and rise in childhood cancers, Alison asked: “Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that this Government’s long term failure to properly invest in safe cycling and walking is contributing to this public health crisis?”

Andy addressed the annual Spokes Bike Breakfast at City Chambers, paying tribute to active travel campaigners, and highlighting the demo taking place later that day, organised by Pedal on Parliament, in support of Mark Ruskell’s Safer Streets Bill.

Alison recorded a message of support for the Drem-Gullane Path campaign, emphasising the need for a safe four-mile link to connect the East Lothian villages.

As a “stand-out campaigner for land reform for the past twenty-five years”, Andy’s work was highlighted in Bella Caledonia’s article, Landed Power versus Scottish Democracy.

Andy also gets a mention in this article looking at how activism around land reform has changed in recent years, and how we can engage the public at grassroots level to bring about change.

Alison spoke in a debate on Trauma Recovery and Support for First Responders, paying tribute to all who intervene to save lives, whether they are professionals or bystanders, and discussing her brother’s experience over the past two decades as a firefighter.

Andy was quoted in an article about maintenance of tenement buildings, saying that we need to see an improved legal framework to ensure their continued survival.

In the Stage 3 debate for the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill, Alison welcomed Holyrood’s vote to introduce an ‘opt-out’ system, with a presumption of consent for organ donation, unless a person has indicated they do not wish to be donors.

Andy gave the keynote speech at the Tenants Information Service National Housing Conference – the largest tenants’ conference event held in Scotland, looking at housing beyond 2021, and asking what the future is for our housing and communities.

Alison hosted an event with Judy Murray about the state of tennis in Scotland, telling the inspirational story of the work undertaken to produce some of the best tennis players Scotland and Britain have ever seen, and the frustrations that continue as a result of a lack of funding for the sport north of the border.

Alison also joined fellow MSPs to hear from the Scottish Women’s National Team coach, Shelley Kerr, and wished the squad well as they headed out to France for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Andy spoke in the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee debate discussing the conclusions and recommendations in the Committee’s second Business Support Inquiry Report, highlighting that work could be done to improve delivery and to ensure better integration with national services, in order that business gateway can provide the necessary locally-based business support to those who need it.

Holyrood debated World Environment Day, where Alison highlighted the work of the late Polly Higgins, who campaigned tirelessly for the crime of Ecocide – the loss and damage of ecosystems by corporate and state actors – to be established in international law.

Alison responded to the Ministerial Statement on support for those leaving the armed forces, asking what plans the Scottish Government has to improve the information and guidance available, to ensure people are prepared for the financial demands they will encounter in civilian life