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.
In the U.K. our state pension is protected by what is referred to as the triple lock. The triple lock guarantees that every year the state pension rises by the highest of inflation, wage growth or 2.5%. Well, that’s the theory. Despite pensioner poverty increasing under the current Conservative and Unionist UK government, Boris Johnson’s treasury team are planning to break the triple lock and their manifesto promise to pensioners and cut the planned increase in pensions to below the rate of inflation.
Analysis from the House of Commons library, using Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, has revealed UK pensions are the least generous of every country in north west Europe. UK pensioners receive around a quarter (28%) of the average working wage when they retire – lower than all thirteen neighbouring countries, including Ireland (36%), Switzerland (44%), Norway (52%), Germany (52%), Sweden (53%), Finland (64%), Belgium (66%), Iceland (70%), Denmark (71%), France (74%), Netherlands (80%), Austria (90%) and Luxembourg (90%). And as a result, combined with a decade of Tory austerity cuts, pensioner poverty has risen further under the present Conservative and Unionist Government. We only need to look at the shabby treatment of the WASPI women to see just how little consideration is given to pensioners in the UK.
The UK government’s own Households Below Average Income (HBAI) statistics show that UK pensioner poverty levels are on the rise, with 2.1million pensioners (18%) living in poverty after housing costs – an increase of 200,000 on 2018/19, and a 15 year high.
If we can’t look after those who have worked and contributed to our society for the majority of their lives, then what future are we all looking forward to? The only way to keep pensioners safe from Tory cuts is for Scotland to become an independent country with the full powers needed to protect and improve the incomes of our pensioners.
My first car was a Morris Minor 1000. It was a thing of great beauty. It was impervious to all weather conditions. Come hail, rain, shine and snow that wee car never let me down. It cost me £60 and eventually I traded it in against a Vauxhall Chevette, followed by a Sunbeam Alpine and there followed a range of other cars. I am telling you this, so you don’t think I am immune to the needs for car ownership. I get it. I like my car. But I am also a cyclist. And I would like to cycle more. Unless you have been hiding your head in a cloud of petrol fumes emissions you will be aware that our precious tiny wee planet is slowly being destroyed by us. And to reverse the damage and give future generations a fighting chance we need to change our ways. The big energy companies are looking, more and more, to sustainable renewables, major manufacturers are overhauling packaging and supply chains. Recycle, up-cycle and bicycles are becoming more and more popular. These transitions don’t just happen. People need to change their mindset and then mend their ways. And it’s important that at all levels of government this is reinforced. The recent upgrading of the cycle path in Inverclyde has drawn some valid criticism and some ill-informed knee jerk reactions but it is important that we don’t lose sight of what we are trying to achieve. Changing the behaviour patterns of car drivers is never easy and we (and yes, I include myself) have gotten used to having the roads to ourselves. But that has to change, and the cycle path is important in that respect. It is not the prettiest I have ever seen and issues around safety must be addressed, but importantly it must be continually improved if we are to re-educate ourselves and transition to greener modes of transport. It may be a cycle pathway at this moment but it’s a pathway to a cleaner, more environmentally friendly, more socially aware future.
In the Victorian era the great and the good liked to holiday in Scotland. They would put on their kilts, pick up their guns and fishing rods and go hunting. This annual excursion to the wild North qualified them to talk about Scotland in warm tones of affection. It was their playground and it enriched their feeling of wellbeing. And today this tradition of an annual jaunt to plant their feet on Scottish soil continues but it’s the great and good of Westminster now. The media huddle and party lines are carefully prepared, and the obligatory photo opportunity carefully staged. Then it’s a swift exit and that box is ticked for another year. I shouldn’t complain, every time a Tory minister comes North of the border it is a boost for independence. But their message bothers me, ‘we love Scotland, we want to help keep you safe, you are better in this unequal abusive relationship, trust me’. This is then repeated in the usual media outlets. Two recent events prove without any shadow of a doubt that Westminster is incapable of governing in a compassionate manner. The UK cut foreign aid by £4 billion, cuts that will harm the poorest people on this planet. People in countries whose economies were destroyed by British colonialism. The International Planned Parenthood Federation have said this action is unlawful but let’s face it acting unlawfully has never stopped this Tory UK government. And domestically they have refused to extend the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have said this “will create immense immediate hardship and it is completely avoidable”. These amongst many actions reaffirm my view that the UK government is not to be trusted with Scotland’s destiny. The days of Scotland being treated as a side show must be committed to the past if we are to build a better future.
I have a long list of things that could be done to improve Inverclyde. Don’t we all? Let’s knock down the West College Scotland on Finnart Street and use that site for houses or a new sports centre or a new hospice. And then build a new college down at the East India Harbour but do it properly, knock down the Police station and build a combined emergency services hub for Ambulance, Fire and Rescue, Police and Coastguard on the site of the existing Fire Station at Rue End Street. And once we have done that lets put hydropower stations behind Port Glasgow to power the much neglected Upper Port Industrial Estate, and behind Greenock to power houses in Spango Valley (if we must build houses there) and behind Inverkip to power the Ardgowan distillery, while regenerating the Peatland on Duchal Moor. Run a competition for architects and town designers and see what ideas they could come up with for the Inverkip Power Station site. And while I am on a roll, the coast, the views from there and access to them are for the common good, not for housing and exclusion.
All very aspirational I am sure, but we need big ideas and big ambition that can be honed into practical working solutions and then when we have feasibility studies, we can go seeking finance. And we won’t get them all, but we will learn from each one and get better each time because the alternative is handing out a begging bowl at the end of the line of all the other bidders and losing while learning nothing. I am sick to death of people talking down this area. It’s time to start aggressively promoting Inverclyde as the gold standard destination. The naysayers will have a field day telling us why we can’t, but we need to bin that mindset. Only then can we create a better Inverclyde for us all.
Did you see the story last week about a man that jumped into a river to save a baby that ended up there after a car crash on a bridge? Or the college student that gave away all his possessions to a homeless man? Or the computer executive that walks 12 miles every day picking up litter? Or the family in India that have fed 25,000 people throughout the Covid pandemic? I only mention these stories because sometimes it’s easy to believe that everything is doom, gloom, and despondency. And of course, it isn’t but sometimes it can seem that way.
Therefore, it is heartening to know that within Inverclyde we have our own local heroes. We have many volunteers that carry out important work for no reward and with very little resources. From foodbanks, food shares, gardening projects, community litter picks, mental health support and education, countless youth sports clubs and organisations. All run by volunteers. I take great comfort in knowing that for every selfish, ignorant, lazy, thoughtless person in Inverclyde we have far more caring, responsible, generous and loving people. It’s just that the former makes more noise, more mess, cause more vexation and upset, while being more noticeable. I took my bicycle out for a ride along the emerging cycle path this evening and was furious to see the number of discarded fast food takeaway packages that had been thrown on the ground but I passed far more people who were just out walking and enjoying some good weather. I am not making excuses for those that act selfishly but let’s put it in perspective. The vast majority of folk are not. Let’s continue to set a good example and believe in each other, after all, we are all we have got.
The U.K. is used to getting nil points in the Eurovision Song Contest. Gone are the days of my youth when Lulu, Sandie Shaw and Bucks Fizz were the most popular contestants and foreign package holidays in Italy and Spain were the aspiration of countless families. Cannelloni and Paella were experienced in late night restaurants in the balmy continental heat. We were truly immersing ourselves in being European, but now that has gone. We have turned our back on Europe in the search for Britishness. In the vain attempt of re-establishing an empire that the sun set on a long time ago. Opportunities for export and import have gone, student exchange and travel restricted. And make no mistake the U.K.s diminished status in Europe is also reflected in a shrinking role in the world’s stage. This week the U.K. lost its seat on the International Court of Justice for the first time since 1946. And while the G7 summit was hosted in Cornwall it increasingly looks like G6 plus one. Isolationism isn’t a good look and it’s the one the U.K. is increasingly clinging to. Some effects of Brexit will be more obvious than others and over time we can get used to most things, but we should be told the truth about where we stand. Asking the citizens of the UK to believe in the fictitious imaginings of Boris Johnson’s rambling mind and put their faith in his delusions is a step too far. Blurring fact and fiction has become a feature of the current UK government, hot on the heels of Matt Hancock acting unlawfully, Michael Gove has been found guilty by the High Court of breaking the law. So when they tell you everything is going to plan and there is nothing to worry about, be careful, and while you are making your mind up, my heart won’t be going boom bang a bang, and I won’t be anyone’s puppet on a string.