Brexit Negotiations [26/06/2017]

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

I add my congratulations to Members who have made their maiden speeches this evening—particularly those who have hung around and listened to the rest of the debate.

I once drove through a snowstorm to get from Darlington to Jedburgh. I clearly remember driving up Carter Bar, which leads over the border between Scotland and England. When I reached the top, I was chuffed to bits: I had manoeuvred a rear-wheel-drive automatic through difficult terrain in a snowstorm. Then the reality dawned on me: the second half of the journey would be the hard bit. A steep decline, twisting and turning with no road markings and every chance of running off the road—that is what lay ahead, and that is my Brexit allegory.

The Prime Minister and her cohorts, blinded with power, have marched us to the top of the hill, only to discover that in this case it is a cliff edge. Over time, plenty of people have negotiated difficult journeys but I fear that the Brexit journey that lies ahead will be particularly dangerous. Those leading it will not admit just how hard it is going to be. They should be seeking out every pitfall and identifying all the hazards—instead, we are being fed a diatribe of jingoistic clichés.

The situation was a mess before the Prime Minister called a general election but now her selfish actions have complicated matters beyond anyone’s wildest nightmare. No one will form a coalition with this precarious Government; the Democratic Unionists have chosen to provide their votes when it suits them, supplying a billion pounds’ worth of tissues when it all goes wrong.

This brave new world seems to be based on an, “We did it before and we can do it again” empire mentality, flag waving and patriotism. As we turn our backs on the European Union and seek to create new trade agreements, we will require diplomacy and negotiating skills, which so far have been conspicuously absent in the whole Brexit mess. That is one reason why I have been delighted to hear that politicians across the EU have in increasing numbers been prepared to add their support for Scotland to remain in the EU and the single market. While the UK was committed to the EU, those same voices remained silent: they respected the UK and its position. However, by serving article 50 to leave the EU, the UK has turned its back on the EU and the single market. As a result, the loyalty of previous partners has been lost.

Where is Scotland’s influence in these negotiations? While Scotland makes up only 8.6% of the population of the UK, the Scottish fishing zone represents over 60% of UK waters—the fourth largest sea area in EU core waters. Scotland has 32% of the UK’s land area. We provide 40% of wind, wave and solar energy production; 47% of the open cast coal production; 62% of the timber production; 65% of the natural gas production; 81% of the untapped coal reserves; 92% of the hydro-electric power; 96.5% of the crude oil production; and 100% of the Scotch whisky industry. Yet we have no voice. If these negotiations are to have any credibility, the Scottish Government must have a place at the negotiations. Anything less is a flagrant disregard of the democratic standings of the United Kingdom.

Westminster diary w/b 19th June

Monday

Parliament has not yet got back up to speed following the aberration of a General Election and so I took the opportunity to meet with constituents in my office during the morning and catch a later flight to London. Offices are still being allocated and so to make a potential move easier I did a quick spring clean and threw out all unnecessary paperwork that I had acquired over the last two years. In the evening I attended a law enforcement against prohibition event which featured the comedian Marcus Brigstocke. He spoke about his addictions and his approach to dealing with them. I particularly struck by his food action. Any preconceived notions I had of a man binging on cream cakes were quickly dispelled as he recounted stories of eating food from bins while crying inconsolably. Eating disorders can often be conveyed as a physical thing when they are serious mental health issues.

Tuesday

There was no business in the chamber today as we are waiting for the Queen’s speech tomorrow. I managed to catch up with Paul Flynn and Kelvin Hopkins. They are both Labour MPs who both enjoyed comfortable victories. Despite our different parties we have always worked well in committee together and it was good to see those two old war horses back. In the afternoon we had the internal SNP group meeting and elected our new group leader.

Wednesday

My walk into Parliament is usually a relaxing stroll lost in whatever music I have chosen that day but when there are armed and unarmed police officers at every corner, roads are closed and passes are being checked well before entering the building it’s clearly not just another day. The extra high-visibility security in place for the Queen attending parliament just seems to add to the excitement for many of the guests who, given the extremely hot weather, have chosen bright colourful summer clothing. Many are, just like the Queen, en-route to Royal Ascot. Prince Phillip is indisposed and so the Queen allows Prince Charles to sit on the throne beside her. He does look distinctly uncomfortable and as one observer put it “it’s like bring your child to work day”.

We debated the speech (as we shall do next week too) and at ten pm there was an adjournment debate on the cost of phone calls to the DWP. The social welfare system is as we all know in a terrible state and the UK government would do well to consider the social security bill brought forward by Jeanne Freeman MSP in the Scottish Parliament as a better way forward. Only this week the high court in England described the UK government policy as ‘causing real harm’ for ‘no good purpose’.

Thursday

The morning gives me the opportunity to work on articles for politics home and house magazine before getting a midday flight home. Unfortunately it is delayed and I use the time at the airport to catch up on some reading. In the evening I attend an SNP planning meeting.

Friday

The morning is consumed by paperwork and administration and in the afternoon I have meetings with River Clyde Homes regarding constituents housing issues. My last meeting of the day is with senior council officers. Over the weekend I shall be attending the P1 powerboat events.

Tele column – 23rd June 2017

Occasionally, I find myself guilty of referring to politics as “this game”. It’s an easy mistake to make because it’s competitive, there are rules and there are winners and losers but it’s not a game. That would be too trivial a description. This was made crystal clear during the recent General Election when ninety one MPs lost their jobs. The media pontificated at length about who would retain their seat but didn’t give a passing moments thought to the MPs staff members whose jobs were also on the line. In the end around four hundred also lost their jobs. It’s particularly cruel this time around as Parliament was convened on the understanding that it was for a fixed term of five years. Across the U.K. people made life choices based on the known facts and then Theresa May rampaged through them. What I found distressing was the glee with which these job losses were received by those not affected. Labour activists cheering a Tory win because Alex Salmond lost. My own staff being asked at the count “what will it be like when you lose your job on Monday?” The dehumanising of people in public service is not a new thing but the advent of reality TV and social media has encouraged everybody to express their opinion, no matter how ill-informed or spiteful it is. We all sit in judgement, often from the comfort of our own homes, wielding a keyboard and too often we are quick to judge.

The public image of politicians with jobs to fall back on and expense accounts dripping with expensive lunches, living the high life, isn’t one I recognise. I lost good colleagues, many that gave up careers or took a drop in salary to get elected. I know too many of their staff too well to not recognise their hurt at being discarded with the minimum of redundancy. Politics has its fat cats, I don’t doubt it. But the majority of MPs are only in their post for a short period and their mortgages and bills require paying regardless. Their parliamentary staff serve the public, they work long hours, often under difficult circumstances, they don’t judge and they don’t discriminate. They have earned respect. The day we take the humanity out of politics, that’s when we reduce it to a game and that’s the day we all lose.

Tours of the Houses of Parliament

With parliament now in session and MPs back at Westminster, the tours of the Houses of Parliament are available to residents of Inverclyde.

The tours of both Houses is an ideal opportunity to witness the workings of parliament and how the business and traditions of both Houses contribute to the day to day workings of the UK Parliament.

If Inverclyde residents are planning to be in London, after the summer recess ends, then please do not hesitate to contact my office to see if a tour can be arranged.

http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/visiting-and-tours/tours-of-parliament/tours

Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech is a very glitzy affair. Crowns, robes, uniforms, best bib and tucker is the order of the day and one might expect a speech of great importance to accompany such an event, but it did not happen.

Rather like the ermine robes held together with safety pins the speech was tawdry and disappointing. Manifesto promises did not get a mention. If the social welfare reform has disappeared then that has to be a good thing.

Amazingly there was nothing in this programme to try and turn around the faltering economy, or how to support our under-pressure public services. Brexit is of course looming large on the horizon but the UKs negotiation team has already been blown off course and nobody at the table is looking after Scotland’s interests.

Years of Tory infighting have left this government fractured and impotent. A speech that could have healed wounds, offered a hand of encouragement, provided guidance and support was instead bland and uninspiring.

All in all it was just another day at the office.

No Opportunity to Quiz Welfare Ministers

The new Parliament session will officially begin, tomorrow, with the Queen’s Speech outlining the Government’s programme. The dates and deadlines for oral questions, in the chamber, will be announced this week and it’s been stated that Department of Work and Pensions question time is not due to answer before the Summer recess.  This means MPs will not have the opportunity to question Minister’s in the Chamber until September, at the earliest.

The Department of Work and Pensions portfolio has responsibility, amongst other things, as to whether Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) will receive the pensions they deserve, also whether Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments will be conducted locally.  Alongside this, I have previously raised the issue of jobcentre closures and the introduction of a universal basic income with welfare ministers.

I find it very disappointing to learn that Government ministers from the Department of Work and Pensions won’t be quizzed by MPs, on the House floor, until after the summer recess.

The public had to endure a period of over 5 weeks without having a Member of Parliament to represent them.  Now my office is back in place and taking on constituent casework, much of which has to do with benefit entitlement, welfare assessments and pensions.  Yet, I won’t be able to quiz the Minister on these subject till September at the earliest.

What was required is moving the time to accommodate Members and the Minister but these are extraordinary times and Westminster has to move with them.

This Government has brought about instability, with calling an early general election and a lack of clear direction.  The news that MPs won’t be able to quiz welfare Ministers is another example of the shambles at the heart of this Government.