The dictionary definition of prorogue is to ‘discontinue a session of (a parliament or other legislative assembly) without dissolving it’. This week at Westminster it was more akin to a toddler standing in the corner screaming, with their fingers in their ears. The UK parliament has been shut down to stop debate. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has thrown his toys out his pram and decided that he doesn’t want to talk to anyone about the UK leaving the European Union. So, there will be no debates, no votes, no select committee, no standing order 24, no urgent questions, no statements, no questions to secretary of states. And as a result, nothing that resembles a democratic parliament in the UK. This is a gross misuse of power and an affront to democracy. The Prime Minister tried to deflect from this by offering a General Election but please be absolutely clear that was a trap that fortunately nobody fell for. A General Election could have resulted in a Conservative and Unionist (possibly in coalition with the Brexit Party and DUP) taking us out of the EU with no deal. Had Labour been a cohesive party they could have backed an election with the aim of winning it but clearly, they are a party in turmoil and have no chance of winning a General Election. The SNP will vote for a General Election when the time is right. I am expecting one sometime in the Autumn but in the current political climate nobody honestly knows. All I can ask of you is that you make sure you are registered to vote and when the time does come please use it.
The latest outburst of British unionist propaganda that I have come across is the Minister for Arts Heritage and Tourism, Rebecca Pow, proclaiming the Edinburgh International Festival to be a “massive British showcase of our arts, our culture, our performers, our musicians, our actors , our writers” she then goes onto describe, amongst this self-styled Brit fest, without a hint of irony, the military tattoo as the “piece de residence”. Apparently amidst our great British culture we just don’t have the words to describe how good it is. What annoys me about this propaganda, is that it’s lazy. It’s a poorly thought out attempt to stick a Union Jack on an event hosted in Scotland that is proud to involve countries from around the globe. What makes the festival great is its internationalism, its diversity. It was created as an arts festival in 1947 to bring countries together. It was a festival conceived to heal the wounds of war through the languages of the arts. It has grown to include jazz, literature, theatre, drama and at every turn has been decidedly non-competitive. So it’s sad to hear a minister of the United Kingdom Government proclaiming Britain being best at all this art and culture stuff. It’s typical of the narrow-minded nationalism that is the Brexit movement. And yet we in the SNP are criticised for being a national party even though our mantra is for an inclusive Scotland that welcomes immigration and embraces diversity. With a newly found budget of £100 million to sell Brexit to the electorate, sadly we can expect a lot more of this Union Jack nonsense. Let’s recognise it for what it is. It’s an advertising campaign just like many others trying to sell you something you either don’t need or already have.
While the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, finds new ways to rip the United Kingdom out of the European Union causing maximum damage to trade, the economy and international relations, his opposition counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn does what he does best, nothing. When the Labour Party leader should be raging against the machine, he is asleep at the wheel of a juggernaut careering off the cliff edge. The clues in the title. Opposition leader. His job is to hold the UK Government of the United Kingdom up to scrutiny. Question it, hold it to account, constantly ask it to consider other, better options. Instead he is busy fighting off the members of his own party. With May gone and Johnson in place, the Labour Party are considering who their next leader will be and the used to be politicians and the wanna be politicians are manoeuvring to be in the right camp. Many will be looking to progress their own careers and fixing your line to a rising star is one way of climbing the greasy pole of politics. The hard bit is deciding who that star is. It wasn’t that long ago that the Labour Party, if not the parliamentary Labour Party, declared Jeremy to be the answer. Now they don’t even know what the question is.
Understandably there have been a lot of column inches given up to talking about the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. And no doubt as he blusters his way through interviews and negotiations there will be a lot more. But the problem isn’t just the Prime Minister, it extends to the company he keeps. His cabinet appointments say a great deal about him. The new Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has launched straight in to duplicitous rhetoric, claiming during a Channel 4 interview that he made it clear to voters during the Brexit campaign that they ran the risk of the UK leaving without a deal. There is no evidence in any archived media of Mr Raab warning explicitly about the possibility of a no-deal Brexit during the referendum campaign. The new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, previously held the position as international development secretary, a role she had said should be scrapped prior to her own appointment. She was forced to resign from the role of international development secretary because she held secret meetings with senior Israeli figures. She is firmly on the right of the Conservative and Unionist Party having voted against equal marriage and advocated to bring back the death penalty. Maybe most disturbing are her views on immigration. Ms Patel has stated “Free from the shackles of the EU – and an automatic right of entry for their citizens, with or without work – we will be able to give the type of preference to brilliant scientists, academics and highly skilled workers that we want to see more of.” Ironic since she was herself was an immigrant from Uganda fleeing persecution and finding a safe harbour in the UK. The heads of major government departments should be principled and trustworthy. Their behaviour and attitudes will be mirrored in their staff. I fear an already isolated UK government will become even more intransient and inward looking. Mr Johnson is not the only problem, he is just the guy on top of a bonfire of vanities.
On the 20st of July 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon and on the 14th of December 1972 Eugene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, as part of the Apollo 17 mission, became the last men to ever walk on the moon. I know where I was during the first walk, sleeping in my bed at 56 South Street. I had stayed up all night but eventually Morpheus took me away. I was gutted but I have no recollection of the last moon walk. I suppose that is for two reasons. Firstly, moon walking was becoming ordinary. Nothing new was happening. We had seen walking, driving and even golfing (Alan Shepard Apollo 14) it was becoming blasé and secondly, I didn’t know it was to be the last or I may have paid more attention. In total 12 men have walked on the moon and I doubt I could name half of them. The Apollo programme did come under justified criticism and it is an argument that stands true to this day. How can we spend so much money on space exploration when there I so much poverty and disharmony on planet earth? The writer and poet Gil Scott-Heron (whose dad was the first black player to play for Celtic) wrote a piece called ‘Whitey on the moon’ which asked that very question. The Vietnam war raged, and people went hungry throughout the duration of the Apollo project. Was it the right thing to do? Did it engender innovation? Did it encourage national pride? Is that a good thing? These questions remain unanswered, but I do know that even as a wee boy in Greenock the moon landings made me realise just how small earth is, just how unique our planet is, how precious it is. If it is unique and precious then maybe it is time we started looking after it better. Maybe that should be the legacy of the Apollo missions, not to go boldly but to be bold about saving our own planet.
Earlier this week, there were two Select Committee evidence sessions both taking evidence on drugs policy. The first, the Scottish Affairs focused on the law enforcement angle but importantly how we can divert people into health services rather than how do we persecute people. The second committee was the Health Committee and it took evidence from senior police officers and people in recovery. The overall feeling, I got was that health professionals and criminal justice professionals have come a long way in understanding the drivers and life styles that fuel addiction. Unfortunately, a lot of MPs still don’t get it. There is still a propensity to marginalise and stigmatise users. To see them first and foremost as criminals. The easy option is to hide them away within the prison system. As a result, prison is often the default outcome and the first opportunity many people have to engage in recovery. But prisons are full of drugs and the criminal fraternity that are controlling the production and supply. We should be addressing the problem behind the addiction. What are the emotional needs that are causing the harm? How big a driver is poverty? How do we help people live fulfilling lives? How do we identify and support those who are most vulnerable? These are the questions that need addressed. Hopefully that conversation is being ramped up in political circles and we can all come to the discussion with an open mind, ready to engage and learn from lived experience.
I do not know how many members of the Conservative and Unionist Party live in Inverclyde. The only reason I am curious is that it will be up to them and their fellow members to decide who is the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The front runner is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson a man who, when it suits him, does not shy away from the limelight and as a political operator that approach has been successful for him. But as PM you need to be available all the time. You can’t hide away when it suits you. And that should worry us all. When put on the spot Boris has been found lacking. He was recently described as “a charlatan, a liar, bigot, peddler of racism, philanderer and serial embarrassment as London Mayor and Foreign Secretary”. And it’s hard to disagree as he has been sacked twice for dishonesty, described black people as “piccaninnies”, compared Muslim women to Bank Robbers and gay men as “bum boys”. During his tenure as Foreign Secretary he compared Francois Hollande, then French President, to a prisoner of war guard. He also suggested that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists in Tehran. Nazanin is still in custody in Iran. He failed miserably to define the UKs position over the Ukraine and when pushed to resign over Heathrow, he felt is safer to take a trip to Afghanistan. And when it comes to Scotland his opinions and judgement have been appalling. He famously 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”. And while he was editor of the Spectator he was responsible for publishing a poem that described Scots as “tartan dwarves” who were “polluting our stock” and suggested that Scotland should be turned into a “ghetto” with the inhabitants (described as vermin) submitted for “extermination”. As Boris himself said “I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters.” Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson a disaster in waiting. Thank goodness we have an alternative government in Scotland and an alternative path to follow.
The Beatles told us that “Money can’t buy me love” (for younger readers the Beatles were a boy band back in the day). And we all know money can’t buy happiness and yet the vast majority of us pursue it doggedly, day in day out. In that respect I am as guilty as anyone. Since I was 17 I have worked and saved and spent and worked and saved and spent. The ideology that the acquisition of money is the end game is not a new one and most cultures embrace it in some way or another. At an individual level I fully understand that life is easier if one has a disposable income which buys comfort and engenders peace of mind but at what point do any of us say enough is enough?
At a national level we measure Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a guide to how well the country is doing. This entails measuring the monetary value of products and services produced in a country.
Recently the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has charted a different course for her country. She wants to measure success based on happiness and wellbeing rather than wealth and growth.
When my partner died last year, I promised myself that I would concentrate more on enjoying the passing of time rather than worrying about the future. I am discovering that is easier said than done. But maybe if the aspirations of success are defined differently at a national level it will be easier for us all to step off the treadmill and enjoy a walk on the beach. I shall be watching what happens in New Zealand with interest. It will be interesting to see what a small independent country with a population of five million can achieve.
How many of you remember the American TV series, The Twilight Zone. It was a strange mix of science fiction, superstition, horror, drama and comedy. It stretched the boundaries of reality and often led the viewers to dark, macabre places. Eventually it ran its course and was dropped by the broadcasters, but it retains its position as being a leader of its time and even in the beginning, ground-breaking. Today’s equivalent would be The Westminster Zone. A place where common sense goes to die. A place where the outside world is shunned and political zealots are stuck in a timeless limbo echoing the long gone days of a fading empire. No amount of shouting from outside can permeate the faux gothic walls and if it did then the powers that be are surrounded by sycophants and hangers on, only too willing to prop up their egos and encourage more introverted, self-serving and delusional behaviour. The Brexit process has revealed Westminster to be a shallow husk of a Parliament. Incapable of governing and refusing to be guided. Unable to lead and too obstinate to follow. It has come to the end of its run and it’s time to discard it. It has now become suitable only for parody, drama and comedic entertainment. It is no longer innovative or ground breaking. It has forgotten what is in the best interest of the people and consequentially the people have lost interest in it. We are now tumbling blindfolded into a land inhabited by ghastly caricatures of what were once seen as politicians. Welcome to the Brexit zone.
While the Conservative and Unionist government continue to pursue their austerity policy, in
Inverclyde we have benefited from European Union funding to offset the damage. Projects including financial inclusion designed to increase the financial capacity and therefore improve the social inclusion of the most disadvantaged along with employability schemes that provide a five-stage pipeline to those with multiple barriers coupled with supporting 16 to 29 year olds into education, training and employment, are EU funded. They are not the most visible uses of money and therefore may not be fully appreciated by everyone. But in many ways that is how the EU works.
Unlike the United Kingdom the European Union is a true union of equals. From Malta (the smallest landmass) to France (the biggest landmass), when it comes to voting every country has the same rights. In the E.U. the member states work together and through collaboration gain a better understanding of each other. They trade with each other and together form the third biggest trading block in the world. Foreign students study in other member states and can live, learn and love without fear of deportation. And it’s a two-way street, while we welcome E.U. nationals to live, study and work in the U.K. our citizens are doing the same in other E.U. countries. Maintaining this level of mutual understanding, collaboration and shared benefit is the best way to ensure peace and prosperity. It is almost inconceivable that while our nuclear at sea deterrent is creaking at the seams and the cost of replacing it continues to grow, we are being pulled out of the biggest peace keeping organisation Europe has ever had.
Often in life we don’t appreciate what we have until its gone. I hope we don’t make that mistake with the European Union.