Greenock Telegraph 7th May 2021

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?   

Greenock Telegraph 23rd April 2021

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.

Greenock Telegraph 9th April 2021

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.

Greenock Telegraph 26th March 2021

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.   

Greenock Telegraph 12th March 2021

An old friend of mine passed away during the week. That’s a phrase many of us will have used during the pandemic. But it doesn’t carry any less weight. The loss of a friend makes me look back to the times we had together, simpler times. My days as a kid kicking a ball about the Battery or as a young man playing rugby at the Wanderers. It’s easy to misrepresent these times through a fog of nostalgia but the truth is that pre-Covid times actually were simpler. We have all had a burden placed upon us by a virus. A virus that dictates that we can’t see our loved ones, that our work and our social life is disrupted. A virus that heightens our own feelings of mortality. But good can come of this. We can nurture a better understanding of what really matters. We can appreciate our friends while we have them. And in the meantime, in order to work our way through the pandemic, the requirement to adjust falls upon us all and the more responsible of us have taken that on board.

Unfortunately, some it seems will never learn. For them it is always someone else’s problem. There is a song, there is always a song, called Respect Yourself by The Staple Singers which contains the lyrics ’if you disrespect anybody that you run into, how in the world do you think anybody is supposed to respect you’. It’s not Shakespeare but it speaks to me. Respect yourself and your community and we may just emerge from this pandemic a better, more appreciative, more tolerant society. 

Greenock Telegraph 26th February 2021

Understandably councils throughout Scotland, including our own in Inverclyde, are asking for clarification on budgets for next year. Handling a council budget demands responsibility and it is perfectly reasonable to want to get ahead of the game and therefore be in a position to plan expenditure. Already Inverclyde council have decided to freeze council tax for the impending financial year, without full knowledge of their budget but with the financial support of the Scottish Government to offset any monies not raised, for this year. A declaration of intent from central government at Holyrood which has made things easier in very difficult times.

Personally, I believe more collaboration, where councils can be part of the financial planning process would be advantageous. The UK government at Westminster could learn from this. The UK budget will be presented on the 3rd of March, but the devolved parliaments have not been included in any discussions regarding the disposition of that budget. That gives the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Kate Forbes MSP, a week to finalise the Scottish budget and then councils should know their outcome.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Conservative and Unionist UK government does not want to take advice or even listen to the people of Scotland. They have embarked on a full-scale campaign to undermine and belittle Scotland. The department for the Union has been given a makeover and the media war is on. Scotland should once again be prepared to be told that we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to run our own affairs. The perfect example being the billboard on Brougham Street which undermines and misrepresents the Covid vaccine rollout in Scotland. I prefer to remember the Noam Chomsky quote “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”

The councils of Scotland and the parliament of Scotland need the powers to make change and with that power comes responsibility. The government and local authorities are willing and able to accept that responsibility and Scotland will thrive when we do.

Greenock Telegraph 12th February 2021

We are all aware of the effects of Covid and the devastation it has had within our communities. It has led to poor health, both physical and mental, loss of jobs and financial hardship. The good news is that the vaccine rollout continues at pace and those that were considered the highest priority have almost entirely received their jag. But there are illnesses and conditions that also ruin health, wealth, and happiness. Conditions that can lead to loss of life, that we can’t produce a vaccine for. Within our society we have a hidden killer that goes unnoticed. Addiction to alcohol or drugs tends to be noticed, there is a change in behaviour and increasingly the medical profession, who not so long ago were dismissive of alcoholics and drug addicts, are intervening. And the earlier the intervention the better.

However, gambling addiction is the poor relative. Gambling addiction leads to all the heartaches I mentioned earlier but it can go almost unnoticed until it is too late. We need to start talking about it. We need to bring it out into the open and expose the ruthless predatory behaviour of the gambling industry. Gone are the days of punters in the bookies studying form and picking a few horses to back. Now we have online casinos operating twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Punters are emailed and messaged constantly to encourage them to bet more. Free bets and inducements are used to pile on the pressure. People at their wits end are driven to suicide and all the while we are faced with celebrity endorsements and blanket advertising at sporting events. We can’t grow a vaccine but we can and we must have a ban on advertising, reduction in stakes, end VIP rooms and provide help and support and education for those that have been affected and those whom the industry is so willing to groom to be the next generation of addicted gamblers. 

Greenock Telegraph 29th January 2021

It would be easy believe that the only two things that matter right now are COVID and Brexit. These two behemoths dominate the landscape and combined they block out any horizon. Which is a great shame because we are at our best when we seek to achieve progress and are constructing solutions rather than, as it currently feels, consumed by fighting fires. At a time when planning forward is difficult and the possibility of a holiday, or meeting friends and family is a remote one, what can we look forward to? I have a suggestion and before you run for the hills, please hear me out.

On May the 6th we have the election to the Scottish Parliament. Put the politics to one side, that is for you to decide upon. But elections are about the electorate, it’s your time to express your views, to back the candidate and party that you believe serves you, your community and your country best. The outcome will determine so many things that happen in Scotland over the next Parliamentary session. And that’s a choice you can make that goes beyond the immediate horizon. At their best, elections can be beacons of hope but that is entirely down to your participation. My ask is simple, register to vote, apply for a postal vote, and use it wisely. A postal vote can be used on the day at your polling place. I read a lot of nonsense in social media about postal votes being tampered with and people’s trust being eroded. I have used a postal vote for years. I have absolute faith in the mail service and Inverclyde Council to ensure my vote is recorded correctly.

From behind the barricades we can project our hopes and aspirations for the next four years. Don’t let COVID stop you voting.   

RVJB: The Robertson Centre, 16 Glasgow Rd, Paisley PA1 3QF.

Greenock Telegraph 15th January 2021

One of the most often repeated football related sayings is ‘taking one game at a time’. It’s used when teams are doing particularly well or particularly badly. Their focus needs to be on the next challenge, they can’t get ahead of themselves or they will fall at the next hurdle. But by taking each game as it comes, they hope to cope with it as best they can and either win the league or avoid relegation. And here we all are in 2021 and COVID-19 has locked us down again. We are reduced to living in the here and now with very limited ability to plan anything long term. The distraction of looking forward towards possible summer holidays or even just longer warmer days has been denied to us because our focus has to be on today.

Almost one year since the seriousness of the pandemic was first becoming clear we are still required to work at the very basics of washing our hands, wearing a mask, socially distancing and isolating. The vaccine will help but in itself it is not a magic wand. We still don’t know if the vaccines that have been approved, are neutralising or sterilising (killing the virus in the Nasopharynx) and unless it’s the latter then people who have been vaccinated can still carry and spread the virus. Lockdowns are hard and speaking as someone who lives alone, I understand the added pressures of isolation and the detriment to mental health of loneliness. In a study carried out last year it was clear that long life and good health is greatly increased by social contact and that’s exactly what we can’t have right now. But the alternative to obeying the guidelines is unthinkable. From the very beginning I have preached individual responsibility and that hasn’t changed. Tough as it is, we all need to double down and accept that. But we need business owners and employers to act in a responsible fashion too. Stretching the laws or seeking to exploit loopholes is criminal and ultimately counterproductive. Any action that increases the likelihood of spreading this virus also increases the chances of people dying. No employer has the right to put their employees or the public at risk. While individuals are responsible, a cooperative community mindset must also be to the fore if we are to overcome this pandemic and at the same time retain our physical and mental health. 

Greenock Telegraph 4th January 2021

I desperately wanted to start the new year looking forward with optimism, with clarity and with purpose. But it’s proving more difficult than I thought it would be. It’s that B word again. It’s haunted us for four years and now it’s threatening to be, not just the ghost of Christmas past, but present and most disappointingly future.

After four years of negotiating the Brexit deal “one of the easiest in human history” according to Liam Fox, Conservative and Unionist MP, we are instead giving up so much that we have benefitted from including our access to the Erasmus Scheme which offered student exchanges as well as school links, work experience and apprenticeships across Europe since 1987. Adam Tickell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, said: “Leaving Erasmus is a real sadness. Over the years the Erasmus programme transformed the lives of thousands of young people.”

This deal will rip us out of the world’s largest single market and customs union, end our freedom of movement rights, and impose mountains of red tape, added costs and barriers to trade for Scottish businesses. Analysis shows the hard Tory Brexit will cut Scotland’s GDP by around 6.1%, costing more than £9billion or the equivalent of £1,600 for every person. The Associate Director for Immigration, Trade and EU Relations, at the Institute for Public Policy Research, Marley Morris, said that: “For a deal with the UK’s closest neighbour and largest trading partner, this agreement is remarkably weak. In many respects this agreement isn’t far off a no deal.” It is counter intuitive for me to act in any way that is detrimental to Inverclyde and Scotland therefore while Scotland continues to be ignored by the UK government, let me be absolutely clear, I shall continue to do everything that I can to bring clarity to a situation that has the potential to negatively impact on all our lives and in doing so I hope to provide a path to a more fruitful outcome.