Parliamentary sketch: MSPs make waves

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 10 June 2016 in Comment

A debate on the environment brings out the best in the chamber

The debate on the environment, land reform and climate change really seemed to bring out the best in the chamber.

The place was brimming with know-how. There was Andy Wightman, an expert on land reform, Peter Chapman, a former vice president of the NFU, and even Edward Mountain, who is named after a mountain. Plus SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson, who, as well as having served as environment minister, also looks like he’s spent some time living alone in the wilderness.

Roseanna Cunningham, the new Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform and Climate Change, started things off, saying: “We are not often blessed with a sustained spell of balmy, sunny weather in Scotland, but I will take every credit for it.”


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This was huge news. Most commentators had suggested the decision to upgrade the land reform and climate change brief to cabinet secretary status was a signal of intent. Cunningham, however, seemed to have taken the upgrade as proof she could control the weather, suggesting the brief had not just been upgraded to cabinet secretary but to super-hero status.

It was a wide-ranging speech, with Cunningham pledging to “to use our country’s natural capital wisely and productively”. She pledged to have land reform commissioners in place by the end of this year, the land commission operational by 1 April 2017, and a consultation on a mandatory public register of landowners’ controlling interests beginning in the summer.

Moving on, she claimed, “Scotland has established itself as a hydro nation”, which certainly seemed a bold claim to make on dry land. The SNP lost out on independence – described as a largely land-based option in the White Paper – and so seems to have set about turning Scotland into Atlantis. Tellingly though, Cunningham didn’t specify what currency this new underwater Scottish republic would use. Classic SNP.

Cunningham continued: “No natural asset presents a greater opportunity to fulfil our nation’s potential than our seas.”

There is a lot happening in the sea. It would be a really nice place to live.

“They are home to more than 6,000 species and have around 25 per cent of the potential renewable energy resource in European waters. Unlocking that resource will help us to achieve our climate-change targets and will contribute to our ambitions for growing the rural economy.”

Sadly, though, the chamber still didn’t look totally convinced by Cunningham’s underwater schemes, forcing her to move onto climate change, which she said posed, “perhaps the biggest threat to our social and economic ambitions”.

She said: “That is why the Government has worked to make Scotland a world leader on climate change, and we have a record of which we can be proud.”

This seemed an odd way to describe the fact Scotland has missed its annual emissions targets for four years in a row – every year they have existed – but then, once we are all living at the bottom of the sea carbon emissions will probably drop significantly.

Next it was Tory MSP Maurice Golden, who had used his first speech to highlight the importance of the circular economy. Speaking here, he basically recycled it.

Continuing, he said: “I acknowledge the consensual sentiments from the cabinet secretary. We will see how long they last – I hope for longer than just this debate.”

Let’s hope they last for ages and ages, and then get used over and over again. He really loves recycling.

He said: “The Scottish economy is stagnant: unemployment is increasing and output is flatlining. That is why we must allow fracking, which will create jobs and boost the economy.”

Actually, he said, climate change demands we frack.

“From a global climate change point of view, it is worse to have swathes of supertankers traversing the world’s oceans to deliver shale gas to Grangemouth when we could have that production in Scotland.”

That seemed questionable. Apart from anything else, there are loads of morally or ethically dubious things the UK generally prefers to import, rather than produce ourselves. Just look at sweatshop clothes, for instance, or high level footballers.

Then, fresh from attacking the Scottish Government for not burning enough oil and gas, he criticised it for missing its emissions targets.

Tory MSP John Scott made similar arguments, saying fracking was a way of restoring “the can-do attitude that Scotland was once famous for”.

He said: “We must move away from the growing mindset that doing anything new is too risky.”

That made sense, even if opponents of fracking might say they do not think fracking is risky on the basis that it is new, but on the basis it could lead to your tap water catching fire.

Claudia Beamish followed, paying tribute to Sarah Boyack – one of the previous Labour environment spokespeople – as well as Cunningham’s predecessor, Richard Lochhead.

She said: “Environmental regulation must be right to enable sustainable development by land, sea and air.”

By air. That certainly added another dimension to the debate – which up until then, had been mainly land and sea based. Cunningham watched on, dreaming of the ocean deep.  

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