Greenock Telegraph 25th October 2019

Somebody once said the last honest person to enter parliament was Guy Fawkes. Four hundred and fourteen years later we still build bonfires and set of explosives to commemorate his failed attempt to blow up parliament. Given the target of his wrath you would think that Westminster would be looking to ban such proceedings, but we are not. Across the U.K. anyone over the age of 18 can purchase fireworks and set them off. The RSPCA would like to see the sale and use of fireworks restricted to specific events such as Diwali, Bonfire Night, Chinese New Year and New Year.

The Dogs Trust is the UK’s largest dog welfare charity. They care for around 15,000 stray and abandoned dogs each year through their network of 20 rehoming centres across the UK.

As a dog welfare charity, they have very negative experiences of fireworks. Fireworks, which can be loud, bright, unpredictable and difficult to escape from, can cause dogs immense stress and this has a negative impact on their welfare. Many people take great comfort from their pets and the companionship they offer. Being able to look after their pets welfare is obviously extremely important.

The findings of a Scottish Government consultation, published in October 2019 found that,

94% want tighter controls on the sale of fireworks and 93% want stronger regulations to ensure animals are not caused unnecessary suffering as a result of fireworks misuse.

Changing the legislation is complex and covers a range of legislative areas. They include consumer protection and explosives, environmental law and animal welfare law. If Westminster were to ban selling fireworks to the public that would go a long way to improving the situation.

If you must celebrate the attempt to blow up parliament can I recommend that you attend a licenced public display. They are by far the cheapest and safest way to enjoy the spectacle.

Greenock Telegraph 11th October 2019

With all that is going on at Westminster now it would be easy to get dragged down by the uncertainty and the disillusionment. While things are far from perfect in Inverclyde it does me good sometimes to remind myself of the great things that are happening here. Ferguson Marine has been saved by the Scottish Government, securing 300 jobs and actively recruiting for more. What was once Scott and Robertson became BPI then RPC is now in Berry Global RPC-BPI and continue to develop recyclable plastics. Good for Inverclyde and good for the planet. McGill’s announced a healthy profit last week. A locally owned company prospering in a difficult market place. Inchgreen drydock is in use developing the floating pontoon for Peel Ports. This represents investment from Peel and the Scottish Government in Inverclyde. Hopefully, it’s a new dawn for the dry dock too. The Baker Street units are fully let and Kelburn continues to attract innovate businesses. Long term family owned companies like Golden Casket and McLaren Packaging continue to make a valuable contribution to the fabric of Inverclyde society. Texas Instruments were bought by Diodes Incorporated and have spent tens of millions of pounds investing in the plant. More jobs are being created and areas of the factory that were dormant are being reopened. As one employ said to me “the lights are going back on”. Not just a statement of fact but a wonderful sentiment for all of Inverclyde.

Greenock Telegraph 27th September 2019

The UK parliament is suspended so the UK Government does not have to answer any hard questions and so the LibDems, Conservative and Labour Parties can have their annual conferences. Given this time away from Parliament one would hope that they would use their time wisely and constructively. Going by the UK Labour party conference, last weekend, my hopes are obviously in vain. It will come as no surprise to you that I am not the biggest fan of UK labour but at these uncertain times Westminster requires a coherent cohesive opposition. Labour could be that opposition if only they were coherent or cohesive, but they are not, and their conference showed us that only too clearly. At the Labour party conference, they agreed not to take a position on Brexit! The classic remark, I used to be undecided but now I am not so sure, springs to mind. A close aide to Mr Corbyn, Andrew Fisher, is set to leave and a leaked memo claims it is because of “a lack of professionalism, competence and human decency at the top of the party” while he is stating that it’s the ubiquitous “spending more time with my family” reason. One good thing to emerge is their desire to provide prescriptions free of charge in England. Well done UK Labour I applaud you. It is time the people of England got the same deal that has existed in Northern Ireland since 2007, Wales since 2010 and Scotland in 2011. In a few more years UK Labour may have a coherent policy on Trident, the European Union, the devolution of powers and their own leadership. Then again, maybe not.

 

Greenock Telegraph 13th September 2019

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.

Greenock Telegraph 30th August 2019

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.

Greenock Telegraph 16th August 2019

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.

 

Tele column 2nd August 2019

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.

Tele column 19th July 2019

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.

Tele column 5th July 2019

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.

 

Tele column 21st June 2019

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.