Westminster diary w/b 18th March

Monday

I caught the red eye to London as I was scheduled to do one of my regular tours of Westminster. On a number of occasions I have welcomed constituents and walked them round the estate. Citizens’ engagement is extremely important in maintaining a true democracy and everyone should feel comfortable engaging with their elected members and the mechanisms of government. At midday it was my turn to be hosted as I visited the Imperial War Museum (IWM). Diane Lees (Director General) and I had a lengthy and illuminating discussion around the possibilities of the IWM lending some Stanley Spencer paintings to Inverclyde. My initial idea was for a mini exhibition around Spencer and the wars years in general. Unfortunately, at this time we don’t have a building suitable to host this. The delay to the completion of the McLean museum is a great disappointment. 

Tuesday

An early start to take part in a Delegated Legislation (DL) committee. Regular readers will by now be familiar with the purpose of DLs. Today’s was ‘Draft Railways, licensing of railway undertakings’. The select Committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence from economists on the governance of national statistics. The United Kingdom’s Statistics Authority came under heavy criticism. At SNP conference in April the local branch will be putting forward for a Scottish Statistics Agency. The gathering of accurate statistics, free from political influence can be an invaluable tool in making good policy. I attended an event for ‘End our Pain’. They are a lobby group for medical cannabis and many of the attendees were parents of children who desperately need access to Bedrocan. Alfie Dingley’s mum has fought tirelessly to get him the correct medication. Sadly many are still being denied. I met with Lisa Quarrell mother of Owen and Karen Gray mother of Murray. Both these kids would benefit greatly but the flaws in the current system makes it impossible for them to legally access it. I had a quick dash to Victoria Tower gardens for an interview with Radio Clyde as a precursor to my debate on gambling related harm. The debate took place in Westminster Hall and was very well attended. Along with the front bench spokesperson, seventeen MPs spoke and the message was loud and clear, the gambling companies need to fund organisations that can provide support for their customers that are experiencing gambling related harm and advertising has to curtailed.  

Wednesday

I spent the morning writing two articles. One on drugs policy reform for the Daily Record and one on gambling related harm for Politics Home. Prime Minister’s Question time saw the Prime Minster put up a very poor show. The undoubted pressure she is under and unending hours dedicated to compounding the problem are taking their toll. Jeremy Corbyn was ineffectual. He had some good questions this week but his delivery was off and he still can’t chase down the poor responses from the PM. An interesting addition to PMQs is the input from the ‘independent group’ or the TIGs as they are called. Hearing the tory members shouting abuse at their former colleagues is an eye opener. One by one they get ridiculed. Brexit is indeed a tangled web of deceit, ambition, greed and incompetence. What should have been a short day became longer than necessary when an application was made for an emergency debate under Standing Order 24. Granting such a thing is at the speaker’s discretion, as are it is apparent are a number of things. He granted it and a three hour debate took place covering all the same ground of Article 50 EU withdrawal. I grabbed a six pm flight home.  

Thursday

The morning was consumed by case work and media and in the afternoon I dropped in to the RIG arts driven green arts activities project at the Broomy Bees Garden in Ann Street. Lots of bees being made by kids and tie dye for the adults.

Friday

My first appointment was with Kevin Scarlet at River Clyde Homes. We had lots to discuss. I then caught up with the senior management team at Ferguson Marine. Another event packed with information and the ups and downs of trying to run a business during these very complicated times. When I was first elected I found it very hard to get suitable office accommodation in the area and therefore with a change of landlord I was keen to have a quick sit down to go through the contract and ensure I am in a position to continue to serve the community form my current location on Crawfurd Street. I look forward to a constructive relationship with my landlord for as long as I am required.

 

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Westminster diary w/b 11th March

Monday

I am on the rota for today which means I am there to potentially cover urgent questions and statements or any other business that is brought forward on the day. Therefore, I caught an earlier flight than is sometimes required. There was an Urgent Question from Jeremy Corbyn MP around the EU withdrawal process. I took part in an extremely lively E-petition debate in Westminster Hall. These debates are born out of citizens signing petitions and if a sufficient number is reached then they will be debated. Although the debate was lively it didn’t stop a Conservative and Unionist MP attempting to lecture me on the cowardice of the people Scotland for voting no in the referendum of 2014. I must admit I reacted by banging my head on the table. I had to leave early to attend a delegated legislation (DL) committee for ‘draft licensing of operators and international road haulage’. This is yet another DL committee set up to transfer EU law to UK law in haste before we crash out on the 29th of March.  

Tuesday

The Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence from academics on ‘authorising the use of military force’. The first two witnesses were legal experts and the second were more political. Historically it would have been the King or Queen who declared war or instigated military action. That was passed by the royal prerogative to the Prime Minister. The UK has taken part in over 60 military interventions since World War Two. The process that has been followed has varied wildly from the decision to intervene in the Suez Crisis to military action in Northern Ireland. I raised my concern over the lack of visibility when it comes to deploying armed forces on UK soil. For more information on that you may wish to attend the Beacon Theatre tonight to see ‘The Battle of George Square’. The Attorney General made a statement in the House on the legal advice around the EU withdrawal bill. I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on online gambling protection. I raised my on-going concerns regarding ‘loot boxes’. I attended the Kidney Research UK launch of their report ‘Kidney health inequalities’. In the evening we debated the proposed deal for leaving Europe and the UK government lost by 149 votes. 

Wednesday

My day started with the Select Committee for Transport. We took evidence from the chairman of HS2 and I took the opportunity to raise the issue of subcontractors not being paid after contracts were cancelled with no prior notice. This matter was brought to me by a constituent. Prime Ministers Question’s saw the PM and Leader of the Opposition go through the motions. The real battle was scheduled for later in the day and would take place in the voting lobbies. The chancellor made his spring statement. It is effectively a mini budget to tweak a few things and was not surprisingly unremarkable. What can a Chancellor do when the U.K. is crashing out of the E.U. in 17 days’ time and potentially crashing the economy? Today was the second day of EU withdrawal vote and we were debating leaving with no deal. After all was said we had three votes. Amendment A was the most contentious. It was in the name of Caroline Spelman (Conservative and Unionist MP) but she tried to withdraw it. She can’t do that. What she really meant was she wouldn’t move it. But what she didn’t seem to realise is that other people with their name on the amendment could move it and they were lining up to do so. It got moved so we voted to rule out a no deal Brexit. The U.K. Government lost the vote by 312 to 308. It was a particularly galling defeat for the government as four cabinet ministers abstained. They had victory in their grasp and as often happens the Conservative and Unionists turned on themselves. The second amendment was to make various provisions for a ‘managed no-deal’ scenario. It was roundly defeated. Another bad day at the office for the U.K. Government.

Thursday

I started my day at International Trade questions as I had a question on the order papers. A number of people stood and asked questions around international trade deals post Brexit that could harm the NHS. I asked for greater transparency of the trading mechanisms. If we learn anything from Brexit is that the U.K. government needs help negotiating. The major debate of the day was to extend article 50. A rash of amendments were put down and six were selected by the speaker, in the end there were five votes and despite having the opportunity to defeat the government and guarantee a people’s vote many Labour MPs abstained and handed victory to the government. A very quick smash to the airport ensued and I caught the 19:30 home.

Friday

A welcome break from the groundhog days of Westminster and I joined a local postman on his rounds. I am used to delivering leaflets for campaigning purposes but the shift the posties put in is on another scale entirely. I was pleased that my next stop was Belville Gardens for soup and a blether. My plum tree is in rude health and I am glad to say is being well looked after. In the afternoon I had street surgeries along with Councillor Jim McEleny.

 

Westminster diary w/b 4th March

Monday

I delayed my departure to Westminster to meet with Angela Rintoul who is a senior lecturer at Monash University in Australia. She is gathering information on gambling related harm and I was happy to pass on the knowledge I have gleaned from my work at Westminster. Gambling related harm is a worldwide issue. I would have stayed in Inverclyde and gotten on with the day job but we were expecting a debate in the Financial Services Bill and possible votes so I headed for the midday flight. Unfortunately, the debate was pulled but there were plenty of urgent questions to fill the void. I was taken (miracles of miracles) for a question on the shambles of the ferry contracts. Surprisingly it was the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care that came to answer. Or not answer as the case may be. I raised my concern over healthcare companies that are extending their credit limits to borrow money so they can stockpile medicines. The other side of the coin is that banks are having to extend loans over longer periods than they would normally have an appetite for.

Tuesday

The select committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence from experts on the gathering of statistics. What sounds like a very dry topic was in fact an extremely interesting session. In these days of ‘fake news’ it is increasingly important that data can be gathered and reports produced that can guide industry and commerce without political interference. The local SNP branch have a resolution for SNP conference that a Scottish Statistics Agency should be established. I hosted a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous where we addressed their concerns that access to prisons for ex-offenders was difficult. Often and particularly within Narcotics Anonymous, it is the testament of members of the fellowship that gives strength to others. Unfortunately some of those members have criminal records. We are seeking clarification over when they can get permission to return to prison to help and counsel inmates. We had an SO24 (emergency debate granted by the Speaker) on the Ferry Contract debacle. This time the Secretary of State for Transport actually turned up. In the evening the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Catalonia had an extremely well attended and we heard from Toni Comin (ex Minister for Health) and Professor Bill Bowring, an international observer at the trails of political prisoners in Madrid.

Wednesday

I started the day at a round table event with Scottish Renewables. It was an extremely interesting discussion encompassing both on shore and off shore wind and importantly how we can mix tidal, wave and solar into the package. I attended both the Marie Curie and Brain Tumour drop ins. Prime Minister’s Question was sparsely attended by the Conservative and Unionist Party, the discontent within their party rumbles on as we approach the decisive Brexit votes next week. I attended and spoke at a Parliamentary round table event on Global Drug Policy. It was attended by delegates from Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, India and many other countries that are suffering because of their part in the international drugs trade. The hard fact that many of the UK representatives couldn’t grasp was that these countries were brutalised by colonialism and had their natural resources stolen from them. Their current poverty and therefore the need of poor farmers to grow the crops and play their part in the industry is because of British colonialism. It is a bit rich that all these years later we still think we can teach them how to run their own countries. Not surprisingly the delegates from those countries agreed with me. Business in the chamber is slow at Westminster so I managed to catch the 20:30 flight home.

Thursday

The morning was taken up by street surgeries in Port Glasgow and I squeezed in some leafleting for Councillor Jim Mcleod at lunch time. The afternoon was spent in my office handling casework to allow members of my team to take holidays and attend on-going training and personal development. In the evening I attendee ‘Creative Inverclyde’ at the Albany. This is a fantastic initiative to encourage cooperation amongst the creative sector while promoting Inverclyde as a place to work and live.

Friday

The plan was to do more street surgeries in the morning but our beautiful rain intervened and I worked in the office instead. I had a meeting with Riverside Inverclyde in the afternoon.

Tele diary w/b 25th February

Monday

I have been taking part in the judging of the UK Parliament awards and the final paperwork was completed today. The parliamentary briefing on the Safer Gambling Advertising Campaign was a lively affair taking into consideration the views of many stakeholders. The campaign is targeted at men between the ages of 16 to 34 that already gamble twice a week. This demographic is recognised as having the greatest potential to experience gambling related harm.

Tuesday

The Prime Minister made yet another statement regarding the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and explained the current plan. That is current as in Tuesday’s plan. It will change. I met with the Chief Executive of BACTA to get his take on the progress we have made regarding Fixed Odds Betting Terminals and how we can address gambling related harm in his area of expertise. My first delegated legislation committee of the week was ‘Energy Systems regulations’. The sifting committee had cunningly grouped five statutory instrument into one sitting. We out smarted them and considered them all at the same time thus saving hours of meaningless debate. The deputy Speaker gave the group a security update and that was followed by an SNP group meeting.

Wednesday

I met with Alok Sharma MP (Minister for employment). We dialled into the Inverclyde jobcentre and discussed support from Citizens Advice Bureau and funding of the ongoing support to roll out universal credit. Prime Ministers Question time and I had the joy of sitting beside Patricia Gibson the MP for Millport. PMQs is not the classiest of affairs and it was a rare joy to hear Ian Blackford welcome visitors from the Netherlands Parliament to the gallery, in their native tongue. They were clearly delighted. I dropped in to meet Ofcom and get an update on broadband speeds in Inverclyde. I know it’s not a great comfort if you are experiencing poor connection speeds but Inverclyde has 97% properties with 30mbit/s availability. And is better served than many communities. It has certainly improved since we managed to persuade major suppliers to invest in Kilmacolm and Inverkip. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm met with a pleasure group that are seeking to expose the algorithms that bookmakers use to stop people winning and at the same time encourage people who are losing. This will be the basis for our next enquiry. I dropped in to the Fairtrade fortnight reception to hear about the West African Fairtrade cocoa producers and how we can support woman’s economic empowerment in the sector. 

Thursday

My Select Committee on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs met to take evidenced from Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the civil service regarding Brexit readiness. It’s stunning how much legislation still has to be done and ironically I had to leave early to attend another Delegated Legislation Committee to push through more statutory instruments. The UK Government is now beginning to realise that this can’t be done in time and will take steps to push through legislation without any debate or scrutiny. We could have told them that a year ago. I spoke in the chamber on behalf of the SNP in the St David’s Day debate. It was an interesting event if only to hear so many of the MPs that represent Welsh seats raging against the Conservative and Unionist UK Government.

Friday

As ever the first Friday of the month was spent hosting surgeries throughout Inverclyde. In the evening I attended the Innerkip society dinner. There was no escaping politics with a table of councillors and council officers. On Saturday I plan to attend the AGM of the Coves Community Nature Reserve.

 

Tele diary w/b 11th February

Monday

Business started with questions to the Department for Work and Pensions. I was not on the Order Paper so I bobbed furiously on the back of other people’s questions. My extreme bobbing was in vain as I failed to catch the Speaker’s eye. I had lodged an urgent question on the allocation of European Conference of Ministers of Transport permits (ECMT) to road hauliers but I was unsuccessful. The urgent question was on the contract awarded and subsequently cancelled to Seaborne for the provision of Ferries post Brexit. I had a cunning plan to squeeze in my question about road hauliers but once again the speaker chose to ignore me. I had yet another Delegated Legislation (DL) Committee. This one was on eco-design for energy-related products and energy information. In the evening I appeared on the James Whale show on Talk radio. I took the opportunity to finally explain that the U.K. has an allocation of 984 ECMT permits and there have been over 11,000 applications. Simple maths tell me that less than ten percent of the applicants will be able to continue to transport goods from and to the U.K. post Brexit if we have a no deal. With forty one days to go the U.K. Government continues to hide its head in the sand over serious issues with extreme consequences.

Tuesday

I met with MPs from the Conservative and Unionist Party, Labour Party and Plaid Cymru to show solidarity with the Catalan political prisoners. In the chamber the Prime Minister made another, very similar, statement about leaving the European Union. These matters are hugely important which makes it all the more disappointing that the conversation has not moved on in over 30 months. My second DL Committee of the week. This time it was draft judicial pensions and fee-paid judge’s pensions. I dropped in to see Digital Scotland to hear about the next phase of broadband rollout in Scotland. Inverclyde is well served already but there will always be room for improvement. I met the Parliamentary cyber security team to ensure that my office staff and I are doing everything we should to keep our data secure. I made a short speech outside Number 10 to Catalan protestors.

Wednesday

I met with representatives of pharmaceutical companies regarding the supply of prescription drugs after Brexit. Although many are manufactured in the U.K. most require ingredients from outside the U.K. The supply chain, as per my previous observations regarding the haulage industry, will be under extreme pressure. Prime Ministers Question’s has stagnated into a she says, he says affair. I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on global security and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Late afternoon I attended my third DL committee of the week, the draft financial services contracts. One of the great things about this job is the wide variety of subjects that I get involved in but these DL committees really are stretching that theory to the limit.

Thursday

First up were questions to the Department of Transport. I bobbed, I wasn’t taken. I am one of the judges in the UK parliament awards so I spent some time reviewing this year’s entrants. I have gone to some lengths to encourage people of all walks of life to engage with politics and politicians and these awards are a good vehicle to do that. The re-run of the E.U. Withdrawal Bill was debated in the chamber and votes started at 17:00. There were 2 amendments voted on but followed by the main business of the day and we had two interesting developments. The SNP amendment to extend article 50 was supported by 41 Labour MPs who ignored their party whips and the government lost their motion by 303 votes to 258. A hammering in anyone’s language. And so the Brexit debacle continues. The ’mother of all parliaments’ overseeing the mother of all farces. I arrived home at 22:50

Friday

I caught up with some casework and then attended the Inverclyde Alliance Tobacco Strategy update. I had meetings with constituents and street surgeries all afternoon. In the evening I finally got to a Burns Supper.

Westminster diary w/b 4th February

Monday

Business continues to be slow at Westminster as the government is completely incapacitated by the prospect of leaving the European Union. I utilised my time away by holding extra meetings with constituents. Until Westminster sorts itself out, if that is possible, then I shall be making plans to spend as much time in Inverclyde as I can and use that time constructively.  

Tuesday

Paying the price for not travelling down yesterday and caught the red eye to London. Despite a slight delay due to fog I was in Westminster by 9:30 and started the day with the select committee for Transport. We took evidence from the road haulage industry regarding Brexit. This was a follow up session to a previous one where we took evidence from the rail haulage industry. It’s an accurate reflection on the evidence provided that the haulage industry has been dreadfully under-represented in any withdrawal discussions. There are a host of questions unanswered that need to be addressed if goods are going to flow back and forward unhindered. In the afternoon I had a meeting with the Minister of State for disabled people Sarah Newton. I updated her on four universal credit cases that my office are dealing with as they represent a cross section of typical cases. I attended the debate on Unpaid Work Trials brought forward by my SNP colleague Stewart M McDonald MP. And finished the day with an internal group meeting to keep us updated with all things Brexit. 

Wednesday

A second meeting of the Transport Select Committee was another private session. We took evidence from representatives of air traffic controllers, pilots and senior management from Gatwick and Heathrow about drones. This was prompted by the closure of Gatwick due to drones. It was an extremely informative session from experts in their field. I caught most of Prime Minister’s Question Time. It was the day of the deputies as the Prime Minister was otherwise engaged desperately seeking anyone that would back her Brexit deal. I had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Wright MP and Minister for Sport and Civic Society, Mims Davies MP. The topic of conversation was gambling related harm. I am pressing them for a range of changes including advertising regulations, funding and the proliferation of ‘loot boxes’. As once again business collapsed early I caught an evening flight home. 

Thursday

Great start to the day with a cycle to work and meeting with the Inverclyde Bothy and Halfords to promote cycling in Inverclyde. Swift peddle back to my office for a range of meetings with constituents and organisations. In the evening I attended the community council meeting for Inverkip and Wemyss Bay. Amongst a range of issues discussed the biggest concerns were the proposed 650 houses on the old power station site and the state of the A78.  

Friday

I had a meeting with constituents to discuss employment issues. I then had one of my regular meetings with Police Scotland to review my and my team’s security. A quick catch up with Tommy ‘the clown’ Armstrong was followed by a meeting with River Clyde Homes management for an update and constituent cases. I ended the week with a meeting with Scottish Power to discuss their plans for the Inverkip Power Station site. We can do so much more with that site than just houses.

 

Westminster diary w/b 28th January

Monday

Midday flight to London is mobbed with elected and non-elected members. Despite the popularity of the flight to London City it is very rare that I find myself sitting beside another Member. This week was the exception with a row of four comprising Mhairi Black (seat, Lisa Cameron (seat), Gavin Newlands (seat) and me. The rest of the passengers drew a great sigh of relief. On arrival I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Universal Credit. We had a briefing from Child Action Poverty and Unison which covered the 1.6 million households expected to move from legacy benefits onto Universal Credit this year. These households will not receive any transitional protection, even if they are substantially worse off. This will be tough in Inverclyde but thankfully our local jobcentre is at the forefront of modifying the system and lessons will be learned. In the evening the SNP group met with the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP. She updated us on Brexit negotiations and we worked up scenarios and voting procedures prior to tomorrow’s vote. With so many proposed amendments this can be a long drawn out affair. We were expecting votes on the immigration bill but the outcome was less sure as Labour dithered over their intentions and went from a one line whip to a one line whip tinged with desperation. Had they applied a three line whip then there is the possibility the UK Government would have been defeated. We then debated proxy voting but it proved uncontentious and it passed without division. I got back to my (very cold) flat just after midnight.

Tuesday

The morning was taken up by three events organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy reform. We discussed drug consumption rooms, county lines and drug safety testing. There a good number members from both the Lords and Commons there to listen to the expert testimony from police and crime commissioners, Neil Woods (drug squad cop, turned author) and a range of service providers. It was particularly good to see some MPs who have not previously engaged and are now becoming better informed about the issues. The big debate was of course the European Withdrawal Amendments. The behaviour of the Conservative and Unionist Party members towards Jeremy Corbyn MP and Ian Blackford MP was disgraceful. They acted like school playground bullies. Full of their own importance and self-righteous indignation. During the Prime Minsters speech the tory whips were clearly identifying sympathetic Labour members for the Prime Minister to take interventions from. Just another sign of the rudderless Labour Party, lacking leadership and devoid of ideas. At the end of the evening and after a rash of votes on amendments the Prime Minister had managed to produce the situation where she is heading back to Brussels to re-negotiate a deal she said was not up for re-negotiation with the European Union and Ireland already saying they want renegotiate. We shall do it all over again on February the 13th.

Wednesday

I started the day at the Select Committee on Transport where we took evidence on bus services. It seems around the UK we have similar problems. Bus companies can’t afford to run uneconomical routes and the cost of replacing buses after Brexit is frightening. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse the speaker was forced to lecture the Conservative and Unionist Party benches during Prime Minister’s Questions. Their rehearsed and coordinated barracking of Ian Blackford MP was disgraceful. In no other walk of life would grown men and women behave in this manner. The briefing from the CBI on delivering a roadmap to supercharge the UK’s digital infrastructure was more congenial and productive. It was also agreed that the UK Government’s aspiration of a 10Mb universal service obligation was not fast enough and Scotland’s ambition of 30Mb was appreciated. Business in the Chamber is slow so I take the opportunity to head home on a Wednesday which is unusual for me.

Thursday

I take advantage of an unexpected extra day in the constituency by meeting constituents and discussing a range of issues that affect their lives. This covers, funeral poverty, working in the EU after Brexit and medical cannabis. Parading around the green benches is one thing but the nuts and bolts of any MPs job is helping constituents with the issues that affect their lives. It’s not as glamorous but when we can help, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Friday

I held surgeries in Kilmacolm Community Centre, Port Glasgow Library, my constituency office in Crawfurd Street and finally in Gourock Library.

Westminster diary w/b 21st January

Monday

Down to London for another dose of dexterous duplicity from a government in meltdown. Unfortunately this means I can’t attend the consultation on the plans for the old Inverkip power station which is still owned by Scottish Power. Ironically for a power company the proposals are bereft of any innovative energy ideas and instead amount to 650 houses a shop and a pub. This site deserves better, Inverclyde deserves better. At Westminster, the Prime Minister is explaining plan B which is remarkably similar to the A plan that got voted down last week. In fact it’s indistinguishable. I was the SNP representative on the Delegated Legislation Committee on the draft intellectual property. Unusually it was quite contentious and went to a vote of the committee. The UK Government won nine to eight.

Tuesday

The select committee on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence on the effectiveness of the PHSO (Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman). My office has received a large quantity of correspondence relating to cases, health and finance, where people have felt let down by the process. I was on the order paper for questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I raised the matter of the imprisonment of Carme Forcadell (Speaker in the Catalan Parliament). The UK Government minister was not interested in explaining his position because as a minister in the Foreign Office apparently he has no view on democracy.

Wednesday

The Transport Select Committee took evidence from experts on Active Travel. In Inverclyde, we are fortunate to have Community Tracks providing bikes for member of the community, including myself. In doing this they are encouraging people to become more active and where possible replace small car journeys by cycling. The outcome of this is that Sustrans Scotland will be funding a cycle track (Route 75) that runs the length of Inverclyde with the aim to join it to similar routes in West Renfrewshire and North Ayrshire. Prime Minister’s Question Time

I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on suicide and self-harm where I heard a moving account of her son Jack’s suicide as a consequence of his gambling addiction, from Liz Ritchie. Liz and her husband Charles founded the organisation Gambling With Lives. Members had a security briefing in the late afternoon and it was disturbing to hear just how many MPs have been threatened at constituency surgeries. There is a measurable increase in this sort of behaviour and it is coming from the far right. 

Thursday

I was due to attend the second sitting of the select committee on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs this week but it was cancelled. The Brexiteers on the committee have other fish to fry. Instead, I attended the Urgent Question on EU free trade agreements. The long and the short of it is, that with 64 days to go, none have been signed. I had my second Delegated Legislation Committee of the week. This one was on draft insolvency. These committees are part and parcel of the legislative process at Westminster but the burden of legislation that Brexit has brought has increased their frequency beyond anyone’s memory. To process all the statutory instruments that are required before Brexit on the 29Th March there will need to be 13 committees every sitting day. Given that each Committee ties up 17 MPs, a chair (also an MP), 7 clerks and a door keeper, they are proving to be extremely costly and time consuming. I summed up in a Westminster Hall debate on knife crime and stressed the importance of the violence reduction unit in Glasgow and the successes it has had. I managed into the chamber in time to hear the front bench speeches on appropriate treatment for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). I caught the 19:30 flight home.

Friday

I had meetings with staff at the local job centre followed by a catch up with senior council officers. The rest of the day was taken up with constituency meetings.

 

Westminster diary w/b 14th January

Monday

I started the week meeting constituents in my Inverclyde office. Ignoring all the roaring and shouting and far away from glare of the insatiable media, casework remains at the heart of a Member of Parliament’s job. It is humbling to listen to the stories of my constituents who confide in me and a source of great joy and pride when my office provides solutions to everyday problems. I caught a midday flight and had the unexpected pleasure of a conversation with Baroness Ramsay during the flight. She was employed in the diplomatic service or to be more precise MI6 and features in a book I have just read (The Spy and the Traitor). It was extremely interesting to hear her take on the accuracy of the book. In the house the Prime Minister made a statement on the Brexit agreement. There was nothing new in it.

Tuesday

The Select Committee on Transport took private evidence from representatives of the Rail delivery Group and Rail Freight Group. The questions were around Brexit and how well placed the UK is to handle either the deal on offer or a no deal. I was on the order paper for questions to the department for Health and Social Care. I pressed the UK Government to pass the prescribing of medical cannabis to doctors and the dispensing to pharmacists as the current set up is not working. My plea fell on deaf ears. I hosted an event for gambling awareness which was attended by over a dozen outside agencies and nearly 40 Members. It was a tremendous opportunity for them to network and build alliances that will be required as we attempt to address gambling related harm. At the end of the House sitting the Conservative and Unionist Government were thoroughly beaten by a humiliating margin of 230 votes as the Brexit deal was rejected. Finally, after months of cajoling the Labour party brought forward a vote of no confidence in the government.

Wednesday

I, along with my SNP colleagues met with the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP. She was down for talks with the Prime Minister and took time from her busy schedule to chat informally with the SNP group about a range of topics. Prior to the debate on the vote of no confidence we had Scottish questions during which the Secretary of State for Scotland talked down Scotland and our abilities. Nothing new there then. The Prime Minister struggled through Prime Minister’s Question but despite being beaten and on the ropes like a boxer who has been on the receiving end of too many defeats, the leader of the opposition never laid a glove on her. I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Faroe Islands. It’s fascinating to learn how a small nation with so few resources and massive logistical problems can be such a success. In the evening the U.K. Government survived the vote of no confidence as we all knew it would. The DUP votes being crucial.

Thursday

After the shenanigans of the last week it was back to business today. I summed up in a Westminster Hall debate on ‘Rail Infrastructure Investment’. It was based around a report by the Select Committee on Transport of which I am a member. A quick dash to the airport and I caught the early evening flight home.

Friday

I had a very busy morning with a mixture of meetings with constituents and organisations. In the afternoon I highlighted the increasing trend for companies to charge for using ATMs. Mid-afternoon I had a meeting with senior council officers and then attended the James Watt celebrations at Cowan’s corner.

 

Westminster diary w/b 7th January

Monday

First day back at Westminster after the winter recess. It’s always good to catch up with friends and colleagues at Westminster after any break but there is a palpable air of disbelief and great concern hanging over the place now. The constant echoing of “happy new year” ringing round the halls sounded a little hollow, as at this moment it looks like anything but a “happy” new year. The Brexit vote had been delayed with the hope that the one and only deal that is on offer could be improved but it hasn’t so instead more time has been wasted. I was on the order paper for oral questions to the Department for Work and Pensions. I took the opportunity to raise a specific local Universal Credit case and the minister has agreed to discuss this with me. The reaction from some heartless folk in social media has been appalling. They have been very quick to jump to the wrong conclusions and sit in judgement on a person they have no knowledge of. There was an urgent question on some legal aspects of the European Union Withdrawal Bill. A great deal of the focus was on the awarding of a ferry service contract in the event of a no deal, to a company that has no ferries and has never operated any. The usual methods of scrutinising such contracts was waved under regulation 32 which can only happen in extreme unforeseeable circumstances. Given that the UK Government has admitted to having people working on scenarios for two years now I am more than surprised that they can’t reveal what the extreme unforeseeable circumstances are. It’s almost like they are incapable of following their own rules. In the evening I attended and spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Catalonia. The deputy speaker Josef Costa also spoke and the following day met with his counterpart at Westminster.

Tuesday

The Select Committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence on the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), in-particular aspects gas of how the ombudsman handles complaints against the NHS in England and Wales. I had a private meeting Charles and Liz Ritchie whose son Jack tragically committed suicide as a direct result of his gambling addiction. Charles and Liz have launched an organisation (Gambling with Lives) to work as a pressure group to change the laws around gambling, gambling advertising and gambling education and support. I wish them well with this venture and I shall continue to give them as much support as I can. The end of the evening was dominated by one vote. The outcome is that the UK government will have to come up with a new plan within three days if the EU withdrawal deal is rejected next Tuesday.

Wednesday

My first engagement was a Delegated Legislation committee. This was mostly rubber stamping changes from the Finance Bill to improve the investment in the oil and gas sector. It doesn’t go as far as I would like but we have to work with what we have so I was t about to oppose the amendments.

Prime Ministers Questions was another poor event but that was made up for at least in entertainment value by the subsequent rash of points of order. For the best part of an hour the Conservative and Unionist Party and then the Labour Party ripped into each other over the legitimacy of the speaker allowing an amendment to the Withdraw Bill. Conservatives in particular were apoplectic with rage each adamant that they were right and anything else was a constitutional outrage. When I was leaving the chamber a very senior ex Conservative cabinet minister said to me “once again the only party that gained anything from that was the Scottish National Party”. He wasn’t wrong. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) met and changed our name to the APPG on Gambling Related Harm. This allows us to extent our areas of investigation. The FOBT campaign has moulder us into an effective campaigning group and we are not going to stop now.

Thursday

Due to the change in chamber business and the rescheduling of the meaningful vote, Thursday suddenly became very quiet. I took the opportunity to catch up on select committee reports. Sometimes, because I am on two select committees, it’s beneficial to take time away from Westminster and read up on the ongoing enquiries otherwise it can all rush past in a blur. I caught the four PM flight home.

Friday

I visited the newly opened dentist surgery in Kilmacolm. This is one of the latest ventures by Puneet Gupta. It’s great to see local people investing in local businesses. Last time I was there it was a bank. I never know which is more uncomfortable, a visit to my financial adviser or a visit to my Dentist. Given that they are both my daughters I should say they are both pain free and beneficial. In the afternoon I visited the police command and control centre in Govan.

On Saturday I shall be attending the beach clean-up at Lunderston Bay and then working on various town centre stalls where I am gathering signatures for a petition to halt the roll out of Universal Credit.