Greenock Telegraph 20th November 2020

During the Covid-19 pandemic governments around the globe have had to take many difficult decisions. Getting the right balance between protecting citizens health and supporting the economy has been amongst the hardest. And more specifically, deciding how money should be allocated to best support the economy is a minefield of complexities. There is no way to triage individual organisations and companies to decide which ones are viable and which ones are not. Instead assistance has been offered across sectors and some will have benefited more than others. And having said that, there had to be an evaluation process. Not just, how many livelihoods depend on a sector, although the importance of that should never be underestimated but what contribution does it make to our society. And that’s a hard call but I want to talk up the need to support our creative sector. Those that work in music, art and drama. A precarious existence at the best of times. Many have been excluded from any assistance during this crisis. I have often championed Basic Income and I have seen an increased need for one this year and not just in the creative sector. A sector whose value is often underestimated or taken for granted. Trying to judge how much pleasure, stimulation, motivation and inspiration we draw from a book, a painting, a play, a photograph and the myriad of other contributions that creatives provide, is impossible. But we know it happens. I know that at a personal level I turn to music, art and literature for comfort and strength. But Beethovens, McCartneys, Hemingways and Pratchetts don’t grow on trees, we need to invest in many if we are to enjoy the fruits of a few.

Hopefully, we shall soon be coming to terms with life post COVID and while we rightly thank the frontline workers for all their hard work and dedication while keeping us physically safe and well, it would be remiss to not acknowledge the creatives for nurturing our souls and safeguarding our mental health at this time too. 

Greenock Telegraph 6th November 2020

I was heartened to receive a joint email this week from religious leaders across Scotland. They were unanimous in expressing their ‘shared concerns about the potential consequences of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill’. Their concerns are four-fold.

Firstly, the UK Government breaking international law. Secondly, the passing of legislation without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Thirdly, the way in which the Good Friday agreement is being undermined and fourthly, the position that Her Majesty’s government is putting the Queen in by asking her to sign legislation which is unlawful. It is disgraceful that the Conservative and Unionists have embarked on this damaging programme. And I am delighted that they have been called out by church leaders. The damage extends across the UK and is particularly harmful to Scotland. It undermines the devolution settlement and the agreed ways of working across the UK following our exit from the EU. It risks more uncertainty and confusion for businesses and consumers. It encourages harmful deregulation without democratic accountability or proper Parliamentary scrutiny. While it explicitly gives UK Ministers wide new powers in currently devolved areas of economic support. The irony of a UK Government that continually accuses the SNP of seeking grievances to promote independence, dreaming up the UK internal market bill should not be lost on anyone. It’s proof, if proof is needed, of the arrogant self-serving nature of One Nation Conservatism which serves only one master and that’s the Conservative and Unionist government. 

Greenock Telegraph 23rd October 2020

Recently, I was talking to primary kids about the internet and in particular internet behaviour and safety. And it struck me that these wide eyed, innocent kids, full of hope and expectations, technologically savvy and comfortably embracing the great internet of things, would some-day be nostalgic about TikTok!

And it got me thinking about the iconic things of my childhood and why they are still precious to me. And I don’t mean the few family photos of me, my mum, my dad and siblings that I have. Or the leather cuff link box that was my dad’s that I hold and draw comfort from because I know his hands held it too. I mean the shared iconography of the society of my childhood. Like the orange jubbly ice block, the chopper bike, Sportsnight with Coleman (remember the theme tune?), Subbuteo (which was always played on the floor in my house despite being table top football) and vinyl records. When we are young we live life with the expectation that the way things are, is how they will always be. And the younger we are the more true that is. But as we grow older we start to look to the future and in the 1960s we were told that in the future we would have bigger but slimmer TVs, and that we could be in instant contact with each other regardless of where we are in the World. And while those predictions along with home computers, e-banking, e-mails and many others came true, I never did get my jet pack!

Now I can buy multi packs of Cornettos, my bicycle corners far better than a chopper ever did, I can access sport all day, every day, Fifa 2021 is undoubtedly easier on my knees and I can access and listen to music on the go. But are the new things better? Yes of course they are but they don’t resonate with me because I now know they are transient. And if that applies to the good things then it is true to say it must also apply to the bad. Today’s bad will be history’s Sinclair C5. Uncomfortable and expensive but transient and hopefully, to be learned from.

When we come out of Covid, don’t let go of the lessons we have learned about the values of community, family, good mental health, access to open spaces and freedom to travel. Don’t confine them to the memory box. They should define our aspirations for the future and if that could include a jet pack I would be for ever grateful.

Greenock Telegraph 9th October 2020

The issue of renewable energy is one that I have pursued since I was first elected in 2015. I wrote a paper called ‘The Island of Inverclyde’ which highlighted the potential for renewable energy industries in Inverclyde in 2016 and it is as relevant today as it was then.

The Scottish Government has stated that renewable and low carbon energy will provide the foundation of our future energy system, offering Scotland a huge opportunity for economic and industrial growth. The recent announcement by the Scottish Government that nearly £1.6 billion will be directed to support up to 5,000 jobs and tackle fuel poverty is at the heart of plans to drive Scotland’s green recovery and end our contribution to climate change. As part of an enhanced Green New Deal, the investment will transform heat and energy efficiency of buildings and rapidly accelerate the decarbonisation of an area which makes up a quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. An additional £500 million is being invested in Scotland’s natural economy including £150 million to help deliver a 50% increase in woodland creation by 2024 and an extra £150 million for flood risk management, which is vital to increasing climate change resilience.

Following these announcements, I had already engaged with the Scottish Government to highlight the potential for Inverclyde and so I was delighted to hear this week that the Prime Minister is a new convert to renewables. From talking them down and under investing in them for decades, the Conservatives have seen the light and its generated by wind power. Hopefully, this is not just hot air from the Tories and this will present me with another opportunity, to pursue the UK government to invest in renewable energy projects in Inverclyde. No stone will remain unturned. Jobs are crucial if we are to reverse the population decline and create a more prosperous future.

Greenock Telegraph 25th September 2020

There are times in life when we put our trust in other people. We do so because they have specialist knowledge, often acquired over years of study and working experience. Nobody is perfect and nobody has all the answers but rejecting their advice because it is inconvenient is not wise. As Covid persists in being a factor in our lives some people are becoming more vocal in their opposition to government guidelines. I understand the frustration, I sympathise with the desire to return life to the pre-covid normal, but I can’t support the clamour to not wear masks, to not socially distance.

The most recent advice is that everyone who can work from home should work from home, there are tighter restrictions on home visits depending on age and relationship, pubs and restaurants must close at 10pm and car sharing with people outside your own household is prohibited. The alternative is herd immunity. How people can consider that is beyond me. At the beginning of March, the Chief Medical Officer of England made it absolutely clear, herd immunity would result in 400,000 deaths in the UK.  The fact that we are not expecting to reach these figures now is because we have observed lockdown, worn, masks, socially distanced. Sweden is cited as herd immunity that worked but did it? They predicted 40% immunity by May 2020, in fact it was 15%. And when you compare Sweden to its closest neighbours, according to the Royal Society of Medicine, “it is clear that not only are the rates of viral infection, hospitalisation and mortality (per million population) much higher in Sweden than those seen in neighbouring Scandinavian countries, but also that the time-course of the epidemic in Sweden is different, with continued persistence of higher infection and mortality well beyond the few critical weeks period seen in Denmark, Finland and Norway. In these countries, rapid lock-down measures brought in from early March seem to have been initially more successful in curtailing the infection surge and thus the malign consequences of Covid-19 on the country as a whole”.

Here in Inverclyde some individuals may be prepared to break the rules, but it is not just themselves they are putting in danger. If you risk catching Covid19 then you risk spreading it. You risk passing it on somewhere down the line to somebody with an underlying health issue. You risk being a factor in that person dying. Because you don’t come into direct contact with that person you will be ignorant of the damage you have done but that is not an excuse.

I have received correspondence recently in which people tell me they don’t believe the evidence, they think I am not standing up for ‘the people who elected me’. I can assure you I am standing up for all the people of Inverclyde, whether they voted for me or not, when I say that following Scottish government guidelines is the safest path out of this crisis and the one that will minimise the deaths and ongoing health issues associated with Covid19. At a time when virus cases are doubling every seven days, we must accept our individual responsibility to the communal good. It’s a classic example where you can either be part of the solution or part of the problem.

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.