Ahead of today’s Scottish Parliament debate (Wed 4 Mar) on plans to open up the NHS Central Register to other public bodies, Patrick is warning that data security, privacy and civil liberties are at serious risk.
Patrick raised concerns about the proposal with Deputy First Minister John Swinney last month, and this week arranged a meeting between the DFM and campaigners from the Open Rights Group, at which alternative approaches were set out.
Scottish Greens have longstanding concerns about the idea of a centralised ID database. 10 years ago Patrick Harvie led a debate at Holyrood against the UK Government’s plans for ID cards.
This week the Information Commissioner’s Office said that the proposals to open up the NHS database risk breaching data protection laws and privacy standards.
“There is a growing range of voices warning against the Scottish Government’s proposals. Allowing wider public sector access to data from the NHS central register sounds like an ID database in all but name.
“It’s important we examine these proposals in public, and the Information Commissioner’s comments have brought welcome additional scrutiny. I would urge John Swinney to listen to the serious arguments against this proposal, and change direction. There are better ways of achieving his policy objectives without going down a route abandoned by the UK Government years ago.”
The Green amendment submitted but not selected for debate:
“and considers that full privacy impact assessments must be carried out on the existing use of the Central Register and Entitlement Cards systems as well as on any proposals for a change in their use.”
ID cards in any guise must be opposed (Patrick Harvie)
Patrick Harvie questions John Swinney, 19 Feb 2015
Greens lead debate against ID cards, 2005
Alison today (3 Mar) highlighted a report into local government funding challenges by think-tank Fiscal Affairs Scotland.
The report says restricted funding for councils could lead to service users being charged more and that some services are at risk.
“Reforming council finances, and freeing our local authorities to pursue local priorities, are crucial issues. This report highlights the pressure our councils are under to cut services and increase charges, with the Scottish Government’s unfair and unsustainable council tax freeze coming home to roost.
“Green councillors tell me of community centres facing closure, and staff reductions affecting nurseries and schools. We’re also seeing home care rates increase and healthy lives affected by increased rates at sports centres.
“We are long overdue a revival of our local democracy, and Greens are taking part constructively in the Local Tax Commission with a view to seeing councils raise the majority of the funds, and able to choose from a variety of fairer options including our own preferred system of Land Value Taxation.”
Commenting on publication today (3 Mar) of the Scottish Government’s new economic strategy, Alison said:
“Tackling inequality must be at the heart of Scotland’s economic strategy, given the appalling gap between the rich and the rest, and the opportunity we have to create prosperity with our skills and resources. A resilient Scottish economy should be based on Scottish businesses and small enterprises, not multi-national companies who jump ship for a new tax-break.
“The Scottish Government’s assurance that it doesn’t want a race to the bottom on corporation tax is a notable shift in position, but it remains a concern that it’s still putting so much faith in growing exports when it could be focusing much more on strengthening our local economies. It’s also interesting to note the plan to devise a replacement tax for Air Passenger Duty. The highly profitable aviation sector does not pay its fair share of tax, and it is essential that it pays for its environmental impact rather than simply passing costs onto consumers.
“We also need to see the Scottish Government showing how serious it is about tackling tax-dodging multinationals. Companies such as Amazon have benefited from millions of pounds in grants from the taxpayer. This sort of corporate welfare must stop.”
Alison is warning against the “distraction” of the language used in the controversial TTIP trade deal, following the leak of a draft document.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, being negotiated behind closed doors by the EU and US, aims to remove barriers to multinational corporations and could enable them to sue governments over profits. SNP ministers support the principle of the deal, as does Labour.
A leaked draft of what the EU wants excluded from the deal has been published by the BBC.
“While some want to quibble over the wording, that is a distraction compared to the broader purpose of the deal. Greens have consistently opposed this blatant corporate power grab. It’s undemocratic and threatens not just our NHS but puts at risk jobs and wages throughout our economy.
“Promoters of TTIP claim it will produce jobs and growth, but when questioned about who will benefit they resort to a belief in workers eventually sharing the profits from increased trade. We need to shut the door to this deal, and focus instead on strong public services and meaningful support for Scotland’s small and medium sized businesses.”
TTIP: Transatlantic trade deal text leaked to BBC
Ahead of an energy debate at Holyrood today, the Greens say that the focus should be on securing a new, clean energy system rather than on keeping one of Europe’s most polluting power stations, Longannet, in operation.
The Greens’ amendment to today’s Conservative-led debate sets out their alternative for a modern energy system based on:
- a greater focus on energy efficiency and demand reduction
- increased energy storage
- a new North Sea transmission grid
- low-carbon energy generation with greater community ownership
The Greens are also welcoming the announcement of the budget for Wave Energy Scotland, the body set up in the wake of the collapse of leading Scottish company Pelamis.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP said:
“It is inevitable that Longannet will have to close, both because of its age and because of our critically important climate change commitments. Politicians to need be honest with those workers and communities affected and set out a plan for creating secure jobs from new energy opportunities.
“Greens have a plan for a clean and modern energy system, but it needs both the UK and Scottish Government to focus far more on reducing energy use, backing the full range of renewables, and stop trying to prop up our fossil fuel economy.
“It’s good to finally get some detail about Government support for wave energy, but Ministers must stop sending mixed messages about public investment. Globally there is a gigantic financial prize to be won if we can get marine technology right so let’s stop the subsidies for fossil fuels and ramp up green investment.”
Patrick is renewing calls for reform of RBS as a new report backs the idea of turning the publicly-owned bank into a network of local banks to protect jobs and rebalance the UK economy away from London.
Today’s report from the New Economics Foundation looks at public savings banks in Germany and Switzerland, estimating that the UK economy would have benefited by billions if a similar approach had been taken here.
The Green MSPs have previously called on the Scottish Government to negotiate the transfer of the RBS Scottish operations to create a network of locally-governed banks for Scotland’s cities and regions.
“The public owns RBS so we should be putting it to good use rather than trying to return it to the free market system that took us to the brink. In recent years thousands of staff have paid the price while small and medium sized businesses with potential have access to finance restricted.
“It’s clear we need a cultural shift in banking towards a more diverse sector. Today’s report from NEF underlines how Germany’s successful network of locally-accountable banks are a model we should be trying to copy.”
Reforming RBS (New Economics Foundation)
Local banking (Scottish Green Party briefing)
Alison has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament expressing deep concerns at reports that the Scottish Government is preparing to award a £350million contract to a private water company for supply of services to the public sector.
At the moment the billing and servicing of water for council buildings, hospitals, universities, prisons and the Scottish Parliament is carried out by Edinburgh-based Business Stream, which is 100 per cent owned by publicly-owned Scottish Water.
“It is deeply concerning that the Scottish Government appears to be about to award this massive contract, worth £350million over 3 years, to Anglian Water, so any profits will flow out of Scottish economy. At the moment the billing and servicing of water for council buildings, hospitals, universities, prisons and the Scottish Parliament is carried out by Business Stream, so any profits come back to publicly-owned Scottish Water.
“Anglian are owned by a consortium called Osprey, made up of asset and pension managers in Canada and Australia. Scotland’s water is a great asset, as are the skills of the industry, and we should be harnessing these for the public good, not lining shareholders’ pockets.”
The text of the motion submitted by Alison reads:
That the Parliament is appalled by reports that Scottish Ministers’ promises to keep Scottish Water in public hands and a “public sector success story” may be undermined by the award of a major £350 million public sector contract to private sector company Anglian Water; notes that the current contract to supply mains water and waste water services to more than 100 public sector organisations is delivered by Business Stream, a company 100% owned by Scottish Water and which ploughs profits back into the public sector; further notes that calculations by Corporate Watch show that Anglian paid £151 million to its private owners but just £1 million in tax in 2012 after an operating profit of £363 million, and is accused of avoiding millions in tax by routing profits through tax havens by way of taking on high-interest loans from their owners through the Channel Islands stock exchange; believes that water services should be in public hands and that public contracts should benefit the common good not corporate profit.
SNP dilemma as English firm set to win water deal (Sunday Times)
Public Contract Scotland tender
Alison Johnstone is renewing her call for the Scottish Government to toughen its stance on TTIP, the controversial EU-US trade deal which threatens jobs, wages and food standards.
Alison signs People’s NHS pledge
SNP ministers support the principle of the deal, as does Labour. It aims to remove barriers to multinational corporations and could enable them to sue governments over profits.
UK trade minister Lord Livingston gives evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s European committee today (19 Feb), while a protest will take place outside Holyrood by campaigners concerned at the threat to the NHS from TTIP. Alison Johnstone has signed the People’s NHS pledge calling for the health service to be exempted from any deal.
Lord Livingston has said the UK Government is “totally committed” to TTIP, and that “the benefit to industry is enormous”. However, a range of charities and unions have warned against the deal, with Global Justice Now highlighting the threat to local employment and public health.
Alison Johnstone MSP said:
“TTIP is a corporate power grab being negotiated in secret, threatening our NHS and putting at risk jobs and wages. Although Scottish ministers say they oppose the inclusion of the health service in TTIP they support the principle of the deal.
“While it’s perhaps no surprise that the UK Coalition Government is prepared to roll out the red carpet for big business, the mixed position of the Scottish Government is causing serious concern among people I’ve spoken to in recent months. There’s a real danger that this deal could make it easier for corporations to drive wages down and make employment even less secure. It could also weaken protections against the imports of GM foods and hormone-produced meat.
“The mounting public concern cannot be ignored.”
Lord Livingston “totally committed” to TTIP
“The Scottish Government believes that TTIP could deliver significant economic benefits”
Labour “continues to support the principles behind these negotiations”
Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) submission on TTIP
Patrick Harvie MSP will appear before Holyrood’s Health Committee to give evidence on the Assisted Suicide Bill.
The Committee has been taking evidence from a series of witnesses, and now Patrick, the member in charge of the Bill, has the opportunity to respond.
Patrick Harvie MSP said:
“I’m grateful to the committee and all witnesses for the scrutiny of the Bill. This is a complex subject with strong views on both sides, and it’s important that it is given serious consideration.
“As the committee papers for this final meeting make clear, there is serious legal concern over the lack of clarity in the current law. People in Scotland have no way of knowing what actions might be legal or illegal if they respond to a request from a loved one for compassionate assistance to end their life. This Bill is a response to that lack of clarity, and those who support it recognise that we all have a right to make decisions about our own lives on our own terms.
“The public in Scotland are ahead of politicians on this issue, and it’s clear that there is momentum for a change in the law. It remains to be seen whether this Bill can gain the support of a majority, but if it does I am entirely willing to look at amendments to strengthen it.
“I gave a commitment to Margo MacDonald, who introduced the Bill, that I would present it to Parliament as best I could. It’s a source of lasting regret that she didn’t have the chance to steer this legislation through herself, but I am sure that MSPs from across the Chamber will remember her commitment to this issue and will give the debate serious thought before we reach the Stage 1 vote.”
Responding to a Federation of Small Businesses report showing that half of all Scottish businesses are based in the home, Alison Johnstone said:
“This report shows how important small businesses are to the strength and diversity of our local economies. 94 per cent of Scottish private sector businesses have fewer than 10 employees, and it makes sense to help them grow and encourage new ones to follow.
“Access to finance and broadband must be addressed; another measure I’d like to see is a single-point regulator for very small enterprises in recognition of their scale. Instead of featherbedding multinationals who don’t pay their taxes, let’s unleash Scotland’s potential and support locally-owned, sustainable businesses.”