Solution to air pollution is better transport

Last Wednesday, I spoke in a Member’s Debate on Air Pollution, highlighting how improving our Government’s transport policies are key to tackling poor air quality.

Read my full speech below.


I thank Sarah Boyack for bringing this important debate to the chamber this evening. I, too, thank Friends of the Earth, Sustrans, Transform Scotland and the British Heart Foundation for their very useful briefing.

Sadly, our much-heralded Scottish fresh air is not always as fresh as we might think or wish—sometimes noticeably so, particularly in national air pollution hotspots such as St John’s Road and Queensferry Road in Edinburgh. However, even at levels below current Scottish pollution standards, our health is still being damaged. While we debate the shortage of general practitioners, the impact of bedblocking and the need for our local authorities to have sufficient funding to implement health and social care integration, we need to start looking at how decisions taken in other policy areas, such as planning and transport, are impacting on our health. As a result, I will focus in my speech on the impact of the Government’s transport policies on air pollution and where change is needed.

In 2014, Transform Scotland published “Warning Signs 2014: Is Scotland moving towards sustainable transport?”, which sets out just how is Scotland moving about. According to the report, 65 per cent of journeys are made in cars, most of which have one passenger; 23 per cent by walking; 9 per cent by bus; 2 per cent by rail; and 1 per cent by bike. However, it was not always like that. In 1985, more trips were completed on foot than by car—the figures were 43 per cent and 39 per cent—and it was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that things began to change and we had the situation that has remained in place ever since.

While our climate change emissions have declined by 34 per cent in recent years, our transport emissions have declined by 1 or 2 per cent, and they make up 25 per cent of all climate change emissions. Transport emissions contribute to climate change and also pollute our air and damage our health.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has announced that air pollution and, in particular, particulate matter are carcinogenic—or cancer causing—to humans. Professor David Newby of the British Heart Foundation centre of research excellence in the city of Edinburgh has said:

“In the 1950s, when there was a lot of smog, the problem used to be that particles were big and they stuck in the upper airways. Now these nanoparticles go straight past, deep into the lungs, even into the bloodstream. We have a clear link between air pollution levels and heart attacks, and we believe the particles in the air are the cause of this.”

When I visited the centre recently with MP colleagues from Labour and the Scottish National Party, Professor Newby told us of the links between air pollution and heart attacks and the high likelihood that those who have suffered such attacks will have sat in heavy traffic in the hours that led up to that episode.

The European Environment Agency showed in its report on air quality in Europe that more than 90 per cent of people in European cities breathe air that is dangerous to their health. We know that children, the elderly and the sick are disproportionately affected by air pollution. That is not being addressed by the Government’s transport policies in Scotland or by our local authorities. If it were being addressed, we would not have 32 local air quality management areas in which air pollution levels are dangerously high. I welcome the fact that we have a cleaner air for Scotland strategy, but does it have the teeth to make a difference?

The Government claims that it will promote a modal shift away from cars through walking and cycling among other policies, but more has been spent on trunk roads and motorways and less has been spent on maintenance than ever before. If the minister wants to boost the local economy and prevent damage to cars and cyclists, shovel-ready potholes can be found across Lothian and across the country. Transform Scotland is right in calling on local and national Government to focus on a fix-it-first policy.

I would like the Government to invest in affordable bus and rail services, low-emission zones, and greener buses and taxis; to incentivise shared car use; to get freight off our roads where possible; to increase workplace parking levies; to protect and enhance our green spaces; to introduce presumed liability; and to invest more than 2 per cent of the £2 billion transport budget in walking and cycling. Green Party policy, in line with the views of the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Institute of Highway Engineers and the British Heart Foundation, is that 10 per cent of the budget is required to deliver the shift that we need to see for clean air for all.

The Government has five years to deliver its vision of 10 per cent of all journeys by bike. If the minister is serious about that, he will need to start pedalling a lot faster.

Read about my work

My latest newsletter will be popping through letterboxes in the coming weeks.

I hope you enjoy reading about some of the work I’ve been doing in the past year as MSP, aiming to support communities in creating a healthy, fair and greener Lothian.

If you haven’t received a copy, click on the link below to download one.


Lothian News Autumn 2015


Alison today questioned comments by John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, in which he supported plans to turn the Royal High School into a luxury hotel and the controversial redevelopment of the St James Centre.Royal_High_School_Calton_Hill_Edinburgh

Both projects have been criticised by heritage experts amid concerns that they could result in the city losing its World Heritage status.

Mr Donnelly told a business website: “If Edinburgh wants to be a premium city, it has to behave like one.” And of alternative plans for the Royal High, he said: “A music school will not add to Edinburgh’s attraction from an international point of view.”

Alison said:

“These patronising comments show how out of touch Marketing Edinburgh’s boss is. Internationally-recognised built heritage and culture are what makes our capital city so special, and we ignore that at our peril.

“The proposals for the Royal High are out of character and aimed at catering for luxury jet-setters when instead we could be encouraging more meaningful ideas to preserve our wonderful skyline and enhance enjoyment and opportunities for people who live here, as well as those passing through. Edinburgh is clearly a tourism magnet but we must not trample over the unique selling points that bring visitors here in the first place.”


Marketing chief hails scheme for Royal High hotel (Edinburgh Evening News)

John Donnelly interview (Daily Business)

No to Trident, yes to job security


Yesterday, I spoke in a Scottish Government debate on Trident with my colleague John Wilson and Patrick Harvie.  An often-cited concern of those speaking for the renewal of Trident is that thousands of jobs would come under threat if the weapons system is discontinued.

In my speech, I argued that scrapping Trident shouldn’t be seen as a threat to workers, but an opportunity to make the best use of the skills and experience of our workforce. Scotland desperately needs more engineers working in sectors such as renewables, oil and gas decommissioning and energy efficient housing. We need a funded, well-planned transition for the jobs currently tied to the weapon system to be transferred to sustainable, ethical industries.

Read my full speech below.


Welfare over warfare? Welfare of course—and the Green and independent group will vote for the Government motion and the Labour amendment, but we will oppose the Conservative amendment. Even if Trident was entirely free, we should continue to demand its end and removal because it is an abomination.

On Saturday just past I was delighted to be part of the conference that was held to celebrate 20 years of campaigning by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. The work of the campaign is crucial if so many other campaigns are to succeed, because aggression is less likely if people cannot get their hands on the means to deliver it.

I am pleased to join the majority of colleagues across the chamber in calling for a shift in UK Government priorities away from funding weapons of indiscriminate mass civilian slaughter to investing in people. I am pleased to have the privilege, on behalf of the Green and independent group, of supporting my colleague John Wilson’s motion calling for an end to the UK’s membership of NATO, the first-strike nuclear alliance, and declaring the UK and its waters a nuclear weapons-free zone.

We can, by putting in place a properly funded jobs transition, and by moving to a clean low-carbon energy system and investing in new energies, provide more jobs than the entire arms industry. If we are serious about the security that we all want, it is imperative that we do so.

We must remember that security is not just about military matters. Real security will come from global action on a scale that has not yet been witnessed to address climate change and to cut our emissions urgently. We need to redesign our approach to defence from scratch. We need to develop our ability to promote diplomacy and peace, to lead in conflict resolution and to address threats to security such as pressures on food, water, land and energy. It really is time for the UK to get its priorities right and for us here in Scotland to set a good example.

We are focusing on the question of Trident today, but the debate provides an opportunity to analyse our spending priorities more broadly. UK-made weapons have been used in Israel’s attacks on Gaza, the UK has supplied all sides in Libya’s civil wars, we have armed Russia and the Ukraine, and our weapons have caused tens of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sometimes it feels as if increasing GDP is valued more than life itself.

Trident is all about the UK’s obsession with punching above its weight. It is absolutely useless in helping us to tackle cyber crime, climate change and terrorism, as Neil Findlay pointed out. How secure do our citizens feel when they are juggling two or three zero-hours contracts, when the insecure roof over their heads eats up almost all their income, and when they have to visit yet another new local food bank because of an inhuman benefits sanction? Tell the parents of the one in four children who are living in poverty in the UK that investing in nuclear weapons increases their security.

As we debate more powers for Scotland, it is time to challenge the way that we do business and the business that we do. Why are Government agencies and public funds used to support firms that make weapons for war? Most people in the UK would be appalled if they learned that we have the sixth-highest military spend in the world while one in four children in the UK is growing up in poverty. Priorities?

Lockheed Martin benefited to the tune of £2.5 million from the Scottish Government’s regional selective assistance programme. That was not because it was required to protect jobs or because the firm was struggling. Lockheed Martin is the largest arms company in the world and 80 per cent of its work is for the US Department of Defense. It is moving to Glasgow to allow it to work more closely with the city’s university. Through a freedom of information request from the National Union of Students Scotland, we have learned that Scottish universities, including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde, have invested millions in arms companies. I congratulate and thank those students and others who are campaigning for the divestment of public pension funds from that trade.

Here in this very city, we have Selex-ES producing radar, drones, targeting and weapons control systems. It took part in the recent defence and security equipment international fair in London, attracting buyers from a range of countries that have poor human rights records. Not much of a fair, is it?

The use of such language normalises such activity but those people who work in such industries can have a productive and positive future in other industries, and it is up to us to make that happen. Our talented engineers have skills that will be needed in the industries of the future. The oil industry has told us that 5,500 wells and 10,000km of pipeline need to be decommissioned during the next 35 years. Whether they be in Government or Opposition, all politicians should promote a positive manufacturing strategy for Scotland that is based on promoting industries such as renewable energy, not companies that sell equipment to human rights abusers. Engineering UK estimates that the UK will need 87,000 engineers per year; last year, just over 50,000 were trained.

Scotland desperately needs more engineers. We need to invest in the industries of the future. Let us put their skills to positive and productive use. Let us reject bloated military budgets and prioritise skilled jobs and apprenticeships in a sustainable and ethical economy. “Jane’s” online itself tells us that the world-wide defence market is worth $1 trillion annually; the energy and environmental market is worth at least eight times that.

In closing, I remind members of the words of President Eisenhower that were recently brought to my attention by my colleague, Patrick Harvie. In his famous chance for peace speech, Eisenhower said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed”.

Musselburgh & East Lothian News Closures Dreadful Decision

I’m urging newspaper owners Johnston Press to rethink their decision to close the Musselburgh and East Lothian News titles.

This is a dreadful decision by Johnston Press, both for readers and for staff, and adds to the already brutal cutbacks at the Edinburgh Evening News. Our communities deserve good quality local information and investigation, and a vibrant local newspaper scene is crucial to that.

I have asked Johnston Press to explain their reasoning behind this shock decision and for assurances about the future of the skilled staff at these titles. The online media age should mean more local content, not less. Cutting staff and titles is a false economy, and I urge the owners to rethink their decision.




Scotland's MSP's Wear it Pink in support of Breast Cancer Now

Did you know that 4,600 women in Scotland are diagnosed with breast cancer, and sadly, 1,000 lose their lives to the disease every year?

Because of the incredible research by organisations like Breast Cancer Now, fewer people are dying of breast cancer than ever before, but the shocking figures above show that there is still plenty of work to be done.

I’m proud to join fellow parliamentarians in supporting Breast Cancer Now’s wear it pink fundraiser on this Friday 23 October 2015. Now in its 14th year, wear it pink raises over £2 million each year for world-class research into breast cancer, and this year it is back and bigger, brighter and bolder than ever before.

The idea is simple – wear something pink to work, to school or wherever you might be going to on Friday, and donate what you can to Breast Cancer Now’s important work. It’s a fun, simple way to get involved, and I hope as many of you around the Lothians are able to join in as possible.

If you’d like to find out more about what you can do, visit and to learn about Breast Cancer Now, click on to their site at




People power can turn tide


Originally published as a column in the Edinburgh Evening News on Thursday 1 October 2015

Last Saturday, Edinburgh came together to call for urgent, decisive action to tackle climate change, one of the greatest threats our society faces. I took part in two grassroots demonstrations – first, the People’s Climate Rally on The Mound, and later on, Scotland Against Fracking down at Holyrood.

Saturday’s events proved that concerns about our impact on climate and on our local environments concern people from all walks of life. Both rallies attracted a varied range of speakers and participants, young and old, showing how the concern over the catastrophic impact of climate change is growing in our communities. The 30 years leading up to 2012 were the warmest three decades was the warmest in the last 1400 years. Our seas are getting warmer, higher and more acidic. Ice sheets are melting at an incredible rate and this water is flowing into our oceans at speeds never previously recorded.

The IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, tells us that all the warming that has occurred in the last 50 years is due to our behaviour. To me, that is also a clear signal that if we want to, we have the power and the ability to halt the dangerous path we’re on.
The big businesses that make their money from drilling oil and fracking for gas would have us think that we have to choose between cutting back on emissions and building a prosperous economy – according to these corporations, there is no real alternative to the fossil fuel industry. But people in Scotland are starting to realise that they are bluffing. The oil barons are simply trying to secure profits for themselves, while pretending that they’re doing our society a favour.

There is an immense wealth of economic opportunities beyond fossil fuels; renewables, decommissioning, sustainable forestry, home insulation – the list goes on. There are also plenty of ways in which our government could support people to tackle emissions in their daily lives, through policies that tackle climate change, for example.

By grasping those opportunities, we would secure growth, jobs, a safe climate and better health for people. Yet, our political leaders are struggling to pluck up the courage to move away from business as usual. The SNP still can’t make up its mind about fracking and Underground Coal Gasification, and Westminster is pouring in billions of pounds to subsidise failing oil companies and short-sighted nuclear power projects.

Nearly half of Scottish adults think that climate change is an immediate and urgent problem – that means tackling emissions should be at the top of our decision-makers’ agenda. This December, 195 countries will come together in Paris to discuss how to keep global warming within a rise of 2C. It was clear to me on Saturday that people in Scotland recognise the opportunities and solutions we have to tackle climate change, and are ready to do all they can to secure a safe, prosperous society for the next generations. I hope the UK Government won’t let us down, and will take our vision for a better future to the negotiating table in Paris.


Stop risky development at Brunstane

This week, local campaigners and councillors have alerted Edinburgh City Council to concerns over the safety of a site the city intends to develop as part of the new Local Development Plan. The site in the Brunstane Farmlands has coal reserves very close to the surface, and mine works have been carried out in the area in the past.

Our worry is that building on this areas may trigger leakage of toxic substances such as mine water, methane and carbon monoxide. These would cause serious public health and environmental risks.

I have signed a letter have submitted an official letter to the council, highlighting these concerns. You can read an Evening News coverage on the issue here. I have also lodged a motion to alert my MSP colleagues to the situation, which you can read below. I have also lodged two written parliamentary questions  to gain more information from the Scottish Government on this matter.

Written questions:

Question S4W-27681: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 24/09/2015

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on land classified by the Coal Authority as a high risk development area being identified by a local authority as a preferred option for housing development under a local development plan.

Question S4W-27682: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 24/09/2015

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on the Coal Authority requiring near-surface coal reserves to be removed through opencast mining from land identified by a local authority as a preferred option for housing development under a local development plan, prior to development being undertaken.

Motion S4M-14378: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 24/09/2015. Brunstane Campaigners Identify Omissions from Local Development Plan

That the Parliament notes that the Second Edinburgh Local Development Plan was approved by the City of Edinburgh Council in May 2015 and is now being considered by the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals; understands that campaigners opposing housing development at Brunstane Farmlands in Edinburgh have identified potentially serious omissions from the plan in relation to environmental and public health risks resulting from near-surface coal and associated historic mine works present on the site; notes that this additional information has been submitted to the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals, and calls on the Scottish Government to take full account of this information to ensure that the final form of the Second Edinburgh Local Development Plan fully complies with Scottish and European environmental regulations relating to strategic environmental assessment.

I will continue to work with campaigners and the Council to ensure that any new developments are considered carefully, with public safety in mind.


Bring food producers and food consumers closer together

080912 AJ GC Local Food Fair_small

Yesterday, I spoke in a Scottish Government debate on agriculture, focusing on the need to try new techniques and approaches to ensure we produce more locally and bring food farmers and food consumers closer together.

Read my full speech below.


Most people in Lothian live in urban areas, but that does not mean that agriculture is not vitally important to them. Who produces our food and how is of interest to everyone.

Local people who are campaigning to save Damhead in Midlothian from the new A701 have proposed an alternative use for the green belt: an Edinburgh food belt, which would change our perceptions of the green belt. It is hoped that opportunities can be offered for people to start businesses on croft-sized areas of land, leading to short food chains. That resilient approach would be embedded in future development plans.

We need to shorten supply chains, reduce inputs and improve the environment if we are to have a sustainable food system. The authors of the Scottish Government’s paper, “The Future of Scottish Agriculture: a Discussion Document”, which was published in June, clearly get the challenge. The content is refreshingly clear for such a publication. Action is suggested on improved innovation, resource efficiency, skills and profitability. The need and opportunities for Scotland to be a world leader in green farming are recognised. Advice, training, education and demonstration farms are all proposed, to support farms to be “environmentally and commercially successful”. In the not-so-long term, the two concepts are absolutely inseparable.

However, the Government’s discussion document misses our food system’s reliance on fossil fuels for transport, pesticides, fertilisers and much more. Breaking that link is one of our biggest challenges. We must ensure that we can sustain a system of affordable food production without fossil fuels. That will need innovative thinking and a willingness to try new techniques.

I ask members to imagine walking down a road with a field of crop on their left and natural woodland on their right. Which is more productive? The field gives us a uniform crop, but the woodland is layered with a vastly greater weight of plants and biomass, all without fossil fuel inputs. We still have many lessons to learn from nature.

As with so many industries, co-operation on innovation and the sharing of good ideas will be key to success. There are plenty of strong communities in farming that can do that. Co-operative models are working to help farmers get the best deal and share resources, but our production numbers from co-operatives are very low compared with other EU countries.

CAP reform has finally got rid of some of the artefacts of the old system, but the wrong decision was made on allocating the convergence uplift uniformly across the UK. I support calls for the decision to be revisited. Across 521 businesses in the Lothian region, the new CAP is expected to deliver gains of €1.4 million and losses of €5.4 million—a net loss of €4 million.

The Government’s motion also refers to the red meat levies, and I agree with it on that subject. However, the Scottish Government could take action right now by supporting new abattoirs in Scotland. That would solve the levies issue and improve animal welfare by reducing transport distances.

New farmers are faced with lots of barriers, including high land values. Land reform should be seen as a way of opening up more opportunities for farms of all sizes.

Many farmers now have renewables or use low-carbon energy, but there is always more to do to maximise the benefits to farmers and to wider community initiatives that need land for projects. The UK Government’s attempts to pull the rug from under those initiatives demonstrate why Scotland needs much more influence on energy policy as well as in EU agriculture debates.

Broadband infrastructure is another issue for rural businesses. My colleague John Finnie will mention the importance of the Royal Mail’s universal service obligation in his members’ business debate tomorrow, but the same principle could be applied to broadband provision, so that rural businesses are not stuck with a loading page instead of the latest price data.

The transatlantic trade and investment partnership is a risk to Scotland’s reputation for quality, safe agriculture. I ask the Government to step up to the plate and to be clear in opposing it. It is not a trade deal; it is a corporate power grab that is bad for food.

In his welcome speech, Rob Gibson asked what agriculture is for. I agree that it is not about providing profits to huge monopolies but about ensuring that we all have enough to eat. We should remember that the right to food is established in international human rights law.

I received an email today from the Edinburgh central and Edinburgh north-west food bank, asking us all to watch “The Food Bank: Scotland’s Hidden Hunger”, which will air next week. Although we understand why there has, sadly, been a rapid increase in the growth of food banks—I attribute it, in no small amount, to welfare reform at Westminster—let us listen to Nourish Scotland, which calls on us to eat more of what we produce here, and to produce more of what we eat here. We should listen to people such as Professor Elizabeth Dowler and Professor Graham Riches, who tell us that relying on corporate food waste—the waste from the same corporates that do not pay farmers a fair price for milk—is not an effective, sustainable or fair response to hunger. Perhaps if we used the Poverty Alliance’s term “emergency food aid” rather than the term “food banks” we would better appreciate the urgent need to ensure that Scotland’s food success story fully benefits local producers and local people.

I ask that we continue to strive for a stronger food culture that brings producers and consumers closer together. I enjoyed Malcolm Chisholm’s speech, which focused on the right to grow and local initiatives, and I conclude by highlighting the fabulous Dig-In, here in Edinburgh, which is a community greengrocer that is making the most of local produce.

“The Government should make a clear funding commitment for walkers and cyclists”

Last Thursday, I gave a speech in a Scottish Parliament debate on the National Cycle Network.

You can read my full statement below.



I thank Jim Eadie for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject, and I thank Jim and my other co-convener of the cross-party group on cycling, Claudia Beamish, for the efforts that they have made so far in getting this important issue the attention that it deserves. I, too, congratulate all those who have been involved in the improvement and extension of our national cycle network: the Sustrans volunteers, those who are connected with other organisations and the local authorities. Their work really is making a difference. I have seen improvements in Edinburgh and across my constituency, but there are still many opportunities that we can and should harness.

Every time we dig up a road, we should see whether we can make an improvement for people who walk and people who cycle. Let us have a rolling programme targeted at dangerous or just plain annoying junctions, where walking and cycling are not prioritised. Off-road and separated cycle lanes are vital to help people to feel and be safe. Let us look at a specific example here in Edinburgh.

The first phase of the investment in the link between Edinburgh’s Meadows and the Innocent path cycleway is under way and is already making a difference. It is incredible to think that the national cycle network 1 used to involve cycling along a little narrow corridor, full of wheelie bins and bin bags, with railings where it would be necessary to dismount.

That has been transformed by investment. A cyclist can now stay on their bike and get safely across the road. That started in March and it is not finished, but I have no doubt that it will encourage people to cycle and to feel that their children are safe doing so, too. I look forward to the work on the western side of the Meadows, which unfortunately will not begin until next year. Many members campaigned about the utterly ridiculous situation whereby cyclists were banned from entering Waverley station. I am pleased to note that that is on track to being changed.

However, we need cultural change so that we do not have to campaign against such wrong-headed thinking and decisions. The situation has been a frustrating waste of time. We want to connect up different types of transport and use our energy more positively.

Leith Walk improvements are in the pipeline, too, although they have been a long time coming for residents who live and commute there. Identifying gaps and necessary improvements in our cycleways and walkways is best done by people who use the routes. Walking and cycling investment is exactly the sort of investment that should be decided by participatory budgeting. What would happen if we handed over the whole walking and cycling budget to a participatory budgeting exercise?

I think that we would start to see exactly the sorts of improvements that people want in their neighbourhoods. We should be ambitious. Scotland’s network is more than 4,000km long. Denmark’s population is similar in size to Scotland’s, but its network is more than 11,000km long and it covers a land area that is half that of Scotland’s.

There will be differences between the networks, but I make the point that we should keep our heads up when planning our cycling infrastructure. The national planning framework 3 includes the national cycling and walking network as a nationally significant development, which is a really positive move. It is the first time that the NPF has recognised distributed developments – ones that happen in lots of different places across the country as opposed to those that just involve a big piece of kit in one place. Such network developments benefit people across the country and should be considered nationally important.

The central Scotland green network, the national digital fibre network and the electricity transmission network are other examples. Although it is great that the walking and cycling network is in the NPF as policy, it is vital that walking and cycling improvements are pushed forward with funding attached. The Government makes clear funding commitments to roads for cars and lorries, so it should make a clear funding commitment for walkers and cyclists, too.