Tele column 9th November 2018

In every town of Inverclyde we have permanent war memorials to those who died in armed conflict during the First and Second World War. There are many more memorials in clubs, schools and organisations that are specific to smaller more defined group of people. The prevalence of war memorials came to fruition after the ‘Great War’ as it was hoped it would be the war to end all wars. Sadly we were wrong and one hundred years later wars still rage. Their shape and size has changed and fortunately for most of us living in Inverclyde we have never had to experience war at first hand. But continue they do and members of the armed forces continue to pay the ultimate price, often because of incompetent politicians. I recently visited the Heritage Centre on Cathcart Street to view their Armistice Day commemoration that is made from hundreds of handmade poppies and I met teachers and pupils of Inverclyde Academy who have resurrected the war memorial from the old Greenock High School. On Saturday I shall attend a service at Saint Giles cathedral in Edinburgh and on Sunday, amongst other public engagements, I shall lay wreaths at the war memorials in the Wellpark and at the Cross of Lorraine. Each year we, quite correctly, remember those that died but this year we also give thanks that we are commemorating the end of a war. Our community has physically changed a great deal since 1918, a lot of it for the better, but there are still roads and buildings that existed then. Houses that young men left and never returned to. Roads leading out of town and ultimately to the front line in Belgium, France and beyond. And I can only hope that many returned. Imagine the joy on Armistice Day 1918 when peace was declared. How great were the celebrations when serving personnel returned safely home. Commemoration is not just about paying respect to those who fell, it’s about doing everything we can to maintain a peace that they fought for. And that’s not one day or week in November, its everyday of every year. We should never forget and we must always work to ensure that we never repeat the mistakes that led to war and sacrifice.

 

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Tele column 26th October 2018

The weather experts are predicting a winter of discontent. Discontent, that is, for those of us who enjoy the first day of snow and then quickly get fed up with the disruption and increased fuel bills. Unlike Richard the 3rd we can’t rely on the son of York to brighten our winter. But we do have places we can turn to.

The Scottish Government, through Ready Scotland, have created a website where you can find out more on preparing for and managing disruption to our daily lives. This includes advice on how to create an emergency household plan and prepare an emergency kit. For further information please visit www.readyscotland.org.

Alongside this, the Energy Saving Trust Scotland website provide you with free, expert and impartial advice. Their website allows you to complete a home energy check as well as find out what grants or loans may be available for support at home. Simply visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/scotland or call Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282.

Inverclyde Council recently announced they are planning to introduce a fleet of 4×4 vehicles to beat the bad weather this winter. Also, the local authority have published their Winter Maintenance Documents which can be viewed on their website, alongside a link to grit bin locations and an advice leaflet, provided by Transport Scotland, on clearing paths and driveways.

Finally, it also helps to be a good neighbour and keep an eye on each other, especially if you have an elderly or infirmed neighbour. Wrap up warm, take care and remember its only 146 days until spring.

Tele column 12th October 2018

Recently, I had the great privilege of meeting some remarkable men. Jordi Cuixart, Jordi Sànchez and Raul Romeva were arrested and are awaiting trial for sedition. I visited them in Lledoners prison, Catalonia. They expect to be tried in January and they expect to be sentenced to between 25 and 30 years each. The crime of sedition is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as ‘language or behaviour that is intended to persuade other people to oppose their government’. By that definition anyone that has ever criticised the U.K. government or the Scottish government could be imprisoned, tried and sentenced. I suspect our already overcrowded prison system would fail to cope with the mass influx. And I seriously wonder if there would be any adult in Scotland that could not be tried for such a crime. These three brave men along with four others, Josep Rull, Jordi Turull, Joaquim Forn, Oriol Junqueras and two women, Carme Forcadell and Dolors Bassa have been wrongly imprisoned. While speaking up for the process of democracy, they did not use violence and they did not incite it. They helped to facilitate and ensure a peaceful democratic debate and referendum. The Spanish authorities may not have liked the message they were hearing but no people or property were threatened or damaged in any way. Jordi Cuixart explained to me that he was simply a citizen exercising his right to free speech. Jordi Cuixart is the president of Òmnium which is a cultural movement in Catalonia. He is not a politician. He is an incredibly brave, optimistic, intelligent and humble man. I asked him how he managed to stay so positive and he explained that he lived in the moment and tried to make each moment happy. He engaged with prison life and other prisoners. He refuses to be beaten by the system he opposes. That is an extremely powerful message. These men and woman deserve the support of the United Nations, the European Union and all right minded governments. History tells us what happens when we stand idly by and allow human rights to be trampled. We should all be raising our voices in protest at this injustice.

Tele column 28th September 2018

Tomorrow, SNP activists shall be hosting street stalls and door knocking to gauge the opinion of Inverclyde residents on matters concerning the U.K.’s withdrawal from Europe, the Growth Commission and more. We do this on a regular basis but the reason I mention it is we are in conference season. That strange three week period when the political parties take it in turns to get together and blow their own trumpets. While the Conservative Party are singing different songs from different song sheets the Labour Party are marching to the beat of different drums. I feel sorry for activists when their leadership squabble and elected members bicker. Members and candidates jump on and off campaign causes and deliver deliberately vague messages while desperately seeking to identify the populace vote. Of course people can disagree but I get the feeling these manufactured conflicts are more about self-promotion than political idealism. At least when the SNP blow our own trumpets we are all playing the same tune. The SNP was founded to pursue Scotland’s independence and that has not changed. It always has been and always will be our raisin d’etre. But as sections of the media tried to create civil wars within the party, while ignoring the two obvious ones in the Tories and Labour, our resolve hardened. We are the custodians of our nation’s independence and nothing will be allowed to distract from that. Tomorrow’s conversations are part of a continual conversation between the SNP and the people of Scotland. And they are conversations, we are not just talking we are listening too. It’s a methodology we use because we believe it helps politicians engage with citizens. It’s taken us to ten years of government in Scotland and the giddy heights of MSP, MP and a councillor in each ward of the Inverclyde Council. Representation that once upon a time we could only have dreamed. That’s why tomorrow’s conversations are so important, from them we get a glimpse of the Scotland people want and don’t fall into the trap of forcing on them a political menagerie that only serves to support an outdated, crumbling and corrupt union.

 

Tele column 14th September 2018

The Scottish Government’s programme for government was published last week. It’s a comprehensive document outlining the areas of governance that we can influence from Holyrood and it’s a mixture of practical reality with enough aspiration to make me believe that, with the right strategy, Scotland can have a prosperous future. It is a rich and diverse programme encompassing many areas of life in Scotland. The key areas covered include national infrastructure, mental health, empowering head teachers and low carbon transport.

As in all things political it will not satisfy everybody and, as one has come to expect, the opposition parties were very quick to condemn it. So quick that I doubt they actually read the publication. It did however receive positive feedback from Friends of the Earth Scotland, Scottish Chamber of Commerce, the STUC, CBI Scotland, NUS Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, Victim Support Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, NHS Research, Richmond Fellowship and a host of others.  Whether you agree with all the plans outlined or not I hope you feel comforted that plans are being made in a considered fashion. I would ask you to compare and contrast the measured, constructive approach of the SNP Government at Holyrood and the chaotic, self-harming, devil take the hindmost attitude of those crashing the United Kingdom out of the European Union. The very rich and privileged will be safe. Their money will protect them. The rest of us are just expected to go along on this treacherous journey. My advice would be buckle up, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Tele column – 31st August 2018

As vice-chair of the All-party parliamentary groups on medical cannabis under prescription and drug policy reform I have been campaigning for changes to the UK drug laws. The problems that exist within society and the communities within, are not the drugs.  It’s the deprivation, isolation, loneliness and poverty, leading to anger, dissatisfaction, hopelessness and depression. One pound spent on harm reduction, saves three on health care further down the line and seven on the criminal justice system. It makes financial and humanitarian sense to provide care and guidance rather than prosecution. It is time that we reappraised our attitude to drugs and moved forward with a fact-based strategy that does not harm society but benefits it. We can’t win the war on drugs. We can and we must win the peace.

There are around 3900 Inverclyde women affected by the changes to women’s state pension. Many local woman along with women from all over the country have joined the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) movement and have done an outstanding job to make sure that this issue is not brushed aside. The UK Government have not contributed any funds to helping those affected. Together with my SNP colleagues I continue to apply pressure to the Government to explore affordable solutions. The women of the WASPI campaign have fulfilled their part of the bargain by being productive citizens, some of them having worked since they were 15 years old. And while working they paid their tax and national insurance. Now it is time for the UK Government to honour their side of the contract.

Tele column – 17th August 2018

On Monday the 6th August it was 73 years since an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Out of a population of 350,000 as many as 180,000 people died. I had the privilege of meeting with a survivor of Hiroshima and her testimony is harrowing in the extreme. Suzuki Thurlow’s story should be enough to change the minds of those that support nuclear warfare but sadly it isn’t. But there is a growing body of thought that is saying nuclear weapons are now so outdated that they have no place in a modern defence strategy. As the world becomes increasingly dependent on digital technology, future wars will be digital. On the surface that seems more acceptable. We wouldn’t have the instant mass deaths and destruction. But the truth is that by taking out power grids, the internet, digital communications, the media and transport then entire countries can be brought to their knees. In a time when we live on a cycle of 24 hour news and depend on our mobile phones for business and personal communications, removing that connectivity would create panic at the same time as it would disable law enforcement. Our ability to grow and distribute food, our manufacturing capabilities and all the logistics around them would all be destroyed. Under those circumstances it wouldn’t take long for a country to disintegrate. While that makes a powerful argument for cyber war as an effective strategy it removes the need for nuclear war. The protagonists that continue to support nuclear warfare have to make a decision. Do they continue to support the nuclear arms race, including the new vanguard submarines, or do they now support cyber warfare and the starvation, civil uprising and lawlessness that would produce. I would like to think that common sense would prevail and they would give peace a chance but 73 years after Hiroshima I don’t see that happening.

Tele column – 3rd August 2018

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee of which I am a member published a report last Tuesday. Like all of our reports it is based on evidence given to the committee from experts. In this instance it was from politicians and academics. The committee consists of five Conservative MPs, two of which have been the Secretary of State for Wales, five Labour MPs and me. I am the only member of the committee that represents a Scottish seat. The latest report is titled ‘Devolution and Exiting the EU: reconciling differences and building strong relationships’.

What this report does is highlight the lack of trust, confidence and understanding within the UK government. When the Scottish Parliament was established the UK was already part of the European Union. Had it not been, then powers that now sit at Brussels would have been in the devolved settlement. However now that we are leaving the European Union, Westminster wants to hold those powers for up to seven years. Westminster is effectively intercepting them in transit and holding them back from reaching their intended destination, Holyrood.

The report highlights the fact that the discussions between the UK government and the devolved administrations regarding Brexit have not gone well because of a lack of consultation from the UK Government. It is my opinion that had they sat down with the devolved parliaments immediately after the vote to leave the European Union and had a grown up conversation that allowed for input and constructive criticism then we could be in a very different place. Instead the UK government internalised all the discussions and conflated their dual role as a government for the U.K. and for England. When they did finally involve the devolved powers they did not engage in a constructive dialogue, they attempted to lecture as if they were living back in the days of colonial rule. Westminster is used to ruling the roost. It moves slowly and takes comfort in its antiquated ways. Having to work alongside the devolved powers has shown up its inadequacies. When confronted with valid concerns the UK government retreated back to their silo and started fighting amongst themselves. The overriding of the Scottish Parliament and the supposition of Westminster’s sovereignty over Scotland is now being questioned in the Supreme Court. If this is the approach that has been adopted while engaging with the EU27 then it is no wonder that side of the Brexit negotiations are also in a shambolic state.

Tele column – 20th July 2018

Recently, Inverclyde council has been asking for input regarding the town centre area and in particular the roads to the West of the shopping mall. This is one of a number of such events that have been run in the area. I am always delighted when people engage in the decision making process. The citizens of Inverclyde should be listened to. The fabric of Inverclyde has been eroded with very little consultation. Our coast line has been abused for generations. Land that belongs to us all has seen the wrong buildings erected. Views and shore access has been removed. The very essence of what makes Inverclyde has been sold by the pound and with very little consideration for the greater good. But sometimes we make it easy for this to happen. We don’t engage in the sort of numbers that would concern the decision makers and this allows them to pay lip service to the community. When was the last time a major or even close to a major building project was guided by public opinion. Too often it is just the window dressing. And that’s the way it will always be unless people get motivated, organised and start making their voices heard.

I want to knock down the police station and build the new college on that site. This is something I’ve frequently discussed with West College Scotland. I want to sell the fire station in Port Glasgow to Ferguson Marine. Having met with Fire Scotland to urge they consider selling the land to Ferguson Marine and look at alternative sites in Port Glasgow. I want to build a new combined police, fire and rescue service on the site of Greenock fire station. I want to relocate the cinema and bingo hall into the mall. It was ill-conceived to put these two buildings on our glorious waterfront given they have no need for the views. I want to use Spango Valley for renewable energy technologies. This is something I raised during numerous discussions/meetings with businesses, interested parties and Inverclyde Council. And don’t start me on the old Inverkip power station site. There is the potential to do something magnificent on that site from environmentally friendly and sustainable houses to a complete eco village. Building houses on the Inverkip power station site, Spango valley and the Ravenscraig Hospital site is a recipe for gridlock on the A78. I have pushed many of these ideas towards the council but feel frustrated, at times, with our lack of ambition. It’s time we in Inverclyde started thinking big. If we don’t believe in ourselves why should anyone else?

Tele column – 6th July 2018

In the days immediately after the European Union referendum I was approached by a few folk that I knew had voted no in the Scottish independence referendum. They were still pals, we had agreed to disagree, and there was no ripping apart of friends and families, however without my prompting they told me that the next time they would vote yes to independence. For those people, Scotland being torn out the European Union despite 64% voting to remain and every council area securing a Remain vote, had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. More recently Murray Foote who was at the time, the editor of the Daily Record and Fidelma Cook who was a BBC reporter at Westminster have both said given the opportunity they would vote yes. Murray was very outspoken against independence and Fidelma toed the BBC line but was appalled at what she heard behind the scenes. 

Those two high profile journalists identified their final straw. Maybe it was the bedroom tax or the rape clause or maybe it was the lack of democratic scrutiny that was allowed at Westminster for the E.U. (Withdrawal) Bill. Maybe they saw the attempts to gag the critical voices and it went against their journalistic instincts. Whatever it was it made the difference.  

The point being that once you have loaded the camel up to breaking point and you continue to behave in the same way, there will always be a last straw. Until the U.K. Government starts respecting and engaging with the Scottish Parliament on a wide range of issues the burden can only increase. It is time the U.K. Government understood that Scotland is a distinctly different country and our hopes, dreams and aspirations may not align with Westminster. While they fail to support the autonomy that we have been promised then individuals, companies and organisations will eventually be confronted by their final straw. It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of time.