We need to match ambition with a credible plan

Yesterday I was able to contribute to the debate in parliament on the Government’s revised report on climate change proposals and policies, known as RPP2.

Last week I warned the plan lacks ambition and is worryingly dependent on unproven technology.
Traffic jam
Here’s what I said in yesterday’s debate:

As a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, I was pleased to help scrutinise our section of the RPP. It was unfortunate that the final meeting took place on a day of public sector strikes against the cuts. Personally, in supporting those who were striking, I felt unable to cross the picket line. I thank the convener, my committee colleagues and the clerks for their flexibility in taking on board some of my input and comments in my absence.

I share some of the concerns that were raised by Rhoda Grant that, in voting down some sensible recommendations, Scottish National Party back benchers have not assisted their own Government colleagues to ensure that the finalised RPP2 is as robust as possible. I am sure that the minister is willing and able to accept constructive input.

The task of meeting our ambitious climate targets is not easy. It requires changes—small ones, bigger evolutionary ones and a few large-scale transformational ones—if we are to play a fair part in tackling the climate crisis. Transport did not form part of my committee’s scrutiny, but it is one area where poor choices are compromising the plan. It is impossible to double-think our way into a future of more motorways and to expect to meet our climate targets, too. I invite the minister to comment on what more can be done in that respect.

The RPP almost entirely neglects demand management or the possibility that the policies and the investment decisions that we make can reduce the number and distance of journeys that are taken by car. Such decisions are largely devolved, but the only transport policy in the current draft RPP is based on EU directives. We can see from transport that the Government’s scale of ambition is falling away. Comparing RPP1 with RPP2, we see that 500,000 tonnes of abatement have been lost every year from 2014 to 2018. The necessary policy changes have just been pushed further into the future, and emissions from transport have risen, not fallen. We largely know what needs to change.

Maureen Watt (SNP): Does the member not think that if we can move to hydrogen fuel cell or electric vehicles or to using other forms of fuel, that does not mean that we cannot build motorways to get people to their destinations?

Alison Johnstone: Although technological advances that reduce emissions will be welcome, traffic jams could still add to congestion, and not all vehicles will be so powered. What we really need to do is to spend more than just 1 per cent of the transport budget on cycling and walking. I hope that the final RPP2 will have active travel, car clubs, travel planning and ambitious demand management included as policy.

As the RACCE Committee has recognised, the only way in which we will meet our future targets is if all the policies and proposals are implemented and if the EU shifts to the 30 per cent reduction target. There is no margin built into the plan. We heard real concern from witnesses that the EU will not move to 30 per cent, so the RPP needs explicitly to work out domestic actions to mitigate that risk. The EET Committee recommended that.

The same risk exists for carbon capture and storage. Witnesses fear that the 2020 target will not be met. Peterhead now has preferred bidder status, but the RPP is predicated on CCS and we cannot put our heads in the sand about the risk.

Electricity gets lots of attention, but the provision of cheap and clean heat is important too. After all, heat accounts for more than half of our energy demand. I hope that the final RPP will provide more ambition and detail on delivering district heating. From the evidence that we heard in scrutinising the RPP and in previous committee work, it is clear that the public sector has a key role to play in that.

The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee looks forward to the forthcoming heat policy and has asked the Government to provide more details on how it will support community district heating schemes and off-gas-grid properties to get out of fuel poverty. I hope that the minister will confirm that the Government will provide that in due course and will listen carefully to the recommendations of the expert commission on district heating.

Cheap, low-carbon heat will be important in tackling fuel poverty, but high-quality insulated homes are essential too. Stop Climate Chaos, the existing homes alliance and others have all called for the proposal for minimum efficiency standards in the private sector to be upgraded to a policy and implemented by 2015. That would help to bring our existing housing stock up to standard, lever in investment and jobs for local trades and help to meet targets in a difficult sector.

Scotland has played a leading role in setting the bar high, promoting climate justice and inspiring ambition, but we missed our first target. That is not the end of the line, but it is a clear signal that we need to match ambition with a credible plan with fully funded climate policies that have headroom built in to address the possibility of long, cold winters, clear milestones to track our success and bold Government action on the big challenges of, and opportunities for, ending our dependence on fossil fuels.

Turning our food crisis into an opportunity

Shelter, warmth, and food, are the basic things that keep us alive, and I’m normally pretty critical of the Scottish Government’s ambition on all three. Today, I spoke in a debate on Scotland’s food and drink policy. You can read the Green/Independent amendment in the debate here.

The recent horsemeat scandal has shocked us; not really because some horse meat has found its way into some products advertised as beef, but because retailers and end-producers seem entirely unable to guarantee the safety of their food because they genuinely didn’t know where it had come from.

This glimpse into the murky corporate-meat industry is deeply unsettling and has led to some overdue attention. Of course the picture is complicated and there are different issues for different parts of the industry – I am not selling a panacea, but it is clear the dominance of a few prevents the maximum number of people in Scotland benefiting.

On the retail side, the sector in the UK is highly concentrated. The Big Four supermarket firms currently control three-quarters of our grocery market. This means they can largely dictate the price paid to producers, even if this puts people out of business.

Procurement in East Ayrshire Council has led the way in Scottish schools but Edinburgh is attempting to catch up. The Soil Association are working with Currie and Buckstone schools, Clovenstone care home, St John’s Hospital in Livingstone (which serves one million meals a year) and Edinburgh University’s Pollock Halls to get them buying local. Pollock Halls achieved the bronze award in January so congratulations to them.

Manufacturers have a huge amount of power over our diets and they should be doing more to cut down the salt, fat and additives content of processed meat products. It’s not fair to just encourage people to buy better quality cuts of meat; it excludes large numbers of people who can’t afford it.

Top of the list on the excellent Fife Diet’s food manifesto is the Soup Test – every child should leave school able to cook a cheap, nutritious bowl of soup.  Who could disagree with that?

Our food policy should have the provision of nourishing food people in Scotland at its heart, not just an export strategy. We need to have confidence in our food again.

Glasgow 2014 – A chance to make sport part of everyday life

I’ve written a piece for today’s Daily Record about the need for a meaningful legacy from next year’s Commonwealth Games. You can read my thoughts in more detail below…

AJ in action Daily Record

Glasgow 2014. What an opportunity! What a chance to make sport part of everyday life for many more Scots. Not only as spectators, but as participants too.

It gives us a chance to tackle our unwanted label as the third fattest nation on earth. I’ve long campaigned to save green spaces in built-up areas – it’s what got me into politics – and for safer walking and cycling routes to school and work so we get a wee bit of exercise without even thinking.

The current buzzword – legacy – must include suitable venues, facilities and appropriately qualified coaches. We can’t have enthusiastic young people left on long waiting lists where their enthusiasm will wane. Local and national government must walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Many of those involved in coaching, whatever the sport, were either competitors themselves or came to it via their children. I’m no longer a competitive athlete, but I’m still passionate about the need for young people to have the opportunities I had.

In Edinburgh in 1980, at the age of 14, inspired by my neighbour’s poster of Scottish sprint star Linsey McDonald I headed to the track to see what athletics was about. Just two years older than me she was set to represent Britain in the 1980 Olympics in the 4 x 400 metres. I had no idea that within a year or two I’d find myself competing against my heroine in a muddy cross-country at Hawick.

At the track I found a strong club culture, and much support, motivation and advice from the volunteer coaches who could be found trackside in all weathers, week in, week out. The same is true today.

While my first competitive club outing was in the high jump, my first national representative honours were in cross-country so it’s fair to say that I benefitted from a broad coaching base. Investing in this broad base is vital.

We only have to look at the achievements of our own Eilidh Child. Now an Olympian, she scooped medals in under-13 national level cross country and has gone on to record world class times in the 400m hurdles and on the flat, deservedly winning gold and silver at the recent European Indoor Championship.

If we pigeonhole young people at too early an age we may never discover the event that best fits them.

Worringly, research carried out by Sportscotland suggests that girls see sport as a ‘boys’ thing, while a study by Dundee University shows body-conscious 11 to 14-year-old girls mistakenly believe they do not need to exercise if they eat less. This isn’t helped by the scarcity of coverage of sportswomen in print and broadcast media. The recent stushie in the Record thanks to one pundit’s inept comments really hammered this home. And just look at the lack of gender balance on panel shows like ‘A Question of Sport’.

School visits from inspirational athletes like Olympian Katherine Grainger and World Champion bobsledder Gillian Cooke help highlight the opportunities to travel and to make lifelong friends through sport.  Jessica Ennis highlights the incredibly positive body image that is boosted by a physically active lifestyle.

One bad experience at school can put someone off sport for life. The excellent report ‘Out for Sport’ shows LGBT Scots still encounter barriers. Some say because they weren’t sporty at school they were picked on and they carried these negative associations with them into adulthood.

The fact that the UK is hosting the Olympic and Commonwealth Games back-to-back is mind-blowing. Any legacy must ensure that communities don’t face the loss of their local swimming pool when budgets are tight, and it must ensure that all Scots have to chance to learn to swim.

And it must also ensure that all primary and secondary school children get two hours or two periods of PE each week. If we build on this with projects like the Scottish Athletics School-Club initiative we can start to transform Scotland’s relationship with sport.

The world’s eyes are on us and our children and grandchildren’s quality of life is at stake. We must aim higher.



Castlebrae pupils standing up for their school

Next week, on March 14th, the City of Edinburgh Council will decide whether or not Castlebrae High School should close from the end of 2012/13 school year.

Castlebrae High School has a unique identity and a way of working that Greens believe should be supported and developed as it provides a strong vocational grounding that is so important to many of the young people in this part of the city.

This morning I met with local campaigners as they took their message to the City Chambers.


No one in or passing the City Chambers this morning can be in any doubt about the commitment of pupils and parents to Castlebrae High School. They believe that, at a time of regeneration for Craigmillar, closure of the secondary school sends out the wrong message.  I agree with them.

If the Council closes Castlebrae there will be no local high school for some seven years. This will impact on its viability as an attractive place to bring up a family.

General Register Office statistics clearly demonstrate that the school roll in Edinburgh is set to increase notably in the decade ahead.  The Council is now witnessing serious overcrowding in some schools due to decisions taken to deliver short term savings.  While they plan Craigmillar’s new secondary school for 2020 they should continue to enhance and invest in Castlebrae’s notable vocational model and its’ important role at the heart of the community.

I’m concerned at the proposal that Castlebrae pupils apply to Portobello and other schools.  I’d like the Council to guarantee that the alternatives proposed can offer a place to each and every pupil requiring one. Current projections suggest this may be problematic.


Alison is cheering two local pubs for winning major industry awards.

Staggs Bar in Musselburgh has been named Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Lothians Pub of the Year 2013 and the Cask and Barrel (Southside) is CAMRA City of Edinburgh Pub of the Year.
Alison has lodged a motion in parliament congratulating the winners.

Alison said:

“By providing drinks in a managed environment, well-run community pubs are part of the answer to Scotland’s difficult relationship with alcohol. These awards help highlight the hard work of small businesses managing to offer something different.

“We should be doing more to support pubs that bring a variety of people together in a welcoming atmosphere, and that support Scottish breweries and producers.”

The need for diversity on our high streets

New figures showing chain stores have closed one a day on average across our town centres underline the need for diversity on our high streets.


Where vacant units are taken over it is often by pound shops, pawnbrokers, payday loan sharks and mini versions of our biggest supermarket chains who already control three-quarters of the grocery market.

Shop closing down

I’d love to hear which local, independent shops you admire and how you’d like to see your high streets develop.


I’d like to see more support for independent businesses and greater encouragement for new starts. In the last couple of years the vast majority of people who moved from unemployment to private sector employment found work in small businesses. Supporting these firms is crucial to creating jobs and breathing life into our town centres.