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.
Following the announcements by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Inverclyde will be looking forward to a further loosening of the restrictions that we have lived under for over fifteen months as we move to level 1 on Saturday the 5th June. The major differences between Levels 2 and 1 are within the hospitality, leisure and entertainment sectors. They have suffered more than most during the pandemic and it’s gratifying to see them take this next step to full recovery.
This good news is as always tempered with caution. We are not back to normal and despite the fact it has been said a thousand times, we need to proceed with caution. As a mark of respect for the 215 people who died in Inverclyde and their friends and families, we can’t just pretend this never happened and we must do what it takes to ensure we don’t experience another wave of Covid. Why am I so cautious? Because there have been people throughout the period of the pandemic that think rules apply to other people. And there are unfortunately too many people that live their lives with no regard for others. Cocooned in their selfish ‘planet me’ convinced that they can do what they want, when they want and there will be no consequences. This attitude caused problems as we went into lockdowns and it will cause problems as we emerge. Are they the same people that throw the detritus of fast-food takeaways out their car windows, or the people that leave their empty bottles and rubbish strewn across the local beaches? It’s hard to tell but the attitude is the same. That which says, ‘I can make a mess and somebody else will tidy it up after me’.
There are signs that during lockdown we have developed a growing respect for our environment, more people are appreciating what we have on our doorstep but with that comes the responsibility of looking after it. I hope that the personal responsibility that the vast majority of people have shown during Covid translates into our attitude towards our own communities and environment and that together we can protect them and nurture them for ourselves and future generations to come.
During the Covid pandemic there have been a lot of questions asked about the UK Government’s procurement process. There have been claims that companies who were ill equipped to fulfil contracts have been awarded them. Allegations of cronyism and preferential treatment for friends and even family have been circulating for some time. Many of the contracts are for eye watering sums of money and it only right and proper that there is full scrutiny of public spending.
A combination of a declaration of interests, the ministerial code and ministerial advisers should guarantee that good ethics and probity are maintained. But as you may suspect we have a problem. Interests that should have been published five months ago, have not. The ministerial code is only a set of recommendations, ultimately, it’s up to the Prime Minister to decide if the code has been broken. And while the Prime Minister is one of those whose behaviour is being questioned, he turns to the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests for advice on matters of propriety and ethics. Which is awkward as Lord Geidt, Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests, is appointed by and answers only to the Prime Minister. The phrase marking one’s own homework springs to mind.
The situation is simply not good enough and while UK Government ministers maintain that nothing inappropriate has happened it is important for public confidence that the machinery of Government is open and transparent. While the general public have made sacrifices and people’s jobs have been on the line it would be unconscionable for any elected member to financially benefit from the crisis whether directly or indirectly and its important that we are all open to unbiased scrutiny.
Having complained loudly and often about the environmental vandalism being perpetrated by Inverclyde council on the local tree stock, I was delighted to see that they are now advertising for an Arborist. Hopefully, this will ensure ongoing responsible tree management and not the neglect and subsequent drastic actions we have witnessed of late. But just as one hand giveth another taketh away.
Recently, there have been moves to establish an ‘Inverclyde Pollinator Corridor’. The aim is to save the bees and pollinators by creating a corridor of beautiful wildflowers across Inverclyde. I like to think of it as service stations for bees. Schemes have been launched across Inverclyde, including up at the Cut, Belville Gardens and the site of the old Hector McNeil baths.
With this in mind, I was disappointed that Inverclyde Council has decided to include greenbelt land at Kilmacolm in the Proposed Local Development Land to meet the housing requirements identified within the Clyde Plan, and the subsequent decision by the Planning Board to approve a related housing development, which will result in the destruction of a natural wild meadow and all the wildlife within it. In this example the planning system has let people down. The proposal is for housing that embraces some aspects that I welcome, including not being connected to the gas network, instead “it is proposed that air source heat pump technology is employed to serve the heating and hot water demands of the residential elements”. And I note that the plans state “it is proposed to incorporate high levels of passive and energy efficient design measures in order to reduce the development’s energy consumption and associated CO2 emissions”. All in all, it is an admirable attempt at building in an environmental fashion, but it doesn’t begin to offset the environmental damage that building on this site will do in the first place. Is prevention no longer better than cure?
Gordon Gekko once expounded the theory that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”. This is a philosophy that when it’s applied to the accumulation of money the ex-Prime Minister David Cameron heartily buys into. He isn’t alone. His Chancellor, George Osborne, was not slow to use his position to line his own pockets and many others have done the same. There are rules and principles and all ex cabinet members should refer to the Advisory Committee of Business Appointments before taking up any paid position within 24 months of leaving. But in the privileged world that they inhabit, principles are for other people.
Unfortunately, we now know this applies to some top civil servants too. The Nolan Principles go out the window when money talks. Those abusing their position are relatively few but what bothers me even more is the lack of outrage from their peers. These revelations are met with a shrug of the shoulders or a raised eyebrow. But still it continues.
I sit on the Select Committee for Public Administration and Constitution and we shall be taking evidence to identify who and what has been allowed to happen and expect David Cameron to attend.
I am sure it isn’t just politics where ‘greed is good’ is accepted. Football has been accused of the same, with eye watering salaries being paid to very ordinary players. But look at what happened last week when six top English clubs decided that they wanted to break away to join an elite European football league. The outcry was immediate, and they were accused of turning their backs on their fans, ignoring the grass roots of the game, lacking a team football mentality and only being interested in lining their own pockets. I only wish that we had the same level of outrage and a sustained outcry when politicians behave in the same way or have, we just given up and disengaged, because if we have, that’s exactly what they want. And that’s a good reason why you shouldn’t do it. Being an elected member is a privilege in itself, no elected member should seek to benefit financially from their position and all dealings should be transparent and open to scrutiny.
Whether it was Jacques Cousteau teaching us all about marine conservation from the deck of the sailing boat Calypso, David Attenborough’s amazing documentaries or Greta Thunberg, young and brave campaigning to highlight climate change, surely we are all now aware that the clock is ticking and we must do something radical to slow, then repair the damage we have done to this vulnerable little blue planet spinning in a vast black universe that we call home.
The destructions of forests and habitat, the plastic polluting our rivers and oceans, the damage to the ozone layer, the burning of fossil fuels, the super trawlers in marine conservation areas, the pesticides killing bees, these things can’t have been missed, can they? Or do we acknowledge them and then pass responsibility on to others. Do we shrug our shoulders and think there is nothing we can do because the problem is so vast? But that plastic bottle floating amongst a million others came from somebody. All the rubbish and litter was discarded carelessly by someone. I am not asking you to single-handedly mend the hole in the ozone layer. Governments have to facilitate the opportunity, and energy companies have to develop viable and affordable technology. But you can do something, and it isn’t hard, and it won’t cost you a penny. Take responsibility for your own litter. That’s it. That may sound trivial amongst the environmental problems the planet faces but it’s something you can do. Don’t go to the beach and leave the tide to take away your trash. Don’t drop juice bottles when you are walking the cut. Don’t throw the detritus out of your pristine car into the hedgerow. Then together we can start mending the ozone layer.
I have grave concerns that while the UK government is trying to bypass the European Union, they are also trying to bypass Scotland. The outcome of which would be to make us the most insignificant part of an increasingly insignificant island. Brexit will accomplish the first part of their ill-conceived master plan as is shown by the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics which showed UK exports of goods to the EU plunged by 40.7% in January, the biggest monthly decline in British trade for more than 20 years.
The latest figures from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) show that the agriculture and food sector has been one of the hardest hit with new checks and requirements for health certificates a significant barrier to trade. This is backed up by a report from a Scottish langoustine producer bemoaning the fact that he now has to produce 38 pages of paperwork and pay additional fees in excess of over £500 per shipment to export to France. He says it is crippling his business. Overall figures now show that food and drink exports collapsed in January, plunging overall by 75.5% year on year. And the second part of this journey to oblivion is facilitated by the UK government using the powers they gave themselves in the Internal Market Bill and making decisions on a UK wide basis, the latest being the Infrastructure Review, without any engagement with the devolved powers. Scotland is being press ganged into taking part in a hazardous journey and it is time to launch the lifeboats. All aboard.