Speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference
Perth, February 2017
David Stewart, Member of the Scottish Parliament for Highlands and Islands region.
This has been an excellent debate with thoughtful contributions from the floor. [Name check speakers.
What is “Sustainable Scotland”…the title of our debate?
The late Labour Leader, John Smith, said that poverty and inequality killed life chances and that failure became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
All John Smith sought was a chance to serve…
A chance to make a difference…
A chance to make a sustainable Scotland…
It’s a Scotland with a profound sense of social justice.
A Scotland where caring for the environment is our legacy to our children.
Climate change is here…today.
Those impacts do not exist in some sci-fi future.
They are here. They are now.
Observable. Scientifically verifiable. And inevitable unless we take action now.
Whether choking in the smog of Los Angeles or watching acid rain fall in the frozen forests of Siberia, climate change recognises no borders, salutes to no flags, upholds no laws.
We all must become international evangelists for the environment, and drown out the siren voices of the philistines from both sides of the Atlantic – climate change deniers, lead by new President Trump, more Big Brother than West Wing.
The economic effect of climate change goes off the scale! Like the Great Depression meets World War I.
As Al Gore made clear in “An Inconvenient Truth” – meeting the challenge of climate change is technologically feasible and economically rational.
A sustainable Scotland needs to banish poor air quality – a relic of the Victorian era. Toxic diesel fumes harm our children, elderly and the ill and is disproportionately hitting those living in disadvantaged urban areas.
Radical problems need radical answers.
Scotland needs a new Clean Air Act. And with Scottish Labour, it will have one.
Labour will pressurise the Scottish Government to bring forward plans for Low Emission Zones for our towns and cities.
We need to make polluters pay and give our hard-pressed local councils the funds to invest in active travel, like cycling and walking, and more investment in green, electric buses.
A win for health, and a win for the environment.
We will follow best practice of Labour-led councils like the City of Edinburgh Council, who have invested so heavily in active travel.
The SNP like to talk green, but they act dirty.
Their decision to cut Air Passenger Duty by 50% and then abolish it will lead to a huge rise in emissions.
And the wealthiest will benefit the most.
The 50% cut in APD will be the equivalent to the emissions from between 19,000 to 27,000 extra cars on Scotland’s roads each year.
Fixing climate change is not going to be easy.
It is a product of many generations….but overcoming it must be the great project of this generation.
This Party has never run from the battle.
Throughout our history, we have been at our best when at our boldest;
- Jenny Lee on setting up the Open University,
- Willie Ross on creating the Highlands & Islands Development Board,
- Donald Dewar on initiating the creation of National Parks in Scotland.
And in Kez, we have a leader who knows sustainability is not just a box to be ticked when we are putting together our manifesto.
It is a principle that underpins all our policymaking, from housing and land use to environmental protection, from transport to energy.
It is about the natural environment and it is about our communities.
It is about ecosystems…and above all, it is about people.
About creating a new generation of green jobs to secure our future.
Fixing climate change is not going to be easy.
But we already know what works:
- Boosting energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty,
- Investing in public transport and active travel,
- And changing behaviours.
What are the consequences of Brexit for the environment and climate change?
Even the famous 17th Century Highland Mystic, the Brahan Seer, would be stumped.
But what we do know is that:
- Europe’s Water Framework led to cleaner Scottish water,
- Europe’s landfill directives led to an increase in Scottish recycling rates,
- And Europe’s Environmental Assessment Directives have led to improved Scottish air quality.
We need to ensure that progress made in such initiatives does not get lost in post-Brexit Britain.
Our debate this morning is about what sort of Scotland we want in the future:
A Scotland that is clean, green and sustainable.
And a Scotland that is recognised around the globe for the quality of its natural environment….
Its stunning hills, glens and lochs…. It’s talented multicultural workforce.
In our history, Scots have been leaders:
- James Watt, the godfather of the Industrial Revolution,
- Robert Watson-Watt, the inventor of radar,
- Williamina Fleming, the early astronomy pioneer.
Today we are leaders in climate change and the environment.
As the great environmental activist Wendell Benny said:
“The world is not given by his father, but borrowed from his children.”