EU elections

It was good to see that the turnout was up in every council area. Despite three years of constant Brexit chatter, the electorate have remained engaged.

From an Inverclyde perspective this is a crushing victory for the SNP. We have been a consistent voice for remaining in the E.U. while the Labour and Conservative parties have given out mixed messages.

The result being that the SNP vote rose by 13.2% while Labour dropped by 21.2%. Nationwide, while the SNP top the poll and Labour are fifth. But the biggest and most obvious message is that Scotland’s politics is vastly different from England’s.

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Westminster diary w/b 20th May

Monday

My first engagement on the estate is the select committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs. We are taking evidence from David Lidington (Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) and Mark Lancaster (Minister of State for the Armed Forces) regarding the role of parliament in the UK constitution authorising the use of military force.  The session was just warming up when business in the main chamber moved on very rapidly and I had to make a hasty exit from the committee as I was scheduled to talk. It is symptomatic of Westminster in general that business is chopping and changing all the time. Unfortunately for me, two things that I wanted to get involved in clashed with each other. The debate in the chamber lasted four and a half hours and was a decent discussion on the provision of medical cannabis. The only person that doesn’t seem to get it was the UK Health Minister, who was there to respond on behalf of the government. The adjournment debate was a tribute to the late Billy McNeill. It was humorous and touching in equal measures and well led by Brendan O’Hara MP.

Tuesday

A beautiful sunny London morning and I am in my office by 7:30am writing articles and preparing questions for the rest of the week. At 9:00am I meet up with teachers and pupils of Craigmarloch school and give them a guided tour of parliament. I met with Amanda Lyne, Chair UK, Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UK HFCA) to discuss the role for hydrogen in heavy and long range transport. This is extremely relevant to Inverclyde as we host cruise ships and container ships every day. They are amongst the heaviest polluters and if the vessels are going to use hydrogen power then the infrastructure of the ports has to accommodate that. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drug Policy Reform held a joint meeting with the APPG on Drugs, Alcohol and Justice.

Wednesday

Another sunny morning and an early start. In my office by 8am and reading briefing papers. I am on the order paper for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ). I put my name down every week but this is only the third time I have been pulled out the hat since 2015. I take the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister what she can do to get medical cannabis into the hands of patients that would benefit from it. The current law, which was passed last year, means that to be prioritised a patient must have already used medical cannabis and found it beneficial. The problem with that is that to access medical cannabis they must either travel abroad and pay for the prescription, medicine, travel and accommodation and risk being arrested and the medicine confiscated or pay a fortune from a private clinic in the UK. Another way to climb the priority list is to take all the existing medicines, some with dangerous side effects and prove they don’t work. Even given these obvious limitations the Prime Minister can’t see any way to improve the current system. In the afternoon I attended a discussion on the place for cannabis in our society. It was hosted by the Spectator magazine. This event dragged me of the estate but was well worth attending. I returned to Westminster to watch a film documentary on climate change forcing girls into prostitution. It was followed by a discussion with the film maker and a panel of experts.

Thursday

Up bright and early as I am on the order paper again. This time for questions to Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). I ask the minister what alternatives the UK Government has to the often muted, but as yet not implemented, statutory levy on bookmakers. The current voluntary system raise less than £10 million a year. A levy of 1% would raise £140 million. As the industry turns over £14 billion I don’t think 1% is too much to ask for.  I catch the 18:20 flight home and my first task is to vote in the European Union election.  After that it’s time to crash out and enjoy my own bed and the joy of  blackout curtains! The dawn can wait.

Friday

Today is the first day of Whitsun recess and I am in my office. I have a meeting regarding Scotland’s drug policy and the rest of the day is consumed by meetings with constituents. On Sunday I shall attend the count for the EU elections.

Tele column 24th May 2019

How many of you remember the American TV series, The Twilight Zone. It was a strange mix of science fiction, superstition, horror, drama and comedy. It stretched the boundaries of reality and often led the viewers to dark, macabre places. Eventually it ran its course and was dropped by the broadcasters, but it retains its position as being a leader of its time and even in the beginning, ground-breaking. Today’s equivalent would be The Westminster Zone. A place where common sense goes to die. A place where the outside world is shunned and political zealots are stuck in a timeless limbo echoing the long gone days of a fading empire. No amount of shouting from outside can permeate the faux gothic walls and if it did then the powers that be are surrounded by sycophants and hangers on, only too willing to prop up their egos and encourage more introverted, self-serving and delusional behaviour. The Brexit process has revealed Westminster to be a shallow husk of a Parliament. Incapable of governing and refusing to be guided. Unable to lead and too obstinate to follow. It has come to the end of its run and it’s time to discard it. It has now become suitable only for parody, drama and comedic entertainment. It is no longer innovative or ground breaking. It has forgotten what is in the best interest of the people and consequentially the people have lost interest in it. We are now tumbling blindfolded into a land inhabited by ghastly caricatures of what were once seen as politicians. Welcome to the Brexit zone.

Inverclyde broadband

I’m pleased to learn the availability of superfast broadband in Inverclyde is higher than the UK average and also the Scottish average.

Since being elected in 2015 I’ve campaigned for improved access to fibre broadband throughout Inverclyde and supported the work of blowing fibre through Kilmacolm and also seeing improved broadband speeds in many parts of Inverkip where it was previously lacking.

Clyde Life – May 2019

“People want economy and they will pay any price to get it.”  So said Lee Iacocca (automobile executive, Ford and Chrysler). Given the recent statistics that global temperatures have risen 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) since the industrial age began and the statement by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres that if we do not dramatically change the way we fuel factories, vehicles and homes it “would mean a catastrophic situation for the whole world”, it appears the price we are prepared to pay is our own planet. To facilitate our energy demands, travel requirements and fast food appetite at a price we find acceptable we are destroying our climate in all sorts of inventive ways. There is a global climate emergency and people across Scotland have been calling, rightly, for more ambition to tackle it and safeguard our planet for future generations. The Scottish Government amendments to the Climate Change Bill will set a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest, with Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2040. The existing targets proposed in the Bill were already world-leading. I am delighted that in response to calls from young people, scientists and businesses across the country, Scottish Ministers have adopted the advice of independent experts, the UK Climate Change Committee. This means that in addition to the net-zero target for 2045, Scotland will reduce emissions by 70% by 2030 and 90% by 2040 – the most ambitious statutory targets in the world for these years.

Scotland is in a fortunate situation, it has the opportunity to harvest natural clean renewable energy from land, sea and air but it will take massive financial investment. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) says it is confident Scotland could end its climate emissions by 2045. It cites our “abundant renewable energy resource” and our “large land area suitable for carbon sinks” complemented by “our history of innovation and skilled workforce”.

Three years ago I wrote an article titled ‘The Island of Inverclyde’. It was designed to stimulate the idea that Inverclyde could be self sufficient in clean renewable energy by utilising wind, tide, forest and hydro amongst other renewable options. The idea came and went and three years later there is still little appetite to improve the situation locally. There are worthy exceptions but we are nowhere near utilising our local resources to anything like the levels we should be. But I still believe that as Scotland moves towards its ambitious net-zero target, Inverclyde could lead the way.

One source of low carbon heat is rivers. The River Clyde runs the entire length of Inverclyde. A district heating system, sourcing its power from the Clyde should be utilised in the fight to decarbonise Scotland. The technology already exists. An innovative project in Drammen, Norway uses a water source heat pump to take low-grade heat from the adjacent fjord and turn it into high-grade heat to supply heating for the 60,000-strong community. And the company behind it is based in Scotland. In the North of England the H21 project is a detailed engineering solution for converting 3.7 million homes and businesses from natural gas to hydrogen. This blueprint sets out to lead the way in reducing CO2 emissions. Converting the UK gas grid to hydrogen has the ability to provide “deep decarbonisation” of heat, as well as transport and power generation, with minimal disruption to customers. H21 North of England report proposes conversion will begin in 2028, with expansion across 3.7 million properties in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, York, Huddersfield, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Teeside and Newcastle over the following seven years. In Italy they are building blocks of flats that absorb C02. Australia is completely changed their carbon footprint to use more solar and wind. Elon Musk has created the world’s largest lithium iron battery storage in the world. These few examples highlight that we require a mix of clean renewable solutions. One size does not fit all. And of course projects such as these, create jobs and support communities. The natural geography of Inverclyde affords us opportunities other people can only dream of. We need to realise their potential and protect the future of the planet.

During these critical times we need strong leadership at both national and local government. We need people capable of making brave decisions. If not, the price we have to pay will be far greater than the cost of investing in new energy, transport and land utilisation projects. Let me finish as I started with a quote from Lee Iacocca “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems”.