Alison Johnstone MSP

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Devolution (Further Powers) Committee 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

We have been having a discussion on the themes of transparency and how communication has to be better at all levels between various Governments. However, in his opening statement, Professor Keating said that the public do not understand what is in the Smith commission proposals. That is a fair point. We are at the point that we are at today because of a fantastic participative process in which people really got involved in politics. How do you think we might ensure that that wider civic voice is heard on these proposals in the coming months, as we in Parliament scrutinise them? What can we do to ensure that that wider civic voice is not excluded from the discussions?



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Alison Johnstone

Absolutely. However, financial power is extremely important, and it is ironic that a Government that has campaigned so vociferously for its financial independence does not see the need to devolve that power further.

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill is a good step on the journey, but culture change will be key. The SCVO says:

“Elected representatives need to nourish and support the role of these community organisations—not see them as a rival.”

I read the report of the commission on strengthening local democracy and felt excited by its principles and the radical vision for what local democracy could be like. That commission believed that that radical change is worth fighting for.

I thank the committee for its work, but its report appears to close down some of the possibilities. It appears to dismiss the input of COSLA and academia. I agree with Andy Wightman, who said that there is clearly a

“divide between those who think democracy works just fine in Scotland and are content to pursue policies that undermine local democracy”

and those who believe, as I do, that there is a need for

“fundamental reform in our democratic structures.”

Post-referendum, devolution is being scrutinised as never before, but it really is time that we give the same attention to double devolution.

15:55  

Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Alison Johnstone

When we see turnouts of below 40 per cent—the previous local government election in 2012 saw a woeful turnout of 39 per cent, which was the lowest since 1975—it is time to take action. The Government has a duty to look at what may be required.

In 2007, the only local tax-raising power left with Scottish councils was frozen. Councils are largely treated like children: a child is given pocket money to spend, whereas an adult is allowed to earn a wage for their keep. It is time that we treated councils with more respect. We need to return a significant level of financial independence to them.

Our party’s local democracy paper suggests that councils should raise at least 50 per cent of their revenue through a range of tax-raising powers, such as land or property taxes. My recent motion on allowing councils to charge a visitor levy if they so desired gained support from only one member outside our group.

The Smith commission has proposed assigning the first 10p of VAT to Scotland. We could think of similar ways to fund regional administrations. Local government could be given a fixed, statutory share of national income tax. For example, municipalities and regional councils could be guaranteed 50 per cent of the proceeds raised by income tax, providing them with funding for public services based on population and an incentive to make local improvements to attract people to their area.

It is completely unfair that council tax banding has been left to become incredibly out of date. A centrally imposed freeze is disempowering and unsustainable, and it has not been funded in real terms. We urgently need to create a fairer, reformed tax.

Land value tax is our long-established alternative, and we look forward to engaging with the proposed independent commission in 2015, but we need a crystal-clear commitment from the Government that the reforms will be implemented.

In 2012, land reform expert Andy Wightman authored a report for Green MSPs setting out how a land tax could work in Scotland. He argues:

“Land reform is still unfinished business in Scotland, and land ownership continues to be rife with inequalities. A Land Value Tax would make three quarters of Scots households better off, tackle urban blight and land banking, and stabilise the housing market.”

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations also argues that local government should not be where devolution stops. It wants to see more participative democracy, where people are directly involved in decision making. That is an important check and balance on power that is held in elected hands.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Alison Johnstone

Let me make some headway first.

Those councils would remain accountable and connected to their electors. That is not written-in-stone Green Party policy—we are open to other reforms that would increase and empower local government—but I am disappointed to see the committee’s report rule out any form of structural change.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I, too, welcome Marco Biagi to his new ministerial role.

Throughout the referendum campaign, I consistently argued that new powers for Scotland should not be about creating a mini-Westminster here in Edinburgh and that our Parliament should be brave and mature enough to devolve powers away from the centre and down to local authorities and beyond. We have to realise that Scotland is the odd one out in Europe. The scale of administrative centralisation is literally off the charts in some of the reports that I have seen—one can argue that local government in Scotland is a misnomer.

In the past 60 years, there has been a 92 per cent reduction in the number of local councils, giving Scotland the most concentrated local government in Europe. The mean population per council in Scotland is 166,000, whereas the European Union average is 5,600.

During the referendum, the Green yes campaign published a discussion paper with a plan for a system of smaller, truly local councils, each serving about 20,000 people. Such councils could be tied together by a larger strategic body, and they would be free to work together where that made sense.



Devolution (Further Powers) Committee 04 December 2014 : Thursday, December 04, 2014
Alison Johnstone

I know that you will maintain that the council tax freeze is a negotiated business, but the freeze obviously makes it difficult for local authorities to be truly empowered. Do you think that the cross-party commission that has been set up to look at alternatives to council tax might look at that issue? In many parts of Europe, it is agreed that municipalities have that power and that national Governments should not intervene in that way.



Devolution (Further Powers) Committee 04 December 2014 : Thursday, December 04, 2014
Alison Johnstone

Deputy First Minister, you spoke about a direction of travel that will further empower local communities. It is fair to say that many believe that, even after the Smith commission, local democracy remains the unfinished business of devolution and deserves far greater attention. If you are serious about empowering local communities, do you think that the fact that national Government can usurp local government when it comes to imposing a council tax freeze is something that needs to be looked at?



Devolution (Further Powers) Committee 04 December 2014 : Thursday, December 04, 2014
Alison Johnstone

It is about local autonomy.



Devolution (Further Powers) Committee 04 December 2014 : Thursday, December 04, 2014
Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

The devolution of the Crown Estate’s economic assets to local communities is warmly welcomed—the subject has been discussed far and wide. Should there be the beginning of a process for local communities to be empowered more generally? For example, I do not believe that Angela Merkel could freeze council tax in Germany in the way that the Scottish Government is able to impose that on local authorities here. Has there been such a fixation on the powers that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament that opportunities have perhaps been missed to genuinely devolve greater powers to local authorities?



Meeting of the Parliament 04 December 2014 : Thursday, December 04, 2014
Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I am pleased to take part in this important debate, as to openly debate and discuss this subject is a way of helping to reduce society’s tolerance of violence against women. I thank all the organisations that have provided briefings for today.

In the face of proliferating violence, it is difficult not to feel that progress has stalled or, indeed, reversed. Scottish Women’s Aid highlights a case in which a woman who has suffered domestic abuse says:

“Your confidence goes ... it’s a gradual thing that grinds you away and grinds you away until there’s nothing left.”

That organisation has much experience and expertise and says:

“We believe that a world without domestic abuse is not just a dream, it is a possibility. Never doubt it—changing attitudes changes lives.”

Zero Tolerance, too, tells us that “Change is Possible” and that we must “Make it Happen”.

The Scottish Parliament can play a leading role in changing attitudes, and we must do so. Violence against women is a human rights violation of worldwide significance. White Ribbon tells us that at least one in five women in Scotland will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and that a domestic violence incident is recorded every 10 minutes in this country.

Violence against women and girls is endemic in conflict areas, where it is often a strategy of combat. However, wherever it occurs—in other corners of the globe or on our own streets—it terrorises and humiliates.

Violence against women does not take place in a vacuum. It takes place in a context in which, globally, only 21 per cent of parliamentarians are women. It takes place in a context of gender-biased austerity that disempowers women. In 2012, the Treasury admitted that, of almost £15 billion raised in cuts, £11 billion came from women. It takes place in a context in which some national newspapers include a picture of a topless young woman alongside news and in which that picture will feature far more prominently than that of any woman prominent in the fields of business, sport or medicine.

The media portrayal is very significant indeed and I will be happy to support the motion and Graeme Pearson’s amendment today. Such a media portrayal normalises the objectification of women. It should not be forgotten that gender equality is a fundamental human right, but yesterday we learned that almost 60 per cent of girls say that they have been sexually harassed by boys. According to the Girlguiding Scotland survey, girls as young as seven are being subjected to sexual taunts and grow up with sexual harassment as a normal part of their everyday lives. That is unacceptable and we must challenge it.

Every day, our young people are bombarded with sexualised, sexist and often violent imagery. In Zero Tolerance’s briefing on the sexualisation of young people, we read:

“violence against women and exploitation in the sex industry is frequently trivialised in video games … Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas enables players to beat a prostituted woman with a baseball bat, complete with screams for help. The incredible realism now possible with such games means players can feel that they are really committing this act.”

Citizens, who are often reduced to the role of consumer, can make a difference. An Australian chain store has banned “Grand Theft Auto 5” because of complaints about its depiction of violence against women.

The cabinet secretary is right to say that there is no simple solution or easy fix. Our knowledge of what interventions are most effective for the prevention of gender-based violence is growing, however. Documentation, evaluation and legislation are key. We in Scotland will continue to call and campaign for change and there is clearly whole-hearted cross-party consensus on the issue.

I also congratulate the cabinet secretary on his promotion. I would be grateful if he could update members on the formation of a violence against women joint strategic board and on funding for multi-agency risk assessment conferences.

16:42  
Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11830.2 John Swinney: The Smith Commission—As an amendment to motion S4M-11830 in the name of Ru
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YesCarried

S4M-11830 Ruth Davidson: The Smith Commission—That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Sm
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YesCarried

Amendment 6 moved by Dr Richard Simpson on motion S4M-11826 Maureen Watt: Food (Scotland) Bill—That
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YesDefeated

S4M-11825.3 Claire Baker: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11825.2 Jamie McGrigor: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11825.1 Tavish Scott: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
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NoDefeated

S4M-11825 Richard Lochhead: End of Year Fish Negotiations—That the Parliament welcomes the successfu
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YesCarried

S4M-11763.3 Margaret Burgess: Private Sector Rent Reform—As an amendment to motion S4M-11763 in the
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11763 Mary Fee: Private Sector Rent Reform—That the Parliament notes that, over the last 10 year
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11766.3 Shona Robison: The State of the NHS—As an amendment to motion S4M-11766 in the name of N
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NoCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Alison Johnstone
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11780: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 02/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11722: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 26/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11635: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 20/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11617: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 19/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11384: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 31/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11343: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 29/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11029.2: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 30/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10868: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 21/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10850: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 20/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10777.3: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 12/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Alison Johnstone
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-23718: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 17/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23614: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23615: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23487: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 02/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23486: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 02/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4T-00853: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 24/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23212: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 18/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23213: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 18/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23215: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 18/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23114: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014 Show Full Question >>

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