Amidst the Brexit madness that is engulfing Westminster three other issues have been pushing themselves to the fore. Gambling related harm is rightly being debated and the UK Government is muting the idea of changes to the gambling act. It needs completely rewritten to be in line with the world of online gambling that we have now. The recent attempt by the big bookies to stream live English FA cup matches to only those that have a gambling account, was thankfully overturned in the face of cross-party outrage. Big reform is required and the sooner the better.
The delays in providing medical cannabis is unacceptable and the clamour for better education for GPs to allow them to prescribe is increasing. I had a meeting with the responsible minister (Baroness Blackwood). She is well informed, and I believe well-intentioned but if we are to catch up with Germany, Denmark, Canada, The Netherlands and other forward-looking nations then we need to prioritise clinical tests and on the back off those educate practitioners that have been left in the dark since the 1971 misuse of drugs act.
As was expected following the Labour party’s humiliation in the General Election they are blaming their leader. It’s difficult now to find any Labour members that admit they supported Jeremy Corbyn in the first place. It wasn’t like back in 2017, then he was the messiah, now he is in true Monty Python fashion just a very naughty boy. So, while we hurtle towards Brexit and the damage that will cause, the Labour Party are engaging in another round of navel gazing and trying to select a new leader that they can undermine with impunity. Meanwhile they don’t know where they stand in relation to indyref2 or the outcome of it. Not so much mixed messages more a complete lack of knowledge and engagement on the subject.
And not surprisingly the Prime Minister has declined a Section 30 request from the First Minister. The tone of his reply is derisory, and I expect he will now promise Scotland the earth in return for our undying loyalty. Remember the vow and how that worked out? Independence is coming and the UK Government have to realise that it benefits us all if we work with mutual respect to create a positive outcome. It’s coming yet for a ‘that.
The Gambling Commission has announced that gambling with credit cards is to be banned from April 2020.
The SNP has consistently called on the UK Government to bring forward a comprehensive strategy and key reforms that look further into education, research and treatment.
While today’s news is a welcome step in the right direction, this simply doesn’t go far enough to tackle the scourge of gambling-related harm on our communities.
Action to tackle problem gambling has been a long time coming and we are finally seeing agreement in parliament that change is required, but to date, the UK government has proven itself utterly incapable to tackle problem gambling.
If the Tory government continues to refuse to devolve these powers to Scotland, it must now seriously look to introduce a Gambling Act that is fit for the 21st century, to tackle gambling-related harm head-on.
The gambling industry must also provide further support. It’s time to properly explore education, research and treatment to help individuals and families who have been affected and devastated by the scourge of problem gambling.
Any progress on gambling is a positive thing, but this issue requires further robust action – rather than addressing problems as they arise, a new gambling act is required. I look forward to engaging with the gambling industry and the UK government in effectively tackling gambling-related harm.
I spent today in my constituency office catching up on correspondence and along with my office team, planning the best practice to handle our work load for the next five years. We aim to use the experience we have gained since 2015 to provide even better care and support for all constituents of Inverclyde.
Extreme weather warnings are not what you want to waken up to at 6am when you are set to travel to London. But apart from it still being dark at 8:30am there was no signs of any storms and my journey is unaffected by the weather. The storm clouds are only metaphorical and are gathering over Westminster. Even when he was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Boris Johnson’s grasp of foreign affairs was famously tenuous and now with President Trump at his fully belligerent ill thought out worst, we need leaders that have the gravitas and diplomatic skills of articulate considered adults to manage the situation that is brewing in the middle east. But we have Johnson and Trump! What could possibly go wrong? The morning is taken up with catch up meetings following recess. Treasury questions are a sickening display of self-congratulations from a Tory government whose self-belief is clearly not kept in check by any obvious self-awareness. There is a statement on the middle east. Too often when we speak of diplomacy it is bracketed with pressure. Diplomatic pressure is not diplomatic negotiations. What can I do to you is not the same as what can I do for you? It was good to hear the Secretary of State, Ben Wallace MP, say that the best people to run Iran are the people of Iran. The day ended at 9pm with three new clauses to the European Union Withdrawal Agreement all being defeated by the Government.
The deputy speaker elections are ongoing. It strikes me that MPs lobbying MPs from other parties to vote for them can be a particularly obsequious process. Out of nowhere they all have a burning desire to tell me about their Scottish ancestry and love for the old country. Jog on. Scottish questions was an exercise in sycophancy for Scottish Conservatives aided and abetted by the one Labour MP with a Scottish seat. Instead of representing Scotland they continually talk it down, undermining their own nation in order to prop up their own careers. Off campus, I had an interesting meeting with Baroness Blackwood (Parliamentary under Secretary of State for life science). The discussion was about the provision of medical cannabis under prescription on the NHS. We agreed on most of the requirements that were still to be met and within her role she is moving the discussion and provision of a solution forward. We got into this mess because of the Home Ooffice’s lack of understanding and reluctance to change. Hopefully, now that it is a health issue, progress will be quicker.
There was an Urgent Question on the new deal between the English FA and the gambling industry that requires people to register with a bookmaker before they can watch FA cup matches. I bobbed for a question and as I am the vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm I was taken quite early. The current deal with the FA will lead to vulnerable gamblers being hounded by the gambling industry. I implored the minister to create a new gambling act and to coordinate with people with lived experience of gambling related harm during its creation.
I visited Jericho House to talk to people taking part in the recovery programme. I had a site visit of Diodes Incorporated followed by a quick photo opportunity with the Tele for a story about broadband. I squeezed in the Watt Talk at the Watt Institution. And I visited the jobcentre to catch up with staff there. On Saturday I shall be attending the Scouts Awards Evening in the Town Hall.
Many politicians will be only too happy to take the praise if we ever manage to improve on the appalling number of drug related deaths in Scotland but if we are ever to achieve that we need to stop the blame game, stick to the facts and make the changes that will effect an improvement. Then we can all claim we were responsible for the improvements. As it is, we should all be admitting that we are responsible for the failings. Only then can we rip the political machinations out of the process. Recognise the actions required to bring about change for the common good and implement that change. Then we can pat ourselves on the back and indulge in our own self importance. We have tried and failed to open a Drug Consumption Room in Glasgow. DCRs (sometimes known as Safe Drug Consumption Rooms or Overdose Prevention Facilities) have saved lives in every country that they have been established. They have reduced crime and been cost effective in treating problematic drug use. And yet in the U.K. we still refuse to licence them. I would have hoped that at the very least the U.K. government would have recognised that DCRs are worthy of investigation and that running a pilot project would be worthwhile. It is almost two years since I clashed with the Home Office over their lack of knowledge on the effectiveness and the availability of DCRs globally, but I truly hope that what appears to be a softening of their resistance is genuine and that they have finally taken onboard the evidence accrued from foreign shores. But it mustn’t end there. GPs require training so they can comfortably prescribe medical cannabis. Companies need incentives to develop medical cannabis products that can be dispensed, and the law needs changed to protect people from prosecution. Decriminalisation will remove the stigma and reduce the pressure on law enforcement agencies, but we need to invest in rehabilitation centres and provide shelter. Homelessness, poverty and abuse are the drivers that fuel problematic drug use. We must address them if we are to create an environment for the wider solution. If political parties can get together and get behind these proposals, all of which have been successful in other countries, then we can improve the situation and drive down the death rate. We can reduce the harm and we can free up the police force to fight crime. We will save both the NHS and the criminal justice system money and time and we will have created a society where problematic drug use is recognised and treated as a health issue. In the coming weeks I am visiting Jericho House in Greenock to hear first hand the lived experience of the the service users and I am hosting a briefing for MPs at Westminster by the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation and other organisations involved in reform and rehabilitation. A New Year offers renewed hope and if we work together then maybe this can be the year that we finally drag the U.K. drug policy out of the dark ages.
Ronnie Cowan MP
Vice-chair of APPG on drug policy reform
A happy new year to one and all. There is no doubt that in the world of politics sometimes people look less favourably upon one another and that can even develop into dislike. But I mean it when I say ‘one and all’. Why would I not want any one person to be happy, why would I not want everyone to be happy? When we discuss political differences, I am content in the knowledge that my view of a future independent Scotland is one of an inclusive nation with equal opportunities and no discrimination. A nation where no person is left behind and where communities exist to support and nourish all. As I look towards the coming year, I see precious little harmony at Westminster. The Conservative and Unionist government is reinvigorated by the result of the General Election and will attempt to railroad through change at an unhealthy speed that greatly limits scrutiny and consideration. I can assure you as the MP of a constituency that voted 63.8% to remain in the European Union and returned me on an SNP ticket that I shall do everything I can to resist the Bullingdon bully boys of the Tory far right. It is my duty to oppose their push to ostracise us from the wider European community while knowing the damage their actions will cause to Inverclyde and to Scotland. They may be protected by their own financial security, but the vast majority of Inverclyde are not. Their sense of entitlement must be challenged at every opportunity. Only when countries are governed for one and all can they truly represent the needs of the people, only then can we move forward to a brave new year filled with hopes and aspirations. Someday soon, hopefully this year, the people of Scotland will get that choice.