Michael Russell MSP

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Michael Russell MSP

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  • Member for: Argyll and Bute
  • Region: Highlands and Islands
  • Party: Scottish National Party

Michael is a member of the following Committees:

Michael is a member of the following Cross-Party Groups:

Parliamentary Activities

Search for other Speeches made by Michael Russell

Meeting of the Parliament 27 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary will be aware of the warm welcome that the report will receive from many of my constituents, particularly those on some of the Argyll islands who have had considerable difficulties maintaining relationships with their landlord. This process is not simply about relationships, however; it is also to do with the nature of the community and the economic and social fragility of the area in which it lives. The key to that, as the cabinet secretary will also know, is section 8.7 of the report and recommendation 22.

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that he intends to bring forward legislation in the proposed land reform bill that will deal with the issue of ministerial intervention, or does he expect that to be undertaken by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee? Will there be a wider consultation to ensure that ministerial intervention can take place in areas of economic and social fragility, which certainly does define some of the areas in my constituency?



Meeting of the Parliament 22 January 2015 : Thursday, January 22, 2015
Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

I congratulate Jamie McGrigor on securing the debate and the poetry of his conclusion. Although I would not necessarily sign on to promote Argyll and Bute by criticising other areas, it is a most wonderful and remarkable place and I am very proud to be its member of the Scottish Parliament.

It is a measure of the seriousness of the problem that most of us have put party politics aside to debate and discuss it. It is therefore rather strange that there are no Liberal Democrats in the chamber considering that they have the member of Parliament for Argyll and Bute and are increasingly driving the council’s policies, mostly in the wrong direction.

The population summit that the council held was something of a damp squib. The meeting was cancelled, rearranged, cancelled and rearranged. When it took place, it came up with very little, apart from a recommendation that there should be something called a “sustainable task force”. It has not even met yet, although there have been two council papers.

Argyll and Bute Council is at the heart of the problem and it should be much more active than it is in promoting change and growth. However, there are roles for others, and Jamie McGrigor is right to talk about that. Last week, I was at a meeting of the A83 task force, held in Arrochar, at which there was a commitment by the Scottish Government to the principle of continuous access. In other words, there needs to be a permanent solution to the problem on the A83; the Scottish Government knows that and is working on it.

The Scottish Government has also invested heavily in Argyll and Bute’s infrastructure. There has been substantial expenditure on the A83, and the broadband project that is going forward in the Highlands and Islands is the largest in Europe. Last summer, 25 submarine cables were laid, the majority of which ended or started, or both, in Argyll and Bute. There is a massive programme of investment, but it needs to be matched by the actions of the local authority and some private enterprise.

The mobile phone companies are very remiss in their lack of investment in Argyll and Bute; it has the worst mobile phone service in Scotland. Indeed, the companies seem to be incapable of dealing with the regular outages. Oban was without a Vodafone signal for nine days at the start of this year. Vodafone has also failed to provide a regular signal in Lochgilphead, Islay and other places. EE and O2 are not much better.

Today, I want to present three ideas that I put to Dick Walsh, the council leader, for his population summit. I wrote to him about them and received a five-page rebuttal, so I will start again and see if the council will listen to some of the things that need to be done.

The very start is to listen to what the community is saying. On Saturday, I attended the march and rally in support of the Castle Toward buyout. The community in Castle Toward has received £750,000 from the Scottish land fund. It is very keen to purchase the castle and to make sure that 100 jobs are created; yet for some reason, best known to itself, the council is resistant to that change. Even at this late stage, on the day when it has a motion before it asking it to continue the issue for another month, I would appeal to it to do that and to enter into serious negotiation.

Three constructive things could be done. First, there needs to be a focus on the problem with an entrepreneurial and adventurous approach—that has got to be a priority. There needs to be urgency and intelligence in devising solutions.

Secondly, the council must work with others on that. It needs a small, flexible group of people that will look at lots of different ideas; there is no silver bullet for this. It should put together a group like that, not some massive, process-driven task force that will simply take minutes. What is needed is a small group of people working together—elected representatives and others—who can bring forward ideas. One idea—Presiding Officer, I am conscious of the time—that is already on the table is to talk to those who come and take holiday cottages. Some of them may wish to stay. Providing very simple information to them will help.

Thirdly, driving the policy has to be at the heart of everything that the council does. It is no use closing the schools or making planning much more difficult. What we need to do is to have every policy focused on population growth.

Finally, we need innovation and ideas. In 1868, there was a first proposal for a railway that would connect Ireland to Scotland. It was to go from Torr Head to the Mull of Kintyre. That would be a big project and I am not asking the minister to commit to it—today. However, I am glad to see David Mackenzie here in the gallery; he has been working hard with me and others on ideas for a fixed link to Coll. That would be affordable to invest in, and it would generate new business and new population within part of Argyll that would then grow outwards.

We need big thinking. Last year HIE proposed a new road from Dunoon to Lochgilphead. Let us look at capital investment and at work but, above all, the council has to get active. Presently it is passive and process driven, and that is not good enough.

12:47  

Meeting of the Parliament 22 January 2015 : Thursday, January 22, 2015
Michael Russell

It is vital to mention every part of Argyll and Bute that is affected. I am sure that the minister will want to recognise that RET in its final roll-out will also go to the island of Mull, which needs it very badly.



Meeting of the Parliament 21 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I think that we are all pleased to be members of the first Scottish Parliament since 1706 to set national rates of taxation.

I commend John Swinney’s announcement today. As ever, he has been fleet of foot. He has listened and he has adapted and he has done so in the light of changes that were made elsewhere for whatever motivation—we do not know what that motivation might have been—and in the light of constant insecurity regarding what may or may not come from the UK Treasury in the block grant, and he has delivered. Good for him. I have to say shame on others, in particular Jackie Baillie, for all the posturing that we have heard today.

The difficulties that have arisen as a result of what has happened elsewhere should give us pause for thought. The Deputy First Minister has had to contend with a problem that was created by the fact that he has at his disposal—and we, as Scotland’s Parliament, have at our disposal—only a small fraction of the full wealth and potential of this nation. Even after the Smith commission, if its recommendations are ever implemented in full, we will still have at our disposal only a minority of all the resources of the nation, which we should be applying to the betterment of our fellow citizens. Until that situation changes, any Administration will face big challenges in setting tax rates, because it will be able to apply and utilise only a small number of the essential tools.

When John Swinney announced his intentions in October 2014, he talked about the principles that he was guided by—not just revenue neutrality, but Adam Smith’s four maxims. It is useful to look at those. At the centre of them is the principle of fairness in taxation, which has been enunciated through the ages and which Smith expressed by saying:

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities”.

Smith had another important view of taxation, which was also given in “The Wealth of Nations”. It says:

“The tax which each individual is bound to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary. The time of payment, the manner of payment, the quantity to be paid, ought all to be clear and plain to the contributor, and to every other person.”

Therein lies Parliament’s difficulty. Although we now have control over the rates of a limited number of taxes, we do not have control over all of them, and without that control we cannot command the circumstances in which certainty, manner and quantity are all made “clear and plain”.

The Irish nationalist and mystic, George William Russell—no relation—observed that there is what he called a “fundamental proposition” that states that

“whoever controls the taxation and trade policy of a country controls its destiny and the entire character of its civilization.”

He said that in the context of the struggle for Irish independence; we might put it in less dramatic terms today.

In reality, however, Scotland cannot be a normal country with a normal system of taxation if the control of so much of it and of our spending power lies outwith the country. That has been demonstrated more than adequately by two events in the past week. Austerity is devastating our communities and it is devastating individuals in Scotland. It was made in Westminster by Tory, Liberal and—shamefully—Labour hands, and we can do nothing about it.

The renewal of Trident, which is being done by the same people, is another moral and economic tragedy that has been foisted upon us in the same way. In Russell’s terms, the “entire character” of our country is being skewed and distorted by financial and other decisions that are not made here.

I am a strong supporter of the position that Gwynfor Evans took on devolution of powers: when people are starving, they should not be refused even half a loaf. However, the problem of consuming endless half loaves is that people do not get a balanced diet. In taxation terms, if we have control of only a small part of the taxation mix, the decisions that we make on how to utilise that small part are always compromised by what we cannot do. Moreover, it will always be second-guessed, disrupted and, sometimes, deliberately undermined by those who control the greater part of taxation. We have seen that already.

John Swinney’s principles were, and are, right. His decisions were, and are, right. There is no doubt about that. He has fulfilled his original objectives. However, nothing currently in the system will allow anything to be easier for him or his successors in the future.

The Smith commission proposals are piecemeal and will allow the same problems to recur; indeed, there is an argument that they will encourage more meddling by Westminster, as we have seen from the Treasury’s admissions this week. That is a graphic example of Winnie Ewing’s maxim: it is another case of Britannia not ruling the waves but waiving the rules.

The only sensible solution is full fiscal autonomy. Independence is, of course, my preference and that of others, but we could have full fiscal autonomy and we would be able to solve the problem. Full fiscal powers would allow full decision making on all the range of taxation that a Government chose to utilise. It would be fair and it would arise from need and from clear plans and ambitions. It would fulfil the first and second maxims of Adam Smith. It would be “certain, and not arbitrary.” Everything would be known because everything would be decided here in Scotland’s Parliament, and not elsewhere.

That is what happens everywhere else—it is the normal thing to do. How odd it is to be in this chamber, where the Opposition parties constantly espouse the abnormal, the arbitrary, the unclear and the least effective solution. Perhaps that is why they are—and will, according to all the opinion polls, remain—Opposition parties.

15:54  

Meeting of the Parliament 13 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 13, 2015
3. Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to assist dairy farmers contracted to First Milk who have been notified over the weekend of a further reduction in price and the postponement of payments due. (S4T-00893)



Meeting of the Parliament 13 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Michael Russell

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for the concern that he has shown. He will be aware that there are 51 dairy farmers in Argyll and Bute who are members of and suppliers to First Milk. They feel badly let down by the company, which from 1 February will pay 18p per litre—12.5p per litre less than it was paying on 1 June, 5.5p less than the nearest payment for other suppliers, and at least 7p less than the lowest cost of production.

In addition, First Milk’s capital retention and delayed payment schedule are causing insecurity, worry and hardship. In Kintyre, the problem is added to by the question mark over the creamery and the lack of uptake by First Milk of investment that has been offered.

Will the cabinet secretary agree to meet a delegation of dairy farmers from Kintyre and Bute, to hear at first hand about the issues and hardships that members of First Milk face? Will he also intervene urgently to ask the banks not to take precipitate action, particularly in relation to member suppliers to First Milk, until the matter is resolved?



Meeting of the Parliament 13 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Michael Russell

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I thought it was something that I had said.

A key issue that First Milk has made much of is the downgrading of world demand for milk. Another important issue, which I know the cabinet secretary is aware of because of his passionate advocacy of Scottish food, is the extraordinarily low price of milk in supermarkets. When supermarkets are selling milk at less than the cost of water, something is wrong. The message needs to go from this chamber—from the cabinet secretary, who has greatly supported Scottish food—to supermarkets and the public that the price of milk must be realistic if it is to support the dairy industry in Scotland. What actions might the cabinet secretary take, and what actions might the Government take in its food policy, to ensure that there is realism about the price of milk? A pint of milk cannot be produced for less than a pint of mineral water.



Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee 07 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Michael Russell (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)

As far as I can see, there is more regulation and guidance in the document.

My point arises from Calum Duncan’s point. In the best of all possible worlds, there would be a group of enlightened regional planners in all the relevant local authorities who were, in Calum’s words, highly skilled and ready and able to produce detailed local and regional marine plans that involved all the stakeholders. That is not going to happen: there is no such resourcing for that for local government and such people do not exist in the local authorities that are involved.

In my view—this is borne out in quite a lot of the submissions and in some of the remarks that have been made this morning—we have, in the national document, a curious conflict between the outlining of highly detailed and prescriptive actions on, for example, cables and, in other areas, the setting out of some very vague aspirations that do not give us much policy guidance.

10:30  

I return to Lucy Greenhill’s point. I made this point to officials at our meeting before Christmas and I would like to hear the witnesses’ reaction to it. The national marine plan could be couched in terms of key principles that are to be observed in marine activity by all the stakeholders. Although the tone of some of Bertie Armstrong’s submission was less than helpful, some of the content was quite useful. An example of such a principle would be a commitment to sustainable fishing as a key activity. The national marine plan could encourage people to apply those principles locally within the existing framework of regulation. There is a substantial existing framework of legislation, but when we read the national marine plan, it is often difficult to see where the links are between it and existing regulation. Bertie Armstrong’s submission makes the point that a range of regulation governs fishing. I do not see where that fits in with some of the issues in the national marine plan.

I would like the witnesses to offer their reaction to the suggestion that the document might become something other than what it is—a declaration of clear principles to be applied on a regional basis by Marine Scotland staff working regionally and by local authority planners. That said, I have concerns about the capability of the key local authorities to take that forward when local government is under pressure and resources are very tight.



Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee 07 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Michael Russell

As a professional writer, I find that an editor is always useful.



Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee 07 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Michael Russell

I am a fan of evidence-based policy making and so is Calum Duncan. Where is there evidence for your optimism that the resource exists in the other local authorities that will be greatly affected, including my local authority, to replicate what has happened in Shetland, which has been largely successful? Given the pressure on local authority resources, I do not think that there is any sign or evidence that that will happen. Indeed, planning departments with their current workload are suffering as a result of, for example, the increase in applications for renewables licences. I am not against the proposals; I just think that the evidence does not support your admirable optimism.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12182.1 Alex Fergusson: The Chilcot Inquiry—As an amendment to motion S4M-12182 in the name of N
>> Show more
Not VotedDefeated

S4M-12182 Nicola Sturgeon: The Chilcot Inquiry—That the Parliament calls for Sir John Chilcot’s offi
>> Show more
Not VotedCarried

S4M-12176 John Swinney: Community Charge Debt (Scotland) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the gene
>> Show more
Not VotedCarried

S4M-12160.2 Michael Matheson: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Kez
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12160.3 Margaret Mitchell: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Ke
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12160 Kezia Dugdale: Women Offenders—That the Parliament welcomes the decision of the Scottish G
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12154.1 Lewis Macdonald: Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) – Supporting Indivi
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12120.1 Jenny Marra: 2020 Vision, the Strategic Forward Direction of the NHS—As an amendment to
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12101 John Swinney: Budget (Scotland) (No.4) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the general prin
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12095.4 Ken Macintosh: Tackling Inequalities—As an amendment to motion S4M-12095 in the name of
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Michael Russell
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11934: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11924: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 16/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11839: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11804: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11304.3: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 28/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10645: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10643: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-07108: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/06/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-06843.2: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/06/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-06059: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/03/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Michael Russell
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-24230: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24227: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24226: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24229: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24228: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24225: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24223: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24224: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24220: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-24219: Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/01/2015 Show Full Question >>

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