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.
I am sure you are well aware that after nearly three years of attempting to negotiate the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, the U.K. Government has applied for and been granted an extension. Currently the outcome of that is, that unless a deal is agreed before May 23rd, we will be required to hold elections to the European Parliament. These elections are never the most popular and traditionally turnouts have been low. Yet, during the last three years the people of Scotland have recommitted our desire to remain in the European Union. Obviously, not everyone and I respect that but in every poll that has been taken the majority wish to remain in the European Union. I would hope given the opportunity to display that solidarity with the EU, we would take it. The EU elections are a platform for Scotland to express its opinion on Brexit. The candidates will be expressing their view on Scotland’s place in Europe and must be judged on that. Even though most folk seem to be scunnered by the situation we can’t let that lead to apathy or the turnout will be even lower. The right to vote has been fought for, many people have died to protect it, and while I understand the frustrations, now that we have been exposed to the arguments and possible outcomes of Brexit, it is imperative that you register your wishes at the ballot box. I can understand why those that voted ‘Leave’ may be frustrated at having to vote again but equally I would encourage them to do just that. Three years of discussion at Westminster have led us nowhere. It is now time for the wider electorate with a greater understanding of the issues to express their views. The last day to register is the 7th of May, please make sure you are registered to vote.
This week the U.K. Government’s Home Office department published a white paper regarding ‘online harms’. It is a good document that manages to identify a range of areas where people are bullied, abused, exploited and put at risk. The rapid growth of social media and the associated technologies has far outstripped any governments ability to legislate for it. And as a result, those with the least moral compunction have forged ahead spreading their material far and wide. Children have been drawn in and, in many cases, have been abused as a result. Bullying once associated with the school playground now has access to the victims wherever they are via their mobile phones. Terrorist groups spread propaganda, gang culture is promoted, and disinformation undermines our democratic values. Historically governments have shied away from legislating in these areas and instead have relied on companies to self-govern. They have encouraged responsible behaviour but in far too many cases that has not been forthcoming. Currently the printed media and their associated web sites are bound by publishing laws but the same can’t be said for the legion of self-styled commentators on the web. They are not bound by any legal obligation and a loose code of conduct is not adhered to. The balancing act that the government must achieve is to regulate the internet without hindering free speech. The statutory duty of care that is being proposed by the UK Government does not do enough. Any respectable publisher will take full responsibility for its content and not hide behind anonymity. We don’t just need a culture of transparency we need it legally enforced.
In nearly four years at Westminster I have heard a lot of things said that could be described as factually incorrect, fatuous nonsense, egotistical ramblings, misleading mutterings or simply inappropriate chat but this week the Prime Minister’s latest pontifications takes the biscuit. Theresa May said “I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this House.” She made the comment as part of her statement on the European Council Summit and she said it because she knew that a cross party amendment was going to be voted on which would take control of the E.U. withdrawal agenda from the UK Government and would give that control to the MPs. We now have a Prime Minister that doesn’t control her own party or her own government and she doesn’t command the confidence of the House of Commons. She even managed to lose three more ministers in the process. The outcome was that on Wednesday eight amendments were voted on. These were indicative votes designed to better inform the house how a consensus could be agreed. The crushing irony that emerged was that the Prime Minister said, in an attempt to curry favour, she would stand down after her deal got through and therefore trigger a leadership race. But her deal did not get any closer to passing after eight indicative votes were voted down. The only indication we got was that Westminster is in complete disarray. A lot of House business is dictated by and arranged with what is known as ‘the usual sources’. That encompasses whips offices, Speaker’s office and government departments. Last week, that process broke down. Nothing is being scheduled and therefore members can’t be allocated to debates and diaries as well as chamber business is chaotic. My Friday should be in my constituency talking to organisations, companies and individuals. As of half past midnight on the morning of Thursday the 28th, as I write this, I have no idea what business is like for today or Friday. If Friday becomes a sitting day I shall have to cancel all my Friday appointments at a great deal of inconvenience to everyone. This is no way to run a government or parliament. It’s time to man the lifeboats as Westminster weighed down by its own incompetence sinks in the depths of Brexit.
I am writing this at midnight on Tuesday and the latest but not final thrashings of Brexit are just calming down. Nobody was surprised when the Conservative and Unionist United Kingdom Government lost its latest attempt to get a European Union Withdrawal Bill through the House of Commons by a whopping 149 votes. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will debate the motion to leave without a deal and if that is defeated parliament agree to an extension to Article 50. This will need to be agreed by the European Union. At this point we have 17 days before we are scheduled to leave, we don’t have a deal and the UK Government don’t have a plan. None of this is a surprise. The sheer incompetence of the U.K. Government in dealing with the EU and the devolved administrations is clear for everyone to see. They went into negotiations with a belligerence and arrogance that defies all logic. At the heart of this shambles is the internal ructions of the Conservative and Unionist Party and yet the polling figures show that in England they are ten points ahead of Labour. In Scotland, the SNP is 19 points ahead of Labour. The choice is clear, a U.K. in the control of an incompetent broken Conservative and Unionist Party or an independent Scotland in the European Union.
When we talk about addiction we tend to think of drugs and alcohol. And these are only defined separately because one is illegal and the other isn’t. Gambling addiction is not as obvious but it is just as pernicious. In Inverclyde alone cash inserted into FOBTs in 2016 was £11,527,602. This led to losses of just under £3m. It is estimated that two people a day take their own lives due to a gambling addiction. While the legal alcohol market place is regulated and the illegal drug market is a law unto itself, gambling is legal and regulated but relies heavily on self-regulation. The gambling commission issues guidelines, not laws. While funding for gambling related harm activities is based on a voluntary contribution from book makers. On the up side there is a growing recognition of the damage gambling can do and moves are afoot to address it. I am pushing for a new gambling clinic to be established in Scotland once the one in Leeds is fully up and running. Advertisers are being questioned over adverts aimed at children and vulnerable adults. The quantity of adverts around sporting events is due to be addressed and ‘loot boxes’ in video games have been banned in a number of countries. I hope to bring forward a resolution at the SNP conference to ask the Conservative and Unionist UK government to do likewise and ban them or give the powers to the SNP Scottish government to do so. The recent GambleAware campaign focuses on males aged 16 to 34 who are already gambling at least twice a week and will target three areas of vulnerability, chasing losses, drunk gambling and bored gambling. This is a two year campaign to change attitudes and reduce gambling, it is not a prohibition model. Gambling addiction destroys lives and it is time we addressed the normalisation amongst adults, the grooming of children and the lack of support for those that are vulnerable to the damage it can cause.
The owners of the Inverkip Power Station, Scottish Power, have applied for planning permission for up to 650 houses/premises on the site. This does not mean that they will build them, it means if planning permission is granted that the land can then be marketed and sold with planning permission in place and therefore it increases in value. I have viewed this site and it is truly unique. Although close to the A78 it is secluded and peaceful. I think that this site offers so much more than most and with that in mind I have entered discussion with Alzheimer’s Scotland to gather their views on approaching prospective purchasers and asking them to include a ‘dementia village’ in their plans. Such villages have been muted around other parts of the U.K. and they already exist in other countries. They are designed to allow people with dementia to receive appropriate care and live their lives to the maximum. The entire village would be inhabited by residents and carers. It is estimated that over a million people in the U.K. will be living with dementia by 2025 and the need for practical methods of caring for people with dementia will continue to increase. I have asked Scottish Power to consider this when it comes to selling the land. I understand the council may look at this site and see a revenue source via council tax and I also understand that all budgets are stretched but I would hope they would see beyond the cash in hand and consider this as a long term investment in the citizens of Inverclyde.
On a cold wet miserable evening in Westminster we, once again, trooped through the voting lobbies in an attempt to shape the future of the U.K. I hope that history will look kindly on these attempts but it’s unlikely. The U.K. parliament voted to reject all amendments except an attempt to rule out a no deal and an intention to change the backstop proposal for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The proposals around the border will prove to be particularly sensitive as it affects the Good Friday Agreement. After two and a half years of posturing and prevarication the Prime Minister will now go back to the EU and attempt to remove the backstop and replace it with “alternative arrangements”. It’s worth noting that the EU and the Irish Government have already said they won’t re-negotiate. This may all seem like hypothetical nonsense but in the real world the money markets fluctuated as the amendments were voted on and it’s clear they don’t want a no deal. This mess has come about because of the inability of the U.K. Government to cooperate and consult with the devolved powers of the U.K. combined with their staggering arrogance toward the European Union. As we near the cliff edge, trade organisations have been voicing their concerns, this includes both road and rail freight, health service providers and food retailers. We are not there yet. We shall go through all of this all over again on February 13th. So all is not lost. As the father of the house, Ken Clarke said to me in the voting lobby (yes, Ken was voting with us) “are we planning on having a historic vote every week?” It certainly feels that way but this will end soon and as things are currently going, it won’t end well.
Five years ago, the UK Government released a paper entitled “EU and International Issues” the paper extolled what it claimed were the many benefits to Scotland of the UK’s membership of the EU. It said “The UK uses its influence within the EU to Scotland’s advantage on a whole host of issues of particular interest to people and businesses in Scotland, such as budget contributions, fisheries, agricultural subsidies and Structural Funds. Scotland benefits from this and from the UK’s strong voice in Europe, where it contributes to and participates in discussions and negotiations from its position within the UK.” And look where we are now. Scotland and Inverclyde overwhelmingly voted to remain in the E.U. and yet we are being ripped out. The Conservative and Unionist Party has engaged in a civil war and the casualties will be the citizens of the U.K. When the Labour Party should have been holding the U.K. Government to account, it was incapacitated by indecision. Even now with less than ten weeks to go Labour can’t unite on a peoples vote and they lodged a vote of no confidence at a time when they knew it would fail! The U.K. Government should now rule out a “No Deal”. The Prime Minister should request an extension to the Article 50 process from the E.U. And the UK Government should bring forward a proposal to legislate for a second EU Referendum based on the full knowledge of what leaving the E.U. actually entails. But unless they have a blinding epiphany of self-awareness they won’t do any of those things. If we can take one thing from this Brexit debacle it is that Westminster is not fit for purpose and has no interest in legislating for the good of the people of Scotland. Fortunately we have another option. And when that option is put in front of us, as it will, we can choose Scotland. What could possibly be better for Scotland than the people of Scotland legislating for the people of Scotland?
There will be no time allowed to ease into this political New Year. It has already hit the ground running and before the end of January decisions shall have been made that will make the political landscape a lot clearer. Brexit should come to a head on the 17th of January and once the dust has settled then the path or paths forward will be decided. It is impossible to predict exactly what the outcome will be. The last two years have been a shambles in terms of negotiations and planning for withdrawal from the European Union, which does not fill me full of hope. But my inbox is dominated by two topics. Brexit and Universal Credit. As Inverclyde was one of the first to start rolling out U.C. we are now over two years into the process and over 4,000 people in Inverclyde are experiencing it. It has proven inadequate as a social security system and has been woefully underfunded from the start. Problems in the processes continue to undermine the good it could be doing and rather than stop and fix the system the Conservative and Unionist U.K. government is now moving the remaining people on the legacy system onto U.C. This will mean over 7,000 additional recipients in Inverclyde alone. Based on the evidence I have seen in my constituency office since November 2016 , I fear things are about to get a lot worse. Of course such a bleak future is just one possibility. The future is ours to write and given the powers, the mindset and the opportunity, the future for Scotland and generations of Scots can be brighter, braver and bolder. We just have to take the opportunity when it comes and it is coming.