Sketch: Things get heated as the Scottish Parliament talks Brexit and the environment

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 28 October 2016 in Comment

Scottish Parliamentary sketch: MSPs talk Brexit and the environment

Bee - credit: Radek Szuban

There was a moment, watching MSPs debate how leaving the EU would affect Parliament’s ability to control the sea, that it felt as though the discussion on Brexit and the environment might have got out of hand. The debate – covering climate change, eagles, bumblebees and the sulphuric content of marine fuel – was an odd one, even if it was just as heated as you might expect.

Things had actually started pretty smoothly, with Roseanna Cunningham, running through some of the benefits brought by the EU in terms of environmental protection, and in offering a forum for international agreement on things like climate change. Leaving the EU could put the environment at risk, she warned.

There was broad agreement on this and for a while it was all reasonably amicable, at least until Labour MSP Neil Findlay intervened to point out that Cunningham was depressing everyone.


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“Each of these Brexit debates degenerates into project fear on steroids”, he said, adding, “I have grave concerns about some of the things that will happen after Brexit, but will the cabinet secretary turn her mind to some of the opportunities that may arise from it?”

Cunningham didn’t look delighted about this, shooting back, “I would be glad to hear from Mr Findlay what some of those opportunities are, because I know that he voted leave and therefore agrees with the Westminster Government…”

Voted leave. Agrees with the Westminster Government. Findlay did not like that.

Findlay raised a point of order, stating, “for the record, I voted remain”. The presiding officer pointed out his point of order was not a point of order, but now on the record anyway. Cunningham said she was glad to be corrected, although she didn’t look it.

Tory MSP Maurice Golden came next, telling the chamber, “The argument that every problem facing Scotland is the fault of the UK Government is as weak as it is simplistic.”

Stewart Stevenson objected to this line, possibly because the argument is as powerful as it is simplistic.

Golden, meanwhile, looked a bit put-out by Stevenson’s demand for an intervention, possibly because he had only been speaking for 35 seconds. Still, he agreed to hear it.

Taking to his feet, Stevenson pointed out that the Scottish Parliament doesn’t have the power to change the sulphur levels in three specific types of marine fuel. It was powerful stuff. Without the power to control the sulphur levels in three specific types of marine fuel, how could the Scottish Parliament be one of the most powerful devolved administrations in the world? The Vow was a lie after all.

Responding, Golden said: “We will fully cover all those points in the course of the next eight and a half minutes”, with the air of a man quietly resigned to spending the next eight and a half minutes discussing the sulphur content of marine fuel with Stewart Stevenson.

“The Government’s approach is the politics of grievance”, he said, and to be fair the debate was becoming pretty fractious. Maybe he had a point. Perhaps, instead of constantly attacking each other, it would be better to build bridges?

Golden continued: “The irony is that, like with a spoilt child, the more powers that have been given to the Scottish Parliament, the louder the moaning and whingeing from the SNP Government gets”.

Instead it should “stop the naval gazing, inverse counterfactual history and the quantum reality postulation”, he said. MSPs looked a bit confused by that. Apart from anything else, wouldn’t an inverse counterfactual history just be a normal history?

Mike Russell tried to intervene. Golden said no, telling him “I am just doing a list of failures”.

The failures went on and on. Russell intervened to point out the UK Government had failed even more. Golden pointed out he is not a spokesperson for the UK Government.

“This is the Scottish Parliament”, he argued, looking around at the inside of the Scottish Parliament, where he was standing, “with devolved powers to deal with Scotland.”

“We have the opportunity to take back control of our seas”, he claimed. But from who? The fish? The sea-people? Some sort of Kraken? Who knows. It certainly seemed ambitious, given there are very few people or parliaments that can control the seas. Maybe Neptune. The policy certainly didn’t work for Canute, but maybe Maurice Golden knows something King Canute didn’t.

Whatever the answer, it was about this point things started getting stranger.

Labour MSP David Stewart began by telling the chamber about his interest in bumblebees, probably because of widespread public concern over the influence of the bumblebee lobby. Which is understandable. Those guys want all the honey for themselves.

Mark Ruskell admitted he was interested in white-tailed eagles, with the Green MSP using his speech to point out that the environment has no respect for sovereignty.

He argued: “fish swim across international waters”. Apparently he was unaware of Golden’s plans to command the oceans.

Liam McArthur made similar points – on environmental cooperation, not Poseidon – before questioning the SNP’s support for Heathrow, given the environmental damage more flights will cause.

The decision, he said, “flies an Airbus A380 through the SNP’s commitment to tackling climate change”, before adding, “Doubtless, Heathrow lobbyists will be congratulating themselves on money well spent at the recent SNP conference.” They are probably just pleased they got to the party before the bee lobby.

After that Stewart Stevenson regaled everyone with a short story about how, in 1968, he worked as a water bailiff for the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board.

SNP MSP Kate Forbes caused a palpable sense of jealousy in the chamber by reminding everyone her constituency (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) has bottlenose dolphins.

Finally, tasked with closing proceedings, Mike Russell boasted that he is a species champion for both the corncrake and the tree lungwort, before adding “but not at the same time, I stress”.

Closing, he referred to something Gillian Martin had said earlier on. “She said to the Tories, if they do not like hearing about grievances they should stop causing them”.

The SNP MSPs applauded and the Tories looked aggrieved. David Stewart and Mark Ruskell, meanwhile, watched on. Who knows what the bumblebee and white-tailed eagle lobby would make of the Heathrow expansion. 

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