Westminster has returned from Conference Recess, not with a bang, but a whimper in terms of UK Government Activity. On a personal note, I am as busy as ever. One piece of legislation they are bringing forward is an Agricultural Bill. I spoke on this bill, partly because I am on the DEFRA Committee. This is another bill which the Scottish Government have concerns over a “power grab”. Just politics? Well, no, the NFUS (who are non-political) took legal opinion on one aspect of the Bill that covers Scotland, and this confirmed that the way the bill is at present means that the UK Government can undermine the Scottish Government in terms of policy and support. And they are concerned about this. So why isn’t the Tory Government listening and being open to amendments?
I took the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State (a)how much lobbying had Scottish Tory MPs had done to recover £160m EU money that was supposed to come to Scotland but withheld by Westminster to go down south and (b) how much of that money they had secured for Scotland. The answer is nothing but I was lambasted by the Secretary of State, Gove, who was shouting at me about how he meets the hard working Tory MPs at Agricultural shows but never SNP MPs. I believe that an absolute tirade from the dispatch box while avoiding the question means you have hit a raw nerve! I will now invite the Secretary of State to the Newmilns Cattle Show, so he can meet me at one in my constituency!
The Tories are supporting an overseas voters bill. At present if you live outside the UK although you were a UK citizen, you can vote for up to 15 years after leaving the UK. The Tories want to remove the 15 year limit. Why? Because the majority of the people who are beyond the 15 year limit are pensioners and therefore more likely to vote Tory. What is disgraceful is that they refuse to give the vote to EU citizens and other foreign nationals living and working here. So, people working, and paying taxes do not get a right to vote on political policies that directly affect them, but some-one who may never have paid a single penny in tax in the UK will get a vote for life. By contrast the Scottish Government use a residency rule, so basically if you stay in Scotland for a set period and are paying taxes, you will get a vote.
Electric Car Charge Fund
I asked the Transport Minister about the allocation of money from a £400m fund for new electric charge-points. I pointed out that Scotland is clearly rural and our landmass is almost 2/3 the size of England. Therefore any fair allocation of money across the UK needs to consider this. His answer? Barnett formula ie 8% of the fund. This is further proof that Barnett is not a protection but a way of giving Scotland a small slice of the cake.
These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.