Murdo Fraser MSP

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Member of the Conveners Group

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Meeting of the Parliament 30 October 2014 : Thursday, October 30, 2014
Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The water supply to more than 50 homes in the Tummel Bridge area of Perthshire has been found to be contaminated with E coli and Salmonella, which presents clear health risks to the local population. Will the First Minister undertake to speak to Scottish Water and ask it to take urgent action to ensure that the long-awaited replacement water supply can be put in place without further delay, so that my constituents no longer have to rely on bottled water for drinking and cooking?



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Bottom of the class.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I do not think that anyone can have failed to notice that this is a time of great change in Scottish politics. While the media concentrate on Labour’s search for a new leader, we should not forget that the Scottish Government has lost its own First Minister and that we have the impending coronation of Nicola Sturgeon as the next incumbent of that mighty office. I must say that it was with some personal disappointment that I heard that Mr Russell had ruled himself out from standing. He now must be contemplating his own future as a long-standing holder of his current Cabinet position—which perhaps explains his rather tetchy manner and hysterical tone in this afternoon’s debate.

As Liz Smith has pointed out, Mr Russell has always had some interesting views on education, many of which we in the Scottish Conservatives would be warm to. In “Grasping the Thistle”, he praised the Swedish system of education vouchers and called for a debate about its utility in Scotland, shorn of ideological prejudice. He went on to say:

“choice and diversity are the hallmarks of a mature and confident society and such a system would ensure the emergence of new types of private provision, which are not seen as exclusive or class-ridden.”

I find it very hard to disagree with those choice and thoughtful words.

The reality is that the Scottish education system does well by the great majority of our pupils. However, for a minority, it is not working. That is not good enough, and we should be open to looking at models from elsewhere to see how standards might be improved for that minority.

In what I thought was a thoughtful speech—I am not clear whether it was a leadership pitch, but perhaps we will find that out in the next 36 hours—Ken Macintosh said that choice was all very well, but it favoured the better-off. I take completely the opposite view. Our current comprehensive school system could hardly have been better devised if we wanted to deprive those from the poorest backgrounds of the best educational outcomes.

Those from better-off families will always have choice. Those families can choose to opt out of the state system altogether and purchase education in the independent sector; they can choose to purchase a house in the catchment area of a better-performing school, such as Jordanhill in Glasgow; or they can choose, as Neil Bibby pointed out, to purchase private tuition, as many parents do. However, those choices are available only to those who have the necessary means. The ones without the means do not currently have the choice. They are the ones who are trapped with the schools that are not so well regarded and which are not performing so well, and the current system lets them down.

I want to concentrate briefly on two aspects, the first of which relates to literacy and numeracy, where the records are simply not as good as they should be. I will not read out all the statistics, as I am sure that the cabinet secretary will be familiar with them. However, not enough of our young people at primary 7 level or in S2 are meeting acceptable standards in literacy and numeracy. The numeracy situation deteriorated over the last two years for which we have records.

It is not unreasonable to expect that those who leave primary school should be able to meet basic literacy and numeracy standards. Those are vital life skills for young people who are trying to get on in the world and are trying to find employment or future training opportunities. That so many are failing is an indictment of our current approach.

The second aspect is early intervention. We have had many debates in the Parliament on that topic over the years. A wealth of evidence says that intervening with the youngest children is the most effective use of resource when it comes to improving life outcomes, but the Scottish Government’s record in the area is patchy. The reality does not match the rhetoric.

A range of initiatives from the current Conservative-led Government in Westminster has focused on early intervention. There is the pupil premium, with additional resources following youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds through schools. We have seen an extension of nursery places to vulnerable two-year-olds and the introduction of free school meals for those in primary 1 to primary 3.

In each case, the Scottish Government has been left playing catch-up. There has been some movement on additional nursery places, but that has lagged behind what has happened south of the border, and the introduction of free school meals happened here only because of the initiative that was taken by Westminster—the Scottish Government followed suit. None of that represents the relentless focus on early intervention that we need.

As I said, it is not those from better-off backgrounds with supportive parents who are losing out in the current system. They will always do well. Those from less well-off backgrounds, with greater challenges, need the support, and the evidence is that they are not getting it from the current system.

That is where a more open and diverse education system would assist. We know that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has no ideological opposition to that, as he has written about it in the past. Indeed, we already have some diversity in Scottish education. We have faith schools such as Catholic schools, and Gaelic-medium education. Why cannot we go further? Why cannot we have different types of schools, such as more vocational schools, as Germany has, or specialisms in schools—in languages, music, the arts or physical education—to play to the strengths of individual pupils instead of having a one-size-fits-all approach?

Surely it is time to open up the debate about the future of Scottish education and not simply pretend that everything is fine as it currently stands. Surely it is time to recognise that, above all, we have the greatest responsibility to those who are failed most by the current system. If the current cabinet secretary will not tackle the problem, perhaps his successor will.

16:23  

Meeting of the Parliament 29 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Murdo Fraser

For the sake of clarity, I should explain that my point was that if choice is currently available only to the better-off, we need to extend it to those who do not have the means. That means having more schools of different types and greater accessibility to such schools for children from less well-off backgrounds.



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am grateful to the Deputy First Minister for giving way. In the last speech that she made in the Scottish Parliament before the referendum, she said that the referendum was a “once-in-a-lifetime” vote. Did she mean what she said?



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I welcome the debate and on behalf of my party I pay tribute to Lord Smith and his commissioners for the very important work that they are undertaking. I signal our support for the Scottish Government’s motion and the Labour amendment.

One of the golden rules of politics is that we cannot please everyone at the same time. The formation of the Smith commission proves that point precisely. On the one hand we have a lot of people, many of them in the nationalist camp, jumping up and down and demanding implementation of the so-called vow that appeared in the Daily Record a few days before the referendum vote—

Members: “So-called”!



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Murdo Fraser

I see that they are getting excited already, Presiding Officer. I am barely into my first minute.

With its very tight timetable—[Interruption.]



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Murdo Fraser

On the other hand there are voices, among them former First Minister Henry McLeish, who have said that the timetable is far too short, and that a much more elongated process and broader public consultation are required. That has been echoed by other voices.

When politicians make commitments they should try to meet them, whenever possible. The Prime Minister David Cameron could not have moved much faster than he did. Within a few hours of the announcement of the referendum result, he came out from 10 Downing Street and announced that the Smith commission would be established to deliver the promises made in the vow. It seems unreasonable now to criticise him for taking that forward.

When it comes to honouring commitments, let us not forget the point that I raised just a moment ago. The Deputy First Minister herself said, in the very last speech that she made in this Parliament before the referendum, that it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” vote. I heard what she said in response to my intervention about the Scottish people being in the driving seat for this process and she is absolutely correct. However, barring accidents she will be the leader of the devolved Administration in this Parliament very soon. She will have a very strong leadership role and I hope that she will stick to the commitments that she made prior to the referendum.

The Smith commission has an ambitious timetable and its work is proceeding quickly.



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Murdo Fraser

Not at the moment.

However, it is not as if we are starting with a blank sheet of paper. We have had a conversation about Scotland’s constitutional future for many years, with added impetus over the past 24 months. All three unionist parties have brought forward their proposals for improving Scotland’s governance within the United Kingdom, and all three parties had their own internal processes and external consultation in drawing up their plans.

From my party’s perspective, the Strathclyde commission report was the culmination of an extensive process of discussion and consultation, and it is generally acknowledged that it represents a comprehensive and ambitious set of proposals to devolve further powers to Scotland, particularly around tax.



Meeting of the Parliament 28 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Murdo Fraser

Yes, it is the Scottish Conservatives’ position that APD should be devolved, and we will continue to make that point in the Smith commission. I hope that that unequivocally answers Ms Ewing’s question.

I have said before that the implementation of the Smith commission proposals would give Scotland in the UK many of the features that would apply to a state in a federal system. The essence of federalism is the sharing of sovereignty and a clear division of power between the different levels of government within a state. That would not necessarily involve substantial additional devolution beyond what is currently being proposed. Indeed, anyone who makes that case has clearly not looked at federal systems as they operate in countries such as Germany or the USA.

Part of the problem with this debate is that terms such as “federalism” and “devo max” are bandied around without many folk having a clear idea of what they actually mean. [Interruption.] I say to Mr Swinney that I admit that parties on all sides of the debate are equally guilty in that respect. Some on the unionist side have used the term “devo max” as a catch-all phrase to describe any form of additional devolution, but to many on the nationalist side, it has a specific, defined meaning, which was set out a few moments ago by the Deputy First Minister: it refers to a situation in which everything is devolved to Scotland, except for defence and foreign affairs, and the Scottish Parliament is entirely responsible for raising all revenues within Scotland and for paying a sum to Westminster to cover the cost of the very minor reserved competencies.

The problem with that nationalist definition of devo max is that that is not an arrangement that is compatible with either a federal United Kingdom or, for that matter, any sort of continuing UK state. I know of no federal system in the world that operates on that basis.

In his recent paper entitled “The Day after Judgement: Scotland and the UK after the Referendum”, Professor Jim Gallagher stated of devo max that it

“is simply a botched form of independence, and does not lead to a sustainable economic or social union. It is not sustainable economically as the conditions of fiscal sharing that support a stable currency ... are not met. Nor does it meet the conditions of social solidarity implied in a common UK pension and welfare system.”

If that is what is meant by devo max, frankly we would be better off being independent.

I know that there will be nationalists who will quote an opinion poll that they commissioned, with all sorts of leading questions, that suggests that the majority of the people in Scotland support devo max, but if devo max represents independence in all but name, that is precisely what the people of Scotland rejected in a referendum just a few weeks ago, and nationalists have to learn to live with that result.

Let us not get distracted by those diversions.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11332.2 Jenny Marra: Supported Business—As an amendment to motion S4M-11332 in the name of Fergu
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NoDefeated

S4M-11332.1 Gavin Brown: Supported Business—As an amendment to motion S4M-11332 in the name of Fergu
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11332 Fergus Ewing: Supported Business—That the Parliament recognises the economic and social va
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NoCarried

S4M-11304.3 Michael Russell: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—As an amendment to mo
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NoCarried

S4M-11304 Liz Smith: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—That the Parliament believes
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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NoCarried

S4M-11114.2 Kenny MacAskill: Policing—As an amendment to motion S4M-11114 in the name of Graeme Pear
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NoCarried

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1 Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-11116 in the name of Jo
>> Show more
NoCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Murdo Fraser
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11382: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 31/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10744: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10712.2: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10720: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10456: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 24/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10318: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 12/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10214.3: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 04/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10141: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 27/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10032: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 12/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10026: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 12/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Murdo Fraser
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-22799: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 08/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02325: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22673: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 02/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22600: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 25/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22599: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 25/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02290: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 22/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03524: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 15/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22448: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 21/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4T-00779: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 18/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22207: Murdo Fraser, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 28/07/2014 Show Full Question >>

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