Greenock Telegraph 11th September 2020

Let me be the very first person to wish you a merry Christmas. It is early, I know that, it is about three months too early, but I have my reasons. Every year I promise to do as much of my Christmas shopping as I can locally and every year I fail. Working away from home is an excuse, not a reason. I once did all my Christmas shopping on Christmas eve in Gatwick airport.  Not this year. The local economy needs us all to spend our money locally. The Prime Minister once said “A pound spent in Croydon is of far more value to the country, from a strict utilitarian calculus, than a pound spent in Strathclyde”. He was of course totally wrong even though he was talking about the national economy. Locally a pound spent in Inverclyde is worth more than a pound spent in Glasgow or Edinburgh or China. There is the story of a tourist that pays a £100 deposit for a room, the hotelier pays a £100 bill at the butcher, the butcher pays £100 to the farmer, the farmer pays £100 to his feed supplier, the feed supplier pays £100 to the garage, the garage owner pays £100 bar bill at the hotel. The tourist returns and doesn’t want the room. The hotelier repays the £100 deposit. The economic argument is that nobody is any better off because they all got what they were owed which matched how much debt they had but the fact remains that the money spent locally stimulated the local economy and wiped off paper debts. Had anyone in the chain spent the £100 outside the town then the money would have been stimulating another local economy or one in another country.  Keeping money in our local economy is great but there is an increased benefit when people from outside the area spend their money here. They are not exactly tourists, but you see the similarities. Understandably at these times money will be tight, but please whenever possible support our local economy and have a happy new year!

Greenock Telegraph 28th August 2020

One of the first things the then speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, told me is that there is nothing wrong with repetition. With the current discussions around Inchgreen and Freeports, while we look to see what the world and the workplace will look like post COVID-19, I thought it was time for a quick reprise of Inverclyde and industry.

The days of mass shipbuilding on the Clyde have gone. That is not to say the world doesn’t need new ships but our coast line has been given up to housing, bingo halls, cinemas, swimming pools, retail parks and light industry. All things that are welcome but do not need a coastal location. The logistics of re-establishing ship building has been made harder by these actions. We should be looking at more niche targeted maritime areas. The Caledonian MacBrayne fleet needs overhauled. Not with massive one off boats but multiple basic vessels. And we should be fighting tooth and nail to protect what we have before that too is consumed by a lack of vision. Freeports need to be defined as they do have a reputation for tax evasion. It’s also dubious that they contribute to a national economy therefore government money would be harder to attract. In truth, staying in the single European market was always a better option.

On a recent walk round the cut I was pleased to see new culverts being put in place and investment in the water capture system. I still have hopes that hydro power could return to Inverclyde. However I was disappointed to see how bare the hills remain. As the world wakens up to climate change we should be playing our part in Reforesting the hills and there is a spin off in job creation and supply chain. While we repeat the same stories we must do so with an eye on the future. It’s ours for the making.

Greenock Telegraph 14th August 2020

I was delighted to read in the Greenock Telegraph (10th August) about the Al Allouh family and how they have found ‘safety and freedom’ in Inverclyde. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to flee a war zone. How terrible must it be before deciding that you must leave your own country and everything that is familiar to you. And what courage must it take to face the dangers and uncertainties that such an action will undoubtedly invoke. Inverclyde Council have done a magnificent job, housing and supporting nearly 40 families and providing a haven where their children can grow and gain an education.

Conversely, the UK Government is now utilising the Royal Navy to intercept people fleeing persecution and death, people risking everything in rubber dinghies attempting the perilous crossing of the English Channel, often containing young children huddled close to terrified parents. And the UK is sending them back to France. Those that would turn their back on these refugees often wrongly assume that refugees should seek refuge in the first country they come to. The United Nations Refugee Convention does not make this requirement and UK case law support this interpretation. Understandably many of them want to put as many miles as possible between them and the troubles they are fleeing from.

As the Proclaimers say in their song Scotland’s Story “All through the story the immigrants came, the Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane, from Pakistan, England and from the Ukraine, We’re all Scotland’s story and we are all worth the same.” Inverclyde should be proud to add Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan to that list.

Greenock Telegraph 31st July 2020

When in one breath the UK Government is saying they will encourage folk back to food outlets by paying 50% of their fast food bill and then within days they are saying they will ban buy one get one free meal deals and one day you can’t go to Spain then you can, then you can’t , it is no wonder people get fed up.

We have all, to a greater and lesser extent, been pushed around during this Covid19 crisis and when things have gone so slowly for months it is only natural that when we think we see a light at the end of a tunnel, we want to accelerate towards it. But as the old adage goes, that light may just be a train coming in your direction.

Therefore, caution must still be our watchword. Of course, we want to get out and about, to eat and drink, to meet and greet. You may be in dire need of a holiday. Who would deny that opportunity to the frontline workers that have continued unabated during this crisis? My inbox is busy with correspondence from people that are annoyed at the current situation. They want it over and done with, they want to be able to travel abroad to a country of their choice, regardless of the expert advice. Some people are upset that pubs aren’t back to pre Covid days. But thankfully these people are in the minority. The vast majority, the silent majority understand that we are at an important juncture in this journey that nobody wanted to go on. To ignore the advice at this stage is to welcome Covid19 back into our lives and our homes. History tells us that spring pandemics are often followed by a second more deadly wave in Autumn. While great strides are being made towards a vaccine we must continue to take small steps to protect our community. Frustrating it may be but necessary none the less.

Greenock Telegraph 17th July 2020

It was early in the hours of the 19th of September 2014 when Paul John Coulter, then of the Greenock Telegraph, indulged me blubbering incoherently as I tried to explain why losing the independence referendum was so distressing. It hurt then and it hurts today.  

The latest poll has Inverclyde and Scotland reversing that decision with a clear majority now supporting independence. I read with interest an account of an ex Inverclyde resident, that voted no in 2014, now saying she would vote yes. She described herself as previously a ‘no idea’. And she is not alone. A lot of people voted no because they believed that Scotland was more protected as part of a larger entity and that there would be more opportunities if we stayed together. They weren’t necessarily pro UK or anti Scotland, it was just that the status quo felt more comfortable. We are now post Brexit negotiations and in the midst of a health pandemic. Both situations have highlighted the utter shambles that is the UK Government. Complete incompetence will result in us leaving the EU with no deal and deaths from Covid19 are higher per head of population in the UK than the vast majority of other countries. Mismanagement, bad advice and a superior than though attitude has dominated the day to day approach of the UK government and the outcomes have been atrocious.

As a result, more and more people are coming to the decision that Scotland would be better going its own way. It’s not an overtly political decision, it’s just common sense. And the louder the voice of the citizens becomes the harder it will be to ignore at all levels of the UK government. As we look towards a post COVID, post Brexit world we can ensure a different outcome at the next referendum and we can create an independent Scotland.

Next time it will be tears of joy.

 

Greenock Telegraph 3rd July 2020

As I write this it is a very grey dreich Inverclyde morning. We are 100 days into lockdown and despite continually improving statistics, including many days without any recorded deaths due to covid19, there is still no clear exist path back to normality.

Indeed, there are many questions pertaining to what that normality will look like. But without turning this into some sugar-coated sickly-sweet Disney version of reality there have been some quite amazing accomplishments by citizens of Inverclyde during this crisis. Before Covid19 Inverclyde Community Action Response Group (ICARG) did not exist and yet through application and cooperation across local organisations they have created a powerful cohesive programme that has resulted in over 25,000 meals being funded, prepared and delivered to homes across Inverclyde. 1,000 prescriptions collected and delivered, 4,000 food boxes delivered and over 8,000 ‘keep in contact’ phone calls made. And these phone calls have gone from averaging fifteen minutes to averaging forty-five minutes. This is on top of the existing pre Covid19 services. This is additional demand that some people didn’t believe even existed. And yet we know at the grass roots it does and volunteers combined with established community workers took on the challenge and beat it.

Often, it is not just about the meal or the prescription, as highlighted by the telephone service, it’s the human contact that matters. A knock on the door to deliver food means somebody knows you exist, somebody is looking out for you, somebody cares.

Eventually, the dark clouds will roll away and when that happens, we must not forget the sense of community spirit that so many people have embraced to such great effect in these times. Inverclyde is so much better than some of the damning statistics that we read about. Sometimes we just need to believe in ourselves, believe goals can be achieved and work together.

Greenock Telegraph 19th June 2020

Brave New World

My favourite book is Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. It is a savage critique of the fallacy of a man made, genetically controlled perfect society. The reason the book works is that Huxley has created a world without worry. It subtly seduces the reader with the idea of a comfortable stress-free existence where everyone conforms and “everyone is happy now”. And let’s be honest in real life individuals can be really annoying. Covid19 has highlighted this. New rules have been created to help us all get through a health pandemic and yet some folk will not conform. This ranges from senior government advisers and ministers exuding the superior than thou attitude that they can interpret rules to suit their needs, to folk ignoring distancing, refusing to wear a mask, visiting family and friends when it is inappropriate and generally picking and choosing their version of what they can do with no respect for others.

But just as in the book, individuality is crucial to us as human beings. If you remove choice, then we are all poorer. There will always be people who abuse their rights as an individual and transform that into a selfish disregard for everyone else’s feelings. But if we allow those people to push us into a society where conformity is everything then we all lose. Individuality and all the complexities and frustrations that entails used responsibly and mixed with a compassion for the common good will stand us in good stead through this crisis, and after it, when we adjust to the new normal. A normal where we respect individuality within a new society where we need to respect each other’s space.

Greenock Telegraph 5th June 2020

Send in the clowns 

Last Tuesday, the circus that is Westminster was taken over by the clowns. Since lockdown I and 649 other MPs have been able take part in committees, meetings, debates and votes using the hybrid parliament that was established to fulfil these tasks. It was implemented quickly and was introduced as a temporary measure in case, once it was up and running, we encountered problems or reasons were found to desist from using it. The expectation was that after a successful temporary period we would extend the timeline, possibly until summer recess at the end of July.  

Instead, what has happened is that Jacob Rees Moog in his capacity as Leader of the House ran the clock down and now wants to reinstate a physical parliament. Except it won’t be. Select committees, All-Party Parliamentary Groups and sundry other meetings can still take place virtually. What Mr Mogg wants is the House of Commons populated (maximum of 50 MPs at time) and physical voting to take place. That’s why on Tuesday MPs had to physically vote to determine if physically voting was safe! This is akin to Joseph Heller’s book Catch 22. If we go there, are we saying it is safe? Even if we go there to vote against it, because who would be daft enough to take part in a physical vote if it were not safe to do so? As the lobbies have been deemed unsafe, members stood in a queue and voted one at a time at the despatch box. Some found it harder to do than others. A full house of MPs will take one hour for each vote. The SNP did not put any pressure on anyone from our group to go. I chose not to go. I find it unfathomable that I am expected to travel to work in an environment that public health England and the Public and Commercial Services Union have deemed unsuitable. Worse than that staff will be required on site to support members. And then I am faced with the dilemma of staying in London over the weekends, something that I never do, or travelling home and potentially carry the virus back to my friends, family and constituents. And while Jacob Rees Mogg pines for the days when he can recline on the green benches once again, not even he will have missed the irony that the dusty old curmudgeons of the House of Lords have embraced a fully digital chamber. It is time to move forward and build on what has been created. After the COVID19 pandemic is over, we are not going back to the old normal and parliament should lead the way for progress, not remain stuck in the past. And not force me to put other citizens at additional risk from this terrible pandemic that has already taken over 40,000 lives.

 

Greenock Telegraph 22nd May 2020

During the Coronavirus pandemic we have witnessed many changes to our society and our life habits. The way we live our lives both socially and in the working environment have been transformed. These changes have been necessary to avoid the worst outcome possible but unfortunately could not prevent all infections and subsequent deaths. The National Risk Register 2017 had a pandemic as the number one threat. It was identified as a flu pandemic but never the less many of the consequences had been considered. However, we don’t seem to have been best placed to deal with this pandemic and we didn’t react quickly to the nuances of this virus. The UK Government should have produced a new register in 2019 but as yet has not done so. Our reliance on the internet of things has grown during this crisis. There has been increased use of Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Zoom, Microsoft teams and phone companies are providing special offers for bundles of data. Even Westminster has embraced the use of teleconferencing and extended that to remote electronic voting. So it is worth noting that within the identified risks is a Cyber Attack and the register makes the point that “The scale of our dependence on cyberspace means that our prosperity, key infrastructure, places of work and our homes can all be affected by cyber-attacks.” My concern now is that we are building a greater dependency on a resource which may well be the harbinger of the next crisis. We should be making moves now to anticipate potential vulnerabilities and ensuring that the resilience plans in place are robust and effective before we find our health service, transport systems, retail outlets and supply chains, crippled by a virus of a completely different genre.

 

Greenock Telegraph 8th May 2020

Before the Covid-19 crisis has even started to draw to a close there are those that want to start an inquiry into how we got it wrong. I understand that reaction. I have been critical of a number of actions and lack of actions by the UK Government and there will be a time for that debate.

Much has been said about the higher death rate in Inverclyde. It is almost three times the national average and I believe there are reasons, that existed long before the current health crisis, that have driven up our unacceptable death rate. These reasons need addressed but they have needed addressed for some time and they won’t be fixed before the end of his crisis. Now is not the time to look over our shoulders to see where we came from. The obstacles are in front of us. And even if we are critical of the course of action that got us here, we can’t ignore the fact that we still have responsibilities as individuals to act in a manner that can reduce the spread of infection and therefore reduce the burden on the frontline workers and ultimately reduce the deaths. Increasingly, I am contacted with accounts of people gathering in groups and not observing social distancing. In relation to the population of Inverclyde it is very small numbers that are letting us down, but it always is. Anti-social behaviour is always confined to a small number of ignorant selfish people and it’s never acceptable, but now, in the current health crisis, it could prove to be deadly. It may be hard to visualise that, but this virus is transmitted through our community from person to person. And that may be via surfaces as well as being airborne. Isolation and distancing remove the chance of it travelling. 2020 may yet prove to be the year of perfect hindsight but in the here and now we need to face up to the practical aspects of how we can all help.

Please stay safe and stay healthy.