Greenock Telegraph 30th July 2021

In the Victorian era the great and the good liked to holiday in Scotland. They would put on their kilts, pick up their guns and fishing rods and go hunting. This annual excursion to the wild North qualified them to talk about Scotland in warm tones of affection. It was their playground and it enriched their feeling of wellbeing. And today this tradition of an annual jaunt to plant their feet on Scottish soil continues but it’s the great and good of Westminster now. The media huddle and party lines are carefully prepared, and the obligatory photo opportunity carefully staged. Then it’s a swift exit and that box is ticked for another year. I shouldn’t complain, every time a Tory minister comes North of the border it is a boost for independence. But their message bothers me, ‘we love Scotland, we want to help keep you safe, you are better in this unequal abusive relationship, trust me’. This is then repeated in the usual media outlets.  Two recent events prove without any shadow of a doubt that Westminster is incapable of governing in a compassionate manner. The UK cut foreign aid by £4 billion, cuts that will harm the poorest people on this planet. People in countries whose economies were destroyed by British colonialism. The International Planned Parenthood Federation have said this action is unlawful but let’s face it acting unlawfully has never stopped this Tory UK government. And domestically they have refused to extend the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have said this “will create immense immediate hardship and it is completely avoidable”. These amongst many actions reaffirm my view that the UK government is not to be trusted with Scotland’s destiny. The days of Scotland being treated as a side show must be committed to the past if we are to build a better future.  

Dame Carol Black’s ‘Review of drugs part two’

Having read Dame Carol Black’s ‘Review of drugs part two’ several times now and having listened to her present and answer questions on the report, I find myself increasingly frustrated. Not at Dame Carol Black but within myself. The inadequacies of the existing system are laid bare for all to see within the report. Crucial areas that must be addressed are explained and thirty-two recommendations are detailed. Drug treatment and recovery support, funding, commissioning, diversion, employment, housing, mental and physical health, prevention, intervention and research, this report has recommendations for them all. And it is right and proper that we tackle drug policy in this way. Patching won’t do, we need reforms on a grand scale and in the hands of the people best placed to make them effective. For too long it has been designated as a matter for the judicial system and our health services have been left to pick up the pieces. This report puts health care at the heart of the solution and should be commended for doing so.      

But apart from making recommendations there is nothing else the report or I can do and that is the frustration. Dame Carol Black has been absolutely clear that if the UK Government starts picking and choosing which of her thirty-two recommendations to implement then it won’t work, and I applaud her for saying that. Too often we make do and mend with policies that need ripped up and rewritten. And the Misuse of Drugs act 1971 is a case in point. For fifty years it has made the situation worse.  But to expect the UK Government to have a sudden blinding flash of understanding and compassion is naïve. They won’t implement many of the recommendations, they will pick a few, dress up a few others, pay lip service to some and ignore the rest. And I say that with confidence and a heavy heart.

Confidence, because the UK Government just don’t get the issue of drug addiction or harm. And while the administration of it is held within the Home Office that shall continue to be the case. And a heavy heart because as people within the drug rehabilitation community keep telling me, ‘you keep on talking and we keep on dying’.

This is not Dame Carol Black’s fault. Her remit was deliberately precise. She was not allowed to recommend any new legislation. Which effectively neuters her report. How can she be expected to identify improvements in a system which is tied up and gagged by the law if she can’t suggest changes to the law? But Dame Carol Black has a good go at that by recommending a new structure for the mechanics of government, which if it was allowed to function could within itself produce the required legislation. And I am sure Dame Carol Black would be very happy with that outcome. She feeds in all the good ideas and the UK Government put them through a mincer and come up with the solutions she proposed, implements them and take the credit. To be honest I would be more than happy if that happened. But I just can’t see it because one recommendation is the creation of a new central Drugs Unit. This unit will be placed “in whatever department or joint arrangement seems appropriate”.  Unless that department is the Department for Health and Social Care then it is in my opinion a nonstarter. The intransigence of the Home Office has been a feature of this UK Government and I can’t see that changing any day now. I expect warm words for Dame Carol Black’s report, which could be seen as progress, but I don’t expect the UK Government will do anything other than launch enquiries, form committees,  divert the responsibility and talk about budgets and constraints. The UK Home Office is where good ideas go to die.        

At the start of her report Dame Carol Black says the UK ‘Government faces an unavoidable choice: invest in tackling the problem or keep paying for the consequences. A whole-system approach is needed’.  And she is absolutely correct. So, go on Kit Malthouse, agree to all thirty two recommendations, fund them and put the power of implementation into the appropriate departments and prove me one hundred percent wrong, please.

Written question – Gambling [21/07/2021]

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what data and research he has on the player base of people playing (a) loot boxes, (b) social casinos, (c) twitch gaming and (d) e-sports betting. (34520)

Tabled on: 16 July 2021

This question was grouped with the following question(s) for answer:

  1. To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what discussions he has had with (a) the Gambling Commission, and (b) gaming operators on the development of Esports Betting. (34544)
    Tabled on: 16 July 2021
  2. To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment he has made on the potential effect of Esports Betting on gambling-related harm. (34545)
    Tabled on: 16 July 2021

Mr John Whittingdale:

We continue to work with the video games industry, other government departments, and relevant regulatory bodies to ensure games are enjoyed safely. We launched a call for evidence in September to understand players’ experiences with loot boxes and to examine evidence of potential harms. This received over 30,000 responses and we have been working to evaluate fully the evidence gathered. The response will be published in the coming months and will set out preferred actions and potential solutions to any issues identified from the evidence.

The government regularly engages with the Gambling Commission and other bodies to discuss emerging trends, including esports betting. Esports betting is regulated with the same protections as any other sports, and operators must abide by the same regulation and license conditions.

Data from the Gambling Commission’s quarterly surveys shows that in the year to December 2020 9% of adults reported they had ever bet on esports with money or items. Further details can be found at: The government does not collect statistics on the player base of people opening loot boxes, playing social casino games or accessing twitch gaming streams.

The answer was submitted on 21 Jul 2021 at 14:23.

Level 0 from 19 July

People should continue to follow public health measures to protect one another as all of Scotland prepares to move to Level 0 at 00:01 on Monday 19 July.

Confirming the change to Level 0, the First Minister urged people to adhere to protective measures and sensible precautions to suppress coronavirus (COVID-19) to help create conditions that allow Scotland to move beyond Level 0 on 9 August.

From 00:01 on Monday 19 July, physical distancing in Level 0 will reduce to 1 metre in all indoor public settings and outdoors. Additionally, informal social gatherings of up to 15 people from 15 households will be permitted outdoors without physical distancing. Gatherings of up to 10 people from four households will be permitted in all indoor public settings with 1 metre physical distancing.

Other easings to Level 0 taking effect at that time include:

  • under-12s will no longer count towards the number of households that can gather indoors in public spaces and homes
  • hospitality settings can open till midnight, if their current licence permits that, and customers will no longer be required to pre-book a two-hour slot to go to a pub or restaurant but will still be required to provide contact details to assist Test & Protect
  • up to 200 people will be able to gather at weddings and funerals

Greenock Telegraph 16th July 2021

I have a long list of things that could be done to improve Inverclyde. Don’t we all? Let’s knock down the West College Scotland on Finnart Street and use that site for houses or a new sports centre or a new hospice. And then build a new college down at the East India Harbour but do it properly, knock down the Police station and build a combined emergency services hub for Ambulance, Fire and Rescue, Police and Coastguard on the site of the existing Fire Station at Rue End Street. And once we have done that lets put hydropower stations behind Port Glasgow to power the much neglected Upper Port Industrial Estate, and behind Greenock to power houses in Spango Valley (if we must build houses there) and behind Inverkip to power the Ardgowan distillery, while regenerating the Peatland on Duchal Moor. Run a competition for architects and town designers and see what ideas they could come up with for the Inverkip Power Station site. And while I am on a roll, the coast, the views from there and access to them are for the common good, not for housing and exclusion.

All very aspirational I am sure, but we need big ideas and big ambition that can be honed into practical working solutions and then when we have feasibility studies, we can go seeking finance. And we won’t get them all, but we will learn from each one and get better each time because the alternative is handing out a begging bowl at the end of the line of all the other bidders and losing while learning nothing. I am sick to death of people talking down this area. It’s time to start aggressively promoting Inverclyde as the gold standard destination. The naysayers will have a field day telling us why we can’t, but we need to bin that mindset. Only then can we create a better Inverclyde for us all.