Friday, 21 March 2008
Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): Members will need to forgive me if my voice crackles a little today. It comes from urging Partick Thistle on to its well-deserved draw at Ibrox last night. That is nothing to do with the debate, but it is well worth mentioning. I am sure that Karen Gillon, especially, will agree.
The Central Scotland region, which I represent, is not known for its rugged coastline or the views of the ocean that are afforded by its islands and peninsulas, although I heartily recommend to all members a visit to Broadwood loch in Cumbernauld. I leave the more poetic descriptions of our maritime heritage and coastal environments to my colleagues who have the privilege of representing such areas in the Parliament. However, being a member for a land-locked region does not mean that I have no interest in Scotland's marine environment, nor is it the case that the careful management of our maritime resources does not concern my constituents. The motion talks of our "stewardship of the seas", and that responsibility is shared by us all, no matter where in the country we are from.
In last week's debate about national parks, I spoke of the importance of preserving our natural environments for the benefit of future generations. That is clearly as true of our marine environment as it is of our environments on land, and our decisions in the Parliament today will leave a legacy for all those who depend on the seas in years to come. I was interested to hear members touch on the idea of a marine national park. I agree that the concept needs continued and careful consideration.
A well-managed marine environment benefits not only coastal communities and those who work at sea, but others as well. The ripples of successful maritime policy can be felt well inland and around the world—from the manufacturing company that supplies renewable energy technology to the seafood restaurant in a city centre; and from tourists building a coastal stop into their itinerary to parents on a school run filling up the car with petrol from the North Sea. The Scottish coastal forum estimated that, in 2000, the annual income from marine activities in the area between 1km offshore and 1km inland was £4.5 billion. Scotland's oil provides at least £23 billion annually to the UK economy.
It is worth dwelling for a moment on the significance of the North Sea oil resource. Scotland's oil was described in 1975 as being the "future of Britain" by the then Secretary of State for Energy, one Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who was being fêted by some MSPs yesterday. Scotland's oil now regularly comes in at more than $100 a barrel, despite predictions in 1999 by the late Donald Dewar that the price would remain at $10 to $12 for the foreseeable future.
We now know that Professor Gavin McCrone, in his secret report to the UK Government in 1974, argued that an independent Scotland with control of its own oil resource would produce a "chronic surplus to a quite embarrassing degree".
Of course, the Government of the day, including Tony Benn, suppressed that report and argued the contrary—that the oil revenue was insignificant for Scotland's future.
However, over the past 30 years, some $200 billion-worth of oil has been extracted from the North Sea, yet Scotland—and indeed the whole of the UK—is yet to match the prosperity and quality of life of our Scandinavian neighbours, who have managed their maritime and natural resources so effectively. The debate on Scotland's oil will continue, no doubt, as part of the national conversation on Scotland's constitutional future, so I will leave my contribution on the subject at that—for now.
That leads me to the wider substantive issue of the debate: the appropriate place for decisions about and implementation of maritime policy in Scotland. I welcome the Government's commitment to engagement with the communities and interests that depend on the seas, and its determination to ensure that the policy framework for managing the marine environment is fit for purpose in the 21st century.
The Scotland Act 1998 bequeathed to the Scottish Government and its predecessors a complex and conflicting range of jurisdictions and responsibilities over the marine environment. As was mentioned earlier, Scotland is defined in the 1998 act as the land and territorial waters to a distance of 12 nautical miles, but Scottish ministers have responsibility for regulating fisheries and renewable energy beyond those limits to 200 miles. Even within the 12-mile limit, activities including shipping and navigation and issues such as safety at sea are reserved to the UK Government. I fully support the Scottish Government's call for powers over maritime policy to be fully devolved—along, of course, with all the matters that are reserved in schedule 5 to the 1998 act. Until that day comes, however, I am happy to continue to support the Government's initiatives to make the most of the powers that it has to ensure the best possible approach to marine policy.
The impact of climate change brings a particular urgency to the debate. The coastal environment will change, and sea levels are predicted to rise. As a member of the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee, which is undertaking an inquiry into flooding, I have heard that Scotland could be better placed to avoid some of the effects of that phenomenon, but we must still consider the impact that flooding will have on our coastal communities. I am sure that that will form part of the Government's thinking on the flooding bill that it will introduce in due course.
Our seas have the potential to contribute so much to life, even in the land-locked parts of Central Scotland, and in a way that meets the Government's ambitious aims for our country. For example, the seas can help us to become greener—Scotland has been left too far behind in marine renewable energy. We can become healthier—careful use of our fish stocks should contribute to improving Scotland's diet. Our country can become richer, smarter and fairer as we invest in new technologies for and new understandings of our marine environment.
Today's debate has allowed us to reflect on those matters, and I know that the Scottish Government will consider them as it prepares its forthcoming legislation. I commend the Government motion.
Friday, 14 March 2008
Jamie Hepburn (Central Scotland) (SNP): I thank my friend and colleague Aileen Campbell for securing this debate, which, as she said, is timely. It is important and right that the Parliament should have a chance to discuss what is happening in Iraq today and how we arrived at this position over the past five years. My only concern is that tonight's debate may not be long enough to do those matters justice.
Although the debate is timely, I imagine that many are surprised that we are in a situation that makes it necessary. The fact that there has been a US and UK military presence in Iraq for five years and that there is no sign that that presence will end any time soon is testament to the lack of forward planning and thinking through of the consequences by those who took us into conflict during the headlong rush to war in 2003.
The consequences of the decision have been severe. According to CNN, there have been 4,279 coalition deaths in Iraq since 2003, and approaching 30,000 American troops have been wounded in action. Those deaths and woundings have scarred a generation of young servicemen and women, mostly of my generation, for no considerable good. Nor must we forget the tens of thousands of violent deaths of innocent Iraqi men, women and children since the invasion in 2003. I offer no more specific number because it is impossible to do so, as no official count of the Iraqi dead is made. That is significant, because it sends out the dangerous message that their dead—the dead men, women and children of Iraq—are worth less than our dead. Estimates of Iraqi casualties vary from the fairly conservative 50,000 to more than 1 million, but what are 900,000 or so dead individuals when no one is really counting?
We do well to remind ourselves that many of those who have died in Iraq have died as a result of terrorism that was unleashed in the internecine chaos that followed the invasion. One of the great ironies of the invasion is that its main protagonist, the United States Government, invaded on the dubious basis that Iraq was involved in the promotion of fundamentalist, Islamic-sponsored terrorism. The fact that Osama bin Laden was no friend of the Baathist regime and called Saddam Hussein an infidel was conveniently overlooked by, or unknown to, George Bush.
As repressive as the Saddam regime was, terrorism was not a domestic problem in Iraq before the invasion of 2003. The lack of forward planning and the dismantling of the state infrastructure of Iraq following the Pyrrhic victory of the coalition of the willing contributed directly to the unleashing of terrorism on the Iraqi people.
I have mentioned that the war on terror formed part of the rationale for going to war, but the basis for the war was formed above all by the idea that Iraq was attempting to build a weapons capacity that could strike at our shores within 45 minutes.
The fact that Iraq has been laid waste to for five years and not one scrap of evidence for the existence of such weapons has turned up gives the lie to the idea that they ever existed.
We all now know that the war in Iraq was about regime change and the desire to control that country's resources. I had no desire to support the maintenance of the Saddam regime, which was undeniably a barbaric form of government, but Saddam was equally barbaric when he was an ally of the United States and Britain against Iran; he perpetrated some of his worst crimes against the Iraqi people at that time. Where was the moral outrage from the American and British Governments then? There was none—Saddam Hussein was feted as an ally and Donald Rumsfeld was sent to meet and greet him. The old maxim "my enemy's enemy is my friend" held true in relation to Saddam Hussein—until such time as it did not suit.
I agree with the sentiments that Aileen Campbell has expressed in her motion. I hope that the legality of the war will, one day, be tested in the courts and that, when it is, those war criminals who are responsible—including George Bush and Tony Blair—are made to pay for their crimes.
As David Stewart said, the existence of the national park concept is a tribute to John Muir, a Scot from Dunbar who emigrated to the United States of America. His campaigns led to the protection first of the Yosemite valley and then of other great wildernesses in the US. It is a testament to the Scottish Parliament that the ideas of John Muir in establishing national parks have been enshrined in his country of birth.
We have two national parks in comparison with the 12—soon to be 13—parks across England and Wales and the many areas of outstanding natural beauty that have been designated south of the border and which are afforded the same protection. It is perhaps ironic that Scotland, which has some of the oldest, wildest and most impressive landscapes in Europe, has had to wait so long for a protection regime that matches European and global standards.
When we appreciate those landscapes, we cannot express our feelings more clearly than with the old maxim that we do no inherit the earth from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children. That is why protecting the land within our national parks is so important. Our landscapes and wildernesses have a value in their own right. Even if nobody ever visited them, our national parks would still be important as our country's lungs, filtering our water and purifying our air. That they act in that manner as well as being visited by so many people hammers home their importance to our country. It is right therefore that we should bestow on them a level of protection and management. Doing so will ensure that short-term gain does not mean long-term overexploitation.
As the motion before us correctly states, we should commend the contribution of national parks
"to the greener Scotland agenda."
However, the contribution of the parks is much wider than that. They make a valuable contribution to the Government's aims for a fairer and healthier Scotland.
Our national parks can make Scotland fairer, because land is protected for future generations and is understood as being held for the common good. That is in keeping with the traditional understanding of land use and ownership in Scotland. The elected element of the national park boards is a commendable example of participatory democracy. It is a way of ensuring that the voice of ordinary people is heard at the heart of decision making. I am glad that there seems to be such uniform agreement on the issue across the chamber.
Our national parks can also make Scotland healthier, because of the opportunities that they afford for recreation, especially walking, which is one of the cheapest, easiest and most effective forms of exercise. There also provide a wide range of outdoor pursuits from skiing and snowboarding on the Cairngorms to windsurfing on Loch Lomond, in which I am sure Jackie Baillie affords herself the opportunity to participate at every chance.
Jackie Baillie: Absolutely.
Jamie Hepburn: I assure members that I do not engage in those activities very regularly. However, for those who do, national park status means that the potentials can be maximised at the same time as the activities' impact on the landscape and environment is carefully managed.
Our national parks contribute
"to the greener Scotland agenda."
because they act as exemplars of the changes that we need to introduce in wider society if we are to tackle the causes and mitigate the effects of climate change.
National park authorities should be ambitious in promoting the Government's green targets. They should make their parks as accessible as possible to public transport; they should demand the highest standards of energy efficiency in their buildings; and they should minimise and manage waste. In that context, I welcome the Government's commitment to a strategic review of the operation of and future for our national parks. I hope that some of the points that I have made will be considered in the review.
After five years of designation, the time is right to ensure that our national parks serve the purposes for which they were established. Discussions have taken place on the effectiveness of the national park boards. It is right that all aspects of their operation should be considered in the review, but the elected element of those structures is of the utmost importance. In that regard, I welcome the minister's conformation that he shares those principles. Given the questions to the minister on the subject, some members appear to have missed that confirmation. As I said, I welcome it.
Five years after establishing the national parks, the time is also right to consider their size. I welcome Mike Russell's announcement that the Cairngorms national park will include highland Perthshire. The people of highland Perthshire should be congratulated, not only on voting for the SNP, which won with 60 per cent of the vote in a recent by-election, but on the campaign that they have run to be included in the Cairngorms national park. I also pay tribute to John Swinney for the campaign that he has run.
I welcome the fact that the Government review will consider other areas that may be included in the existing national parks. I hope that the review will also consider other areas throughout Scotland that may be endowed with national park status. For instance, the regional parks that were established long ago could be considered for promotion to full national park status. I ask the cabinet secretary to consider that possibility in summing up the debate.
Scotland's national parks are part of a European and worldwide family of designated and protected landscapes. The European Landscape Convention of 2000, which the United Kingdom finally ratified in 2006, reinforces the global dimension. That means that we have a duty not only to Scotland's future generations, but to people throughout the world who benefit from our national parks as tourists, consumers of produce and suppliers of the technology and tools that are used in the parks.
We have a duty to preserve and enhance the natural beauty and resources of our national parks and all Scotland's designated scenic areas. Scotland's national parks are a major achievement of devolution and a major responsibility of the Parliament. I hope that the debate takes us some way towards exercising that responsibility. We must realise that, through the careful and strategic management of our finest resources, we are building a legacy that will outlast us all.
Friday, 7 March 2008
We are told that they will offer us greater protection against terrorism and identity fraud.
In what way will a little bit of paper with our names on it act as a shield against these threats?
Let's not forget that Spain operates an ID card scheme, yet this did not stop bombs going off on Madrid trains.
People who are so determined to put lives at jeopardy, including their own for whatever extreme ends they wish to pursue will hardly be put off at the prospect of ID cards in the UK. Anyone who believes they will is delusional.
The case for ID cards is extremely weak, and I don't buy for a second the talk from the UK government that they will make life easier for us all. Nor do I buy the talk that there will be no compulsion upon us to carry these cards. Certainly that may be the case in the short term, but surely that would be liable to change. After all, what would be the point of introducing a card that we would be compelled to have if we are not to be compelled to carry it?
This is to say nothing of the outrage that we are expected to have to pay for the 'privilege' of these cards, possibly as much as £90 or more.
Anyway, I am delighted that the Scottish Government is resolute in opposition to these cards and they shall certainly have my support in that opposition.