Tele column – 13th April 2018

As I’ve previously highlighted, the mailbag of an MP can be both interesting and varied. From cases on housing to social security to immigration and visas there’s rarely a dull day. However, a lot of the correspondence my office receives is on three subjects – broadband, flooding and parking. If only we could solve these three issues then the caseload would be significantly lighter.

However, this is why the Scottish Government have invested significant sums of money in improving the infrastructure throughout the country. Currently, Inverclyde has 95.2% of households/premises connected to superfast broadband and the next stage is to see every home and business accessing superfast broadband by 2021. This is occurring through a £600 million investment confirmed by the Scottish Government. The Reaching 100% (R100) programme which will deliver fast and reliable internet.

Therefore, I met with representatives of Digital Scotland to discuss broadband access and speeds in Inverclyde. One area of particular attention is in Inverkip where a number of blackspots highlight poor broadband speeds. This has led to the creation of a new broadband cabinet for an area which is hopefully coming ‘online’ in late May. Many see broadband as the fourth utility and something which is essential to communicate with family overseas, work from home and download/watch digital content. For more information on superfast broadband please visit www.scotlandsuperfast.com.

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Last week, Glasgow City Council approved a motion to commend the work of the Health and Social Care Partnership, the third sector and others in supporting people impacted by drug use, including their families and communities. Glasgow is looking to pilot the UKs first safe injection facility, otherwise known as a drug consumption room. I have campaigned on drug policy reform for some time and believe we must firstly treat the issue as a health problem rather than a criminal justice one. However, the powers currently lie at Westminster and the UK Government have no immediate plans to either introduce a drug consumption room or transfer the powers to the Scottish Parliament.

A Modern Day Witch Hunt

We were once content to direct our bile at innocent individuals and label them witches’ so that we could inflict all manner of horrors on them. Individuals would be identified for a range of trivial reasons and persecuted. After all if someone else is the target then you are safe. Don’t speak up or you will be next. A modest estimate is that tens of thousands of innocent people were killed in this way. Turns out there is no such thing as witches but we never learned any lessons, did we? To think that whole communities would stand back and allow atrocities to be committed in their name because a few powerful and influential individuals were so absorbed with their own self importance, so twisted by power that it suited their purpose. We wouldn’t do that now. Would we?

And yet we continue to marginalise, stigmatise and breed resentment. We fuel distrust and fan the flames of hate. We do it to immigrants in this country just as we have done it to foreign countries in the past. We build fear in the community so we can justify our outrageous bigoted behaviour. We have waged war on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan. In fact, we have destroyed communities throughout the Middle East  and the continent of Africa. The U.K. empire has been constructing and manipulating wars for centuries. And when the armoury is full we unleash death and destruction on the demonised targets of our own construct. Sometimes the barbaric action conceals the reason. Just like burning witches.

Tele column – 30th March 2018

After the Catalonian referendum on the 1st of October 2017 some people that either felt the need to align themselves with Spain or maybe just wanted to childishly attempt to annoy those of us that support the Catalonian’s right to self-determination, posted the Spanish flag on social media. They were comfortable to align themselves with Spain despite the brutality that was inflicted upon citizens attempting to exercise their democratic right to vote. Media images of police beating people to the ground and throwing people down stairs didn’t deter their support. They seemed to see the Catalonia referendum as some perverse rerun of Scotland’s referendum in 2014. They gloried in a victory that echoed their own. As things have progressed the Spanish state has continued to usurp democracy. The Spanish Government’s latest act has been to seek the arrest and imprisonment of independence supporting politicians. Their crime was that they supported the democratic use of the ballot box. Spain’s Supreme Court has already remanded in custody five Catalan politicians, Jordi Turull, Josep Rull, Raül Romeva, Dolors Bassa and the former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell. Another target, Marta Rovira, failed to appear in court and has fled the country. One ex-Catalan minister, Clara Ponsati, has been working in Scotland as an economics researcher at Saint Andrew’s University. The Spanish Government has issued a European Arrest Warrant for Clara Ponsati and (at the time of writing) she is planning to hand herself in to the Scottish Police. The process for a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is governed in the UK by the Extradition Act 2003 – a UK piece of legislation under international law. Subject to procedural checks the warrant is actioned by the Crown Office/Procurator Fiscal – independently of government. Anyone subject to an EAW is able to challenge their extradition in court and judges and sheriffs can refuse to grant the extradition on a range of grounds – including whether the offences are extraditable offences, whether there are extraneous circumstances (such as race, gender or political opinions) and they must also consider human rights implications. To ensure the integrity of the process, Scottish Government ministers will be limited in what can be said in the event that there is an arrest in Scotland. This silence must not be interpreted as compliance. St Andrews University has described the EAW as “a politically motivated attack on free speech” and I would echo that view. The Catalonian politicians are being persecuted for their political beliefs and we should all stand united against such discrimination, regardless of our views on Scotland’s independence.

Clyde Life article – April 2018

I was a child in the 1960s and maybe because of that my perspective of cannabis is one of a leafy plant that when the leaves are dried can be smoked to get high. All sorts of hippy connotations spring to mind. Peace, love and transcendental meditation. In-fact the cannabis plant is a form of the hemp plant and there are many variations available. They tend to be graded by the amount of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol is one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in cannabis and is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) and CBD (Cannabidiol) that they contain. The balance of THC and CBD determines the effect of the product. People have been smoking cannabis recreationally for centuries and for many years people have been smoking cannabis to relieve pain associated with a range of illnesses including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and certain cancers. This has blurred the lines between recreational and medicinal use. I want to concentrate on medicinal cannabis. Today throughout the United Kingdom people purchase cannabis based products, oils, sprays and tablets to help alleviate pain. Products can be purchased from such well known outlets as Amazon. They can be delivered to your door and consumed in the privacy of your own home. There is a legal cannabis-derived prescription drug called Sativex (produced by GW Pharmaceuticals) but it is prohibitively expensive and was found to be ‘not sufficiently effective’ by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). As a result the drug, administered as a spray under the tongue, isn’t available in England and Scotland on the NHS.

But because cannabis is registered as a class B drug under the misuse of drugs act 1971 in the United Kingdom, people buying it or using it are breaking the law and are liable to be prosecuted. The result is that they purchase and consume a product that is not regulated for safety or effectiveness. The outcome can’t be predicted and the cost is entirely at the seller’s discretion.

Medicinal cannabis is legal in 29 of the States of America, Canada, Austria, Czech Republic, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland and many other countries. The laws and application of these laws vary but the premise is the same, medicinal cannabis provides effective help for people who are suffering. Making it legal is a humane thing to do.

In the United Kingdom there have been some high profile cases where legal cannabis has been sought via permission from the Home Office. Cases including Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley. In both these cases young children were suffering seizures which were damaging them. The quantity and severity of these seizures were dramatically decreased through the use of cannabis-derived products. Both families had sought and found such products outside the United Kingdom but could not get access to effective products legally in the United Kingdom. At the time of writing this, Billy’s family have managed to find a doctor that is licensed to and is willing to prescribe THC/CBD and a pharmacist prepared to produce the required medicine. Alfie’s family is still at loggerheads with the Home Office, although they are investigating possibilities. My issue is that there are thousands of Billy’s and Alfie’s. Each with families struggling to find the correct medicines to ease the pain of their loved ones, while knowing that a change in the law would accommodate their needs.

If we were to legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes it would be assessed for quality and effectiveness, it would be designed or tailored to specific illnesses, it would be regulated and taxed.

I am not asking for the law to permit people to grow their own weed just as I don’t advocate people having their own gin production facility in their kitchen. I am asking for a legally regulated business that produces medicine in laboratories from the cannabinoids extracted from commercially grown plants. Each product could be designed for a specific illness and the distribution, prescription and use would be monitored and controlled. The UK Government still maintains there is no therapeutic value attached to medicinal cannabis and yet it grants a licence to British Sugar to grow it and provide the raw product to pharmaceutical companies. The UK Government can no longer continue to ride two horses either it’s effective in which case it must be legalised or it’s not in which case we shouldn’t be growing it and selling it to pharmaceutical companies.

Written Question – Health {28/03/2018]

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what steps his department is taking to measure the effect of the availability of cheap alcohol on rates of alcohol-related hospital admissions for (a) young people and (b) homeless people. (133991)

Tabled on: 22 March 2018

Answer:
Steve Brine:

The Department commissioned an evidence review from Public Health England on the Public Health Burden of alcohol, which was published in 2016. This report was a comprehensive review of available evidence, which included the availability of alcohol and its impact on various socioeconomic groups. The report is available to view online at:

www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/583047/alcohol_public_health_burden_evidence_review.pdf

The Government continues to review what further evidence is required to understand the impact of cheap alcohol alongside hospital admissions and minimum unit pricing and its impact also remains under review.

The answer was submitted on 28 Mar 2018 at 15:40.

 

Travel Discount Card for Jobseekers

The Rail Delivery Group’s initiative, on behalf of train companies, is raising awareness about a travel discount card that helps lower the cost of finding work.

The Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card is available to eligible people in Scotland who have been out of work for 12 weeks or longer.  It offers jobseekers a 50% discount on train fares as they travel to interviews, to the Jobcentre or to and from training, for up to three months at a time.

Nationally, between March 2017 and March 2018, 518,822 discounted journeys were made by jobseekers, with 3708 jobseeker journeys being taken using the discount card’s benefits in Inverclyde.

In addition to the Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card, ScotRail also offers a Jobseeker scheme.  Under this scheme, they offer the jobseeker up to 2 free tickets a month for travel to interviews and a free monthly season ticket once the jobseeker secures work.

 

The Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card: The card provides discounts of 50% on Anytime Day tickets, Off Peak Day tickets, and Season tickets up to three months in duration. The card is valid on all British train operator services and can be used to purchase tickets online, including National Rail Enquiries, at ticket machines and ticket offices. 

 

Jobcentre Plus Travel Discount Card eligibility: To be eligible for the discount card, one of the following criteria must be satisfied:  

i.          Claiming Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit AND are aged 18-24 and have been unemployed for 13-39 weeks

ii.         Claiming Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit AND are 25 or over and have been unemployed for 13-52 weeks

iii.         Claiming Incapacity Benefit, Employment & Support Allowance or Income Support AND are actively engaged with an advisor in returning to employment

4.         Journey data: we hold information about the number of passenger journeys made using the discount card from between 4 February 2017 and 2 February 2018. Please enquire for sub-regional data.

 

Campaign to Support Alfie Dingley

The UK government stance is that they do not acknowledge the therapeutic value of cannabis and yet the UK is the biggest producer and exporter of legal cannabis for medical and scientific use, in the world.

It has been proven that using medical cannabis can be more effective and drastically cheaper than the current prescription drugs. As the acceptance and use spreads across the world ,it is time the UK government changed the law. Granting exemptions one at a time to the most high profile cases will not satisfy the need.

Thousands of people across the UK with a range of conditions could benefit from medical cannabis and it is time the UK government acknowledged that and acted accordingly.