Scotland has a history of welcoming immigrants, just as many Scots have emigrated all over the world. We understand that people may relocate to other countries and that can be driven by many factors and circumstances. From people fleeing from economic destitution, poverty and persecution to people seeking better employment, education and love. The Scottish diaspora is over 28 million. The British diaspora is over 200 million. We should never forget that we have been taken into many countries and become part of them. Today we find ourselves being whipped into a frenzy by the current Conservative and Unionist UK government and their punitive immigration policy. They justify turning people back in boats on the English Channel, forcibly repatriating people to war zones and detaining them in internment camps, by associating them with people trafficking and warning of the cost to the British taxpayer to host them. The truth is that if the U.K. had an immigration system that was fit for purpose, we could process asylum seekers quicker and then we wouldn’t have over 17,500 waiting on average over 540 days to complete the process. If we allowed them to seek gainful employment rather than saying they must be here for a year and then only work in a limited list of occupations, they would happily pay their own way and pay tax in the U.K. But the U.K. government is using the plight of these people to whip up an anti immigration argument and that breeds fear in communities and that allows them to bring in legislation that contravenes the human rights act. This U.K. Government knows exactly what atmosphere it is creating and it will capitalise on that by changing the laws to give them more power and give you less freedom of speech and movement. That’s a dangerous road they are taking us on. It’s a road that leads to radicalism. We must learn from the past and work to remain a tolerant society. On Monday I shall be opposing the U.K. Government’s immigration bill.
Category: Tele Column
Greenock Telegraph 24th February
Who cares for the carers?
Many people who care for a family member, loved one or friend, don’t see themselves as carers. Their perspective of a carer is someone who provides care all day, every day but the truth is that you can be working, there are no set number of hours that you have to provide care and there can be more than one person helping to provide care for an individual, and you are still a carer. You do not need to be in receipt of certain benefits like Carers Allowance, there is no means testing. Many unpaid carers combine their caring role with paid employment. There are no minimum number of hours of providing support to qualify as an unpaid carer.
Fortunately, within Inverclyde we have the Carers Centre at 68-70 Cathcart Street, Greenock to provide support for unpaid carers. They can advise you on how you can access the support that you need to fulfil your caring role. The Inverclyde Carers Centre run a series of events on a daily basis, such as the Young Carers Group (16-25), Men’s Health Group, knitting group, Health Walks, and a popular Carers Café. There is also a Carers Passport discount card, or you can access counselling, therapies such as Indian head massages, aromatherapy and health and wellbeing classes. They have something for everyone, and the strength gained by attending these event and networking amongst fellow carers is a crucial part of the process.
Inverclyde Carers Centre can help unpaid carers access a short break. Many of the registered carers have enjoyed a night or weekend away, or they can access other resources to give them some time out from their caring role.
Caring for someone can be an onerous task no matter how much you love that person and reaching out for support will help you and ultimately the person you are caring for to cope better.
If you are caring for someone and would benefit from some support, please contact the Inverclyde Carers Centre on 01475 735180 or email to email@example.com.
Greenock Telegraph 10th February
When I first started working in information technology the ability to connect one computer to another was basic to say the least. We used a phone handset to call a person in the other location, they answered the phone and then we left the line open, and the computers used the phone line. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t reliable. Technology has moved on at a great pace and the demand to use it is stretching the capabilities to the limit. These days everybody wants ultra fast fibre optic broadband to the house as we download movies, music and sport in different rooms while browsing the internet, emailing relatives around the globe and doing our online shopping. Back in the day this was science fiction but now it’s routine. The infrastructure to supply this is almost entirely controlled and managed by Openreach and Virgin Media. There are other suppliers, but physical infrastructure ownership is very limited. In Germany, the companies responsible for the rollout had to provide the service to the more rural areas first and then made their money extending into urban settings. Unfortunately, in the U.K. we allowed the suppliers to sell into the most densely populated areas first and as a result we have ‘not spots’ dotted around on the fringes or outside towns and cities. There have been incentives to encourage take up to such a degree that additional fibre has been blown but as the demand for speed increases the infrastructure has struggled to keep up. It’s a constant battle between demand and availability. While the figures show that Inverclyde generally has good broadband connectivity, I fully understand that is not enjoyed by all. I am working with providers to get better faster and stable access for all.
Greenock Telegraph 27th January
On Tuesday, I was at a meeting with members of the House of Lords, House of Commons and academics. Our common interest is the advancement of laws for the legal growth, possession and use of cannabis. We shared the room with delegates from Chile, Mexico, USA, Luxembourg, Malta and Germany. By the end of the meeting, it was clear to everyone that the United Kingdom was lagging way behind. The other countries all have their own model but there are similarities between them. And importantly the driving force behind each one is the reduction of both harm and crime. Most support home growing from seeds of roughly four plants and the consumption must be within the house where the plants are. No transporting it or consuming it in public. Luxembourg was the first country in Europe to legalise production and consumption of the cannabis. It was driven by the failure of prohibition to deter use. In the U.K. we are experiencing that same failure, but we take a different approach. We are committed to a hard line of prosecuting and criminalising growers, distributors and consumers. We have been doing this for fifty years and it hasn’t worked but the U.K. Home Office is belligerent and intransigent and doesn’t follow the evidence. In Luxembourg people aged 18 and over will be able to legally grow up to four cannabis plants per household for personal use. Trade in seeds will also be permitted without any limit on the quantity or levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent. I have issues with some aspects of that but because we keep hiding from the problem in the U.K. and refuse to debate it constructively, the argument does not develop any further. It’s time we took a lead from Luxembourg, an independent sovereign nation with a population of 648,000.
Greenock Telegraph 13th January
About 20 years ago I was made redundant. I have never forgotten what it felt like. On Tuesday I was notified that Amazon were in consultation with their associates about closing their fulfilment site in Gourock. That’s management speak for we are going through the process as defined in employment law to make 300 people redundant. I feel their pain but it’s greater than mine was. Theirs comes on the back of years of Tory austerity, the damage to the economy from Brexit, soaring energy bills and the increasing cost of living, not to mention the hard work and dedication they showed during Covid being thrown back in their face. The Gourock site is deemed superfluous. I have met with Amazon and pressed them to explain their decision, but they couldn’t. Amazon plan to open two news plants in England so I asked if they had considered making that investment in Inverclyde. They wouldn’t say. I am sure that Amazon will have made their decisions on cold hard facts, they will want to protect their place in the market. Their founder, Jeff Bezos didn’t make his personal fortune of 109 billion US dollars by being anything other than a hard-nosed businessman. But their workforce deserves to be told the facts, they deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. It’s not an easy situation for anyone but corporate decisions affect daily lives and multi nationals like Amazon must be accountable. I am angry that Jeff Bezos has accumulated massive wealth while he treats his workforce so badly. I am furious that for years his company has been allowed to avoid paying its fair share of tax. In inverclyde we need to learn lessons and we should be encouraging local companies to grow and deepen their roots in inverclyde. We need to nurture small companies and provide incubation units where they can develop and mature. We need to invest in our own future and that of future generations. We need to plant seeds because if we don’t, then it’s clear to see that nobody is going to do it for us.
Greenock Telegraph 30th December
The ongoing debate around Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom has continued throughout 2022 and while the U.K. Labour Party continued to rehash their old ideas around constitutional reform it is clear that winning ‘red wall’ seats in England and remaining outside the European Union (EU) , European Economic Area (EEA) and European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) were more important.
Meanwhile both the Conservative and Unionist Party and the U.K. Labour Party are wedded to Brexit. Despite the fact that it has caused the Scottish economy to shrink and the U.K. has the worst economic growth in the G20 bar Russia.
An independent Scotland shall have choices to make, including whether we want to join the EU, EEA and EFTA. Those that oppose Scotland’s right to make these choices dusted off the old chestnut that we would need to use the Euro to be in the EU despite the fact that it will have taken 15 years for Bulgaria to adopt the Euro in 2024, and Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Poland still use their own currency with no plans to change.
As the year progressed energy prices soared and consumers felt the pain, while energy producers announced record profits. In Scotland we pay higher standing charges to connect to the grid, a privatised grid and our bills are on average £800 more.
Because the U.K. government has failed to invest in clean green renewable energy we find ourselves looking enviously to the Nordic countries where bills are much lower thanks to plentiful, cheap renewable energy. Scotland has the capacity to produce even more energy than the average of the Nordic countries. The U.K. government will not support Scotland to fulfil its energy potential and we are all paying the price.
As we look forward to 2023 I shall reiterate my belief that the best people to make decisions for Scotland are the people of Scotland and the sooner we take on that responsibility the sooner we can start to build an independent nation that we can all be proud and supportive of.
Greenock Telegraph 16th December
Households across Inverclyde are experiencing financial hardships and constraints forced on them by a Conservative and Unionist government that frequently uses the word compassionate but barely knows the meaning of the word. It should be judged by its actions and not its rhetoric. The Scottish government has used its limited budget to offset or mitigate a number of Conservative austerity policies.
It’s easy to forget that we benefit from free prescription, free entry to museums and art galleries because they have been part of our society for so long now. But that’s the tip of an iceberg. The school clothing grant. The Best Start grant. The Scottish child payment. The extension of free school meals throughout primary education. Free concessionary travel and the introduction of free bus travel to all children. Added to this, free Personal Care for the elderly and free sanitary products.
And don’t forget we still mitigate the bedroom tax.
The latest Child Poverty Action Group Scotland report states ‘Scottish policies are immensely important in reducing the level of financial strain and hardship on families at a particularly difficult time, but they are fighting a rear-guard action’ – citing that the Scottish Government’s bold actions can only cushion the impact of UK wide deterioration.
The SNP led Scottish government is doing everything it can, with limited powers, to reduce the burden but independence is the only way to escape the impact of the callous Westminster policies and free us to govern in a truly compassionate way for all the people of Scotland.
Greenock Telegraph 30th November
I recently met with Norwegian and Icelandic politicians and civil servants and was impressed with their calmness and confidence in dealing with matters pertaining to both domestic and international affairs. I am so used to witnessing, hyperbole, aggression, indignation and outrage at Westminster that occasionally I get caught up in it myself.
The language these Nordic countries use during negotiations between their nations and the alliances they seek to build and maintain is very different to the language we hear used in political circles in the United Kingdom. Rather than seek to undermine each other, the default is mutual respect and consideration. And the ultimate respect is to recognise each other’s differences and accept them. By recognising each other’s autonomy while seeking to improve their countries and maintain broader security, organisations such as the Nordic Council and Arctic Council, while not void of tensions, manage to function in a constructive manner. They actively seek positive outcomes.
Compare and contrast that with the comments from the devolved powers in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland when asked about intergovernmental relationships. They all independently said they were not respected, not listened to, not involved in developing treaties or trade deals and in general treated as subordinates. Is it any wonder that we are witnessing increasing political will for an independent Wales and Scotland and reunification of Ireland. The British Empire has been in permanent decline for over a century and the last glowing embers shall soon be extinguished. Those that need it to exist will go to great lengths to keep it alive, either through misuse of power and wealth or by being obsequious on a level as yet unseen but hinted at. Those of us that desire autonomy, equality, democracy and self- governance shall be content to see the empire go gently into the night while Scotland emerges sovereign, independent and ready to treat other as equals and importantly demanding that we are treated as equals too.
Greenock Telegraph 18th November
I have been campaigning for the provision of medical cannabis for most of my seven and a half years as a Member of Parliament and sadly the progress has not been as rapid as I would have liked. I have a particular focus on the supply of Bedrolite, Bedrocan and Bedica2. They are prescribed for children with intractable epilepsy. The results of children that have been using them are quite startling. Kids that were suffering over 100 seizures a day and were confined to a wheelchair as a result are now capable of cycling in the local park, attending school and conversing with truer parents and siblings. They are seizure free, the transformation is remarkable. But unfortunately, it is not all good news. Those kids that are getting the medicine are paying for it through private prescriptions. This can cost up to £2,000 a month. We have managed to set up manufacturing in the U.K. which removes the need to import it from the Netherlands but the cost is still prohibitively high. Because of my involvement in this campaign, it has been brought to my attention that other new medicines are experiencing the same issues. They exist, they have been passed by the MHRA as effective but not passed as cost effective by NICE. Therefore, they can only be accessed privately. This includes medicines for post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and even one, Evusheld which you may have read about in the Greenock Telegraph recently, for people who are still shielding from Covid because they have suppressed immune systems. The crucial fact is that those who can pay for their medicine can access it and those that can’t must go without. While I want this situation rectified, my wider concern is that what we are witnessing is the privatisation of the health centre, one step at a time. The health service was founded on the principle of free access at the point of need and that must not be allowed to be eroded or undermined at any cost.
Greenock Telegraph 4th November
George Orwell wrote, in 1946, that there was a fear of immigration in the UK. “above all from the out-of-date notion that Britain is overpopulated and that more population means more unemployment”. Seventy-six years have passed, and nothing has changed. The spiteful rhetoric spewing forth from Suella Braverman, Home Secretary of the United Kingdom can only serve to fuel the sociopathic clamour of indignation that tumbles out of the mouths of the Conservative and Unionist MPs. Their hatred for vulnerable migrants is tangible and should frighten us all. Because it won’t end there. Once one minority is vilified and marginalised those that persecute them will feel the need and claim the right to turn their attention on another group and then another and that is how it builds. By dehumanising people, we create an environment where they can be treated abhorrently without repercussions. Many people are convinced that foreigners are “over here taking our jobs”. Interestingly they are ambivalent about the Scottish diaspora spread around the globe which currently numbers between twenty-eight and forty million. In Inverclyde we are currently welcoming new Scots from Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, through the vulnerable persons resettlement schemes and from Ukraine, through the Ukrainian resettlement scheme. In total this comes to three hundred and forty people. That number will and should grow to accommodate more vulnerable migrants from countries torn apart by conflict and war. I hope that in Inverclyde we can continue to find it in our hearts to extend a hand of friendship and provide sanctuary while appreciating how lucky we are to be in a position to help and how fortunate we are not be those relying on aid ourselves.
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