A Week in Parliament

TMD Friction

While covered elsewhere within the paper, I have to repeat my disappointment about the decision to close the factory TMD Friction in Hurlford. I am conscious that a “consultation” is ongoing before a final decision is made, but the reality is that the parent company have made that decision. Yet again, it would appear that from a national company perspective, it makes more economic sense to consolidate on the one site, at Hartlepool than continue with the two operations. This numbers game just ignores the human impact on the local workers and the wider community impact. It is the hardest aspect to deal with as an MP – with bankruptcy, the stops can be pulled out to find a buyer and try and keep a company going as a going concern. Loans and grants can be sought after. When a company starts making internal decisions on relocation, then it is much harder to change the outcome. That’s not to say these decisions once intimated should be accepted. It is my job and others to challenge such proposals and see if better alternative solutions can be found. This work will continue.

Fisheries Enquiry

The Fisheries Minister, George Eustice was back in front of the EFRA Committee. Some of the questioning was on a “No Dea “ scenario, and the Minister was robust saying they had planned for such an outcome and could cope with it. When pressed on modelling of the impact of a no deal, he then stated that they couldn’t do modelling as it was “too difficult”! He stated that as they didn’t know what tariffs would be applied then they couldn’t do any modelling, (which is just nonsense).  I pressed further on what considerations he had given to export arrangements under a no deal, as 3/4 of the seafood caught by UK fishermen gets exported to the EU, and relies on “just in time delivery”. He then explained they couldn’t consider the impact of this as they won’t know the readiness or processes the other EU countries will have in place. So, in short, he says they are ready, but that they don’t know what will happen because it is too complicated. So, that’s all that sorted then!

Broadband Funding

Telecoms is a matter reserved to the UK. Therefore, while the Scottish Government has taken responsibility for the roll out in Scotland, it is ultimately a Westminster function. Scotland has nearly 2/3 the landmass that England has, a greater rurality, and of course all the islands and so more complicated to cover with superfast broadband and mobile coverage. Yet, when I asked the Minister why does Scotland get less than a fifth of the broadband funding awarded to England, she could not explain the methodology.

For the record, when looking at Great Britain as a whole, Wales has 9% landmass and gets 10% of the UK Government funding; Scotland has 35% landmass and 14% of the funding but England with 56% landmass receives 76% of the funding. No-one can argue that is fair or logical.

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

End of Recess

Recess has ended and this means the return to Westminster. Of course being Westminster, Parliament sits for just seven days before breaking up for “conference recess” which is then a three week break to allow one week for each of the UK wide parties to have their party conferences. It is a crazy system, and amongst it all, you have to question Parliament not sitting for a week to allow the Liberal Democrats, with just 12 MPs to have a national conference.

It’s funny how the world does continue when parliament doesn’t sit, which probably doesn’t reflect well on parliamentarians! However, parliament can be recalled if there is a subject serious enough to merit it. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the Assembly has now broken a world record for the longest period of not sitting/functioning. It beggars belief it has not sat for circa 600 days. The UK Government really needs to do something to break the deadlock. Of course when they are propped up at Westminster by the DUP, then they are not exactly seen as a neutral participant in any talks. Just another sideshow of the grubby DUP deal.


I was pleased but apprehensive to do my first ever podcast interview with Ross Manson for KillieCast. Ross and Andy Kerr do fortnightly community podcasts, giving a round-up of what is going on in and around Killie. Even if you don’t want to hear my interview, they are well worth following/listening to. They are casual, light-hearted, but full of useful information. It is really great to see too young guys who care so much about the town and the community that they want to showcase this. You can subscribe to the podcast FREE on SoundCloud (http://bit.ly/killiecast) and iTunes (http://bit.ly/kcitunes). 


Andy from KillieCast also highlighted that he is in Pylon, which is playing in Glasgow on September 15th. For those who don’t know, it is a show, with musical accompaniment all about living in Shortlees, the concerns of locals about possible increased cancer risk due to the electricity pylons that one time weaved their way right through Shortlees. When I saw it at the Palace Theatre, it blew me away. There is a real mix of humour, and sadness associated with real life. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend going to Glasgow to see it, and if you have already seen it, you will know it is well worth another viewing. I wish all the best to all taking part. It has been a fantastic effort to get to this stage.

Jeremy Corbyn Tour

As part of his summer, Jeremy Corbyn did a quick tour of Scotland. He visited a number of constituencies where Labour believe they have a chance to beat the SNP at the next election. Nothing wrong with that – we all aim to win as many seats as possible. Yet, if Jeremy Corbyn really aspires to be a Prime Minister, then it is Tory seats they need to win. How many Tory seats were visited this time or even the last time he did such a tour? None! Surely Tory seats should also be targeted and that as a platform for calling out the UK Government policies we agree are harmful?

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Broadband drop in and update

I am aware that despite the extensive roll out of broadband locally, those who do not have access to it are immensely frustrated. To that end I hosted a drop in surgery in Merito, Dunlop. The venue is Scotland’s first operational community owned pub, which is now also a community facility.

It was well attended and the good news for many was that they are now in a programme for Fibre to Premises. This will then allow them to access speeds way in excess of the norm. This work is part of an ongoing package using money “clawed back” from BT – the 2017 programme had stipulations that if more people connected to superfast than was predicted, then BT had to return money to the taxpayer. So this is funding provision to additional premises.

If anyone, particularly in rural areas wish to see where they are on a programme, they can log onto a website, www.scotlandsuperfast.com/yourstreet to see if your cabinet has been enabled or is due to be. Digital Scotland at the event were able to provide additional information, so if you wish to find out more, please contact my office. One caveat is that there are a number of properties who will be included in the close out R100 programme. This is the Scottish Government commitment to provide superfast broadband to all properties by December 2021. As this programme is still being developed and subject to procurement, then exact dates cannot be predicted for those properties and at this stage, they are included within that December 2021 horizon.


With regards those who have suffered Green Deal mis-selling by the company HELMS, I have submitted a number of written parliamentary questions. I have now used those questions as evidence to call on the Secretary of State to undertake an investigation that looks at collective redress for all those affected. My key point is that this was a Government initiative that was exploited, partly because the oversight and governance was not adequate enough. Therefore, it is only right that the Government takes action to rectify matters.

I have established that 97% of those with Green Deal finance in Kilmarnock and Loudoun have loans that have a payback period of more than 20 years. If the process was explained properly I bet no-one would take a loan out for 20-25 years just to save a little money on energy. This is because the Green Deal “Golden Rule” is that energy savings in the FIRST YEAR only need to be greater than that year’s payback for it to be deemed value for money. No wonder the company went for long term loans to keep the annual repayment figures down. With such a high rate of these long term loans, then this should have caused a red flag to the governance arrangements but it didn’t. A total shambles and I will keep pursuing the UK Government. If you have been affected and not made contact with either my office or the Citizens Advise Bureau then please get in touch.

A Week in Parliament

That Accent Again

When walking through a corridor, a Labour MP stopped to say that she had completely understood the question I had asked that morning. She stated that when I get excited in the chamber, my accent gets stronger and I am “dreadful”. I am quite sure that my accent being possibly stronger stretches the definition of the word dreadful. However, she did at least add she likes to understand what I say because I can make some good points. A small crumb of comfort but it seems that after three years, my accent shouldn’t still be a novelty or have such an effect. The same day, apparently a new Government Minister asked our chief whip if I could go easy for his first outing at the dispatch box! Still I suppose it confirms I haven’t changed too much to fit into Westminster.


I have written previously about not agreeing with the system of “pairing” ie agreeing with someone not to vote if they are unable to vote. There was controversy because the Government broke an agreement with Jo Swinson MP who is on maternity leave. The Government claim it was an administrative error, but seems to be straight out the dirty tricks department. The SNP don’t engage in pairing so we never have to trust the Tories to uphold a deal. It was poor form, and ironically it has given the Lib Dems a chance to get on the moral high ground. This is because their leader and former leader both missed a key EU vote the day before and were under pressure. With the Tories breaking the pairing they have allowed the irrelevant and incompetent Lib Dems to suddenly claim a moral high ground and positive publicity. That lack of judgement all round sums up the Tory Government incompetence.

 The Phantom MP

The vote the Lib Dems missed was recorded as 305-302, a narrow victory for the UK Government. However, when I looked at the voting statistics, only 304 MPs were listed as having voted. It looks like the tellers had got their count wrong. Imagine a major vote is still at risk of being subject to human counting error?! Had the 2 Lib Dems voted then it could have been a tie but the error would then be critical. What does it take to get electronic voting in that place?

Ian Paisley Junior

Another possible issue for the Tories is that Ian Paisley has been suspended from Parliament for 30 days. He gave a personal statement to the House and it was hard not to feel a bit sorry for him as he was very emotional. However, he was found guilty of not declaring £50,000 - £100,000 of trips to Sri Lanka and then lobbying the UK Government not to investigate Human Rights abuses in that country. When first accused of this, he denied the trips and threatened defamation to newspapers. When you realise what transpired then it shows that actions really are bigger than words. Also, Paisley has form for not declaring expenses and he deserves no sympathy whatsoever.

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Following the resignation of David Davis, just 4 days into the job, the new Secretary for Exiting the EU, Dominic Raab, had the job of presenting the UK Government’s White Paper. And what a shambles the entire process was…the papers were given to the press to read under embargo. When he stood up to do his statement, 4 hours after the press received copies of the White Papers, MPs still did not have the chance to receive them. The Speaker adjourned the sitting for 5 minutes to allow MPs to pick up the report once the vote office was allowed to release them.

It must be remembered that the new Secretary was giving a statement on the White Papers, that we as MPs were then supposed to ask him questions on. A difficult task without the document in your hand. Even so, what I quickly established is that instead of any definitive proposals, all we have, after two years remember, is a set of wish-lists. By skim reading some paragraphs I was able to list a number of areas where the papers state the UK Government want to explore options with the EU. I listed the financial sector; air transport agreement; road haulier access; internal energy market; an arrangement with Euroatom [needed to get radio isotopes for cancer treatment]. These suggestions are blindingly obvious. It seems that David Davis’s 2 years of work has achieved nothing and now these need resolved by October, in just a few months’ time! 

Ester McVey/Universal Credit

The DWP Secretary of State gave a statement to the House of Commons giving her version of an audit report on the roll out of universal credit. Her comments distorted the report so much that the National Audit Office (NAO) head officials wrote an open letter to her correcting what she said. Under the archaic system of Westminster I cannot accuse the Secretary of lying but “inadvertently misleading the House”. She then came to the House of Commons to apologise and tried to take some moral high ground that she was so good for apologising. I am not sure that is how it works. When you interpret “pause” in a report to mean “speed up the rollout” then you are incompetent or disingenuous.

She also then explained all the wonderful changes they have made to the system: these changes weren’t of the Government’s doings but forced because the High Court ruled many measures illegal. The NAO report also confirms that there is no way to measure how effective universal credit is in helping people back into work, yet Tories still parrot lines that universal credit is helping thousands back into work despite the lack of evidence.

Gareth Southgate

England doing well at the world cup, resulted in a Tory MP requesting I sign a letter to the PM, requesting a knighthood for him. The premise seemed to be, that he is a ”nice guy” and “He has restored faith in the national team”. Eh, not my national team, and I don’t believe in nominating people for knighthoods. I wish Gareth well, but this request sums up the Westminster bubble.

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament


After two days of debating estimates – the allocation of money as per the budget, Parliament can vote on the proposed expenditure. These two days of debates are new, and came about from SNP pressure - under the old system, you were not actually allowed to talk about the estimate process or the sums of money. So the previous process was a debate in which the actual subject could not be debated!

Given the fact that the estimates match the budget, which means continued austerity and a real term budget cut of £2.6bn to Scotland’s budget it would seem daft for us not to do anything but vote against the proposals. Yet when it came to pushing matters to a vote, it was viewed as petty politics by some because England were playing a world cup match at the same time. No-one with any self-reflection was able to see that expecting politicians just to down tools because England were playing was possibly the wrong priorities.

Given all business and timings of debate are completely controlled by the UK Tory Government. Therefore, if the football was deemed such a priority then they could have scheduled business differently. Not that I am saying I think that business should be scheduled around England football matches, but it is a choice they can make.  Or, if they are really that concerned about the inefficient voting system then perhaps this just highlights the need for an electronic voting system.

It was interesting to see Tories shouting and swearing at various members of the SNP, myself included just for pushing the different votes. One aspect I pointed out to some Tories was that if the football was sooo important, and that we could only muster 33 votes and that it was clear Labour were abstaining then perhaps they needed to review having 300ish MPs voting against us!

Claim Of Right

The SNP brought forward a motion recognising the historical claim of right that the people of Scotland are sovereign. This dates back to the Declaration of Arbroath and the idea that the monarch had to represent the people and be answerable to them, else a new monarch would be chosen. In modern times it is about recognising wider democracy and that the will of the people must be recognised and acted on. In 2012, in Holyrood, the Tories voted against this even although it was agreed by all other parties. This time they have accepted it. This is welcome and could have ramifications when it comes to matters like another referendum when it means Westminster should not be a blocker on such matters.

Brexit Shambles Part 99

So the PM agreed a deal with her cabinet, but before it can advance, she was hit by more resignations. This is her 5th Cabinet Minister to have quit or been forced out which is remarkable in such a short space of time. With the different factions in the Tory party it is difficult to see how she can replace the Secretary Davis and the Ministers without there being more fallout. It seems quite clear that Teresa May is now running out of time as all her fudging starts to fall apart.

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

To Vote or Not

There was a key infrastructure vote in Westminster on Heathrow. The SNP position, on which I was leading on was eventually to abstain. It was a curious position to find myself in – I have criticised Labour about some of the abstentions they have undertaken. So why take a neutral position?

On the positive side, the Scottish Government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Heathrow Airport. They have pledged to provide a pre-construction logistics hub in Scotland – with Prestwick the favourite location – and a minimum commitment of £300m construction and supply chain expenditure. FlyBe have expressed an interest in commercial operations from Prestwick to Heathrow if they can get slots. All the Business of Chambers in Scotland support expansion as do all Scottish Airports except the Gatwick owned Edinburgh airport. It is predicted up to 16,000 jobs could be created in Scotland in the long run if Heathrow gets an additional runway.

It is expected that “up to 15% of new slots will be available for domestic routes”. This is where I started to get a bit uneasy. Bizarrely, slots are sold to airlines. Then often what happens is that the airlines decide to scrap their domestic routes and use the slots for long haul routes instead. As a result, the only way the slots can be guaranteed to be retained for domestic routes is for the UK Government to put in place control measures – such as public service obligations for airport to airport routes. They indicated to me they are willing to do this if domestic routes start to disappear. This was simply not robust enough and the main reason that the SNP abstained. I observed that with so many businesses and airports in favour, I couldn’t vote to block. But without absolute commitments on connectivity, I couldn’t endorse it with a vote either.

There are some environmental concerns as well. One thing – they will be resolved in court as there will be judicial reviews undertaken. At least that will give certainty on those matters.

Save the Endangered Species

One of the new Scottish Lib Dem MPs is shall we say “slightly off the wall”. Recently at Foreign Office Questions, he raised the issue of the Scottish Wildcat, and the need to save it from extinction. As a rare Scottish indigenous species, I agree with him. However, he raised the matter as a follow up question on illegal wildlife crime. Why does he believe this is a matter for the Foreign Office and does he really think Boris Johnson is the man to save the wildcat?

Another recent contribution was a debate on “UK Intergovernmental Co-operation”. He stated that when he visits his sister in law in Northumberland “I think to myself, “I am in England. I can have a pint now and I will not be pulled over and not be done for it.” That’s an MP who gets to the heart of the serious issues! It is little wonder that the Lib Dems were previously tipped to be an endangered species themselves.

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

What is a Rebel?

From the Cambridge dictionary, rebel means “a person who refuses to accept the government's power”. Anyone following politics of late, would have read that Tory rebels would defeat the UK Government on amendments on the EU Withdrawal Bill. It did not come to pass as the original amendments agreed in the Lords were defeated by the UK Government. This was because the Government agreed to make further changes. Which turned out not to be the case...

One week later and we were assured the rebels would not back down after being done over by the UK Government. The lead “rebel” Dominic Greave MP, a former Attorney General, very intelligent and who we are told is a man of utmost integrity. However, yet again, some weasel words from the UK Government and he backed down as did many of his colleagues. It seems to me that he has a different understanding of the word rebel, or maybe there is a specific Tory understanding of what it means because he certainly has accepted the Government’s powers to the point of no return.

No Deal

And so, the hard line Brexiteers are cock-a-hoop at the back down of the “rebels”. They think it means the UK can just crash out of Europe. In their minds, all will be fine…apparently Airbus are lying when they say they will pull out; other businesses are scaremongering and doesn’t it just gladden your heart when the Foreign Secretary actually says “F*** business” when asked about it? This poses further questions, (a) what does he have to do to get sacked? (b) what is their plan? and (c) do they care about anything other than the fact they think the UK can return to some Empire status they fondly miss?

With the Foreign Minister’s behaviour, I find it surprising that some people think the SNP are the ones to disrespect Westminster!

Gala Season

Summer season brings all the local community galas, fetes and events. It makes for very busy but enjoyable weekends as I like to get out and about and support these when I can. I managed Mauchline Holy Fair, Dunlop, Darvel, Galston, Fenwick, Hurlford, Stewarton Bonnet Guild’s Gala Days; two days at the Lapraik Festival in Muirkirk and Stewarton United’s Beer Festival (a real sacrifice on my part!). I also managed to drop into Ayrshire Samaritans’ one year birthday bash at their new premises as well as doing the “Roon the Toon” 10k. Often some of these events were on the same day, so time management, not my strongest point, was in order. A huge congratulations to all those who organised these events. Having been involved with the Newmilns Gala Committee in the past, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to get volunteers, pull in the right favours and the all-important fundraising aspect. This year, the great unpredictable, the Scottish weather turned out for the most part to shine on all those events – which always makes them that bit more enjoyable, so thanks again to all those volunteers.

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Unacceptable Heckling

I accept I do a bit of “Tory bashing”. It is not my intent to always do this. This week I feel obliged to comment on what I saw as unacceptable heckling and behaviour. And by coincidence he is a Tory.

Ian Blackford raised a point of order and asked the question “what options are available to us?” and the Tory MP, Ian Liddell Granger shouted “suicide”. It was clearly picked up on the microphones for TV so there is no ambiguity of what was said. There are so many levels here – he was suggesting that Ian Blackford should consider going away and killing himself. He is also belittling the effects of suicide and making it a joke of it.

After the event, instead of contrition, he then has the gall to suggest he stated “political suicide”. A complete and utter lie. He ran out the chamber after making the remarks as he knew he had been picked up. Yet Granger now claims we are “cowards” for raising it after he left the chamber, but he knew full well we were trying to raise the matter.

I returned to the subject at Business Questions, and highlighted firstly the key work undertaken by charities but also the funerals of two suicide victims that I have attended and found harrowing. I referenced a constituent case and therefore how disgusted I was by this MP’s behaviour. There are 6000 suicides across the UK each year. It is also known that people have difficulty speaking about how they feel and it is a struggle to break down these taboos and encourage people to be open about their feelings and seek help. I worry that this man may have possibly set such campaigns back. Hopefully by highlighting our anger and belief that this behaviour is unacceptable, we can balance the scales a bit.

The Walk Out

And so we walked out of PMQs in solidarity with our Westminster leader, Ian Blackford. He had highlighted the absurd position that Westminster was planning to impose a Bill on the Scottish Parliament against its will. For the record, 2/3 of the Scottish Parliament has voted to reject the bill in its current format as it allows Westminster to legislate in devolved matters. Yet there was only 15 minutes of “debate” on the amendments relating to the offending clause. Then when Ian wasn’t granted a vote he was entitled to, he was suspended from the chamber. It certainly got the attention of the media which allowed us to explain our concerns. And to constituents who think I stopped representing them. It was only PMQs and a debate. I took part in the votes and got other vital work done. A lesson is that my time was actually more productive!

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard

A Week in Parliament

Rail Omnishambles

After my week of enjoyable work experience in the constituency it was back to business as normal at Westminster. And it really was business as usual, in terms of yet another Monday Statement from the Transport Secretary. This time it was about new rail timetables introduced in two rail franchises, Northern and GWR. Turns out neither company had enough train drivers overall and of those drivers they have, not enough are trained on the routes. This has led to massive cancellations and general chaos.

I spoke to a Labour MP for whom it took three hours to travel to Luton. I appreciate some of my constituents have had issues with Scotrail and the whole skip stopping issue previously. And I realise this will be of little comfort to them, but there is no doubt by comparison that the overall performance of Scotrail is way better than what is going on south of the border. Their rail system is in meltdown and the backbenchers are certainly not putting up any defence regards the train company performances.

Part of the problem was also Network Rail over running on construction projects. Many were quick to point that out. But of course who has ultimate responsibility for Network Rail? Yes, the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. So when he blames them he is actually admitting his own oversight failures. It really is incredible he is still in a job.

Boris Meltdown

I am aware that many of my columns are critiques of the Tory UK Government and/or Government Ministers. I do try to have different topics but sometimes it is so difficult. This is illustrated by the comments by Boris Johnson that the Brexit talks may well “go into meltdown”. And that he favoured a Trump style wrecking ball tactic to the negotiations. It is no wonder he has made so many gaffes in his position as Foreign Secretary with an attitude like that.

David Davis

Another indication of a normal week at Westminster was David Davis the Brexit Secretary threatening to resign his post and then not actually doing it. Talk about the man who cried wolf! Again however, it shows the chaos within the UK Government cabinet. His support was given by backbench Tory MP, Nadine Dorries as follows: “David Davis is ex SAS…He’s also trained to take people out”. Inferring someone is trained to kill is hardly the language of a parliamentarian, and what was speculated was whether this was a threat to the PM not to mess with him. Charming right enough!

Bill Grant PMQ

To round off my observations…my Ayrshire colleague Bill Grant MP had a PMQ. He opted to go on about the SNP and referendums/independence (again). However, he clearly couldn’t read his own writing when he stated we should not have another “decisive referendum”. Having heard the script so many times we know he was supposed to say “divisive”! You never want to get the set piece question wrong but to be fair I have been there myself.

These thoughts were first published in the Kilmarnock Standard.