Westminster diary w/b 18th March


I caught the red eye to London as I was scheduled to do one of my regular tours of Westminster. On a number of occasions I have welcomed constituents and walked them round the estate. Citizens’ engagement is extremely important in maintaining a true democracy and everyone should feel comfortable engaging with their elected members and the mechanisms of government. At midday it was my turn to be hosted as I visited the Imperial War Museum (IWM). Diane Lees (Director General) and I had a lengthy and illuminating discussion around the possibilities of the IWM lending some Stanley Spencer paintings to Inverclyde. My initial idea was for a mini exhibition around Spencer and the wars years in general. Unfortunately, at this time we don’t have a building suitable to host this. The delay to the completion of the McLean museum is a great disappointment. 


An early start to take part in a Delegated Legislation (DL) committee. Regular readers will by now be familiar with the purpose of DLs. Today’s was ‘Draft Railways, licensing of railway undertakings’. The select Committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence from economists on the governance of national statistics. The United Kingdom’s Statistics Authority came under heavy criticism. At SNP conference in April the local branch will be putting forward for a Scottish Statistics Agency. The gathering of accurate statistics, free from political influence can be an invaluable tool in making good policy. I attended an event for ‘End our Pain’. They are a lobby group for medical cannabis and many of the attendees were parents of children who desperately need access to Bedrocan. Alfie Dingley’s mum has fought tirelessly to get him the correct medication. Sadly many are still being denied. I met with Lisa Quarrell mother of Owen and Karen Gray mother of Murray. Both these kids would benefit greatly but the flaws in the current system makes it impossible for them to legally access it. I had a quick dash to Victoria Tower gardens for an interview with Radio Clyde as a precursor to my debate on gambling related harm. The debate took place in Westminster Hall and was very well attended. Along with the front bench spokesperson, seventeen MPs spoke and the message was loud and clear, the gambling companies need to fund organisations that can provide support for their customers that are experiencing gambling related harm and advertising has to curtailed.  


I spent the morning writing two articles. One on drugs policy reform for the Daily Record and one on gambling related harm for Politics Home. Prime Minister’s Question time saw the Prime Minster put up a very poor show. The undoubted pressure she is under and unending hours dedicated to compounding the problem are taking their toll. Jeremy Corbyn was ineffectual. He had some good questions this week but his delivery was off and he still can’t chase down the poor responses from the PM. An interesting addition to PMQs is the input from the ‘independent group’ or the TIGs as they are called. Hearing the tory members shouting abuse at their former colleagues is an eye opener. One by one they get ridiculed. Brexit is indeed a tangled web of deceit, ambition, greed and incompetence. What should have been a short day became longer than necessary when an application was made for an emergency debate under Standing Order 24. Granting such a thing is at the speaker’s discretion, as are it is apparent are a number of things. He granted it and a three hour debate took place covering all the same ground of Article 50 EU withdrawal. I grabbed a six pm flight home.  


The morning was consumed by case work and media and in the afternoon I dropped in to the RIG arts driven green arts activities project at the Broomy Bees Garden in Ann Street. Lots of bees being made by kids and tie dye for the adults.


My first appointment was with Kevin Scarlet at River Clyde Homes. We had lots to discuss. I then caught up with the senior management team at Ferguson Marine. Another event packed with information and the ups and downs of trying to run a business during these very complicated times. When I was first elected I found it very hard to get suitable office accommodation in the area and therefore with a change of landlord I was keen to have a quick sit down to go through the contract and ensure I am in a position to continue to serve the community form my current location on Crawfurd Street. I look forward to a constructive relationship with my landlord for as long as I am required.



Medical cannabis under prescription

The law was changed for good reason and the public are rightly outraged that the new policy has been introduced in a way that means these medicines are legal, but no-one can get them.  The stories of the families are heart-breaking.  All have been refused access.  Some have been told to go abroad!  Some have even proved that medical cannabis works for their child but have still been blocked. 

I’ve offered them my continuing support and previously met with the Minster for Public Health, Steve Brine MP, to press the UK Government to intervene and break this deadlock. I was pleased to be one of over 100 co-signatories on the letter to Matt Hancock urging him to intervene.

End Our Pain can be contacted on campaign@endourpain.org


Gambling related harm

When we think of harm that can be caused by drugs, alcohol and tobacco we may have very specific ideas of what that harm looks like.

When it comes to gambling, the harm may not be obvious. But it’s there.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) propose the following definition of gambling related harm should be used in British policy and practice.

“Gambling-related harms are the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. “

Debt incurred from gambling creates instability, insecurity and can lead to bankruptcy and in the extreme, result in criminal activities.

Relationships can be disrupted and often leads to emotional and social isolation. This can lead to mistrust and erodes cohesive relationships.

The consequences can include psychological distress such as feelings of shame, stigma and guilt. Anxiety levels increase, depression and even suicide can be the final outcome.

According to Gambling with Lives, around 4-11% of suicides were related to gambling, the equivalent to 250-620 deaths per year in the UK.

These figures are based on research carried out by Paul Wong, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2010) and research from Louis Appleby at the University of Manchester (2017).

The harm is real and it is growing while the research and support is massively underfunded.

Currently the industry pays a voluntary levy which raises around 10 to maybe 14 million pounds a year. That money is used to fund support for problematic gamblers and campaigns to educate and hopefully reduce harm.

The total gross gambling yield for Great Britain between April 2017 and March 2018 was £14.4 billion, a 4.5% increase from the previous year. The annual sum which gambling firms win from their customers has risen by 65% since the Gambling Act 2005 (came into force 2007).

A statutory levy of 1% would guarantee 140 million pounds a year and that sort of money, in the right hands, could do some good.

Additionally, because it is voluntary, the amount raised can vary from year to year and therefore budgeting for long term treatment is extremely precarious.

Let me be clear, I am not asking for financial recompense from gambling companies just to improve their public image.

A sponsorship deal here and a charitable donation there. These are no more than fig leaves to hide their own embarrassment. And they should be embarrassed.

How can you recompense a family that have lost their son? Or a child that has lost their father. I am not asking for token gestures.

I am asking gambling companies to stop doing the damage in the first place. Rather than just asking punters to gamble responsibly, run your organisations responsibly.

And while we are talking about responsible working practices, companies are gathering data pertaining to the habits of online gamblers. And astonishingly they are closing down accounts of people who are successful and winning, even very small amounts, while targeting and encouraging vulnerable gamblers that are losing to continue.

This callous disregard for the welfare of their customers is tantamount to gross negligence.

And where to start when it comes to advertising?

Live televised sporting events are swamped with betting adverts and inducements. The impression is given that the sporting event in its own right is not sufficient entertainment unless we take a punt on the outcome.

And while punters are being encouraged at every turn, the ease with which gamblers can sign up to an online operator is of great concern.

Punters can gamble twenty four seven and 365 days a year. There is no cooling off period.

Credit cards, pay pal accounts and phone accounts are accepted as a means of payment.

To make it perfectly blunt the gambling companies have stacked the odds against the punters and the damage that is being done needs redressed.



Westminster diary w/b 11th March


I am on the rota for today which means I am there to potentially cover urgent questions and statements or any other business that is brought forward on the day. Therefore, I caught an earlier flight than is sometimes required. There was an Urgent Question from Jeremy Corbyn MP around the EU withdrawal process. I took part in an extremely lively E-petition debate in Westminster Hall. These debates are born out of citizens signing petitions and if a sufficient number is reached then they will be debated. Although the debate was lively it didn’t stop a Conservative and Unionist MP attempting to lecture me on the cowardice of the people Scotland for voting no in the referendum of 2014. I must admit I reacted by banging my head on the table. I had to leave early to attend a delegated legislation (DL) committee for ‘draft licensing of operators and international road haulage’. This is yet another DL committee set up to transfer EU law to UK law in haste before we crash out on the 29th of March.  


The Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence from academics on ‘authorising the use of military force’. The first two witnesses were legal experts and the second were more political. Historically it would have been the King or Queen who declared war or instigated military action. That was passed by the royal prerogative to the Prime Minister. The UK has taken part in over 60 military interventions since World War Two. The process that has been followed has varied wildly from the decision to intervene in the Suez Crisis to military action in Northern Ireland. I raised my concern over the lack of visibility when it comes to deploying armed forces on UK soil. For more information on that you may wish to attend the Beacon Theatre tonight to see ‘The Battle of George Square’. The Attorney General made a statement in the House on the legal advice around the EU withdrawal bill. I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on online gambling protection. I raised my on-going concerns regarding ‘loot boxes’. I attended the Kidney Research UK launch of their report ‘Kidney health inequalities’. In the evening we debated the proposed deal for leaving Europe and the UK government lost by 149 votes. 


My day started with the Select Committee for Transport. We took evidence from the chairman of HS2 and I took the opportunity to raise the issue of subcontractors not being paid after contracts were cancelled with no prior notice. This matter was brought to me by a constituent. Prime Ministers Question’s saw the PM and Leader of the Opposition go through the motions. The real battle was scheduled for later in the day and would take place in the voting lobbies. The chancellor made his spring statement. It is effectively a mini budget to tweak a few things and was not surprisingly unremarkable. What can a Chancellor do when the U.K. is crashing out of the E.U. in 17 days’ time and potentially crashing the economy? Today was the second day of EU withdrawal vote and we were debating leaving with no deal. After all was said we had three votes. Amendment A was the most contentious. It was in the name of Caroline Spelman (Conservative and Unionist MP) but she tried to withdraw it. She can’t do that. What she really meant was she wouldn’t move it. But what she didn’t seem to realise is that other people with their name on the amendment could move it and they were lining up to do so. It got moved so we voted to rule out a no deal Brexit. The U.K. Government lost the vote by 312 to 308. It was a particularly galling defeat for the government as four cabinet ministers abstained. They had victory in their grasp and as often happens the Conservative and Unionists turned on themselves. The second amendment was to make various provisions for a ‘managed no-deal’ scenario. It was roundly defeated. Another bad day at the office for the U.K. Government.


I started my day at International Trade questions as I had a question on the order papers. A number of people stood and asked questions around international trade deals post Brexit that could harm the NHS. I asked for greater transparency of the trading mechanisms. If we learn anything from Brexit is that the U.K. government needs help negotiating. The major debate of the day was to extend article 50. A rash of amendments were put down and six were selected by the speaker, in the end there were five votes and despite having the opportunity to defeat the government and guarantee a people’s vote many Labour MPs abstained and handed victory to the government. A very quick smash to the airport ensued and I caught the 19:30 home.


A welcome break from the groundhog days of Westminster and I joined a local postman on his rounds. I am used to delivering leaflets for campaigning purposes but the shift the posties put in is on another scale entirely. I was pleased that my next stop was Belville Gardens for soup and a blether. My plum tree is in rude health and I am glad to say is being well looked after. In the afternoon I had street surgeries along with Councillor Jim McEleny.


Tele column 15th March 2019

I am writing this at midnight on Tuesday and the latest but not final thrashings of Brexit are just calming down. Nobody was surprised when the Conservative and Unionist United Kingdom Government lost its latest attempt to get a European Union Withdrawal Bill through the House of Commons by a whopping 149 votes. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will debate the motion to leave without a deal and if that is defeated parliament agree to an extension to Article 50. This will need to be agreed by the European Union. At this point we have 17 days before we are scheduled to leave, we don’t have a deal and the UK Government don’t have a plan. None of this is a surprise. The sheer incompetence of the U.K. Government in dealing with the EU and the devolved administrations is clear for everyone to see. They went into negotiations with a belligerence and arrogance that defies all logic. At the heart of this shambles is the internal ructions of the Conservative and Unionist Party and yet the polling figures show that in England they are ten points ahead of Labour. In Scotland, the SNP is 19 points ahead of Labour. The choice is clear, a U.K. in the control of an incompetent broken Conservative and Unionist Party or an independent Scotland in the European Union.