I recently met with Norwegian and Icelandic politicians and civil servants and was impressed with their calmness and confidence in dealing with matters pertaining to both domestic and international affairs. I am so used to witnessing, hyperbole, aggression, indignation and outrage at Westminster that occasionally I get caught up in it myself.
The language these Nordic countries use during negotiations between their nations and the alliances they seek to build and maintain is very different to the language we hear used in political circles in the United Kingdom. Rather than seek to undermine each other, the default is mutual respect and consideration. And the ultimate respect is to recognise each other’s differences and accept them. By recognising each other’s autonomy while seeking to improve their countries and maintain broader security, organisations such as the Nordic Council and Arctic Council, while not void of tensions, manage to function in a constructive manner. They actively seek positive outcomes.
Compare and contrast that with the comments from the devolved powers in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland when asked about intergovernmental relationships. They all independently said they were not respected, not listened to, not involved in developing treaties or trade deals and in general treated as subordinates. Is it any wonder that we are witnessing increasing political will for an independent Wales and Scotland and reunification of Ireland. The British Empire has been in permanent decline for over a century and the last glowing embers shall soon be extinguished. Those that need it to exist will go to great lengths to keep it alive, either through misuse of power and wealth or by being obsequious on a level as yet unseen but hinted at. Those of us that desire autonomy, equality, democracy and self- governance shall be content to see the empire go gently into the night while Scotland emerges sovereign, independent and ready to treat other as equals and importantly demanding that we are treated as equals too.
I have been campaigning for the provision of medical cannabis for most of my seven and a half years as a Member of Parliament and sadly the progress has not been as rapid as I would have liked. I have a particular focus on the supply of Bedrolite, Bedrocan and Bedica2. They are prescribed for children with intractable epilepsy. The results of children that have been using them are quite startling. Kids that were suffering over 100 seizures a day and were confined to a wheelchair as a result are now capable of cycling in the local park, attending school and conversing with truer parents and siblings. They are seizure free, the transformation is remarkable. But unfortunately, it is not all good news. Those kids that are getting the medicine are paying for it through private prescriptions. This can cost up to £2,000 a month. We have managed to set up manufacturing in the U.K. which removes the need to import it from the Netherlands but the cost is still prohibitively high. Because of my involvement in this campaign, it has been brought to my attention that other new medicines are experiencing the same issues. They exist, they have been passed by the MHRA as effective but not passed as cost effective by NICE. Therefore, they can only be accessed privately. This includes medicines for post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and even one, Evusheld which you may have read about in the Greenock Telegraph recently, for people who are still shielding from Covid because they have suppressed immune systems. The crucial fact is that those who can pay for their medicine can access it and those that can’t must go without. While I want this situation rectified, my wider concern is that what we are witnessing is the privatisation of the health centre, one step at a time. The health service was founded on the principle of free access at the point of need and that must not be allowed to be eroded or undermined at any cost.
George Orwell wrote, in 1946, that there was a fear of immigration in the UK. “above all from the out-of-date notion that Britain is overpopulated and that more population means more unemployment”. Seventy-six years have passed, and nothing has changed. The spiteful rhetoric spewing forth from Suella Braverman, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom can only serve to fuel the sociopathic clamour of indignation that tumbles out of the mouths of the Conservative and Unionist MPs. Their hatred for vulnerable migrants is tangible and should frighten us all. Because it won’t end there. Once one minority is vilified and marginalised those that persecute them will feel the need and claim the right to turn their attention on another group and then another and that is how it builds. By dehumanising people, we create an environment where they can be treated abhorrently without repercussions. Many people are convinced that foreigners are “over here taking our jobs”. Interestingly they are ambivalent about the Scottish diaspora spread around the globe which currently numbers between twenty-eight and forty million. In Inverclyde we are currently welcoming new Scots from Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, through the vulnerable persons resettlement schemes and from Ukraine, through the Ukrainian resettlement scheme. In total this comes to three hundred and forty people. That number will and should grow to accommodate more vulnerable migrants from countries torn apart by conflict and war. I hope that in Inverclyde we can continue to find it in our hearts to extend a hand of friendship and provide sanctuary while appreciating how lucky we are to be in a position to help and how fortunate we are not be those relying on aid ourselves.
As we stumble into another week of economic chaos at Westminster the unionist mantra of ‘strong and stable’ has been reduced to ashes. Burnt to a crisp by a bonfire of vanity that started with Boris Johnson and continued with a leadership race for the Conservative and Unionist party that consisted of one outrageous promise after the other. The outcome was a Prime Minister that nobody, including her own party, wanted and a financial statement that crashed the pound, inflated mortgage rates and put the frighteners on the financial markets. Those most affected are, as always, those who have already cut their budgets to the bone. Having made such a catastrophic start to her leadership, the Prime Minister sacked her Chancellor and appointed a new one who notably had opposed all her financial plans in the first place. Which begs the question, who is running the U.K. now? When a country is in turmoil and change is required to repair all the damage caused by Brexit, Covid, energy prices and Boris Johnson, strong and stable is exactly what we need and what we have been promised but once again Westminster has failed to deliver.
Hot on the heels of the financial statement and the chancellor being despatched, the new Chancellor has written off and backtracked on everything that was in it bar the national insurance changes and the banker’s bonus being uncapped. The energy support package that the Prime Minister promised was for two years will now be scrapped in April. In an attempt to, once again, offset the damage being wreaked on Scotland by Westminster, the SNP brought forward an amendment on Monday evening to try and tie the government to a two-year package, but we lost the vote while the Labour Party unbelievably abstained.
We have had four Chancellors is four months. Strong and stable has transpired to be weak and wobbly. It’s time to take to the lifeboats Scotland, Britannia is sinking.
(For info: The column was written before the Prime Minister resigned)
The recent financial statement from the U.K. government has been ridiculed by the International Monetary Fund. They were right to be critical. The outcome has been that the pound crashed, mortgage rates have increased, many mortgage products have been withdrawn and the Bank of England stepped in to avoid a complete calamity.
But none of this should come as a surprise. The economic path of the U.K. was explained in the book Britannia Unchained. And the authors maybe familiar to you. Among them are Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng. This is simply the next stage in the trashing of the welfare system and the rewarding of the uber greedy. One nation conservatism on steroids. This is Conservatism in all its ugly glory. Liz Truss is a believer in the mantra of the Institute of Economic Affairs which is a right-wing think tank. The IEA are weak on climate change and want to privatise the NHS. The Conservative government’s lack of compassion was clear in the financial statement that will punish the poorest, reward the richest and pay lip service to the many that could have experienced a possible minor financial gain that will be offset by the increase in interest rates and projected inflation. I have often accused the Conservative and Unionists of lacking self-awareness but it has become increasingly clear that they know exactly what they are doing and are pushing it as far as they can. The hedge fund managers made their killing last week and while the Conservative and Unionist party’s only objective is to appease their members and stay in power, the rest of us should button down the hatches for a long cold winter and not expect the UK government to help us, they are too busy helping themselves and their mates in the city.
Seven million households across the U.K. are facing fuel poverty this winter. This is a political decision made by the Conservative and Unionist government at Westminster. They are choosing not to impose a windfall tax on excess profits made by the energy companies. They are reportedly choosing to scrap the cap on bankers’ bonuses as they believe that will boost the City of London. We tried the trickle-down economy before. It didn’t work. It has never worked, and it never will work. There is a reason why the number of people receiving three days’ worth of emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks in the U.K. has gone from under 45,000 in 2009/10 to over 2,000,000 in 2021/22. And that reason is that the U.K. government has been spectacularly successful in keeping the rich in a manner to which they have become accustomed and persuading the impoverished that times are hard, and they have to find a way to manage. We even have the obscenity of a television game show when the prize is to pay your energy bill for a few months. Poverty porn as light entertainment, welcome to 21st century Britain. All of this can be changed. We either accept that poverty will be a constant pressure on one in every five people or we challenge it. Together, we can build a society where everyone has the income they need for a dignified life. We can strengthen our social security safety net, pay at least the real Living Wage, build high quality public services and redesign our economy to meet people’s needs. The week commencing 3rd October is Challenge Poverty Week, get involved by visiting www.challengepoverty.net.
When the war in Ukraine started, the Scottish Government promised to take 3,000 refugees and when the process was being strangled with red tape by the UK Home Office, the Scottish Government introduced the Super Sponsor scheme to speed up the process in Scotland. The bureaucracy around immigration is at times clumsy and obstructive, but of course there is also the need to exercise caution, getting the balance right is key. Through the Super Sponsor scheme, we have proven that we can safely accommodate many more Ukrainian refugees than we expected and much quicker. The latest figure in Scotland is 15,000, that is 18% of the entire UK figure. But this is an on-going crisis, war still rages in Ukraine and more people will be displaced. Providing immediate shelter is crucial but we must be seeking to house refugees in our community in the long term. To do this we need the UK Home Office to process asylum seekers in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, going by the experience of those currently housed in the Holiday Inn this is not happening. An initial six-month period to start interviewing and processing has extended to a suggested eighteen months to two years. These men have been driven out of their homelands and many desire to work and contribute to their new country. But they can’t until the Home Office gives them settled status. By keeping them in hotels and pushing them from pillar to post, by slowing down the process, we deny them the chance to move on with their lives, we prohibit local employers access to an able and keen workforce, and we ostracise asylum seekers who should be building new lives as new Scots. Inverclyde has a proud tradition of accepting immigrants from many countries and hopefully that will continue but the UK Home Office has to take action to facilitate that sooner rather than later.
If you are lucky, then life is full of good choices. Where do I choose to live, what do I choose to drive, where shall I go on holiday? These are all life affirming and add to a sense of wellbeing. But they are also all tied to financial status. The reality for many people is that financial choices are more likely to be, do I pay the energy bill or the rent? Do I eat today? Politicians are supposed to make choices and make decisions that mean people don’t have to choose between heating or eating, people don’t have to rely on food banks to stave of starvation. Obviously, we are failing in that. Whether you want to blame, the Scottish government, UK government or Inverclyde council, that’s your choice too. And understandably those most affected by the years of austerity and a looming recession probably don’t care who created the problems, they just want them fixed. Their issues are very real, extremely personal and are faced on a day-by-day basis. Listening to the current Conservative and Unionist party leadership debates one could be led to believe that none of the problems we have UK wide have been created by the twelve years of their governance. Solutions, no matter how simplistic or unrealistic, trip of their tongues as if they have not been part of the problem for all these years. The one hundred and sixty thousand or so Conservative and Unionist party members that are given the choice as to who will be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom must be saddened by the choice, they have but at least they get a choice. The rest of us are powerless as we watch the Punch and Judy show draw to a close. We must wait to see which puppet will be in given the nod. Unfortunately, the choices they make from their ivory tower will not reflect the issues that most people face daily and almost certainly their tenure will be as unfruitful as their predecessors. Unless we in Scotland can think of a better choice, one that suits us better and allows us to make decisions that better reflect us and our society. Life is full of choices; we just need the courage to make them.
During recent evidence sessions hosted by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee ( PACAC ) with the devolved powers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland it has been clear that the devolved administrations do not feel respected by the UK government. ‘We feel like we are treated like children’ was a common refrain. And now, the soon to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Liz Truss, has expressed her contempt for the democratically elected First Minister of Scotland. It begs the question does Westminster look down on every other democracy or does it reserve that level of disdain solely for the other nations of this very disjointed union?
I wonder if by taking a domineering role and talking down to and being disrespectful of the devolved administrations, that the uk government feels that is the best way to see off any move towards greater autonomy. By continually putting down the devolved governments, by treating them as less than equal they feel that undermines the confidence that people will have in them. Do they fear treating them as equals? Would doing so, show the devolved governments in a good light. Would acknowledging their abilities be tantamount to supporting greater separation or full independence? Does the UK government feel so insecure about its own abilities that it needs to constantly put others down?
From the perspective of someone that believes in Scotland’s independence, I think it’s a very poorly chosen tactic. By treating devolved parliaments and parliamentarians as equals they could create a more harmonious and productive inter governmental relationship. One that people may be more inclined to stay in. But instead, they choose to lord it over them. Maybe this is the default position for a United Kingdom government bereft of creative ideas, racked with inner turmoil, rudderless and drifting. Maybe they don’t realise Britannia is sinking and it would serve them well to be more respectful to those of us who have already taken to the lifeboats.
Currently people are debating the choice between Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss as the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Unless you are a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party you won’t get a vote, but the outcome will affect your life. What that will mean to the majority of citizens of the United Kingdom is hard to determine and it will be years into the future and with hindsight that we can judge them. But we can have an educated guess because both candidates have been at pains to praise Margaret Thatcher. Mr Sunak proclaimed he was supporting “common sense Thatcherism”. An oxymoron if ever there was one. And Ms Truss not only parrots Thatcher policy she has even started to dress like her. Now, over 30 years after she was hounded out of office by her own party, we can judge Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. During the Thatcher years the proportion of pensioners living below the poverty line rose from 13% to 43%. Child poverty doubled. The tax rates of the rich fell from 83% to 40%. She heralded in an era of high inflation and mass unemployment, declaring there is no such thing as society and encouraging personal greed and financial excess. To put it in a nutshell, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. These are the policies and the principles that the Conservative and Unionist party has been pursuing ever since and as Thatcher herself explained they are not about to U-turn. This is the future we face in Scotland under the Conservative and Unionist party, a party that haven’t won a majority of seats in Scotland since 1955. At the start of Covid I said the poorest would suffer most and they did and from that post Covid low starting point we now face a financial storm that will drag many more people into poverty. When it comes to people coming to the conclusion that we can do a better job running our own country, I never know what that final straw will be. But I do think in the coming months many people will.