Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Letter in Am Bratach Magazine

November Edition

Dear Ed.,

It would be tedious and a waste of space to refute the allegations of ignorance, ignoring voters and which universe I am alleged to live in. So I am delighted that Mike Russell's response to Shucksmith has repelled the burdens issue and reinforced the need for democratic local direction for crofting. Democratically elected area boards for example for the North of Scotland mainland should avoid any more loose talk of commissars or the ABC of Communism which bizarrely arose in certain individual comments in your columns.

Whilst the Scottish Crofting Foundation may not please every crofter, especially the most vocal amongst your readership, it gladly welcomed the Minister's presence and proposals at the Barra AGM. I look forward to scrutinising the proposed crofting legislation and urge interested parties to read the Government Response to Shucksmith delivered to Parliament on 1st October. It blew gales of common sense through a period of, sometimes deliberate, misunderstanding. These October gales blow away many cobwebs from crofting practices and augur an inclusive and sustainable future. I thoroughly endorse Mike Russell's common sense.

Rob Gibson MSP
4 Grant St., Wick, Caithness

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Holyrood Diary

High speed railways here in Scotland, just like the TGV in France, still a dream I’m afraid? Thanks to gross underinvestment over past decades, the Scottish Government is bravely trying to turn round that story by constructing more miles of rail development per head of population in Scotland than they are doing in England and Wales.

To help this we have been allowed some more devolved powers over rail matters, hence my comments in this column. Looking at the rail and road needs of the Far North, we can’t let up the demands for a share of that investment. As you know I have been a regular campaigner on Far North transport, so I think an update on some issues bears comment.

Firstly I welcome the idea of seeking concessionary fares on our meandering railway to Inverness as well as on the buses. I asked the Cabinet Secretary John Swinney in the TICC committee a fortnight ago if concessionary fares could be extended from bus to rail - for if you use a train, you aren’t using a bus.

John Swinney replied “As the committee knows, the previous Administration established the concessionary travel scheme by amalgamating the schemes in different local authority areas. In some parts of the country, there was an entitlement to use rail services and in others there was none. The view was taken that the way in which to guarantee the comprehensive access that now exists for those who use the concessionary travel scheme was to use the bus network. The Government still holds that view. The scheme is extremely well utilised around the country and the Government welcomes that participation in the scheme.”

Bearing in mind the squeeze on the Scottish budget I then remarked, “Buses in the Far North take even longer than the train takes, and the train takes more than four hours between Inverness and Wick. Perhaps modernity ought to be extended to all parts of the country.”

On the buses, thankfully, Stagecoach are beginning to respond to complaints about the 25X service but the need for integrated and modern alternatives for travel are equally applicable in Caithness as Coatbridge. That’s why we need rail concessionary fares to boost the use of our railway. When you see the falling rail user numbers in recent years it beggars belief that certain people want no change in the route to take the Dornoch shortcut.

I believe that the benefits of the Strategic Transport Projects Review due in December may help to speed rail upgrades from Inverness south. But we need to see an acknowledgement that exciting Pentland Firth developments need rail and road investments to make them happen - concessionary fares for now, but real multi-million investment on high speed rail from Wick to Inverness must join the queue.

A NORTH SEA supergrid to export surplus renewable electricity from Scotland would benefit the whole of Europe. This was the message from the First Minister Alex Salmond who was speaking at the Scottish Government's publication of a milestone study for a North Sea Offshore which can make a big contribution to Europe and the world in moving to clean, green sources of energy.

This follows up his keynote speech at the Regeneration Conference in Thurso last September. He said,

"I have long argued that a North Sea offshore supergrid will encourage renewable generation and exports from Scotland, and also contribute to future energy security in Europe. We can export power from energy-rich northern Europe, to the energy-poorer areas.

"This pre-scoping study defines the potential for a full study to examine the technical, economic, social and financial feasibility of the development of an offshore transmission supergrid.

"It will allow us to explore the opportunities associated with the development of an offshore transmission network, and help make the case for commercial investment.

"We will continue to work with our North Sea neighbours and the EC with a view to formalising a partnership to make the exciting concept of a supergrid a reality.”

This work shines a beacon of light in a particularly dark November as the world-wide economic recession begins to bite. It was given a real boost when the European Commissioner confirmed the next day that a European super grid was essential to EU energy security. Alex Salmond responded,

"Never before have we been so well placed to become the green energy capital of Europe. The Commission's report designates the Blueprint for a North Sea Offshore Grid one of the six proposed infrastructure priorities.”

This gives the Far North a key role if we get a level playing field and real investment. We must not be fobbed off when we hear news from Gordon Brown’s government that their emphasis is on nuclear power stations built close to big English cites. Scotland’s European ambitions are very well founded.

POST OFFICE Card Account (POCA) contract have been saved for use in Post Offices, thank goodness. The decision had been subject to long delays since the summer, causing huge uncertainty for postmasters and their customers.

Caithness folk can be rightly proud of the part they have played in putting pressure on the London Government to allow Post Offices to continue providing this service. This decision has been long overdue and after the way in which the Post Office network has been treated in recent years by the Government this is at last some much needed relief.

There is still work to be done keeping pressure on the Government to promote vigorously the Card Account service to benefits customers and I will be encouraging those who most need the PO Accounts to sign up.


Friday, 21 November 2008

Aquaculture debate in the Scottish Parliament

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): As a member of the previous Environment and Rural Development committee, I was involved in consideration of the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill in 2007, so this debate is like déjà vu all over again, as they say.

The renewed strategic framework for aquaculture is to be welcomed, because each Government must have a different name for the same thing as it develops. However, the industry is developing and, despite the times in which we live, we have been successful in maintaining jobs in fin fish and shellfish in some of our most remote areas. I will speak about the perpetuation of those jobs in a minute, but I want first to look at one or two of the themes in the consultation on the renewed strategic framework, especially the "planning, consents and sites" theme.

It would be useful if the minister could provide an update on the use of sites, because although fish farm sites can be good neighbours, some people see them as bad neighbours. When we debated these issues in March 2007, we found that 121 out of 252 salmon leases established by the Crown Estate had reported nil production in 2004. In 2005, the figure was 125; in 2006, it was 140. Sixty-seven leases reported nil production in the total period 2004 to 2006. There are good reasons, such as fallowing, for keeping certain sites empty, but often it is done for anti-competitive reasons—to stop smaller companies coming into the market. That must be examined. When we considered the Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill, we were concerned that the Crown Estate did not have an effective way of dealing with the matter.

I hope that changes to our planning processes will enable us to limit the time for which leases are held. If they are not used within five years, planning permission should be withdrawn; there should be a means of regulating that. I hope that the minister will be able to expand on the issue, because local communities are concerned about large companies such as Panfish, which have sites and have applied for more. Those include the site at South Corriegills in Arran, which has been the subject of a public inquiry. Why is the company applying to take up new sites, against the interests of local communities, when many of its sites are unused?

Michael Russell: The member raises an important issue, but it was not possible to address the matter in a comprehensive way until we knew where all the sites were. Incredibly, the work that has been done on sites over the past year has enabled us for the first time to map them and to compare them with designated sites in Scotland. That will allow informed decision making for the first time.

Rob Gibson: I welcome the publication of the map, which shows the progress that is being made in these matters; I referred to that earlier. However, it will also be necessary to tighten up regulations.

The "markets, marketing and image" theme is important. Reference has been made to the image of salmon farming, which is improving considerably. However, we know that the market conditions for shellfish are very difficult at present. Given the fantastic resource of clean waters that we have, it is a great pity for the people who produce shellfish to see prices going down. In this period—the run-up to Christmas—there is a lot of evidence of difficulty. Prices are slow. French and Spanish dealers who would normally have struck deals for lobsters and other shellfish by this stage have not done so—they say that the Christmas season has not yet arrived.

The credit crunch is affecting our European neighbours, as it is us. Orkney fishermen say that they are having difficulty selling cooked partans. We need to find the means to float companies in weeks 49, 50 and 51 of the year. If the price rises are not achieved then, many shellfish merchants will be in serious difficulty. We therefore hope for evidence of a change in the process for marketing shellfish. There is a period of low demand in January, and if people have to keep over their stocks until then, they will not make money out of them.

Perhaps this is the time to stimulate the home market. Perhaps we should not, with all due respect, be eating turkeys at Christmas, but lobsters or shellfish—as people do in countries such as Portugal. That might be a good thing, because there are large stocks of them needing sold. We hope that there will be help with marketing through the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, which claims to work with aquaculture and which should be given a chance to do more in that direction.

We have questions about the environment, which I am particularly interested in from the point of view of the proposed climate change bill. If, as RSPB Scotland suggests, the growing aquaculture industry is to be consistent with the Scottish Government's sustainable development strategy, we should perhaps ask the minister whether we could have some means of doing a carbon count of the effect of the aquaculture industry, as we do for other industries. Aquaculture is a good industry to choose for ascertaining whether or not it is environmentally sustainable. That fits well with how the forthcoming marine bill will take into account marine spatial planning and the best use of our extremely clean waters.

I hope that the debate focuses on some of the major factors that will help the aquaculture industry to develop. As we have heard, we now have a greater uptake of salmon. Perhaps that is because of the difficulties of getting other fresh stocks, which have been run down through overfishing in some parts of the world. More processed salmon is being eaten. Nevertheless, that is good for the Scottish industry at the top end.

I doubt that we have had enough global warming to develop the necessary climate for flying fish to reach this part of the world, as the Tories suggested, but who knows, they might be farmed in future. In the meantime, in the serious world, this is an excellent debate on an excellent industry that we must support.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Social Enterprise in the Parliament

Here I'm at a social enterprise event on 18 November in the Parliament during Social Enterprise week in Scotland. The picture with GREAN explains the Golspie based social enterprise collects kerbside waste, recycles and produces excellent community compost for a community garden and employs 20 people, some of whom find it difficult to find local work. Fergus Morrison pictured with me was my local hero at the Parliamentary opening for the new session. The SNP's councillors back his excellent work in funding issues with Highland Council.

A visit to Longannet Power Station

Here I am at the Longannet Power Station. This coal fired station was producing a quarter of Scotland's electricity when we visited on a sunny November day. It has new scrubbers fitted to reduce green house gases. It will have to take a step change after 2015. I am pictured in the control room and the second pic is of one of the four installed turbines that was doing all the work that day.

Friday, 7 November 2008

National Health Service Dentists - Highlands & Islands

The Scottish Parliament
General Question Time
Thursday 6 November 2008

8. Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that all adults and children in Caithness and other parts of the Highlands and Islands are able to register with an NHS dentist. (S3O-4739)

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Nicola Sturgeon): Responsibility for the overall provision of NHS general dental services rests with NHS boards.

NHS Highland has already expanded its salaried dental services and has a number of other projects planned to expand services further. New dental surgeries have been established in Wick, Fort William and Inverness, and there are plans to establish new premises in Portree, Grantown, Invergordon and Tain. Those developments will result in the creation of an additional 29 dental surgeries and the registration of a minimum additional 29,000 patients under NHS arrangements.

NHS Highland is raising awareness of the grants that are available under the Scottish dental access initiative, and it has been provisionally allocated £4.14 million from the primary and community care modernisation fund.

Rob Gibson: I thank the cabinet secretary for that detailed answer. At present, there is a shortfall of graduates who are able to take up posts. For example, in Orkney, around 2.4 full-time posts are required. The figure in Caithness would probably be double that. Will the cabinet secretary give us an idea of the flow of graduates who will be able to fill the posts in the new dental premises that we are about to build?

Nicola Sturgeon: Rob Gibson raises an important point. As we expand the opportunities and the incentives for dentists to do NHS dentistry, we must ensure that the flow of dentists through education and into those posts is as smooth as possible. That is one of the key reasons why the Government took the decision to open the Aberdeen dental school. It opened on 6 October, and I am pleased to say that it has now accepted its first intake of students. That will increase the number of students training in Scotland, so in time it will increase the number of graduates.

In the 2007-08 academic session, 492 students across Scotland applied for the dental bursary.

That will ensure a future stock of dentists for NHS dentistry.

S3M-02829 Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (Scottish National Party): Scotland's Congratulations to Barack Obama

That the Parliament welcomes the historic election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America; applauds his accomplishment in breaking down lingering racial barriers and becoming the first African American to be elected to the office; congratulates the American public for turning out in record numbers to vote in the 2008 elections, breaking voting turnout records for young people as well as new voters that had never before cast a ballot; welcomes the revitalised partnership that America can offer to Scotland and the rest of the world through this unprecedented and uplifting election, and further offers congratulations from the whole of Scotland to the incoming leader of America.

Supported by: Dr Bill Wilson, Bashir Ahmad, Stuart McMillan, Dr Alasdair Allan, Alex Neil, Joe FitzPatrick, Ken Macintosh, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Jackie Baillie, Keith Brown, Christina McKelvie, Jamie Hepburn

Lodged on Wednesday, November 05, 2008; Current

We should take a leaf from the Scandinavian bank book

By Rob Gibson MSP in the John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier
Published: 07 November, 2008

HBOS has a future, but as yet it has to await the decision of its shareholders and those of Lloyds TSB in a 75 per cent approval vote.

We debated the need to give room for another bid to offer an alternative.

The Scottish Parliament voted for such a move on Thursday, October 30.

I spoke of the need to learn from past mistakes and for a European-wide agreement for smart regulation.

Unbelievably Labour speakers claimed that bank boards were best placed to decide. But the virtual nationalisation of HBOS, Lloyds and RBS on top of Northern Rock means the public are major shareholders.

When Norway and Sweden tackled the results of banking deregulation in the 1980s they sacked bank boards, wrote down shares and only sold their national shares taken to refloat many banks after their slimmed-down portfolios were in profit. Gordon Brown learned only half the lesson from Scandinavia as did the Bush Government.

Yet in Highland towns an HBOS branch sits near to a Lloyds one. That stark example of potential job loss, of amalgamation and loss of competition, does not concern Lord Mandelson or his master.

Indeed the glee with which Labour welcomed the difficulties of Iceland's banks and their subsequent political stance to dismiss the right of Scots to decide a future for banking governance is London-knows-best 21st-century style.

In debate I was pleased to quote the remarks of Eamonn Gallagher, a former director general of the European Commission and former EU ambassador to the UN. Commenting in The Herald on October 24 he said: "It is extraordinary that in the midst of an international banking crisis – and even as his own country is slipping into recession – Gordon Brown chose to argue that somehow global banking problems mean that Scotland should dare not consider questions of good governance any further.

Is it not a rather curious assertion from the man who has held the reins of financial power in the UK for the past 11 years?

"The argument seems to be: 'Things have gotten really bad on my watch – best let me keep handling things'."

Some commentators suggest the UK will have the deepest recession of any of our European neighbours.

COMMITTEES in the Parliament are quizzing panels of spending agencies and the builders, engineers and financial experts of our nation. This is the budget scrutiny process that sets every subject committee to report to the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee.

I asked questions on rail transport plans, climate-proofing our energy-challenged housing, on the effects of the credit crunch, on marine renewables and related to that why the Lib Dem and Labour opposition persist in misrepresenting the cash available to HIE for their newly-focused role.

I am always struck by the strengthening communities function of HIE in contrast to the dismal approach of Scottish Enterprise that has no such social remit.

Any tour of lowland towns and villages will show where the Highlands and Islands score on the enterprise encouraged in every small place, not just the big towns.

Anyway the crux is this: if any changes are proposed by subject committees to government spending plans then a reduction of spend in another area has also to be identified and agreed. Then the finance committee has to bring the whole package to the chamber for all MSPs to vote.

Room for manoeuvre is very tight. That's because at present the Scottish Parliament receives the vast bulk of its spend from a block grant.

The London Treasury collects all the national taxes then allocates our Scottish spend.

Hopefully all parties agree that after 10 years of devolution we need to see ways to raise the taxes here in Scotland to make the politicians even more accountable.


CAITHNESS came to Carbisdale Castle last Saturday. My parliamentary assistant Gail MacDonald, who staffs our Grant Street office, tied the knot with her beau Stewart Ross amidst much ceilidh, kilts and country music celebration.

Group photo of staff from left to right: Anne-Flore Hervio, my Parliamentary intern from Britany; Haley St. Dennis, my Parliamentary Assistant; Grant Baskerville, my former Parliamentary Assistant now advisor to Aileen Campbell MSP and Alyn Smith MEP; the blushing bride herself; the boss; Niall MacDonald, my Press Officer.

Stewart and his Wick Academy team-mates gained a historic nil-nil draw against Edinburgh City in the second round of the Scottish Cup the previous Saturday and subsequently appeared with his friends on page 61 of the Scottish Sun in stag night gear dressed as world series wrestlers!

Alas he and several of the team members missed the replay in Wick where the 4-1 score line for the Edinburgh team told its own story.

Nevertheless, as they say, the match made by Stewart and Gail was more than compensation for the jarring halt to Wick Academy in their quest for cup glory this season.


BARACK OBAMA delivered the votes as promised. This week the USA starts to hold its head higher and tackle its huge problems inherited from the Bush presidency.

For those seeking change in the States, the opportunities for positive wealth redistribution and a kick start for the real economy have resonances around the globe.

I hope Scots, too, are inspired and hold our nerve for the changes being wrought for the better by our own democrats, the Alex Salmond-led SNP Government.

We all congratulate Obama, let's not turn the clock back – we need Scottish solutions to Scottish problems in partnership with our neighbours, not diktat from the London cynicism.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Debate in the Scottish Parliament
Thursday 6 November 2008

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Kathleen Marshall, has served us well by giving us the opportunity to conclude that the way in which we apply the suggestions and necessities under the UNCRC requires to be prioritised. Those necessities are fundamental, but some are more fundamental than others and, as Elizabeth Smith said, it is important to think about which are the most important. We as a Parliament believe that many of them can be applied by Government and do not need to be left to individuals to carry out.

Robert Brown: Will the member sign up to the idea of an action plan to be carried forward by the Scottish Government, which various organisations and several members this afternoon have called for?

Rob Gibson: The best way to deal with the issue would be for an appropriate committee of the Parliament to consider the matter and to put a report before Parliament. If that report took the form of an action plan, it might meet all our interests.

Thanks to the incorporation of a children's rights unit in the lifelong learning directorate, progress in Scotland has been positive. However, the children's commissioner has said that we should not be complacent, because—even now, in 2008—many children in Scotland still live in poverty, experience difficulties in accessing essential health services and face a range of other barriers to securing their rights.

The impulse to try to improve children's conditions is centuries old. Karen Whitefield gave the example of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The impulse not to return to the poverty and misery of those years was a driver behind a family of UN declarations. With decolonisation came an important impetus to improve the situation throughout the world. However, we forget at our peril that there are still 250,000 children living in poverty in this country, 90,000 of whom are in dire poverty.

We must recognise that Scots have been at the forefront of the debate. Indeed, I shall quote a short poem by Sorley MacLean from the period around 1940, which has been translated into Scots by Douglas Young so that more people can understand it. Sorley MacLean said:

"My een are nae on Calvary
or the Bethlehem they praise,
but on shitten back-lands in Glesca toun
whaur growan life decays,
and a stairheid room in an Embro land,
a chalmer o puirtith and skaith,
whaur monie a shilpit bairnikie
gaes smoorit doun til daith."

The issue of growing life decaying is at the heart of the debate, and it is why the processes of children's rights throughout the globe have to be seriously addressed. If we are to have an action plan, and if we are to decide on priorities, what could come from the debate is the opportunity for the Parliament, in this four-year session, not only to try to deal with the actions that the Government has already taken but to guide some of its actions, for example by raising awareness of the declaration or by ensuring respect for the views of children.

I am a former teacher, and I do not think that our school system is fully geared up yet. There is a kind of dictatorship in which headteachers decide what happens, and the experience of how children's views are taken into account is mixed. Through the cabinet secretary's department, we could take measures to allow those views to be heard.

I was delighted to hear the examples from St Monans that the minister gave. Every school in the country should be adopting such principles. The boundaries of what people can do and what they cannot do have to be discussed.

George Foulkes said that the abolition of physical punishment in schools was important. I was part of the action group that helped to bring about abolition. However, the physical punishment was replaced by sarcasm—by talking children down. In Scotland, that is one of the means whereby far too many children are disadvantaged.

We have to end bullying and violence, as ChildLine suggests—through, for example, the teaching of human rights and peace and tolerance. However, we have to allow children to express their views in their own languages and dialects. If children speak Scots, we should encourage that, because it will build their self-esteem. Such rights for children should be given greater importance. Amnesty International has suggested that the curriculum for excellence is a good place in which to enshrine both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They should be part of the teaching in every school.

When I was a modern studies teacher, I was happy to try to deal with some of these issues in relation to Africa. South African democracy was developing at the time when I was teaching.

Lord Foulkes made a point that we should stamp on immediately. I wonder whether he has mentioned Monsanto in the register of members' interests. The latest argument among the multinational seed and pesticide makers is that genetically modified seeds can feed the world. If free seeds were given out, if we ensured that there was transport, and if we ensured that the monopolies of these companies did not send Indian farmers to their deaths through suicide because their crops had failed, we could do much more for families and children in many parts of the world. I suggest that Lord Foulkes withdraw his ridiculous remarks.

The most important things that children can learn about their rights can be learned at school. Children can learn to respect the rights of others, and that will happen as their understanding grows.

Of course,

"Aa thae roses an geans will turn tae blume",

as Hamish Henderson wrote in "The Freedom Come Aa Ye". However, he also wrote:

"And a black boy frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o' the burghers doon"

That means that it is about people in every country having opportunities. While we pursue wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the like, we are denying many children the opportunity to ding doon the fell gallows. The debate reminds us that there is so much further to go both in our own country and abroad.


Monday, 3 November 2008

Thursday's debate on HBoS

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): When Tavish Scott spoke to the motion, he talked about the backdrop of economic chaos in the world. We are talking about one of the worst-ever experiences at the end of a trade cycle, which has developed into a banking crisis of massive proportions.

I am old enough to have been involved in the battles when the TSB tried to stop the Lloyds takeover. I was also active in the SNP when we had to try to save the Royal Bank of Scotland from takeover by various other banks. Lessons can be learned from that process, and they will have to be learned quickly in Scotland, in Britain, in Europe and elsewhere.

In this debate, we can acknowledge the way in which deregulation of banking in the 1980s has led to many of the problems that companies now face. The companies all took the bait in pursuit of the kind of profits that seemed possible from the derivatives markets. Countries now have to sort that out. In the 1980s, Norway and Sweden sorted out their banks after deregulation, which showed what small countries can do when they have the powers.

I want to talk about the European situation. There has been a big silence from Gordon Brown and company, after years of lecturing Europe about deregulation. Internal market commissioner Charles McCreevy of the European Commission said:

"I would like to have by the end of this year concrete proposals as to how the risks from credit derivatives can be mitigated."

This Parliament, our Government and others have to feed into the European debate. Smart regulation will liberate us from the pitfalls of the past.

I was amazed by John Park's suggestion that everything is fine and dandy and that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are serving Scotland well. I have to disagree. In The Herald last week, Eamonn Gallagher wrote:

"It was extraordinary that in the midst of an international financial crisis—and even as his own country is slipping into recession—Gordon Brown chose to argue that somehow global banking problems mean that Scotland should dare not consider questions of good governance any further. Is this not a rather curious assertion from the man who has held the reins of financial power in the UK for the past 11 years? The argument seems to be: 'Things have gotten really bad on my watch—best to let me keep handling things.'"

The question now is whether this Parliament can state that there are ways of applying Government controls to enhance the ability of HBOS to survive as HBOS rather than as part of a merged company. What issues arise as a result of European competition rules? No one has discussed those yet.

The scenarios that my colleague Alex Neil laid out have to be considered seriously. We have to give HBOS the space to rebuild. We have to allow liquidity for it to rebuild the real economy in the place where the Bank of Scotland was based for so many centuries and we have to secure the jobs in the bank to support the real economy. The wider economy will benefit from clear-headed thinking. This debate is not just about the immediate prospect of a merger but about learning lessons on the way in which banking has to be regulated. There has to be a European framework for that, and Scotland will have to have a direct say in that framework.

Members should support the motion. It is the only proposal that allows us to consider the options and allows us not to accept the way in which Scotland has been downplayed. Mr Brown has said that he can deal with a recession, but he caused many of the conditions in this country that have led to the problems for HBOS and many others in the real economy. Members should support the motion and reject the amendment from the Tories.