Mike MacKenzie MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 22 January 2015 : Thursday, January 22, 2015
Mike MacKenzie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I congratulate Jamie McGrigor on securing the debate. I agree with a lot of what he said, although maybe not with absolutely everything.

Population loss is the most significant and profound issue that Argyll and Bute faces. Argyll and Bute is one of few parts of Scotland that face population decline and the only part of the Highlands and Islands that faces it. We know that the population loss is mainly being experienced by the more rural and peripheral communities. After years of progressive decline, many of those communities are reaching a tipping point at which they will plunge into complete unsustainability.

Good evidence for that became apparent in 2010, when the council proposed closing 26 primary schools, or one third of its school estate. That was a reaction to falling school rolls. However, the effect of closing those schools would have been to hammer the final nails into the coffins of communities that were beginning to die. Thankfully, parents and politicians fought a determined and vigorous campaign and succeeded in halting the proposals. I pay tribute to my colleague Michael Russell for providing leadership and energy in that campaign, which was ultimately successful.

The council should have realised at the outset that the schools issue was a symptom of a deeper malaise, but it was not until the publication of the 2011 census that it began to be aware of the population loss. That was hammered home as its budget settlement began to decline along with the falling population, because, as we know, the grant-aided expenditure formula is population based.

The council’s response so far has been to organise the population summit that Michael Russell touched on. That was finally held a few weeks ago. That in itself was an admission that it did not know how to remedy the problem. Even now, I am unconvinced that it is willing to acknowledge that it is at least in part responsible for the problem. I am unaware of any credible policy response to tackle the problem to date. It is a problem that I have described in many years of witnessing that sad decline as the dead hand of Argyll and Bute Council.

The council is of course quick to deny that and to defend its position. It points to a number of other challenges beyond its control, such as the credit crunch, the ensuing recession and poor connectivity, but it fails to recognise that those challenges affect all other parts of the Highlands and Islands—in some cases, they are affected more profoundly than Argyll and Bute. Removing all those other reasons leads to the only possible conclusion: that it is the policies and practices of the local authority that are responsible for the sad demise of Argyll and Bute.

The patient continues to deny that it has any disease, and it refuses to take any medicine. The culture in the upper echelons of Argyll and Bute Council is that of an organisation that exercises power by saying no—saying no to the aspirations of individuals, saying no to the aspirations of businesses and social enterprises, and saying no to the aspirations of communities. If people are unable to fulfil their reasonable aspirations, they go elsewhere. It is as simple as that.

12:56  

Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee 21 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Mike MacKenzie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Good morning, minister. As you know, I am passionate about energy efficiency. Will you explain what the Scottish Government hopes to achieve from the implementation of the energy efficiency standard for social housing?



Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee 21 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Mike MacKenzie

I understand that the Government is in developing draft regulations on energy efficiency for existing homes in the private sector. Some private sector landlords have made the point to me that those homes are often in the hard-to-treat category, and other issues must have arisen during the consultation. Can you talk us through some of those issues and explain when you are likely to make the regulations?



Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee 21 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Mike MacKenzie

Thank you, minister. You take me neatly on to my next question, which concerns climate change targets. During the committee’s scrutiny of the draft budget for 2015-16, we heard evidence that more action on home energy efficiency is required in order for the Scottish Government to meet its 2020 and 2050 climate change targets. Is your sustainable housing strategy robust enough to meet those climate change targets and are you confident that you are providing sufficient funding to support the strategy?



Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee 21 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Mike MacKenzie

Can I just tease out a wee bit more information about that? You mentioned the importance of having a long-term strategy and I absolutely agree with that. The Scottish Government fuel poverty programmes are designed to interact with the UK ones and to complement them, which seems sensible, but the ECO appears to have been like one of those magician’s rabbits—“Now you see it, now you don’t, now you see it again.” How productive have your discussions with the UK Government been in putting forward the idea that we need to take a long-term, consistent approach to energy efficiency, fuel poverty and climate change issues?



Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee 21 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Mike MacKenzie

With your indulgence, convener, I will ask one final question. Norrie Kerr of Energy Action Scotland has said that some local authorities have not successfully spent some of their home energy efficiency programme for Scotland allocations and the Scottish Government has wisely allowed them to carry that over into next year’s budget. To what extent are the Scottish Government’s efforts on fuel poverty impeded by councils’ lack of readiness to put in place schemes on the ground?



Meeting of the Parliament 21 January 2015 : Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Mike MacKenzie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

He was once the hero of the Labour Party, but even Churchill was a grudging admirer of that great English economist John Maynard Keynes. He once said that whenever he asked three economists for an opinion he invariably got four answers—two from Mr Keynes. That seemed to perplex Churchill, but it points to an essential quality of the good economist—the capacity to understand the sometimes counterintuitive nature of economics. That goes hand in hand with understanding that economics is not a zero-sum game, which in turn is a vital part of understanding wealth creation.

The link between public finances and the economics of wealth creation is a fascinating one, and one that Mr Swinney understands perfectly. To date, there has been no greater wisdom on the subject than that provided by Mr Keynes. However, as things stand, the finances of present-day Scotland have been a zero-sum game. The all-important feedback loop that rewards good economic stewardship by increasing the taxation take has been missing, and that is the key fact missed from the unionist parties’ perspective.

It took an economist of Mr Keynes’s stature to reveal the often counterintuitive nature of economics and to develop his countercyclical wisdom for Governments, and it is the difficulty of that concept and lack of public understanding of counterintuitive economics that the unionist parties often rely on. That is why they are so united in persevering with their failing austerity agenda.

All the more credit is therefore due to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy, not only for delivering a balanced budget year on year but for doing so within that constraint, following the wisdom of Keynes and proving it in practice. Keynes’s advice was that countercyclical Government spending should concentrate on infrastructure and capital spending. That was the medicine that he prescribed for the ailing economy, and it works.

It is notable that the Scottish economy has outperformed the UK economy—as Murdo Fraser acknowledged—across the whole range of indices since Mr Swinney first put those principles into practice, compared with the 30 preceding years, when it underperformed compared with the UK economy.

It is well known that the multiplier effect enhances the effect of capital spending on infrastructure significantly. It is well known that infrastructure spending creates new jobs and supports existing jobs. It is well known that those effects spread throughout the supply chain and keep on spreading.

What is sometimes not appreciated is how the improved infrastructure in itself helps to improve our long-term economic performance, our productivity and our competitiveness. That is why I am so pleased to see the budget setting out our plans for a further £1 billion extension to the non-profit-distributing pipeline of infrastructure projects. That is why I am so pleased to see projects such as the Forth replacement crossing being delivered so successfully and under budget, as well as projects such as the new south Glasgow hospitals and the ambitious schools for the future building programme, which is investing £1.8 billion in 91 new schools by March 2018. A new school recently opened in Kirkwall, and new schools are planned for Lerwick and Oban, and such projects support jobs across the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland.

That is why I am so pleased about the budget delivering an extra £125 million for housing, bringing this year’s expenditure for housing to £390 million, and that is why I am pleased that we are on target to fulfil our manifesto commitment of delivering 30,000 affordable new homes. That is why I am so impressed that Mr Swinney has been able to deliver such projects against the backdrop of a 26 per cent cut to our capital budget—a very unwise cut.

The Scottish public have had an education as they have observed those enlightened policies in action. They now have an enhanced understanding of the nature of economics and the part that public finances play in that. No longer will the Opposition parties be able to continue pulling the wool over the public’s eyes; no longer will they swallow medicine that is killing and not curing the patient; and no longer will they believe the zero-sum myth of austerity economics.

Mr Swinney is due great credit, not just for delivering a wise and balanced budget once again but because he has followed such wisdom in the knowledge that it is the best stewardship of Scotland’s economy.

16:35  

Health and Sport Committee 20 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Mike MacKenzie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I am an MSP for the Highlands and Islands region.



Meeting of the Parliament 20 January 2015 : Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Mike MacKenzie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

Will the member take an intervention?



Meeting of the Parliament 15 January 2015 : Thursday, January 15, 2015
Mike MacKenzie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak in the debate and I will focus on voluntary emergency services. That is partly because, for many years, I was a volunteer firefighter, so I can claim some insight into the valuable work that such volunteers undertake.

Nearly 30 years ago, I was one of the members of a newly formed volunteer unit that had the distinction of being the first in Scotland to include female firefighters. I am sure that it will come as no surprise to anyone in the chamber to learn that the women in the unit performed their roles every bit as effectively as the men. Strathclyde fire service, as it was then, was rightly proud of that pioneering initiative. It provided first-class training and back-up and, importantly, it did not use the volunteer service as an excuse to downgrade the professional service. At around the same time, it upgraded the Oban station from a facility that was operated by retained firefighters to one that was operated by whole-time crews. A few years later, it built a new and much better station.

Over the years, we dealt with many serious fires, including one in which there was a fatality—a man who was a friend and a neighbour. I know that, in some areas of the Highlands and Islands, fire services are being threatened because of difficulties in recruiting volunteer and retained firefighters. I strongly recommend that men and women take up those opportunities to serve their communities in such a practical way. I found my experience rewarding and interesting.

I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the many volunteer firefighters across the Highlands and Islands and beyond who contribute such a lot to their communities. As a result of my experience, I am very aware of the dangers of fire and of how dependent we are, when disaster strikes, on the skills and courage of our firefighters.

I pay tribute to the coastguard service, which is another organisation that relies on volunteers. Less than two weeks ago, we learned of the loss of the cargo ship the Cemfjord. That was a stark reminder of how dangerous the sea can be, how suddenly disaster can strike at sea and how powerless we are, at times, when it strikes. It is at such times—in daylight and in darkness, and often in ferocious and terrifying conditions—that we see our community of mariners and their friends ashore honour the ancient obligation to come to the aid of those who are in distress at sea.

As an islander, I have witnessed that all too often. I have participated in rescues. I have lost good friends to the sea. I have witnessed at first hand on more than one occasion the distress of bereaved families. I have seen skippers and crews put to sea for rescue efforts in weather that makes me shudder to think of it.

I owe my life to such courageous people—to the crew of a fishing boat who found me on a night of such wicked weather that the lifeboat had to turn back, and a night when the wind was so strong that the helicopter that finally rescued me had to delay the rescue for several hours. The skipper of that fishing boat was sadly lost at sea a few years later.

It is because of that that I am angry beyond words, or at least any words that would be suitable in the chamber, about the UK Government’s cuts to the coastguard service, which are surely unacceptable when recreational and commercial use of our sea is increasing. Only those who live such cosseted lives that they are wholly unaware of the conditions that are routinely braved by those at sea could contemplate such cuts. Only those who have no appreciation or understanding of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland could consider making them.

I do not believe that a single member in the chamber would condone such cuts, I do not believe that a Scottish Government of any political hue would make such cuts and I do not believe that those who advocate austerity fully consider that we will pay for that fatally flawed economic policy in lives lost at sea and on land.

15:10  
Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

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

S4M-12095.2 Alex Johnstone: Tackling Inequalities—As an amendment to motion S4M-12095 in the name of
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12095.1 Willie Rennie: Tackling Inequalities—As an amendment to motion S4M-12095 in the name of
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12095 Alex Neil: Tackling Inequalities—That the Parliament agrees that a strong, sustainable eco
>> Show more
YesCarried

Selection of John Pentland MSP for appointment to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.
AbstainCarried

S4M-12060.2 Hugh Henry: Commending the People who Keep Scotland Safe in Emergencies—As an amendment
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12045.3 Shona Robison: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-12045 in the name of Rich
>> Show more
YesCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Mike MacKenzie
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-12163: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12116: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12077: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 15/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-12065: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 14/01/2015 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11969: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 22/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11957: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 18/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11954: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 18/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11861: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11757: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 01/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11711: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 26/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Mike MacKenzie
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03978: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 26/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4T-00896: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 12/01/2015 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23517: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 03/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03773: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 24/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03640: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4T-00814: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03586: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03505: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 11/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03458: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21868: Mike MacKenzie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/06/2014 Show Full Question >>

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