Plastic pollution in our seas

Greenpeace campaigners outside the Scottish Parliament deliver 124 bottles of small pieces of plastic from Scottish beaches to MSP Claudia Beamish and an artwork made by artist Mandy Barker, created from marine plastic waste found during the Greenpeace campaign.

Greenpeace visited the Scottish Parliament recently to continue their campaign for a Deposit Return Scheme to stop plastic pollution getting into our marine environment.

A team from Greenpeace travelled around the Scottish coast in the Beluga II documenting the impact of plastic pollution on iconic Scottish wildlife such as seabirds and basking sharks, conducting remote beach surveys and taking samples of seawater in key feeding grounds to analyse plastic pollution. The team told me seeing the reality of how much plastic gets into our marine environment was shocking.

To commemorate the expedition I was given a small glass vial full of small bits of plastic that they found on the voyage. Although it is little bits of plastic rubbish, it is a lovely way of reminding me of our globally significant marine life and the serious need to clean up our seas.

Scottish Labour supports the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland. This would add a small upfront charge to bottles sold, that will be returned to the customer when they bring the container back for recycling or reuse. I am mindful that there will need to be serious consideration given to exemptions and special circumstances, but this is an exciting policy that has shown real success in tackling littering in other countries around the world.



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Kez Dugdale responds to Brexit Bill

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale today said Labour will not support the Tories’ EU Withdrawal Bill unless there is a ‘clear presumption of devolution’.

Ms Dugdale said the Tories are intent on forcing through a Brexit that risks jobs and livelihoods, and the SNP has no interest in the deal that works for the entire UK, meaning only Labour is committed to an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

Ms Dugdale this week met with Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Exiting the European Union, Keir Starmer, in London.

Commenting on the publication of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said:
“This Bill may have changed name yet again, but that can’t disguise Theresa May’s attempt to force a Brexit on the UK that risks jobs and livelihoods.
“Labour believes there should be a jobs-first Brexit; not one that allows the Tories to erode workplace rights, consumer rights or environmental standards.
“Labour will seek a clear and binding commitment to repatriate powers in devolved areas to the Scottish Parliament. We will insist this must be done in a short, but achievable timeframe.
“If there is not a clear presumption of devolution, as well as the other demands set out by Keir Starmer, Labour has been clear that our MPs will not support this Bill in the Commons.
“It is my firm belief that we must not lose sight of the potential to strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies or the regions of England as part of a more federal United Kingdom.
“The Bill must also set out an acceptable financial settlement to accompany the newly devolved powers, as the Tories cannot be allowed to simply inflict further austerity on UK nations and regions.
“The SNP has absolutely no interest in a Brexit deal that works for the entire UK, and it’s now fundamentally clear that Labour is the only party committed to an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit that will deliver for the many, not the few.”

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Labour pledged to increase minimum wage to £10 an hour.

Scottish Labour will increase the statutory minimum wage currently at £7.50 per hour to £10 and scrap the lower youth rate of £5.60 an hour for those aged 18-20, and £7.05 for 21-24 year olds, in favour of a single £10 rate.

I am proud of our commitment to ensuring this increase.  Being in work doesn’t always mean people have enough to live on.

Scottish Government statistics show that 129,000 people between the ages of 18 and 24 earned less than £8.25 last year. Increasing the minimum wage would give at least 130,000 young Scots a pay rise.

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Common Agricultural Policy

The delivery of the Common Agriculture Policy payments has been one of the SNP Government’s biggest debacles. As a representative of many farmers across rural South Scotland, I thought it was very important to speak in the recent debate on Agriculture, to try and get some answers from the Scottish Government.

The abject failure to fix these issues has put our farmers under prolonged financial pressure, and it is deplorable that they continue to pay the price for this Government’s mess.

In February 2016, a very desperate point for farmers in Scotland, I met with members of NFUS Forth & Clyde in Crawfordjohn.  At that time, many spoke of the stress they were under, and raised concerns with the mental wellbeing of farmers and families. At that meeting I heard of seed merchants suffering loss of business, and farmers struggling to meet Hire-Purchase payments. And still today, Tom French, Vice Chairman of the Clydesdale NFUS branch has discussed the restricted cash flow difficulties with me, and the obvious effects on the confidence of the supply trade and farmer’s accountancy ability. Farmers in my region have told me extended credit arrangements in the supply trade has contributed to several businesses downsizing or stopping trading altogether.

The Government’s CAP failings took a huge toll not just on farmers awaiting payment, but on whole rural economies. Rural representatives well know the variety of factors that can make rural economies more fragile than urban counterparts, and this Government-imposed disruption had serious knock on effects.

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Air Passenger Duty debate

I recently spoke in the Stage 3 debate of the Air Departure Tax Bill. Scottish Labour are adamant that the SNP proposal to cut Air Passenger Duty – a tax currently paid on taking flights – is not progressive, fair, or environmentally friendly.

It is not progressive – 2015 UK passenger data shows that 15% of the population take 70% of flights, and ONS analysis suggests a 50% tax cut would benefit top earners significantly more.

It is not necessary – Scottish airports are enjoying record passenger numbers, and overseas trips to Scotland are up 6% in 2016, supporting our thriving tourism sector.

It is not clear – Once again this Parliament is expected to scrutinise effectively without a full picture from the Government. I echo the concerns raised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation Scotland, “In the absence of information such as this, it is very difficult to say with any degree of certainty what benefits – if any – this change will make.” The Scottish Government should consider this repeated concern very seriously.

It is unjustified – Scotland faces a time of financial constraint, and this is a valuable source of revenue. APD delivered over £270 million 2015-2016, and depriving the public purse of this income seems irrational when coupled with cuts to public services.

Our local services are being squeezed and our communities are suffering for it. Cheaper business class flights won’t make Scotland any fairer.

Not only is this a question of social justice – cutting APD would have implications of climate justice too.

Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing every country in the world. It underscores our interdependence.

This Stage 3 debate arrives the week after the Scottish Government proudly revealed their success in reducing emissions targets, and this Chamber was filled with warm words and talk of ambition. The bad news, of course, was that the transport sector has now risen to be the heaviest greenhouse gas emitter. Our transport sector including international aviation and shipping has only dropped emissions by 1.1% in 27 years. International aviation has increased by 9% from 2014 to 2015, and from 1990 – 2015 it has risen dramatically by approximately 144%.

Today, the SNP’s talk of climate change ambition could not seem more hollow. In 2015 the UK promised to be a part of that collective action at the Paris Agreement. That means this Government needs to ensure every policy is stress tested to advance Scotland to our eventual goal to moving to a zero emission society. By the Scottish Government’s own analysis – this policy fails that test. 60,000 more tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year.

Given the greenhouse gas emissions inventory for 2015, it is clear as day that we need proper commitment to sustainable travel. Our transport sector – excluding international aviation and shipping – is now more damaging to our climate than it was in 1990.

We need a focus on a modal shift – improving public transport and infrastructure for more environmentally sustainable modes – to make it an easy choice for passengers. Incentivising people to fly, particularly domestically, is backwards. It threatens our rail services, which is not afforded the same tax breaks, and goes against the Scottish Government’s own key objective of bolstering rail services between England and Scotland.

I cannot hold much hope for behaviour change towards sustainability with proposals like this one.

Scottish Labour supported the introduction of this Bill – but the tax cut proposals were the wrong priority at the wrong time.

The result of the vote was very disappointing.


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Re-elected to CPG Carers

I am delighted to be re-elected as Co-Convenor of the Cross Party Group on Carers, along with Graeme Dey MSP.

The CPG held the AGM in Parliament yesterday, and both Graeme and I were unanimously voted to continue the same role, sharing the convenership. The group also discussed what was going on in the Parliament relevant to carers, including the Social Security Bill and regulations for the Carers Act.

Carers rights has been a key issue for me throughout my time as an MSP, and I look forward to continue to work with the Cross Party Group.

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Clydesdale Members of Scottish Youth Parliament

I was delighted to welcome Kyle Slater MSYP into the Parliament last week and was joined by Reece Harding MSYP, both Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament for the Clydesdale constituency.

I have been very supportive of the Scottish Youth Parliament throughout my time as a MSP, including having the privilege of launching their ‘Care, Fare, Share’ campaign which was a great success. I look forward to working with Reece and Kyle throughout their time as MSYPs and I am sure they will do a fantastic job of representing the young people of Clydesdale.

Kyle said;

“First impressions last. I learned this when I was welcomed with open arms into the Scottish Parliament by Claudia Beamish MSP, my former primary school teacher and my MSYP colleague Reece Harding.

We were set to have a productive day, consolidating our relations between ourselves as MSYPs and our democratically elected members. Claudia was very keen to discuss and plan out a way forward and identify what we can work on mutually and it gave us an opportunity to ask any questions that we may have had. I was given a tour by Reece and I was incredibly impressed. I found that the new tapestries about the history of Scotland were fascinating and felt that the Scottish Parliament really does have a great atmosphere.

Following lunch with Claudia and Reece we went into the debating chamber, I learned a lot about the design of the chamber and also about what happens when in session. I was intrigued by the Mace and enjoyed learning about the values it represents.

I also got the chance to observe a debate about a new policy which was being developed and was at stage 3 of the Child Abuse Scotland bill, I found this incredibly helpful and this was an opportunity to gain an insight into political processes.

I am very grateful to Claudia for the opportunity to come along to the parliament today and cannot wait to work with her in the future.”

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Scotland one step closer to banning fracking

Scottish Labour has moved a step closer to banning fracking in Scotland.

I have announced my intention to press ahead with a Member’s Bill to outlaw the controversial practice across the country.

A public consultation ahead of the bill found that 87 per cent of respondents were in favour of a ban, with more than 1,000 people responding to the consultation – one of the highest response rates in Scottish Parliament history.

The SNP has failed to rule out introducing the controversial practice, despite the overwhelming public opposition and environmental dangers.

Both Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Green Party MSPs have signed up to support Labour’s Bill, alongside Labour members, allowing the bill to proceed.

Last year, the Scottish Parliament backed a Labour motion to ban fracking in Scotland.

The SNP has repeatedly failed to ban on-shore fracking in Scotland – so Labour will do it. The climate science is irrefutable. Scotland does not need a new fossil fuel as we shift towards a low carbon economy. People across South Scotland and the country are also rightly concerned about the potential health implications of unconventional oil and gas extraction.

This is about Scotland’s future, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the condition we leave our planet in for our children and our grandchildren. The Scottish Parliament has already voted to ban fracking in Scotland, but the SNP has kicked the decision into the long grass.

This bill will ban fracking – the people of Scotland do not want it and our environment does not need it.

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Tail shortening

The SNP and Tories have worked together to revoke the ban on tail shortening in certain breeds of working dog. 61 in favour of lifting the ban and 57 against.

The Scottish Labour government instigated the ban on what most animal welfare charities agree is a cruel, disproportionate, and very painful procedure carried out on puppies only days old.

This process involves the cutting through or the crushing of skin, muscles, up to seven pairs of nerves, bone and cartilage in puppies under five days old – without anaesthetic.

There is evidence to show that shortening tails limits a dog’s ability to communicate or balance. There is also evidence to show that there is little proof required to show that the dogs whose tails are shortened will actually be used for work in later life.

There is no robust research into alternatives to tail shortening despite a decade of opportunity to conduct this. I also remain unconvinced that this procedure is proportionate in relation to the injuries which working dogs might sustain to un shortened tails in adult life.

Scottish Labour has repeatedly spoken out against reinstating this cruel procedure as part of its comprehensive package of animal welfare policies and will continue to do so.

Tail shortening has no place in civilised society and by voting to reintroduce it the SNP has set back the cause of animal welfare in Scotland.

Here are my comments at committee and my colleague MSP David Stewart’s speech prior to the vote.

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Smart Energy

Last week I attended an event in the Scottish Parliament, hosted by the voice of the smart meter rollout, Smart Energy GB. Smart meters are a great opportunity to take control of your gas and electricity and there is no additional cost to having one installed.

Key benefits include:

  • The ability to see exactly how much gas and electricity you are using, as you use it, in pounds and pence
  • Accurate bills – no more estimates
  • Smart meters are easy to use with all the information you need available on a simple in-home display screen

Being able to see how much energy you use, when you use it, allows you to make the right choices for your household. Smart meters also bring an end at last to the uncertainty of estimated bills.

More information on smart meters

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