We are living through the most extraordinary of times. Our community has been required to make changes to minimise the harm that will fall upon it. And as the days and weeks go by we shall have to make more. In most crisis I would expect people to rally round and help each other. Some politicians have attempted to invoke the spirit of the blitz. I don’t think that’s appropriate for a number of reasons, but the comparison doesn’t stand scrutiny anyway. During the war, communities faced a common enemy for periods of the day or night and then rallied together to make the best of what they could. Even during air raids, the shelters became a place of community. But the solution to COVID-19 demands isolation. Many of us can’t risk mixing with older family members or those with underlying health conditions. It is prudent to keep all our human contact to an absolute minimum. The irony of that is while isolation will protect us from the virus and ensure our physical health, it can be bad for our mental health. Social media, which can be a curse at times, could turn out to be a blessing. Products that allow us to talk to and video people all over the globe are just as useful to talk to people much closer to home. Whereas before it may have seemed strange to Skype or Zoom somebody that lives on the same street as you or a friend that you know you will see later that week, now it is important that we do. Create your own wee digital community. It doesn’t need to be a long chat, just checking in to make sure someone is alright. A phone call or a text can make all the difference. We can help each other through the coming weeks and out of sight must not mean out of mind. Today and in the coming weeks, please wash your hands, only go out when necessary and keep in good health, physically and mentally. The tide will turn.
On the surface the budget was all about where the UK government plans to splash money, it is light on where that money will come from and what the expenditure will achieve. It doesn’t address the pressing issues that people face in our communities day in day out. We face the immediate uncertainty from COVID-19 but there is no indication of what funding Scotland will receive from the announcements that money will be made available! I expect the full consequential from this additional funding to ensure the Scottish Government can respond effectively. The Tories plan to end E.U. friction-free trade, and potentially impose new tariffs, which will pose a threat to Scottish jobs, living standards, public services and the economy. Tory plans to end freedom of movement could see Scotland’s working age population plunged into decline. This will only be worsened by their plans to increase the Immigration Health Surcharge to £624. I was pleased to see the UK Government take action on the tampon and reading tax following sustained pressure from SNP MPs Alison Thewliss and Patricia Gibson, however some of the government’s more abhorrent policies remain. The tax credits 2-child cap and rape clause need to be scrapped. It is appalling that at least 510 woman have been forced to disclose they were raped to receive benefits. This budget fails to go far enough for workers, the cut to employers’ National Insurance falls short of the Conservatives manifesto pledge to cut national insurance up to £12,000 this budget has only taken it to £9,500. And when it claims to be green budget it falls far short. The delay of the National Infrastructure Commission shows the Tories have no plans to achieve net zero, despite Scotland’s ambition relying on U.K. reserved policy action. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is providing £1.8 billion of investment this includes £220 million of seed funding for the Scottish National Investment Bank. £64 million is being invested to support the commitment to plant 12,000 hectares of forestry, with the aim to reach 15,000 hectares by the mid-2020s. This Budget was a lost opportunity, big on promises, small on detail and not designed to address the issues that affect our society most today.
I make no apology for returning to a topic I have mentioned numerous times before. After a weekend of torrential rain and flooding it would appear that we still have lessons to learn in Inverclyde. Once again, the main road to Glasgow has seen major disruption. Granted, the weather we experienced over the 21st and 22nd was extreme, even by Inverclyde standards but if predictions are correct then we can expect to see more extreme weather in the years to come. Progress has been made and it was noticeable that Greenock West railway station did not flood and that the work along Inverkip road has also been successful. But if we are to maintain road and rail links to Glasgow and crucially the health provisions that we seek from there then more work is required.
The facts are clear for everyone to see. Inverclyde is primarily built on the side of hills. The populated areas of Inverclyde are on the river side of the hills. It rains a lot. Water runs down hills. Without interference from us the water will, over time, find its own way to other bodies of water. Locally the principle body of water is the River Clyde. Historically this job was done by a network of burns running into the Clyde. It wasn’t always successful and high tides have caused floods on the lower roads since the end of the 19th century.
The best solution is to work with nature and not against it. No amount of concrete will solve the problem. Rainfall must be trapped as it falls. The reforestation of Inverclyde should be a major project. Capturing the rain in the hills through smart planting of the right trees in the right areas, the creation of flood bunds and flood plain storage will not only reduce the water flowing down the hills it will create jobs and improve our environment. We already have excellent projects run by Parklea Branching Out, Friends of Coves nature reserve and Belville Gardens. The knowledge acquired in these projects must be utilised and expanded. Reforestation will create a natural habitat for wildlife and enhance the area. The rainfall that is perceived as a problem could become part of a solution.
After the last General Election many political pundits were predicting a period of calm and stability. Logic would suggest that a government with a large working majority would be able to manage that.
But politics within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is never as simple as that. The clue is in the name. Uniting isn’t always easy and it isn’t always the right thing to do. Uniting Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England has been contentious for centuries, and the fact that Norther Ireland was created by partitioning off the six north eastern counties from Ireland compounds the difficulties. If you had asked me where the acrimony would first manifest itself after Brexit, I would not have suspected drugs policy but it has. The Scottish Government announce they plan to host a drugs forum and the UK Government rush in and do the same but don’t engage with the Scottish Government first. The U.K. Government jealously protect their interests, putting them before all others. Then Glasgow was chosen to host COP26 and the UK Instantly shut out the Scottish Government’s involvement and tried to come between them by using the platform for the Prime Minister to flirt with his green credentials. They continue to act like the biggest, worst behaved kid in a kindergarten grabbing toys from other children and discarding them just as quickly. They don’t know what they want but they know they want all of it. With the latest opinion polls in Scotland showing over 50% for independence and with the incredible rise of Sinn Fein in last week’s Irish elections the U.K. Government would do well to start building bridges and I don’t mean the one from Portpatrick to Larne. The proposed £5 million love bombing of Scotland will need to be incredibly successful if we are to stay in this relationship. But I can’t imagine that any amount of cards, flowers, champagne and poetry can pull the wool over Scotland’s eyes this time.
Labour are unionists, Tories are too,
I love Scotland, How about you?
Today (Friday the 31st of January 2020) at 11 pm the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Northern Ireland shall take a great leap of faith into the unknown. We shall break our alliance with the European Union and we shall seek to replace it with alliances and agreements with other countries. I do not support Brexit and genuinely believe it will be detrimental to the UK, Scotland and Inverclyde. Nothing that I have heard has changed my mind since the UK voted to leave in June 2016. Back then Conservative and Unionist MP Sajid Javid would have agreed with me.
Of course, people have the right to change their mind as the available information changes or they feel they have become better informed. But the only thing that has changed and turned Mr Javid into a champion for Brexit is that since then he has been promoted to Home Secretary and since 2019, Chancellor of the Exchequer. His plans for the economy are speculative at best which places me in a dilemma. I have no wish for industry to suffer, jobs to be lost and families to suffer hardships.
Therefore, I hope Mr Javid is right. I hope I am wrong, but I can’t see his vision of financial salvation as he has not, and no other cabinet minister ever has, explained where the trade deals and market places are going to come from. Every product that is imported from the E.U. needs to be sourced and prices negotiated. Every product exported must tender for its place in the market again. Transport costs for import and export will need to be arranged. This will not happen immediately, but it must happen. For four years the UK Government’s ever-changing cabinet ministers have repeated the mantra that it will be alright on the night. Well that night has arrived and it may be alright for the foreseeable future and it may be alright for the vastly wealthy of the U.K. but unless effective plans are made quickly and implemented efficiently, as sure as fate, night will turn to day and we will herald in the dawn of an economic disaster that will punish the poorest in our society quickest. And it won’t end there. Button down the hatches there is a storm coming and the UK Government does not have a chart that will guide us to a safe haven.
Amidst the Brexit madness that is engulfing Westminster three other issues have been pushing themselves to the fore. Gambling related harm is rightly being debated and the UK Government is muting the idea of changes to the gambling act. It needs completely rewritten to be in line with the world of online gambling that we have now. The recent attempt by the big bookies to stream live English FA cup matches to only those that have a gambling account, was thankfully overturned in the face of cross-party outrage. Big reform is required and the sooner the better.
The delays in providing medical cannabis is unacceptable and the clamour for better education for GPs to allow them to prescribe is increasing. I had a meeting with the responsible minister (Baroness Blackwood). She is well informed, and I believe well-intentioned but if we are to catch up with Germany, Denmark, Canada, The Netherlands and other forward-looking nations then we need to prioritise clinical tests and on the back off those educate practitioners that have been left in the dark since the 1971 misuse of drugs act.
As was expected following the Labour party’s humiliation in the General Election they are blaming their leader. It’s difficult now to find any Labour members that admit they supported Jeremy Corbyn in the first place. It wasn’t like back in 2017, then he was the messiah, now he is in true Monty Python fashion just a very naughty boy. So, while we hurtle towards Brexit and the damage that will cause, the Labour Party are engaging in another round of navel gazing and trying to select a new leader that they can undermine with impunity. Meanwhile they don’t know where they stand in relation to indyref2 or the outcome of it. Not so much mixed messages more a complete lack of knowledge and engagement on the subject.
And not surprisingly the Prime Minister has declined a Section 30 request from the First Minister. The tone of his reply is derisory, and I expect he will now promise Scotland the earth in return for our undying loyalty. Remember the vow and how that worked out? Independence is coming and the UK Government have to realise that it benefits us all if we work with mutual respect to create a positive outcome. It’s coming yet for a ‘that.
A happy new year to one and all. There is no doubt that in the world of politics sometimes people look less favourably upon one another and that can even develop into dislike. But I mean it when I say ‘one and all’. Why would I not want any one person to be happy, why would I not want everyone to be happy? When we discuss political differences, I am content in the knowledge that my view of a future independent Scotland is one of an inclusive nation with equal opportunities and no discrimination. A nation where no person is left behind and where communities exist to support and nourish all. As I look towards the coming year, I see precious little harmony at Westminster. The Conservative and Unionist government is reinvigorated by the result of the General Election and will attempt to railroad through change at an unhealthy speed that greatly limits scrutiny and consideration. I can assure you as the MP of a constituency that voted 63.8% to remain in the European Union and returned me on an SNP ticket that I shall do everything I can to resist the Bullingdon bully boys of the Tory far right. It is my duty to oppose their push to ostracise us from the wider European community while knowing the damage their actions will cause to Inverclyde and to Scotland. They may be protected by their own financial security, but the vast majority of Inverclyde are not. Their sense of entitlement must be challenged at every opportunity. Only when countries are governed for one and all can they truly represent the needs of the people, only then can we move forward to a brave new year filled with hopes and aspirations. Someday soon, hopefully this year, the people of Scotland will get that choice.
After being re-elected at 2:30am on Friday morning I was in my office at 9am. That’s not me grandstanding. I was there because during the campaign I talked to many people that are experiencing issues under Universal Credit and I told them that if I was re-elected I would see them at the first opportunity. And I did.
During the coming months we are going to hear a lot about Brexit. It is a massive issue for all the nations of the United Kingdom. The outcome will affect us all but on a day to day basis many people are still scrambling just to survive. Poverty and deprivation are not always obvious. The effect they have on people can be masked. I know of many parents going without so their kids can eat. The social security system in Scotland is being changed by the SNP Scottish Government. This can’t happen overnight and it can’t happen to the extent we would want it to while 85% of the powers are retained at Westminster. Creating a system that acts as a safety net to protect people from poverty isn’t easy but it’s clear to see that our current manifestation of Universal Credit is not doing the job.
Among many other issues I shall be continuing to fight for a fairer social security system, reparation for the WASPI women, improved drug and gambling policies, the Nordic model for prostitution, medical cannabis and independence for Scotland. A Conservative and Unionist UK Government was never my first choice but to be honest it was never a choice to be made by the electorate of Scotland and people are waking up to the fact that Scotland gets what England votes for. Along with my SNP colleagues, I shall be working morning, noon and night to ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard. I stood on that promise and was elected on it, I shall now see that through with as much energy as can be mustered. Inverclyde and Scotland will be heard, and I thank the electorate of Inverclyde for giving me this opportunity.
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.
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.