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”.