Clyde Life – February 2019

In the late 18th and early 19th century Scotland undertook what has become known as the Enlightenment. It was a period in Scotland’s history when the intellectual middle classes engaged in matters of law, economics, science and medicine. Great thinkers such as James Hutton is known as the father of modern geology, David Hume philosopher and economist, Frances Hutcheson the chair of moral philosophy at Glasgow university and the first to lecture in English and not Latin, Adam Smith economist and author and Adam Ferguson the father of modern sociology. They and many others debated the matters of the day and formulated theories and principles, many of which have been adopted throughout the world and continue to inform aspects of modern society. And while Scotland contributed to the world in a fashion that far outweighs its size, back home in terms of genuine social change we have dragged our feet. In the intervening years between then and now we abdicated responsibility and while we became influential across the globe we managed to underachieve in our own land. As Lesley Riddoch said in her book Blossom ‘generally life today for the majority of Scots is not bad, it just isn’t as long, healthy, productive, reproductive, literate, wealthy, sustainable or creative as it could be, that either bothers you or it doesn’t “ Well it bothers me. It bothered me enough that I gave up my thirty five year career in I.T. and stood for election. You see, I believe that it is only truly worthwhile becoming an independent nation if that nation is designed by the people of Scotland for the people of Scotland. And when I say the people of Scotland I don’t mean that in some narrow xenophobic way. As Scots we have travelled the globe as emigrants and at home we have benefitted from immigration. Scottish culture has been enhanced with cultures from around the world and it must always continue to expand and grow. As we find ourselves on the brink of leaving the European Union, which will restrict our ability to travel and work in the 27 countries of the European Union while ending students opportunities to study abroad via the Erasmus scheme I can’t help feel that this inconveniently coincides with a period in Scotland’s development when we were beginning to redefine who we are. Since the 2014 referendum there has been an increasing interest in what makes us Scottish. How we work, how we rest and how we play compared, for example, to our Nordic neighbours and comparisons made with an emerging Scotland and the emerging Baltic states. We have a choice. We can remain part of the United Kingdom and be part of the reinvention of the empire 2.0 or we can contribute to a second Scottish Enlightenment. There is a mood for change and bodies such as the Common Weal and Nordic Horizons have identified fertile ground for change. Banking, land ownership, political representation, child care, education, health care, basic income, taxation, public services and drug policy reform is just the beginning. As we create a central lending bank and our own currency we are also investigating a publicly owned infrastructure company. Scotland has to think big.

In Inverclyde, we are marking two hundred years since the death of James Watt. We recognise him as an innovator, someone whose engineering contributions facilitated the industrial revolution. If Watt was alive today I imagine he would be driving forward renewable energy solutions. But would he be burdened by administrative red tape, would he be continually told that we didn’t need his new ideas. I ask this because we have engineers developing a mix of renewable energy solutions who are being drowned by paper work and are being underfunded and often side-lined for more traditional industries. We should be guided by the attitude of the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands. They continually find opportunities where others would only see obstacles. Their tunnel system to link their main islands, their superfast broadband are just two examples of supreme confidence and ability that have resolved major issues. Someone once said that a dog chasing its tail believes it is making progress. We have to stop chasing our tail and focus our time, energy, resources and money on building a better future. We have to identify our opportunities many of which are aligned to the unique aspects of our geography. We have to restore democracy to our smaller communities and understand that a one size fits all mentality does not serve us well. We must proactively forge opportunities that can be developed and come to fruition for the benefit of future generations. The time is ripe for a second enlightenment in Scotland. It’s time to get our thinking caps on and build the country we want to be.

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Westminster diary w/b 21st January

Monday

Down to London for another dose of dexterous duplicity from a government in meltdown. Unfortunately this means I can’t attend the consultation on the plans for the old Inverkip power station which is still owned by Scottish Power. Ironically for a power company the proposals are bereft of any innovative energy ideas and instead amount to 650 houses a shop and a pub. This site deserves better, Inverclyde deserves better. At Westminster, the Prime Minister is explaining plan B which is remarkably similar to the A plan that got voted down last week. In fact it’s indistinguishable. I was the SNP representative on the Delegated Legislation Committee on the draft intellectual property. Unusually it was quite contentious and went to a vote of the committee. The UK Government won nine to eight.

Tuesday

The select committee on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence on the effectiveness of the PHSO (Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman). My office has received a large quantity of correspondence relating to cases, health and finance, where people have felt let down by the process. I was on the order paper for questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I raised the matter of the imprisonment of Carme Forcadell (Speaker in the Catalan Parliament). The UK Government minister was not interested in explaining his position because as a minister in the Foreign Office apparently he has no view on democracy.

Wednesday

The Transport Select Committee took evidence from experts on Active Travel. In Inverclyde, we are fortunate to have Community Tracks providing bikes for member of the community, including myself. In doing this they are encouraging people to become more active and where possible replace small car journeys by cycling. The outcome of this is that Sustrans Scotland will be funding a cycle track (Route 75) that runs the length of Inverclyde with the aim to join it to similar routes in West Renfrewshire and North Ayrshire. Prime Minister’s Question Time

I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on suicide and self-harm where I heard a moving account of her son Jack’s suicide as a consequence of his gambling addiction, from Liz Ritchie. Liz and her husband Charles founded the organisation Gambling With Lives. Members had a security briefing in the late afternoon and it was disturbing to hear just how many MPs have been threatened at constituency surgeries. There is a measurable increase in this sort of behaviour and it is coming from the far right. 

Thursday

I was due to attend the second sitting of the select committee on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs this week but it was cancelled. The Brexiteers on the committee have other fish to fry. Instead, I attended the Urgent Question on EU free trade agreements. The long and the short of it is, that with 64 days to go, none have been signed. I had my second Delegated Legislation Committee of the week. This one was on draft insolvency. These committees are part and parcel of the legislative process at Westminster but the burden of legislation that Brexit has brought has increased their frequency beyond anyone’s memory. To process all the statutory instruments that are required before Brexit on the 29Th March there will need to be 13 committees every sitting day. Given that each Committee ties up 17 MPs, a chair (also an MP), 7 clerks and a door keeper, they are proving to be extremely costly and time consuming. I summed up in a Westminster Hall debate on knife crime and stressed the importance of the violence reduction unit in Glasgow and the successes it has had. I managed into the chamber in time to hear the front bench speeches on appropriate treatment for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). I caught the 19:30 flight home.

Friday

I had meetings with staff at the local job centre followed by a catch up with senior council officers. The rest of the day was taken up with constituency meetings.

 

Westminster diary w/b 14th January

Monday

I started the week meeting constituents in my Inverclyde office. Ignoring all the roaring and shouting and far away from glare of the insatiable media, casework remains at the heart of a Member of Parliament’s job. It is humbling to listen to the stories of my constituents who confide in me and a source of great joy and pride when my office provides solutions to everyday problems. I caught a midday flight and had the unexpected pleasure of a conversation with Baroness Ramsay during the flight. She was employed in the diplomatic service or to be more precise MI6 and features in a book I have just read (The Spy and the Traitor). It was extremely interesting to hear her take on the accuracy of the book. In the house the Prime Minister made a statement on the Brexit agreement. There was nothing new in it.

Tuesday

The Select Committee on Transport took private evidence from representatives of the Rail delivery Group and Rail Freight Group. The questions were around Brexit and how well placed the UK is to handle either the deal on offer or a no deal. I was on the order paper for questions to the department for Health and Social Care. I pressed the UK Government to pass the prescribing of medical cannabis to doctors and the dispensing to pharmacists as the current set up is not working. My plea fell on deaf ears. I hosted an event for gambling awareness which was attended by over a dozen outside agencies and nearly 40 Members. It was a tremendous opportunity for them to network and build alliances that will be required as we attempt to address gambling related harm. At the end of the House sitting the Conservative and Unionist Government were thoroughly beaten by a humiliating margin of 230 votes as the Brexit deal was rejected. Finally, after months of cajoling the Labour party brought forward a vote of no confidence in the government.

Wednesday

I, along with my SNP colleagues met with the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP. She was down for talks with the Prime Minister and took time from her busy schedule to chat informally with the SNP group about a range of topics. Prior to the debate on the vote of no confidence we had Scottish questions during which the Secretary of State for Scotland talked down Scotland and our abilities. Nothing new there then. The Prime Minister struggled through Prime Minister’s Question but despite being beaten and on the ropes like a boxer who has been on the receiving end of too many defeats, the leader of the opposition never laid a glove on her. I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Faroe Islands. It’s fascinating to learn how a small nation with so few resources and massive logistical problems can be such a success. In the evening the U.K. Government survived the vote of no confidence as we all knew it would. The DUP votes being crucial.

Thursday

After the shenanigans of the last week it was back to business today. I summed up in a Westminster Hall debate on ‘Rail Infrastructure Investment’. It was based around a report by the Select Committee on Transport of which I am a member. A quick dash to the airport and I caught the early evening flight home.

Friday

I had a very busy morning with a mixture of meetings with constituents and organisations. In the afternoon I highlighted the increasing trend for companies to charge for using ATMs. Mid-afternoon I had a meeting with senior council officers and then attended the James Watt celebrations at Cowan’s corner.

 

Tele column 18th January 2019

Five years ago, the UK Government released a paper entitled “EU and International Issues” the paper extolled what it claimed were the many benefits to Scotland of the UK’s membership of the EU. It said “The UK uses its influence within the EU to Scotland’s advantage on a whole host of issues of particular interest to people and businesses in Scotland, such as budget contributions, fisheries, agricultural subsidies and Structural Funds. Scotland benefits from this and from the UK’s strong voice in Europe, where it contributes to and participates in discussions and negotiations from its position within the UK.” And look where we are now. Scotland and Inverclyde overwhelmingly voted to remain in the E.U. and yet we are being ripped out. The Conservative and Unionist Party has engaged in a civil war and the casualties will be the citizens of the U.K. When the Labour Party should have been holding the U.K. Government to account, it was incapacitated by indecision. Even now with less than ten weeks to go Labour can’t unite on a peoples vote and they lodged a vote of no confidence at a time when they knew it would fail! The U.K. Government should now rule out a “No Deal”. The Prime Minister should request an extension to the Article 50 process from the E.U. And the UK Government should bring forward a proposal to legislate for a second EU Referendum based on the full knowledge of what leaving the E.U. actually entails. But unless they have a blinding epiphany of self-awareness they won’t do any of those things. If we can take one thing from this Brexit debacle it is that Westminster is not fit for purpose and has no interest in legislating for the good of the people of Scotland. Fortunately we have another option. And when that option is put in front of us, as it will, we can choose Scotland. What could possibly be better for Scotland than the people of Scotland legislating for the people of Scotland?