A Week in Parliament

PMQ Result 

Yet again I used a PMQ to highlight a constituent issue. William Cree has epilepsy and suffers considerable ailments as a result. Somehow in the benefits assessments he had been turned down for independence payment support which he only got through appeal. He has also been turned down for the limited work element of universal credit which was astounding. He was at appeal stage for this and the DWP didn’t even file their paperwork in time with the court leading to his hearing being postponed. So I raised this matter with the Prime Minister. For once, she did listen to the question and said she would look into the matter. By the afternoon the DWP were making enquiries and I was delighted to get confirmation by the next morning his benefit had been awarded without having to continue the appeal process. So in less than 24 hours we had secured some of the support that William should rightly have been receiving.  

It is rewarding when my office can make such an impact. However, this case again confirms what is wrong with the system – clearly the assessments had been inadequate. Somehow at first appeal stage, known as a mandatory reconsideration, then the original decision was upheld which is another failing. The DWP not getting paperwork to the courts in time is another. And finally, while I am glad to have the matter resolved, it shouldn’t take me raising a matter at PMQs for that to happen. How many people give up and don’t go to their MP for help? They simply fall through the cracks. So that reflection always puts these matters in context.  

 National UK Polling 

Yet another poll has 4 national parties spread between a percentage span of just six points. What is more incredible is Labour polling at 18%. Imagine, we are going into the tenth year of a Tory Government. A Government completely split and inept and Labour is in 4th place in the polls?! Yet again it blows holes in the argument that Scotland should not be independent as we should have solidarity with people in Liverpool and Cardiff etc. This is a complete false argument. What good does it do for Scotland to suffer Tory policies we didn’t vote for, purely for “solidarity”? Why should we continually get a government we did not vote for, in “solidarity”? Also, the people in Liverpool are getting the Government that England voted for, so that’s a matter for the English electorate. Meanwhile, we are told devolution at least allows us to mitigate Tory cuts. It is a fallacy that the Scottish Government can keep doing this, given that the UN Special Rapporteur has said this is not sustainable in the long term. And of course Scotland is to be taken out of the EU, because the voters in Liverpool and most areas of England outside London voted to leave. Where’s our share of the “solidarity”?  No wonder more and more people are coming round to the idea of an Independent Scotland.  

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Stagecoach / Irvine Valley Bus Service 

Staying in the Irvine Valley I am well aware that many people feel the bus service is unaffordable. I have met with Stagecoach on this matter a couple of times and even written to the Transport Minister on the subject. [Local communities have done likewise as has Willie Coffey MSP and Councillor Elena Whitham]. So I was delighted that they have agreed to do a new trial period of more frequent buses and a much lower fare structure. As it is only a trial period I would urge people to use the bus as often as they can. My wife Cyndi has pledged to use it to go to work – the weekly dayrider ticket works out much cheaper than driving. So here is hoping we have a business model that delivers for the customers while working for Stagecoach making it an easy decision to continue with this pricing structure.  

 Killie in Europe 

As a Killie fan I was delighted to see Killie get to Europe for the first time in 18 years. While I am the MP, most people know my credentials as a Killie fan, having run a supporter's club for 25 years; was chair of the overall Supporters’ Association for a while; paid for a privileged seat and am also a member of Trust in Killie. It is such a shame that we have only received 800 tickets. I have seen some complaints on social media from some about how the club has allocated tickets to fans. But the reality is that with only 800 and demand way outstripping supply there can be no way of allocating that is going to please everyone.  

I appreciate that many dedicated supporters have attended a huge number of games over a long period. But there are also the newer fans, who by dint of their age have never seen Killie play in Europe at all. Imagine how galling it must be for some of them if they miss out? There is a logic to giving tickets to supporter's clubs, and then upholding the privilege seat aspect. And of course, players need some tickets for families. Hopefully there will be a decent number left for a form of ballot.  

I personally think UEFA’s rules fall well short. I am all for smaller teams being able to compete – however, there has to be a reasonable way of dealing with demand for clubs with larger supports. I am well aware that for the final game of the season, Killie upset Rangers fans by only allocating one stand. However, that allocation of some 4000 is still larger than many of the allocations Rangers get for other games. But for Connah’s Quay to have switched venues to a larger ground that still only has a capacity of 1500 is bizarre. They were “unlucky” that Wrexham’s much larger ground wasn’t available, but surely this should have been considered at time of entering the competition? I think working in the Killie ticket office at the moment must be way more stressful than trying to resolve Brexit!  

A Week in Parliament

Vote Winner

I often complain about Westminster’s archaic voting system – the system of filing into a room and then getting manually counted as you leave the voting lobby is such a waste of time. For once I was happy to be involved in it: I was acting as a teller – someone who oversees the Government whip who is responsible for the counting. I was able to tell the Tory “No” lobby was quite empty and so I could see we were likely to win. It was good being up there when the Government whip had to hand over the results slip and step aside. This gesture itself confirms who has won the vote before the results are formally read out. So I now brag to the whips team that I have a 100% winning record!

Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

The UK Government has lost in court over its process and dealings of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Human rights campaigners have long argued sales to Saudi should be stopped while they commit atrocities in Yemen. Additionally, the way they treat Saudi citizens accused of diffidence often amounts to torture and/or murder. Yet the UK Government have refused to listen and in a parliamentary answer to myself confirmed that not one export licence for arms sales to Saudi has been refused. Yet, instead of this court case being a wake-up call, the UK Government are appealing it. They literally have no moral compass.

The End of the Union

It is fair to say some people complain about the SNP having the ambition of Scotland of being independent. “Don’t break up the precious union” we are told. Yet there is now another cohort who want to break up the union, or don’t care for it – the Tory party membership. Yes, 63% of the members of the “Conservative and Unionist Party” confirmed in opinion polls that they would be happy for Scotland to be independent as a by-product of Brexit. For them Brexit is more important than Scotland being in the union and more important than Northern Ireland being part of the UK. 61% think Brexit more important than the economy and 54% are happy for their own party to be destroyed as long as Brexit is achieved! The only outcome they were concerned about as a consequence of Brexit was Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister. For that, they would rather they remained in the EU. as an aside it shows how many people think Corbyn a liability as Prime Minister and he is unlikely to ever repeat the momentum he had in the 2017 general election.

The Tory leadership candidates know how important Brexit is to the Tory membership, which is why most are advocating a No Deal Brexit if need be. So they listen to their members on this, but don’t listen to their members on the fact that they don’t care about Scotland being part of the UK. Makes you think that perhaps Scotland isn’t such a drain on UK finances as they make out, doesn’t it?

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

The end of May through to the end of June is peak gala/event season. It means my Saturdays in particular are very busy trying to get out and about to as many as possible. It is a great way to be out and about in the constituency speaking to people and volunteers. I know how much work goes into these events – people working all year to plan a one day/afternoon event. It is important therefore that they get the support of the local communities and from what I have seen this year, this is still well and truly the case.

My season kicked off with Mauchline Holy Fair and that same day I popped into Celebrate Kilmarnock’s Family Fun Day. The next Saturday saw me at Dunlop Gala, Newmilns Cattle Show and seeing off the fantastic group of kids doing a sponsored walk from Galston to Darvel to raise funds for Kyle Ritchie. The following week was Galston Gala Day and I took so long there unfortunately I never managed to make it to Fenwick. The same happened the following week where I had a great time at Stewarton Bonnet Guild but by the time I got to Crosshouse their fun day was finished and I only managed a photograph of the last marquees being taken down!

My next challenge is trying to do the Lapraik festival in Muirkirk, Hurlford Gala Day and Stewarton Beer Festival on the one day. I look forward to these and other events and attending a beer festival is just one of the sacrifices I have to make in my role as MP!

That Leadership Contest

So the next UK Prime Minister will ultimately be chosen by the elderly, right wing Tory Party membership of some 120,000 or so people. This also means that it is hard to see anyone other than Boris Johnson become Prime Minister. This is a man sacked from the Times newspaper for making stuff up in an article he wrote. Sacked as a shadow minister for lying to party bosses. Terrible as Foreign Secretary. He is also clearly anti-Scottish – he was the one who proclaimed a pound spent in Croydon is of more value to the country than a pound spent in Strathclyde. It has emerged he was the editor of The Spectator who published an anti-Scottish poem which calls for the extermination of the verminous Scots. It is no wonder that some Scottish Conservative MPs launched a campaign to try and derail him before the vacancy arose. They chose to call this “Operation ar*e”. When this became public it wasn’t denied and indeed was referred to by Ross Thompson who has always been a Johnson acolyte. Yet despite this and his other failings, such as lying about Brexit, more Scottish Tory MPs are now backing him. Suddenly, both Ruth Davidson and David Mundell find that they can work with him despite previously announcing they could never do such a thing. It seems hypocrisy is one thing they have in common with our future Prime Minister. A Boris premiership is certainly not what I would call a Union Dividend.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

So parliament has started back after recess not with a bang, but a limp whimper. With Theresa May announcing her planned resignation, then this confirms the ongoing Brexit paralysis of Westminster. With the Tory party now solely focussed on the appointment of their new leader, then Parliament will continue in this state until July 22nd. It means the business is filled with general debates, backbench business and opposition day debates. These do offer opportunities for debates on important subjects. However, it means no binding Government votes, and all legislation on hold.

Worse, with the Zombie Parliament to continue into July, there will likely still be a summer recess at the end of July/beginning of August. September/October will still have the 3 week recess for the Party Conference season, so suddenly we could arrive at the next Brexit cut-off date of October 31st without much happening in Parliament. It also means all those Tory candidates talking about renegotiating with the EU or just leaving without a deal in October haven’t given a moment’s notice to the practicalities from a parliamentary perspective. Which puts into question their suitability to be Prime Minister.

Trump Visit

So President Trump visits and not surprisingly he claims that for any trade deal with the US, the “NHS is on the table”. This was to be fair, denied by Theresa May and then some other Government figures. However, it shows the reality of thinking a trade deal can be negotiated with the US, which is somehow loaded in the favour of the UK. With other senior Tories often supporting part privatisation (or the requirement for health insurance) then we should be worried about the future implications of post Brexit trade deals. With Nigel Farage coming to prominence again, we should also note he is in favour of a private healthcare system. Farage may pretend he is anti-establishment but he is a compete capitalist and actually wants to operate under as few rules as possible so the rich can get as rich as possible at the expense of the rest of society. Many leavers claim Brexit will allow opportunities for growth and for the UK to become “Great “ again. The reality is many of the opportunities they foresee are for themselves and associated companies. We should never lose sight of these matters.

Peterborough By-Election

The Brexit Party won the European elections in England and Wales, and came close to electing their first MP in the Peterborough by-election. Not bad for a new party with no manifesto, and no policies other than demanding the UK leaves the EU! In all seriousness this is alarming. Politics is very volatile just now, and opinion polls are a mere snapshot in time. However, some opinion polls show that if a snap general election was held, then the Brexit Party could in theory be the biggest party at Westminster and therefore Nigel Farage Prime Minister. A party and a Prime Minister with no social policies, no costed proposals to run the UK? It does not seem credible but this is the where the failed UK political system is.

A Week in Parliament

Celebrate Kilmarnock

I was delighted to do the formal opening of the Celebrate Kilmarnock premises in King Street, Kilmarnock. The Celebrate Kilmarnock board consists of a group of volunteers, many running their own businesses and so dedicating precious spare time. They have a simple ethos – look on the positive sides of the community and working at the regeneration of the town centre while engaging with the local community.

We have already seen K-Fest; the Spooky Halloween walks; owning the fact that Halloween in this area falls on the last Friday of October; the Halloween Extravaganza at the Howard Park, and a Family Fun day. Having a hub/premises is the obvious next step- if you want to find out more, pop in for a chat, and if you can offer your time, then all the better. I wish them well going forward and know they will continue to grow as a successful organisation.

Theresa May Reflection

Many people have expressed sympathy for the position Theresa May found herself in prior to her resigning as Tory Leader. Much of this centred on the fact “she took a job no-one else wanted”. The reality however s she took the job as part of her own personal ambition. There were plenty of other Tories who wanted the job, so it wasn’t as if she put her hand up just because no-one else would. [And of course Jeremy Corbyn wanted that job as well, although there are doubts about how well he would have done]. May had been chair of the Tory party in the past and the longest serving Home Secretary in history, all further proof of her personal ambitions.

The reality is she was a complete failure, and also a right wing ideologist. As Home Secretary she was responsible for the creation of the Windrush scandal; she was responsible for the “Go Home” vans, feeding into racist undertones. She happily cut police funding in England which has helped cause the knife crime epidemic in England.

As Prime Minister, she set her own red lines that tied up her negotiations. She called a needless General Election and ran what was seen as the worst campaign ever. She showed no empathy or understanding of the roll out of universal credit. The UN blame her Government policies completely for the negative impact on women, the disabled, children, and the poorest in our society.

She has completely ignored how Scotland has voted from the get go. She refused to consider any of the compromise positions offered by the SNP regards the EU negotiations. She effectively refused to compromise with anyone until the last minute. Yet in the final irony she used a war hero’s quotation about compromise not being a dirty word in her final speech. The use of that quote upset Nicholas Winton’s family as her politics were so different to his. You almost couldn’t make it up!

And who was Theresa May crying for when she announced her resignation plans? Herself and herself only. I don’t want to see anyone suffer emotionally, but these self-pity tears were an apt ending.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week In Parliament

PMQ

I was lucky enough to come out the ballot in first place for another shot at a PMQ. The main topic within Westminster is Brexit and it was suggested to myself to lead for the SNP on this. However, I had a far more pressing constituent case to highlight – Pauline Hunt, received a kidney transplant, which in her words, has given her a “death sentence” due to receiving a malignant kidney. She became seriously ill post operation but it still took time to diagnose the cancer from the kidney which had then spread. A tragic way to pick up this disease.

The transplant service “NHS Blood and Transport” is a UK wide function answerable to the UK Government. So although health is generally a devolved matter, this is why I raised it at PMQs. They have been slow at releasing information to Pauline to allow us to get answers on what went wrong; whether this was preventable and what lessons can be learned for the future. They have a responsibility to do such a review themselves, and this is what I am asking for – and to make sure it links up with the Scottish NHS in case there are lessons to be learned from the post operation processes and what Pauline believes to be clear warning signs not picked up. She and her family deserve answers.

Euro Elections

Thursday May 23rd sees the poll for the European elections – the elections Theresa May repeatedly stated would never happen. According to the Tory Government, it is still possible the MEPs elected won’t get to take their place in Parliament. Is it little wonder that there is confusion and that some voters are asking why bother to vote? I would suggest it is always worth casting your vote. It only ever suits the Government of the day or the establishment if you do not vote. If you want to maintain a status quo, then of course a positive vote for it is the best way to ensure that remains the case.

We now have two new parties to choose from – the Brexit Party and Change UK. With the usual media coverage given to Nigel Farage, then it seems likely the Brexit Party will do well. If you don’t believe in his right wing politics then I suggest you will need to vote accordingly. Change UK seem less likely to fare well, and their own candidate in Scotland now claims to support another party. Instead of changing UK Politics, it must be embarrassing to pick such a charlatan that he has changed his party so quickly!

I would argue that the SNP have been the only party that has been consistent. There are various predictions of how well the SNP will do but this all depends on turnout as much as votes cast. For political geeks, the count on Sunday May 25th will be interesting because of the variables and the clear volatility in politics at the moment. For too many people, I fear they won’t care either way.

These view were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

May 2019 reflects 4 years since I was first elected as MP, creating some nostalgia.  The 2015 election was momentous in Scottish politics, with the election of 56 SNP MPs and the ending of “safe seats” in Scotland. I was fortunate to be the first Scottish MP elected, securing the then largest ever general election swing. That didn’t last long as other colleagues got swings bigger than could be shown on the “swingometer” they use on the TV!

Being naturally cautious, I hadn’t looked beyond the finishing line of the election, and suddenly arrangements were being made to travel to Westminster on the Monday and I had to get my head round my new role, including formally resigning my employment as a civil engineer. As I turned up nervously at Westminster I managed to make a news clip as it took several attempts for a revolving door to open as I pushed in vain against it.

I slowly felt my way into matters such as talking in the chamber, bobbing to ask questions, making speeches etc. This was in stark contrast to many other new MPs, particularly Tories who carry the air and confidence of belonging there. Through time you find out that the arrogance of many is not matched by talent. Equally some of the best speeches/orations I have witnessed have come from politicians where I disagreed with the points they were making. Hilary Benn’s speech about Libyan air strikes was one, and Michael Gove has delivered a couple of barnstormers. Yet both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are both really poor at delivering speeches and also really poor at thinking on their feet.

Another big ticket item for a new MP is your maiden speech with the pressure to talk up your entire constituency, not missing any areas out. It is amazing how many members of the public complemented me on it. I was also struck by the general goodwill of constituents when I was elected, many glad to see someone local being elected. [Although of course my predecessor Cathy Jamieson was local too]

Other personal positives for myself has been the requirement to learn more of wider world issues, and having to push myself out my comfort zone on talking on some of these matters. Trips to Qatar and Palestine trips are key examples of this and the Palestine trip in particular has given me an insight I would never have had otherwise. Clichéd but true is the fact the best aspect of being an MP is helping people and meeting some fantastic community groups, organisations and volunteers.

On the other side, the shock of 2017 snap election showed how vulnerable you and your staff really are, as I saw good colleagues lose their seats. That said, if the worst were to happen, I will always be lucky enough to say I won two general elections to represent the constituency I grew up in. I obviously harbour dreams of Scottish Independence, but while elected, I will do my best to work for all my constituents. This I think is illustrated by House of Commons statistics that put myself top of the league for Scottish MPs in terms of speaking contributions in this parliament.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Kiltwalk

I was pleased to take part in this year’s Glasgow Kiltwalk again. It is a great event to be part of, and into the bargain I was able to raise funds for the local charity Break The Silence. Any donations are topped up by 40% by the Sir Tom Hunter Foundation, and there is still time to donate if anyone feels inclined. It was also great to see Centrestage put on entertainment again – the songs at the right time just gives a wee boost. 

Independence Referendum

Nicola Sturgeon has announced an intention to hold another referendum before the end of the Scottish Parliamentary term in 2021. There are a few myths about a referendum -the most common one is “there is no mandate”. The reality is that the possibility of a referendum explicitly linked to a Brexit vote was included in the SNP manifesto. The SNP were elected in 2016 with a record vote share and subsequently there has been a vote in the Scottish Parliament calling for a referendum, so the mandate for one is clear.

But we were promised the last one was a “once in a generation “vote is the next most common refrain. The reality was that Alex Salmond said that “in his opinion.” There was nothing binding and circumstances change.

“The EU vote was a UK wide vote, and Scotland wasn’t on the ballot paper.” This is factually correct. However, again, the SNP made it clear that a UK vote that over rides a Scottish vote for Brexit could trigger another referendum. The key point here with the “UK wide vote” is also means accepting that Scotland’s vote never matters – we only get a Government or vote outcome based on how England votes. In my lifetime, in 1970, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 2010, 2015 and 2017, Scotland has had Tory Governments that we did not vote for. In four other elections, Scotland did get a Labour Government that reflected the views of the majority of voters. However, our votes did not actually make a difference – if the Scottish votes and seats were discarded, there would still have been a Labour Government anyway due to the votes in England. We deserve a better democratic system.

“No-one wants another referendum” – this is also untrue. I accept many will not, but a clear majority in opinion polls do want another referendum, although there are differing views on how soon it should be.

On the pro-independence side there are also some myths- that the Scottish Parliament can “dissolve the union” in a vote. This is a fallacy as the new Parliament is not a continuation of the 1707 parliament. Another call is to simply declare independence (UDI). Such a process relies on other countries recognising Scotland as an independent country and without some form of vote that proves the majority of people want independence then most countries would not recognise our independence. This is why another vote is required. If Theresa May can bring back her vote several times, then who is she to deny our population a say in their future?

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Brexit Extension

Eventually after all the lost votes, the fighting and debates, the Prime Minister hung about the EU long enough to get another extension to the leaving date. The October 31st deadline spurned a lot of comments about Halloween. This in turn led Twitter wags to point out that Killie Halloween (or Killieween)  is of course the last Friday in October so should that be the deadline? Given the way negotiations have went to date, I think giving Theresa May less days to operate with would not be a good thing! Still, hopefully I will now have a few weeks of not writing about the Brexit twists and turns.

Day Job

Still hopefully the UK Government will start to “get on with the day job”. I made an observation that this was a “Zombie Parliament”, paralysed due to Brexit. An example of how little main business happening in the main chamber was the fact that a Statutory Instrument to correct a previous oversight in the transfer of powers to the Scottish Government over marine renewable energy was held in the main chamber. A similar committee I served on took ten minutes maximum because everyone agreed with the proposals. Yet, the Government still decided to allocate up to an hour and a half in the main chamber. Utterly bizarre. I made another observation that there is other legislation they have been promising to change to make it easier for batteries which store electric energy to be deployed, but they haven’t yet done so. Matters like these are another aspect of the Brexit paralysis that the general public do not see, and I suspect it is a combination of Brexit taking up too much time in general but also the fact that many departments have lost key staff to the Department for Exiting the EU.

Looming Energy Crisis?

In answers to written questions, I have confirmation that half of the existing UK nuclear power stations will be shut down in the years 2023 and 2024. In follow up questions, asking what plans are in place to replace the power generation capacity of these stations, the opening part of the official Government answer was “There are a range of options for replacing this capacity over the coming decades.” How is this answer supposed to give confidence? The timeframe is clearly not decades, and to have replacement schemes, whether renewables or another technology, then planning should already be underway. A scheme will need outline design, planning permission, detailed design and construction. Therefore the timeframe for getting electricity generating is years in itself and so that process should be underway right now. Even the Hinkley point C project nuclear project will not start generating at 2025 at the earliest and actually has a timeframe deadline of 2033. So these critical matters it feels are not been dealt with at all and should be a concern for all of us if proper planning does not start soon. The UK Government have promised an Energy White Paper in the summer, so I will be scrutinising this closely.