A week in Parliament

Prime Minister Questions

I came out the ballot with a question to ask the Prime Minister. You are aware that this is technically the set piece occasion that more people watch relevant to Parliament. So you want to be drawn…and then once you are drawn, you start to worry about what question to go on, how to frame it and how successful it will be or otherwise.

Apparently, Sebastian Coe, the successful athlete used to competing and doing television interviews went completely blank with his first PMQ. I also heard recently about a Tory who got so many questions in a short space of time, on his last effort ended up asking a really bland one about asparagus farmers. This was because his whips wouldn’t allow awkward questions to be asked.

Fortunately, I had no constraints – no-one in the SNP interferes and of course I am allowed to criticise the Government. I opted to compare the concessions the DUP have gained from the UK Government, to the Scottish Tories. I highlighted that the Scottish Budget has been cut by £2.5bn pounds in real terms, [confirmed by the independent House of Commons Library], we are due £140m VAT refund for Police and Fire Services, £200m CAP convergence and £600m rail budget shortfall. This I suggested means that each Scottish Tory MP costs Scotland £265m. It is a real eye opener when put together.

According to an article in a book by Paul Flynn MP, you should make your point and then finish on a question that is completely unanswerable. I achieved this by asking the PM if we “can free transfer them?” This rounded my question off as I started with a football analogy and finished it that way and of course the PM cannot physically answer. At the time it seemed to work and so I sat down relieved. Such is the nature of PMQs I could not hear the PM response due to a mix of laughter, shouting and cat calling, but I was confident that I did not agree with her answer!

DUP/Brexit

Well, what a farce that when the PM is ready to announce she has concluded the first phase of talks, the DUP tell her they are not happy and she has to come home with her tail between her legs. The DUP claim they will not accept any regulatory differences between Northern Ireland and the UK. Yet, they want to have a different corporation tax so they can set it at the same rate as Ireland; they want to have a VAT regime different from the UK so they can match Ireland; they do not recognise the 1967 Abortion Act, and citizens in Northern Ireland can claim and Irish passport and hence an EU passport when other UK citizens cannot. So, there is no chance of ever knowing what the DUP really want.

Luckily a fudge was agreed at the end of the week but it still does not bode well for the future.

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard 14 December 2017

My thoughts on the Autumn Budget Statement

My overall feeling about the budget was one of disappointment, both from a local perspective and from a Scotland wide perspective.

The big ask from a local point of view was the UK Government to match the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Ayrshire Growth Deal. Never mind finance, the Ayrshire Growth Deal did not even get a mention. This is a real disappointment and only recently I challenged the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, with my concern he was prioritising a deal for the Borders - the Borderland Deal. Well my concerns were correct as the Chancellor name checked the Borderlands deal. Incredibly he announced a new package of city deals to be implemented for Northern Ireland which we can only assume is outside the £1bn already allocated as part of the DUP deal.

The Chancellor also refused to lift the public sector pay cap. This affects employees in Scotland and also means that given the Scottish Government have pledged to lift the pay cap, they need to do so on a reduced budget.

Granting a VAT exemption on the Scottish Police and Fire Services was long overdue and welcome. Remember they have granted exemptions for the National Crime Agency, Police Service Northern Ireland, Highways England and Academy Schools England then it was obvious this could have been done before now. Indeed the current Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Scotland previously voted against an SNP clause to a Finance Bill that would have provided the necessary exemption. To give the credit for the change to the new Scottish Tory MPs was laughable, but worryingly confirmation that the Tory UK Government were simply punishing an SNP Government and playing politics with our emergency services. This is further illustrated by the refusal to repay the money already paid to HMRC, £140m in total.

The only other Scottish policy announcement was one for the oil and gas sector, which is predicted to give the Treasury more money, so cannot be classed as any form of financial support.

So, despite being hailed as a Ruth Davidson fuelled giveaway for Scotland, we have been badly overlooked. Even the headline figure of £2bn of Barnett Consequentials has been shown not to stack up, with £1.1bn to be repaid to the Treasury.

Yet, he found £3bn in Brexit preparations to add to the £40bn they are now promising the EU and he found £3.2bn in stamp duty giveaways for first time buyers in England on properties up to £300k and £500k in London. There are already calls for the Scottish Government to follow suit, but how many first time buyers cannot get a house because they can afford a £300k mortgage but not the land and building tax? It is further proof how out of touch the Tory Government really is.

The Chancellor spoke for an hour, delivered well over 8,000 words and only about 100 (1%) directly covered Scotland. That in itself is probably testament to the real “power” of the additional 12 Scottish Tory MPs.

 

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