Tele column 28th September 2018

Tomorrow, SNP activists shall be hosting street stalls and door knocking to gauge the opinion of Inverclyde residents on matters concerning the U.K.’s withdrawal from Europe, the Growth Commission and more. We do this on a regular basis but the reason I mention it is we are in conference season. That strange three week period when the political parties take it in turns to get together and blow their own trumpets. While the Conservative Party are singing different songs from different song sheets the Labour Party are marching to the beat of different drums. I feel sorry for activists when their leadership squabble and elected members bicker. Members and candidates jump on and off campaign causes and deliver deliberately vague messages while desperately seeking to identify the populace vote. Of course people can disagree but I get the feeling these manufactured conflicts are more about self-promotion than political idealism. At least when the SNP blow our own trumpets we are all playing the same tune. The SNP was founded to pursue Scotland’s independence and that has not changed. It always has been and always will be our raisin d’etre. But as sections of the media tried to create civil wars within the party, while ignoring the two obvious ones in the Tories and Labour, our resolve hardened. We are the custodians of our nation’s independence and nothing will be allowed to distract from that. Tomorrow’s conversations are part of a continual conversation between the SNP and the people of Scotland. And they are conversations, we are not just talking we are listening too. It’s a methodology we use because we believe it helps politicians engage with citizens. It’s taken us to ten years of government in Scotland and the giddy heights of MSP, MP and a councillor in each ward of the Inverclyde Council. Representation that once upon a time we could only have dreamed. That’s why tomorrow’s conversations are so important, from them we get a glimpse of the Scotland people want and don’t fall into the trap of forcing on them a political menagerie that only serves to support an outdated, crumbling and corrupt union.


Trident renewal

Labour’s policy on Trident is all over the place. It is completely and utterly incoherent, and this latest intervention leaves their position as clear as mud.

As I said in my maiden speech, on the 1st July 2015, sometimes I think that people’s approach to Trident is an abstract one, but in my constituency it is real; it is a weapon with the very real capacity to murder hundreds of millions of men, women and children.

It’s clear renewing Trident would be a wasteful and reckless spend on a weapons programme which is opposed by the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians in Scotland.

‘Labour frontbencher’s plan to scrap Trident to be considered by Shadow Cabinet’


Manarama Campaign for Prostate Cancer UK

Vanarama, the title sponsor of the National League, has changed its name to MANarama throughout the month of September to raise awareness of a deadly cancer that kills one man every 45 minutes.

The rebranding to the MANarama National League features a striking new league logo to highlight their support for Prostate Cancer UK – and Vanarama’s own site has also been completely rebranded to reflect its commitment to a fundraising drive which will see them aim to raise £150,000.

A new captain’s armband, which will be worn by all MANARAMA National League club captains on Non-League Day on Saturday, October 13th, has also been unveiled. The 34 matches will see all skippers proudly displaying the unique bright orange band, which includes the iconic Prostate Cancer UK logo, to illustrate their clubs’ united stand against the most common cancer in men.

Vanarama targets huge donation

Our partner Vanarama has also pledged to raise £150,000 in just 43 days from a vehicle-leasing incentive that runs across September, as they tell the nation to ‘lease a van, save a man‘. Vanarama and its newly-launched car leasing platform, Motorama, will donate £50 for every vehicle leased from the start of September until Non-League Day, when a cheque will be presented on October 13th at FC Halifax Town vs Chesterfield live on BT Sport. From September 1 until Non-League day 688 men will die from prostate cancer, emphasising the need to act.

On board with Non-League Day for the fifth time, Prostate Cancer UK raised £15,000 last year as more than 50 clubs joined the fight against the deadliest opponent of all, and this year’s day is shaping up to be bigger and better than ever with clubs from across the Non-League pyramid joining forces in a jam-packed day of activity.

Clyde Life Article – September 2018

Twice in the last few weeks people have used the board game Monopoly as an allegory to explain a situation that requires resolving. Two different people, describing two different scenarios both struck by the way personal wealth outstrips the common good. One was in Kilmacolm describing the issue over the prospect of land at Knapps dam and North Denniston being sold to property developers and robbing the local population of the use of the land for bonfires, walking, equestrian events and access. The second was at a conference on basic income when an American entrepreneur questioned the multi-national giants buying up huge swathes of land for mining, amongst other industries and denying the local population the profits from their land. The allegory is simple, people buy land and they and their companies benefit but the common good is denied. Just like in the board game Monopoly, only one person wins. Buying up properties denies others free access. Building on that property defines its use within the public sphere and generates money for the owner, everyone else pays. The clue is in the name.

The common good and the ideal that we all have a share in common ground is not new. Eight hundred years ago the Magna Carta was written as an attempt to placate factions that threatened the supremacy of the crown. It is often, mistakenly in my view, viewed as a document that protects personal liberties. I find it frustrating that Westminster is quick to celebrate the Magna Carta and portray it as a valued piece of work and at the same time be so selective in their points of reference. Specifically they like to ignore the companion document known as the ‘Charter of the Forests’. This document was less popular amongst the landed gentry as it stated, “Henceforth every freeman, in his wood or on his land that he has in the forest, may with impunity make a mill, fish-preserve, pond, marl-pit, ditch, or arable in cultivated land outside coverts, provided that no injury is thereby given to any neighbour.” Common land for the common good.

The idea that land can be bought and owned by individuals and corporations and not utilised in a fashion that benefits everyone goes against the grain. I am not proposing a hippy commune utopia but the more the land can be used for the community, the more we all, as members of that community, benefit. Land banked is land under-utilised. There is of course, as in most things, a need for compromise. Businesses must be able to expand and therefore some will want to purchase land that their existing business can grow into or purchase land that a complementary business can be located on. In these circumstances compromise could be sought as it is clear that in the long term the community would benefit. But too many old buildings have been bought up and subsequently been allowed to fall into disrepair prior to being demolished. The house building project at Castlebank in Port Glasgow where Broadstone House was and the Highlanders Academy that used to stand on Mount Pleasant Street in Greenock being just two examples of cultural vandalism. And on our unique shore Inchgreen dry dock has been idle for years while ship fitting and refitting work goes elsewhere. That does not serve Inverclyde or the wider community well. Too much land is in the hands of too few. They seem to be following the advice of Mark Twain “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore”. Which is maybe why a Scottish Government report stated that “currently 432 private land owners own 50% of the private land in rural Scotland. The latest estimate of Scotland’s population is 5,327,000, so this means that half of a fundamental resource for the country is owned by 0.008% of the population. As a measure of inequality in a modern democracy, this is exceptional and is in need of explanation”.

Large strips of Inverclyde’s coast are out of bounds to the public. We are barred from enjoying the views or fishing the waters. The wind that blows the turbines, the glorious rain that fuels the hydro stations, the tides that ebb and flow are harnessed and sold back to us. It reminds me of the days when we were all encouraged to buy shares in the energy suppliers. It reminds me that before we privatised them we already owned them!

The common land that is our land should never be solely under the control of private businesses or individuals. The common good benefits all. Monopoly always has more losers than winners.

Winter Fuel Payments

Winter Fuel Payments are paid If you were born on or before 5 November 1953 and you could get between £100 and £300 to help you pay your heating bills.

Eligible residents in Inverclyde will usually get a Winter Fuel Payment automatically if you get the State Pension or another social security benefit.  However, you’ll need to make a claim if you’ve not had it before and any of the following apply – you do not get benefits or a State Pension; you only get Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction or Child Benefit; you get benefits or a State Pension but live in Switzerland or an EEA country.

If you were born on or before 5 November 1953 you could get between £100 and £300 to help you pay your heating bills. This is known as a ‘Winter Fuel Payment’.

You usually get a Winter Fuel Payment automatically if you are eligible and you get the State Pension or another social security benefit (not Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction, Child Benefit or Universal Credit).

If you’re eligible but do not get paid automatically, you will need to make a claim.

Independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia

There are many similarities between the independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia. Both can point to historic struggles from the early 18th century as key moments in their campaign. Both have had their language, culture and history suppressed in an attempt to mould the countries they are now. Both saw a surge in support during the 1960s and 70s. And both continue to see widespread if maybe not a majority of support for their cause. But one major difference is that between 1936 and 1939 Spain endured a bloody civil when the Nationalists backed by Germany and Italy fought the Republicans backed by Russia. The German and Italian air forces based in Majorca launched wave after wave of bombing raids on the civilian population. Maybe for the first time ever a war was fought not just on the frontline but in the home towns of non serving personnel. For some people 1939 may seem like ancient history but the scars of the Spanish civil war are still very real today. Catalonia’s mistrust of Madrid is deep rooted. When the Spanish civil war ended the 35 year dictatorship of General Franco started. But the desire for a republic of Catalonia never died and still burns deep in the souls of many of its people. Following the referendum on the 1st of October 2017 the Parliament of Catalonia declared independence from Spain. In response the then Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, dissolved the parliament and called for a general election. As a result of that Parliamentary election, held on the 21st of December 2017, the Parliament of Catalonia has 135 members representing seven parties. The situation is now extremely complex. Under threat of arrest many members of the previous parliament are living in exile, others have been arrested as have civic and cultural leaders. As yet nobody has been put on trial. This has created a tense stand off between Catalonia and Madrid. Speaking to Raul Romeva (ex Catalonian Foreign Affairs Minister) he made the point that dialogue was not possible on an even footing when he has to conduct his half of the conversation from jail. He was at pains to emphasise his commitment to non violent engagement and the democratic process. While understanding the calls for Catalonia to simply declare itself independent he believes dialogue and negotiations are the path to the successful establishment of an independent Catalonia. But he reiterated that is difficult when hundreds of Mayors, politicians, civic and cultural leaders have the threat of imprisonment hanging over their heads. An interesting development is that the replacement for Mr Rajoy, whose government fell after a major financial scandal, Prime Minister Pedro Sànchez has said he wants to improve the regions existing self government and his deputy Carmen Calvo has suggested that the legalistic approach to the Catalan issue would now make way for political engagement. Which brings us back to the political prisoners. Jordi Sànchez, former president of the Catalan National Assembly, told me from his prison that the Supreme Court was contaminated and the majority of judges were using political prisoners as hostages. If this is true then it is hard to see how anyone can enter into negotiations where the agreed outcomes can be trusted. As so often in political life if both sides can’t build respect for each other then meaningful dialogue is extremely if not entirely impossible. While Spain keeps nine people in jail for their part in last October’s referendum, including Carme Forcadell who was carrying out her duties as speaker of the house, it is hard to see where any negotiations can go. The President of Catalonia, Quim Torra has an almost impossible job to have meaningful engagement with Madrid, who remain opposed to Catalonian independence, while the Catalonian people’s democratically elected representatives are either in jail or exile.

Political prisoners – Catalonia

Four years to the day since the Scottish independence referendum was held I am in Barcelona. As if to match my mood the skies are dark and broody. Thunder is rolling in and the lightening illuminates the city skyline. It’s a dark day in Barcelona and a dark time for democracy in Spain. I am driving the ninety minutes or so out of Barcelona to Lledoners prison to visit Jordi Cuixart, Jordi Sànchez and Raul Romeva. The last mile of the journey is easy. All I have to do is follow the yellow ribbons that have been adopted as a sign of solidarity and that now line the side of the roads leading to the prison. Jordi Cuixart and Sànchez have been in prison for eleven months having been arrested and charged with sedition for their part in the Catalonian independence referendum campaign last year. Raül was arrested in November and released in December and then rearrested last March. The date of their trial, along with the other political prisoners, is planned for November but the rumour is that they shall be postponed until Spring 2019.

Today, I want to talk about Jordi Cuixart. Jordi is the president of Òmnium which is a cultural movement in Catalonia. He is not a politician. He is an incredibly brave, optimistic, intelligent and humble man. I asked him how he managed to stay so positive and he explained that he lived in the moment and tried to make each moment happy. He engaged with prison life and other prisoners. He refuses to be beaten by the system he opposes. He is quick to explain that in time people will decide the political and constitutional future of Catalonia and he sees his internment as a small part of that. But he is equally quick to point out that he and his fellow political prisoners are innocent of all charges and have been wrongly imprisoned. His wish is that their plight is spoken about on a wider international arena and not allowed to be internalised by the Spanish authorities. He wants the world to judge Spain during his trial not him, he is already innocent. Jordi talks about his wife and child with enormous excitement and affection. He outlines the difficulty in creating the connections that he wants to build with his growing son. It’s the only time in the one hour I spent with him when I sense any pain. Jordi Cuixart has been in prison for eleven months and can be held for four years without trial. If he is found guilty he could face fifteen years in prison. Jordi Cuixart’s son will be sixteen when his father gets out. I would challenge anybody to listen to the stories of these political prisoners and consider the charges brought against them. Is peacefully challenging the establishment a crime? They did not use violence and they did not incite it. They helped to facilitate and ensure a peaceful democratic protest. The Spanish authorities may not have liked the message they were hearing but no people or property were threatened or damaged in anyway. I would hope that somewhere within the Spanish judicial system there is a person with sufficient power who can acknowledge that a Spanish democracy fit for the twenty first century does not need to take such action against Jordi or the eight other political prisoners. The prisoners should be released and families should be reunited.