Once again, we are at a stage in the Covid pandemic where we hope to be exiting a critical stage. During the most extreme times the vast majority of people have gone to great lengths to avoid contracting and spreading Covid. This has been at a cost. Those working on the front line have been more inconvenienced than many. They selflessly sacrificed contact with family and friends and often worked in oppressive conditions for long periods of time. Due to restrictions on numbers attending gatherings, families have been unable to grieve properly or celebrate birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. Due to travel restrictions holidays were abandoned. We isolated, we vaccinated, we wore masks, and we did this because it was the responsible thing to do. Not just for ourselves but for our wider community. It is therefore galling to hear the accusations, accompanied by photographic evidence, that within the grounds of number ten Downing Street a party was held in May 2020. At the time such gatherings were banned and yet Martin Reynolds, the principal private secretary to the Prime Minister, sent 100 invitations to ‘bring your own booze’. What is the mindset within the Conservative and Unionist party that condones this conduct? How entitled does someone have to feel that they are comfortable hosting a party during lockdown while the NHS is at breaking point and families are making sacrifices to contain a deadly virus. If you or I had behaved in this manner it would quite rightly be a matter for the police. The Prime Minster should be holding himself to higher standards, those set out by the Nolan Principles. But he hasn’t, he won’t and he is clearly not fit for office.
While I believe it is crucial to promote the importance of planting the seeds today for a better future, we can’t be so embroiled in making plans that we forget to enjoy the moment.
Throughout my life I have benefitted from the fruits of the hard work of previous generations. Free health care, free education, good public transport, a welfare system and peace, these things didn’t just happen. People planned them, worked at them and even fought and died for them. While we enjoy today, as we should, we must appreciate those that helped create it and we must nurture a vision for a better future for ourselves and our community at large.
As Father Time will indubitably continue to carry us forward our contribution should be to organise and build for a better Inverclyde, full in the knowledge that we won’t all experience the benefits. But to achieve this we need a positive ambitious approach.
Life is full of people quick to criticise, and social media in particular is plagued by them. Their every post criticising a person, an organisation, a decision. They are marinaded in a soup of self-centred, self-promoting conceit and it may seem that they are important, they certainly think they are, but within the big picture they are nothing compared to the genuine desire of the majority who seek to improve the outcomes and opportunities for all. It’s just that the self-effacing, humble, majority don’t tweet about it. Two years into a worldwide pandemic it can be hard to be upbeat and positive all the time but as we approach a new year, we must keep looking beyond this pandemic to a brighter future and we must ensure we are doing everything we can to ensure that happens. Positivity on its own isn’t enough, but mixed with hard work, aspiration and a sense of community it will take us a long way. Meanwhile don’t forget to hug the ones you love and enjoy the passing of time
I have, for a number of years, been advocating the benefits of Drug Consumption Rooms as a humane approach to engaging with people actively involved in drug use. The names of such facilities change but whether you say Drug Consumption Room, Safe Consumption Facility or Overdose Prevention Centre, they are the same thing. But with the variety of descriptions, it’s easy to comprehend that we are talking about providing a safe facility where drugs can be consumed, and overdoses prevented! Why would anyone not want that? Why would anyone rather people were left to use in unsafe conditions with a high possibility of overdosing? Well, the UK Government does. Time and time again they have refused to take this discussion forward.
Last week, the Faculty for Public Health led a cross-sector call signed by 70 organisations for the UK Government to pilot Overdose Prevention Centres. In their own words they “are no longer prepared to accept the UK’s record number of drug-related deaths without implementing all available evidence-based interventions to save lives and protect health”. Among the 70 organisations are the Royal Colleges of Emergency Medicine, General Practitioners, Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Paediatrics and Child Health, Pathologists, Physicians, Psychiatrists, the Faculties of Intensive Care Medicine, Occupational Medicine, and Pharmaceutical Medicine.
And yet to date the Home Office are still refusing to even consider the possibility that these medical experts are better informed and better placed to identify solutions to a health issue. The Home Office minister, Kit Malthouse, admitted this week that he had never visited a DCR. Any legislation based on hubris and ignorance is poor legislation and its particularly reprehensible when the outcome is the unacceptable number of drug deaths we are experiencing across the UK. We can do better and there is a move to open DCRs in Scotland backed by a more compassionate approach from the Scottish Parliament and a different emphasis from the new Lord Advocate. When that happens, we must be ready in Inverclyde to ensure we are not passed by and a suitable facility is made available in our community.
This week I read about a man, Kevin Strickland, who served 43 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. It is a tragedy, a life ruined by a jury with a predisposition of guilt when confronted by a young black man. We can be quick to judge those that don’t fit our own criteria or philosophies. We witness it everyday in acts of bigotry, racism, sexism or just plain bias.
We create groups that can be ostracised and marginalised, people with addictions, homeless people, immigrants, people of colour to name but a few, and the danger is, that we then become ensconced within our own bounds and more likely to be pass remarkable as a result. It’s casual, it’s lazy and it’s wrong.
The problem with that attitude and being quick to judge is that it can easily hurt and offend people. Innocent people. It leads to a mind set with a predilection to criticise and blame, to harangue and intimidate just like playground school bullies. And like school bullies the weak and the easily led are often brought into the gang to do the dirty work. Decrying somebody because you don’t agree with their religion, sexuality, culture or politics, or you don’t like the way they dress or the colour of their skin, serves nobody and no democracy well. It stains free speech, it undermines debate, it’s shoddy but thankfully not yet representative of wider society. Kevin Strickland’s life has been destroyed by prejudice and his incarceration represents the pinnacle of intolerance. We live at the grassroots of prejudice and ignorance and we should not tolerate it in our society, our mainstream media, our social media or on our doorstep.
COP26 has come and gone from Glasgow but did it make a difference? Much was made about people flying in and out, the disruption to traffic and the protests but was it all worth it? The expressed ambitions from the combined governments were not as ambitious or binding as I would have liked but outside the blue (political) zone there was a massive engagement of people and organisations. The green and yellow zones were where it was happening. Networks were made and strengthened. Collaborations forged and shared ventures planned. It’s the planting of these seeds that may just save us from ourselves. We have heard before of crisis and conflicts which apparently, we were all in together, although it never feels that way and inevitably the richest in society weather these storms better than others. Given the undeniable evidence even the richest and most insular must surely now be aware that we all share a planet and once it’s gone it’s gone for good. There will be no hiding place from the climate crisis, all the wealth and privilege won’t stop the inevitable. We have to ensure that is understood and that we don’t delay until it’s too late. Once we pass the tipping point there is no way back. We need to convince governments, multi nationals, global players that we won’t forgive them if they walk away from COP26 with a pocket full of promises and nothing else. And we must do everything we can within our own communities to plant seeds, encourage change and when necessary lead by example. We should make Inverclyde an exemplar of a community willing to change. And if that’s too ambitious for some folk, then move aside and let those willing to lead, take centre stage.
The discussion around global warming, climate control, greening energy, greening transport, greening everything really, has gathered pace. And it’s great to see the people of Inverclyde contributing. There are a range of initiatives from the Clyde climate forest and the investigation into saving and restoring peatland to cycle tracks and recycling, that are helping to improve our green credentials but also Importantly indicate our changing mindset.
Across Inverclyde litter pickers are transforming areas and developing into a network of responsible citizens that now don’t just pick up litter, they recycle what they can too. Progress is being made and we should be proud of that, but I have to confess I was slightly annoyed when I read about an energy scheme in Clydebank. Star Renewable Energy provide groundbreaking sustainable heating solutions for district heating systems. Queens Quay is a £250 million regeneration of a former shipyard in Clydebank into houses, leisure facilities and amenities and at its heart is a £20 million state of the art energy centre. It is the first large scale water sourced heat pump scheme of its kind in Scotland. And I am annoyed because five years ago I suggested such a scheme for Inverclyde. Star Energy came to Inverclyde at my invitation and explained to Inverclyde council what they could do. But the council were not interested. Hopefully with a new emerging positive mindset we will be better placed to grasp such opportunities next time they come knocking on our door. In the meantime, well done Clydebank.
Following the murder of David Amess MP I was made aware of a comment on my twitter feed telling me in two words that I shouldn’t have any empathy with a Tory MP. And there was a comment on the First Minister’s twitter feed saying she should die.
Both comments were vile and thankfully in the minority. But we do have an increasing self-righteous horde of people that see nothing wrong with using spiteful language on social media. They mock and deride people like bullies in a primary school playground and see no consequences of their own actions.
When we use language that is designed to demean and diminish individuals, there is always the danger the weak and the disenfranchised are empowered by that and may act upon it. We all have a duty to consider the consequences of our own actions. Who are you appealing to and will they act with restraint?
While we continue to allow behaviour on social media that we would not allow in person, we provide a safe harbour for these bullies and fantasists. This adds to their appetite for dehumanising other people and once you dehumanise someone then it’s more likely that they will be the target for abuse. Consequently, the perpetrators malevolence can fester and grow and occasionally it can even raise its ugly head in the real world. Often via a proxy.
I fear that following the murder of David Amess MP we will be temporarily shocked and make all the right noises about monitoring the media and mending our ways just as we did after the death of Jo Cox MP but in reality, nothing changed.
The internet is full of people with opinions and that’s a good thing. But we need to understand that at the receiving end, of what can often descend into abuse, is not just another digital device, it’s a person with family, friends and feelings. You won’t know their own personal circumstances, you don’t know if they are strong and able to cope with your opinions. We don’t know what drives a person to kill another human being but we can monitor our own media presence and ensure that the final straw was not of our own making.
Are you a glass half empty or a glass half full person? Whichever you are, two things are true. The content of the glass remains the same but your attitude towards it differs. Therefore, as in so many situations in life, it’s the attitude that matters. Half empty will be negative, lamenting the lack of a full glass and half full will be happy that they still have half a glass. That perplexes me, am I saying that a positive attitude means people are content with less? Do we need the constantly unhappy, negative, moaning, whinging pessimists of life to hold failure up to scrutiny? Those people that are constantly criticising, never seeing the good in anything or anyone? Of course not. Negativity doesn’t create solutions, it creates obstacles to progress. To progress we need to believe that we are capable of achieving and we need to rise to challenges. The glass half empty category inevitably sees the difficulty as someone else’s problem and by definition only ever sees the downside. When Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb, it didn’t happen overnight. He famously said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” These days he would be descended on by social media self- appointed experts telling him to give up. When we consider the times, we live in and the challenges we face, the ability to endure through adversity will be a key factor. We will emerge from Covid, we will establish a clean green renewable energy industry, a wellbeing economy and achieve net zero carbon. The alternative is to condemn ourselves to failure by default.
For many people Furlough has become a financial life jacket that has kept them afloat during the pandemic and it is now one that is due to be withdrawn. Furlough allowed employers to keep people on their books while work was not available or practical. We are now approaching the harsh reality of COVID without furlough and many people will be greatly concerned that they are doomed to face financial hardship. My office has already reached out to local charities, organisations and the DWP to ensure that we can work together to stop people falling through the gaps. The welfare system can be a scary and complex world and I know that the staff in the job centre in Greenock are skilled in managing this situation. Sometimes they are limited in what can be done but the fault is not theirs. We have a welfare system that has been kicked about and abused for years with the result that it’s creaking at the seams.
Along with the withdrawal of furlough we will have the removal of the £20 universal credit uplift which will harm 9,285 people in Inverclyde. that is 18.7% of our population. To add to this unfolding crisis the U.K. government has decided not to increase pensions in keeping with the triple lock as promised in the Conservative and Unionist party manifesto. There was cross party support this week at Westminster to change the pension and Universal Credit plans, but the UK government pulled their ranks together and refused to listen to the argument for compassionate legislation. At the start of this pandemic, I said that it was wrong to say we were all in this together and that the poorest and most disadvantaged would pay a higher price, both in health and money, unfortunately I was right.
The active participation of the electorate is fundamental to any functioning democracy. As an elected member, my office has always worked hard to ensure we have been as open and approachable as circumstances allow. The attitude that politics doesn’t matter and is best left to a select few runs contrary to everything that attracted me to it. Maybe this is why I find the UK Government’s new Elections Bill so worrying. It contains a myriad of proposals including the restriction of the involvement of civil society and the restriction of the right to vote through the voter ID requirement scheme. The bill has been widely condemned and will harm, not protect democracy. My opposition is not partisan politics, it is about preventing any single political party from consolidating political power under itself in government and tipping elections in its favour. While the Scottish Government engages with civil society, listens to people, and opens the political sphere, the UK Government seeks to end all opposition and silence dissent both on the campaign trail and in the streets. The SNP will continue to highlight the power grabbing nature of the Conservative and Unionist government and their undermining of elections. But the only way Scotland can be protected from the grasping ambitions of Westminster is through independence and the creation of a modern, democratic Scotland in which the integrity of electoral democracy cannot be undermined on a Prime Minister’s whim. With the council elections on the horizon, we in the SNP are calling for more and better engagement, higher turnouts, and the voice of the electorate to be unfettered.