Current Issues

Buffer zones around abortion clinics

Gillian Mackay’s private members Bill to introduce anti-protest or buffer zones around abortion clinics passed Stage 1 on 30th April 2024. I supported this Bill at this early stage

Abortion clinics are an essential legal medical service. No women should feel that they are being stigmatised against and discouraged from accessing abortion services.

As such, I will engage constructively with the Bill as it progresses through Parliament to enhance protections for women who are accessing these services. I am acutely aware how this will cause conflict with the right to protest and this fine balance must be carefully considered as the Bill progresses through parliament.

While I acknowledge that there is a right to protest, this must not come at the expense of women’s health and their right to access medical services free of prejudice.

Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into force on 1 April this year. Bigotry, racism and prejudice are unacceptable in a civilised society and hate crime is already unlawful. However, the SNP government's new legislation risks the right to freedom of expression and will potentially criminalise people for what they say in the privacy of their own homes. Most respondents to the Scottish Parliament justice committee’s public consultation on the legislation raised concerns.

The Scottish Police Federation stated the bill could ‘devastate’ the relationship between the police and the public. Furthermore, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents believe that activists will abuse the hate crime laws and divert officers from serious crimes. The Scottish Newspaper Society have also said it ‘poses a serious threat to freedom of expression’ and the Faculty of Advocates said there was ‘no alternative but to reconsider the draft bill’.

Scottish Conservative amendments which would have protected free speech were voted down by the SNP and all other parties. As a result, we voted against the legislation as it threatens freed speech and fails to protect the right to privacy. For three years, the legislation was not enacted due to concerns about its impact on people and how it would be enforced. It still remains unclear how it will be policed and prosecuted with various groups warning about the impact on freedom of speech. SNP politicians continue to ignore widespread and credible concerns of academics, lawyers, journalists, entertainers and faith groups.

The Scottish Conservatives would repeal the SNP’s Hate Crime Act and replace it with a Protection of Free Speech Bill. We have an ongoing campaign which you can support on this issue: Scrap the SNP Hate Crime Act.

Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill

Liam McArthur’s Private Members Bill on Assisted Dying was published/introduced to parliament on 28th March 2024. A link can be found here: Introduced | Scottish Parliament Website.

The decision my party, the Scottish Conservatives, has taken on this bill is to allow a free vote when this is voted upon in the chamber for the Stage 1 debate. However, there is not yet an agreed timeline for when this legislation will be brought in front of parliament. I have thought long and hard about this and have decided that I am unable to support this private members bill. I met Liam McArthur MSP to discuss my concerns and he is aware of them. If you want to learn more about my position on this bill then please read this article which is published on my website: Pressure prompts second thoughts on assisted dying | Sue Webber

I have been heartened that my colleague Miles Briggs MSP is seeking to introduce another private members bill that seeks to make legal the Right to Palliative Care. Right now, 1 in 4 people are not getting access to palliative care in Scotland, and this bill would give people of all ages living with terminal illness and residing in Scotland a legal right to palliative care. The consultation on this Bill has opened and I will be supporting this Bill as it hopefully proceeds through parliament. If you wish to contribute to the consultation a link can be found here: Miles Briggs - Right to Palliative Care (Scotland) Bill Consultation Document (

The Wildlife and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill

I share your concerns about Scotland’s natural landscape and the need to protect our native species and habitats.

The Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill sets out to conserve Scotland’s natural landscape, but I disagree with certain provisions within the legislation that will have a detrimental effect on biodiversity and the rural economy.

The Bill originated from the findings of the Grouse Moor Management Report, or the Werrity Report, which was published in December 2019. The report recommended that a licensing scheme be introduced for the shooting of grouse, and that muirburn, or the controlled burning of moorland vegetation, should only be permitted under licence from NatureScot.

It is apparent from the published legislation that the SNP-Green Government plans go beyond the recommendations of the Werrity report on the regulation of traps, the licensing of grouse moor management, and muirburn.

The proposed licensing scheme for the taking and killing of grouse is disproportionate. Under these provisions, non-adherence to the new unpublished code of practice, along with alleged crimes that have no connection to the management of grouse moors, could see licenses being suspended without NatureScot being satisfied that an offence had been committed. Game keepers and estates could, if a vexatious allegation was presented against them, have their licences revoked, causing a negative impact on investment and livelihoods.

The Scottish Government have also introduced a ban on snaring at Stage 2. Snaring is a carefully managed practice that is necessary to preserve wildlife and biodiversity. It can only be carried out by licensed professionals in situations where snaring is necessary to prevent the rapid decline of other nesting birds because of persistent predation. I would not support the inclusion of provisions that would completely ban the safe use of snares and erode our ability to manage predators.

I also support the retention of muirburn as a land management tool on peatland – especially for the purpose of preventing or reducing the risk of wildfires. However, I do not agree with the provision within the bill that muirburn licences for peatland should only be granted if no other method of vegetation control is available. Cutting, for example, would be less effective and the leftover brash could dry out and ignite causing wildfires. The devastating wildfire at Cannich during the summer of 2023 demonstrates why muirburn is essential to prevent habitats from being destroyed.

The Scottish Conservatives were the only party to vote against the bill at Stage 3. We believe that the legislation will have a detrimental effect on the rural economy and biodiversity. It is being driven by an SNP-Green Government that has no understanding of rural life, and the practices that are essential for wildlife conservation. The bill will deter future investment into Scotland’s estates and thereby place jobs in local communities at risk. It will also have a damaging effect on estate management, could potentially result in more wildfires, and will not help us to achieve our targets for sustainable food production, biodiversity, and climate change.

 Thank you again for contacting me about this issue.

Short-term lets

The recent ruling by the Court of Session stated that the City of Edinburgh Council’s short-term lets licencing policy was unlawful.

I am growing increasingly concerned by the sheer complexity of the system, and the challenges being placed on small businesses across the area. Livelihoods are at risk.

This legal decision is another example of the Council failing to do their due diligence and a scheme which has faced problems from the outset.

On 1 October 2022, the law around short-term lets changed and now requires hosts to apply for a short-term let licence before they can accept bookings or receive guests. Although, the application deadline for existing operators has now been extended to October 2023.

When the final version of the licensing scheme was brought to Parliament only the Scottish Conservatives expressed concerns, and it is regrettable that this legislation was approved.

I support the right of homeowners and tenants to enjoy the use of their property, but I know that the SNP-Green Government’s policy will impact on self-catering businesses, as well as Airbnb and similar short-term let providers.

Tourism businesses across Scotland have been devastated by the pandemic and the last thing they need is to be burdened by more red tape. The Scottish Conservatives warned SNP-Green Ministers that the scheme was unworkable, but they failed to listen.

It is now time that SNP-Green Ministers suspended the short term lets legislation and consult again on a workable solution which would deliver the health and safety outcomes we all want to see.

Going forward, please be assured the Scottish Conservatives will continue to challenge the SNP-Green Government on this issue with the aim of ensuring that any changes to the law in this area are both necessary and proportionate.

Teacher Strikes

I recognise the huge importance of the work teachers do. The education of future generations is vital to the success of this country. I know the last thing teachers want is to be on strike over pay and as a result unable to educate our children and young people.

As you will be well aware, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union is currently in the midst of strike action until at least the 21st April.

On the 15th of February the EIS unanimously rejected the SNP latest pay offer branding it ‘inadequate’ and unacceptable’.

The lack of urgency on the part of the SNP Education Secretary to resolve this dispute is stark and the continuing disruption is a damning legacy of a party who claim education is their top priority.

Already, Scottish pupils and parents have had to deal with rescheduled preliminary exams and now face additional disruption because of the SNP’s failure to reach a deal with the teachers’ union. Over the last 16 years the SNP have run down Scotland’s education system and it is clear that teachers now have had enough.

I do not want to see the education of children and young people further disrupted and I urge the SNP Government to recognise the hard work teachers put in, fully engage in negotiations and propose a fair pay offer to teachers so these strikes can end and get teachers back to teaching.

Gender recognition reform Bill

The Scottish Conservatives recognise that improvements to the system of gender recognition would be beneficial for trans people. Now that the SNP Government have published their Bill we will constructively scrutinise proposals that may help to make the system and process easier.

However, as drafted, the proposals do not protect women’s rights and they do not offer enough protection for women’s safety. Women have raised legitimate and reasonable concerns about sections of this bill and it is essential that the SNP Government both listens to and addresses those concerns.

Improving the process for transgender people must not come at the expense of women’s rights and safety.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me on this issue.

Energy Charter Treaty and the threat to a just transition

As you will be aware, the ECT, which is the largest international agreement of its kind, continues to play a crucial role in promoting investment in the energy sector and fostering international cooperation on energy, including in the development of renewable energy worldwide.

For the last two years, those party to the ECT have been negotiating its modernisation to ensure that it is aligned with common climate objectives. I am encouraged by the announcement, on 24 June 2022, of an agreement to this end. 

It is important to note that, as of today, the UK has never faced an investor-state dispute under the ECT that has proceeded arbitration. However, the new terms of the Treaty, due to be signed in 2022, will limit costly legal challenges from fossil fuel investors in the UK, reducing the risk to British taxpayers and ensuring the benefits of the ECT remain.

Furthermore, the modernised treaty will protect the UK Government’s sovereign right to change its own energy systems to reach emissions reductions targets in line with the Paris Agreement. It has a stronger climate focus, clarifying that states can regulate to reach emissions reductions targets, and includes new protections for green and low-carbon technologies. 

The UK tabled terms which mean new investments in all types of fossil fuels lose protection under the ECT following entry into force. Existing investments in fossil fuels will lose protection under the ECT ten years after entry into force of the modernised treaty, except for existing investments in coal which would lose protection from 1 October 2024. This position includes some exceptions for abated gas, which will play a key role in the UK’s net zero transition.

Political bias in the classroom

The Scottish Conservatives fully support unbiased political education in our schools. Our pupils are the future of our country, so it is critical that they gain a solid understanding of a wide range of political beliefs and current issues.

Teachers have an obligation to be objective and professional when distributing information, with the purpose of stimulating discussion and independent thought.  Pupils must be exposed to all sides of an argument in order to have a well-formed opinion and to further develop their own ideas, but at no time should that cross over into the expression of politically partisan opinions where they are held by any individual teacher.

Unfortunately, pro-SNP material seeping into our classrooms is not a new trend. Recently, an S1 Modern Studies class was given a 34-page booklet and urged to come to their own conclusions about issues including independence. This contained 16 pictures of the First Minister and other SNP politicians and shows two completed ballot papers with the boxes ticked for pro-independence parties. There was only one picture of a Labour MSP and logo, and no mention of the Scottish Conservatives. On another occasion, an S3 Modern Studies class, were asked to compile a list of Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘important policies.’ Pupils were given ‘useful’ links, one of which goes to the SNP’s website. After listing the achievements, it concludes: ‘If you haven’t yet, join the SNP today to help secure independence…’ However, the SNP Government seem unconcerned about addressing the problem.

Parents should have the opportunity to raise with the headteacher any concerns they have over perceived bias.