Tele column – 29th September 2017

In years gone by when I was asked if Inverclyde had a drugs problem, my standard reply was no, there are plenty for everyone. This answer masked both my lack of knowledge and my unease at discussing the subject.  

As a population, we do discuss alcohol and tobacco but as recreational drug use is illegal it can become a taboo subject. Anyone seeming knowledgeable on the subject would imply that they partake and therefore that they are a criminal. Fortunately, that attitude is changing and more people are engaging in the topic. And most interestingly the more we discuss it, the more a health issue it becomes and the less a criminal justice one.  

It is an issue that affects Inverclyde. The death rate due to drug consumption continues to rise and the surrounding health issues, both physical and mental, leave deep scars on our community. To resolve these problems we must talk openly and frankly about the production, availability, quantity, quality and demand for recreational drugs. We must determine how best to educate and support our citizens and all this has to be achieved without prejudice. Within Inverclyde we have a number of first class organisations that help and support people with addictions but I believe we all have a role to play. Suffering with addiction can afflict any person, from any walk of life and the better informed we are the more we can help.

I shall be hosting a public meeting to discuss the UK’s drug policy along with a panel of renowned experts at an event in the Beacon Arts Centre at 19:00 on Thursday the 5th of October. I am hoping for a large turnout so that our community can have its say in reforming the UKs drug policy and hopefully guide the powers that be to adopt a more health centred approach.


I find it totally unacceptable the cash machine is out of service and allegedly has been for several weeks.

When the Royal Bank of Scotland withdrew the bank we were told the ATM would stay. The mobile bank visits once a week, come hail, rain or shine. It is far from ideal but a better service than any other bank is offering.

Regarding the ATM, I believe RBS are trying to relocate it but in the interim the existing one needs to be brought into operation immediately.


Clyde Life article

“Fools rush in”

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Rutger Bregman at the RSA. His topic was “Utopia for Realists”. The overall theme was for sweeping change to the accepted normality of society as it is today. He focused on the changes required to the working week and the welfare system and how they could come about. The general impression was that any political change would be slow and in some cases very slow. Not too surprising, as we have been talking about the likes of Universal Basic Income for hundreds of years. This got me thinking, not about the theme of the lecture, but about expectations and resolutions.

When I was a kid I had a denim jacket. In those days a new denim jacket was as stiff as cardboard. The choice of colours was limited to one. It was dark blue denim, take it or leave it. The first year was spent washing and wearing it, to break it in. The second year it was beginning to fade and you could bend your arms. By the third year it had earned pride of place in your wardrobe. It was so cool it could be worn anyplace anytime and was worn with pride. Today you can walk into a shop and buy a denim jacket in many colours and in various states of decay straight off the peg. It’s not as fulfilling (but I do own one).

It used to be that a movie got released and, after a few months or so, it would come ‘to a cinema near you’. The intervening time was a period of excitement and anticipation waiting to see the latest offering from Alfred Hitchcock or Francis Ford Coppola. The viewing was the culmination of the experience. These days I can sit on my sofa and ‘on demand’ fall asleep to thousands of movies at the click of a button.

Food used to be grown locally. Gardens and allotments produced home grown fruit and vegetables. Local shops had local produce. Meals took time to prepare and cook. Now we can pierce the plastic film and microwave the taste away in 4 minutes flat. Vegetables come peeled, chopped and packaged in wee boxes. We don’t need to grind coffee beans, we can have instant. We don’t need to make custard, we can have instant. Instant, on demand, pre-shrunk, pre-cooked, all the hard work done for you, prepared, packaged and tied up with a bow on it.

We have grown accustomed to an instant society. We want instant gratification and the consequences of not getting it, are often met with incredulity and frustration. I understand that procrastination can sometimes be seen as inactivity and that can fuel the belief that nothing is being done. I hear this all the time from political reviewers but big problems take a long time to resolve. The damage done by poor policy takes a long time to repair. Selling off social housing may have seemed like a good idea to some and no doubt many benefited from it. But nobody thought long term and realised we needed to build social housing too because the demand had not gone away.

As the process to leave the European Union progresses, the time scale will restrict the opportunity to produce anything meaningful and I fear we shall end up with mishmash of borrowed legislation, conflict and confusion. This should be a salutary lesson and one to be heeded prior to any change in Scotland’s relationship with the UK. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by engaging in wide reaching discussions to design and define the country we want to live in. And it should not be left solely to elected politicians to come up with the solutions. Citizen’s engagement is vital and civic society has a massive role to play but it must start now if we are to avoid the mistakes of Brexit. The change may not come around as quickly as we would like but sometimes the wait is worth it.

Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) Congress

A universal basic income is an idea which has been considered in various forms for over two hundred years. Luminaries such as Abraham Lincoln and Dr Martin Luther King have supported the concept as a way of helping alleviate poverty and providing society with a safety net.

We are spending 28% of our total public expenditure on social security, but it’s still not clear whether our welfare system is helping or hindering the most vulnerable people in our society.

I wholeheartedly welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to establish a fund to support local authorities as they develop their own basic income schemes. The Scottish Government will also task its Poverty and Inequality Commission with drawing together the experiences of these local schemes to inform Government thinking on a Basic Income . They will provide useful data for any country in the world that wishes to build on them.

The Basic Income pilot projects are vitally important to the debate. To design, run and monitor pilots and analyse the results takes a great deal of expertise and effort but they may have the potential to shine a light on any shortcomings – opportunities and ultimately produce solutions.

I believe a universal basic income is an idea whose time has come and very much look forward to attending the Congress and highlighting a Scottish Perspective for Introducing a Basic Income.

17th BIEN Congress on Implementing a Basic Income


Political Studies Association Competition

A highlight in the PSA’s calendar of activities to engage young people in the study of politics, the annual film competition, sponsored by YouGov, is open to post-16 students who will be studying during the academic year 2017-18.

This year’s competition asks students to explore the question: “Fake News: Is this the end of facts?”. Groups of students are invited to submit short videos on this subject, examining what fake news is, what effect it may be having on the political landscape and what it means for expert opinion and ‘factual’ knowledge.

Shortlisted groups will be invited to Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster to discuss the ideas raised in their video with a panel of politicians, journalists and academics.  Previous jurors have included Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Victoria Derbyshire.

The winners of the Schools’ Short Video Competition will receive their award at the PSA’s Annual Awards Ceremony in Westminster.  This year’s ceremony takes place on 5 December in London.  On top of this, the winning students get a week’s work experience with the YouGov political team during their school holidays.

Full competition details for 2017 and how to enter are published on the PSA’s website at:

Written question – Home Office [20/09/2017]

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what discussions she has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the devolved administrations on making cannabis available through pharmaceuticals where use of that drug can be helpful. (8282)

Tabled on: 04 September 2017

Sarah Newton:

Cannabis, in its raw form, has no recognised medicinal benefits in the UK.

There is a clear regime in place, administered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), to enable medicines (including those containing controlled drugs such as cannabis) to be developed, licensed and made available for medicinal use to patients in the UK.

The Minister for Safeguarding, Vulnerability and Crime has recently written to and met with the Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care to consider how to ensure cannabis-based medicines are available where appropriate.

Minister of State, Baroness Williams wrote to her counterpart Lord O’Shaughnessy on the same issue earlier in September.

Officials in the Home Office remain in frequent dialogue with officials of the devolved administrations on all aspects of drug policy.

The answer was submitted on 20 Sep 2017 at 14:18.