A Week in Parliament

Labour and the EU Withdrawal Bill

So we had several amendments to vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill. I listened to a 3 panel interview on Radio Scotland not long before voting would commence. Labour’s Paul Sweeney stated that Labour was leading the way (!) on the key issues and gave an example of his colleague Yvette Copper’s amendment. When it came to vote on their colleague’s amendment, backed by the Labour front bench, 14 Labour MPs and 2 former Labour MPs who have lost the whip voted against it. As the margin of defeat was 20, then just 11 of these MPs voting the other way would have defeated the Government. A key aspect of her amendment, one being to extend Article 50 was to allow Parliament to bring in additional bills and take back control rather it being just a Government function. That should be manna for opposition MPs. For the record all 35 SNP MPs backed that; Labour’s main amendment and also Labour’s Rachel Reeve’s amendment. Labour meanwhile abstained on the SNP amendment.

Brady Amendment

The PM said her deal was all that could be agreed with the EU. Then she whips her MPs to vote for an amendment that actually tears up her own agreement! An amendment that the EU say won’t work. Utter incompetence!

Immigration Bill and Labour

One piece of legislation the Tories have managed to get through parliament is the Immigration Bill – aimed at stopping free movement of people (which will ultimately harm any of our family members who want to travel and work abroad in the UK). It also sets unrealistic bars on the amount of income migrants have to have before being accepted. This earning threshold has already affected many of my constituents, and it is really difficult for people married to a non UK citizen to suddenly find their spouse is not welcome in the UK. With lower wages than many other parts of the UK, Scotland is affected once more by the London and South East England view that dominates UK Government.

We know immigration is a Tory obsession, but what of the Labour party, and Jeremy Corbyn? After their front bench spokesperson set out all that was wrong with the bill, but they were not going to vote against it. What?! After an internal backlash and absolute disbelief they put a one line whip on it, which really means, “vote if you can be bothered”. The bill passed by 65 votes but with 80 Labour MPs not voting, there was a possibility of a Government defeat or at the very least making the Government work to get it through. The clear message was that Labour do not actually care about EU citizens and freedom of movement. Given my wife, Cyndi is an EU national and I have several cases where EU citizens are already caught up in the UKs “hostile environment” then I take real umbrage to Labour’s lack of opposition.

It is clear that neither of the two main parties at Westminster are fit to govern. Surely Scotland has better options?

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.


A Week in Parliament

Private Members Bill

I was glad to present my Private Members Bill on HELMS Green Deal mis-selling. I am genuinely angry for my constituents (and anyone else) who has been ripped off by this company regards their PV installations. This possible legislative process starts off with me having ten minutes to present the bill to parliament, for what is also known as the First Reading of a Bill. I then choose a date for the second reading where there should be a debate on the merits of my bill and ideally a vote. However, this is where yet again, the archaic Westminster system fails us. At present, the Government have not scheduled any additional “sitting Fridays” to allow private members bills to be debated. They keep promising to, but then pull the parliamentary motions that would allow them to be set. Additionally there is now such a backlog of Private Members Bills (including another of mine) that this one will effectively be at the back of the queue and unlikely to be debated. It is so frustrating when you hope to bring about change.

The one positive is that I was able to lay bare the key issues the UK Government have to take on board. It is customary for the responsible Minister to be in the chamber to hear the arguments put forth. However, I noted that for the first couple of minutes, the Minister wasn’t even listening – she was too busy chatting. Hopefully her officials took notice but the Ministerial attitude is disrespectful to the HELMS victims.

Special Constituency H.E.L.M.S. Drop-In Surgery

H.E.L.M.S. Action Group Ayrshire and Citizens Advice Bureau are teaming up with my office at The Gateway Centre in Kilmarnock on Wednesday 6th February between 4 – 8pm. These groups are calling for East Ayrshire residents who feel they may be affected by the Green Deal scandal to come to the event for advice, information, and support to make a formal complaint if required.

Institute for Government Report

The Institute for Government has published an assessment report on the current UK Government. It does not make good reading for the UK Government. They confirm that the Government is unprepared to leave the EU on March 29th without a deal, and also that there is no way the UK Government will have the proper preparations in place by December 2020, even if Teresa May somehow gets her withdrawal agreement through Parliament.

They observe on the turnover and chaos of Government – Amber Rudd is now the 5th Secretary for Work and Pensions since 2016 which shows why no-one can get a grip of Universal Credit. Only 8 ministers out of 29 remain in post since Teresa May became PM in 2016. Since the General Election of 2017, there has been 21 ministerial resignations. Half the cabinet were new to their posts in 2018. I defy anyone to say that this level of turnover is productive, and it shows the folly of Teresa May’s “strong and stable” slogan.

Private Members Bill Motion

As stated above, the UK Government has pulled the motion on provision of additional private member bill days a couple of times. One bonus of them doing that on a day when other legislation was under English Votes for English Laws meant I was able to make last minute plans to get back to my constituency earlier than usual. This meant being able to catch Killie’s victory against Rangers. A bonus of the chaotic Government for once!

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Those Votes

So, Teresa May’s withdrawal agreement proposals were rejected to the extent it was the biggest ever Government defeat in history. It shows why the UK Government fought in court to try to prevent MPs having a vote on this! So, she has lost on the principle of not allowing MPs to vote. Her Government is the first in history to be found in contempt of Parliament and now a record defeat of 230 votes.

Given other high court defeats when the Tory Government policies have been found to discriminate against the disabled; the failing universal credit system, the WASPI disgrace, yet another new policy that robs pensioners of income to name but a few, then it is clear she and her Government are completely incompetent. Any Prime Minister with a modicum of self-respect would resign or call a General Election the previous biggest Government defeat, on Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 led to an early General Election.

Meanwhile, incredibly, her Government won the cote of no confidence by 19 votes. This seems a decent margin until you realise that had the ten DUP MPs voted the other way then the Government would be defeated. Another example that the Tory party have bought the votes of the DUP by awarding an extra £1.5bn to Northern Ireland. Fair play to the DUP for hard negotiations. However, as Scotland gets no Barnett Consequential money from this, and Scotland has a real terms budget cut of £2bn, it is logical to say that we are suffering to allow the Tories to stay in power with that “bribe”. Yet, the 13 Scottish Tories seem content for this to happen. We really do get a raw deal from the current arrangements at Westminster.

 What Next?

I like to try and inform constituents as to what will happen next. Unfortunately no-one knows! The Prime Minister has offered constructive dialogue with other parties. However, this already feels like window dressing and not really an effort for dialogue for real proposals. I can see her coming back to Parliament and argue that the other parties couldn’t agree on matters or give concrete proposals so it is back to her deal or leaving with no deal. What she should be doing is ruling out a no deal scenario if it will be as bad as she says it will be and also extending the article 50 timeframe.

 Backstop Arrangements

One issue with the withdrawal agreement is that fishermen in Northern Ireland may get tariff free access to the single market but Scotland won’t. I put this to the Fishing Minster and he denied this – before later on having to correct the record and that I was correct. I made the same point to the Attorney General – the QC who provides the legal advice to the Government and he didn’t understand this aspect either. When the legal advisor to the cabinet is wrong on what is included in the Withdrawal Agreement, then surely this says it all about both the agreement and the level of competence of the UK Tory Government?

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

The Ship that didn’t sail

Readers may have read about the latest UK Government farce…the decision to award a ferry contract to a company that has no boats! I tried to get an urgent question on the subject, and one was granted, but in the name of the Labour Opposition. It has been established that the company has debts and no assets; no boats; no crew; the port of Ramsgate they are to operate from needs dredged before it can accommodate ferries; they have no licence yet or agreement that allows them to sail into Ostend Port which is supposed to be the end destination; one director had a company that was liquidated owing the taxman £600k; the chief executive ran a company that went bust with debts of £1.8m and one is under investigation by another UK Government department. And to top it all, their terms and conditions on their website was plagiarised from a pizza delivery company! Yet the Transport Secretary says that due diligence was done and he is happy to provide support to a new company!

Another twist is that under EU law contracts of this value need to be put out to EU wide competitive tender. The Department of Transport used a regulation for emergency procurement for unforeseeable circumstances. Given they say they have been planning for a “No Deal” Brexit for well over two years, then it cannot be an unforeseen outcome! I observed to the Secretary that if it is a contract for emergency purposes then it should go to a company with a track record. His response is that they won’t get paid if they don’t deliver and it is only 10% of the contract anyway. The whole point he misses is that it is a contract for an emergency situation so if the company doesn’t deliver then the emergency situation is not dealt with either! He could not explain to me what effect this 10% would have on the Port of Dover given how time sensitive it is. He also has not yet explained how such a company was identified for direct negotiation. This fiasco has more to run yet.

The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, is responsible for delayed drone legislation which may have prevented the Gatwick incident; awarded an HS2 contract to Carillion even although there were signs they were going bankrupt; responsible for Northern Rail and Thameslink rail delays and timetable issues in England and allowed Virgin/Stagecoach to walk away from the East Coast Mainline owing the taxpayer £2bn pounds. How can one man be so incompetent?

Killie FC – 150 Years Old

Happy birthday to Kilmarnock FC. Many people will know I am a genuine fan, having ran a supporters bus for more than half my life and at one time, chair of the Supporters Association. It is great to see the improvements in the team under Stevie Clarke, the fans enjoying themselves again and the increase in attendances. There is no doubt that Killie doing well helps the local economy. Here’s hoping for success in 2019!

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

The Vote Chaos

So we have a UK Tory Government that is the first Government in UK history to be found in contempt of Parliament. Then a week later Teresa May pulls the vote on the EU Brexit “deal” because it is so bad a concept that she has no chance of getting it through Parliament. Anyone watching proceedings would see how coward like the Government were in their handling – they dared not put a votable motion to Parliament to allow them to suspend the debate/vote. Instead they used a procedure that their whip didn’t “move” the business of the day. Therefore the agenda simply collapsed. Imagine, such a critical vote delayed by such a weak tactic? This is further proof that the Prime Minister lives in a parallel universe – what took her so long to realise the vote would be lost? Yet in the same parallel universe she travels round Europe looking for concessions she has been told she won’t need. All she is doing is a reckless delaying tactic to try and scare MPs with what she thinks will be a literal Deal or No Deal choice as the clock ticks. What a way to deal with the biggest peacetime parliamentary decision. What should be remembered also is the UK fought in court to try and stop MPs having a vote on the outcome. We now know why – to stop any defeat and allow them to bulldoze anything through parliament.

The Backstop

Part of the deal is the Irish “backstop” arrangements – this means that there is a chance that Northern Ireland will get to remain in the single market and customs union and so be able to sell goods into the EU with no tariffs. Meanwhile in Scotland we will be subject to tariffs in such a scenario. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Northern Ireland will have business advantages over the rest of the UK. Meanwhile, the Scottish Secretary David Mundell, argued specifically that Scotland could not get any such preferential status. He also recently wrote to the Prime Minister saying he would resign if Northern Ireland got treated differently from the rest of the UK. He hasn’t resigned and worse, he is now arguing we accept such a deal that the UK Government’s own analysis shows the UK will be poorer compared to the current arrangements. Why is he arguing we should back a deal that will make us poorer?

Talents of the Tories

I have made observations on the quality of some of the Ministers. Another example is the current QC “forgot” to declare £400k of earnings he made outside his MP role. Yet he is deemed the correct candidate to be the top law advisor to the UK Government?!

Additionally, I was party to a current Government Minister telling one of my colleagues they should have “got the b**tards out the party when they had the chance”. What a damning indictment from the heart of the party trusted with ruling the UK. Is it any wonder I advocate a different direction for Scotland?

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Contempt Motion

So in absolutely unprecedented times, this is the first UK Government found to be in contempt of Parliament. This is because they did not comply with a binding parliamentary motion to publish legal advice on the Brexit withdrawal proposals.

Apart from the historic vote, I can claim to have played a part in the whole saga – once all the opposition parties submitted a letter and suggested motion for consideration, a ruling had to be made by the Speaker. On Monday evening the main business of the house finished early so next up was an adjournment debate led by Stephen Gethins MP. We knew the Speaker was considering his options. However, in order for him to be able to report back to the House on his decision, we had to keep the debate running as long as possible.

After Stephen spoke for twice as long as he would otherwise have, taking loads of interventions, three additional speakers bobbed, including myself. I was the last speaker taken, and so I had the task of keeping the debate going until the Speaker returned to the chamber, without having any idea how long that would be. So this was a debate I was not due to speak in, hadn’t planned anything and had only the briefest period to scribble ideas. It ended up good fun, as colleagues helped with interventions. The debate was about Scotland’s foreign policy footprint. I made it my aim to get in as many local references as possible as well. So, as William Wallace had been mentioned, I took the opportunity to get back on record he was born in Ellerslie. I mentioned the Newmilns Anti-Slavery Society and the fact that Abraham Lincoln awarded the town a US flag in gratitude of their support. In briefly discussing the Scottish Enlightenment, I mentioned the biographer, James Boswell of Auchinleck. I mentioned the lace factories of Newmilns and that Johnston Shields set up factories in Gothenburg, founding football in Sweden and a factory in Barcelona where there was also an impact on football there. Alexander Fleming of Darvel got a mention as did Andrew Fisher of Crosshouse, who went on to become a Prime Minister of Australia.

I was almost disappointed when the Speaker returned to his chair as I had to wind up to let him speak! Had I not kept the debate going then the Minster would have spoken briefly and when finished the House would “rise” and a motion could not have been formally lodged for the next day’s business. What it did do was pave the way for the drama of the next day….except firstly, we then went into the bizarre position where the Government Minister then had to drag out the debate and Tory MPs were sent to the chamber to help him out with interventions. This was to give them time to craft and lodge an amendment with the Table Office. So what would normally have been a 30 minute debate turned into something like 2 hours! Such is the craziness of the current times, which I suspect will continue for quite a bit.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

The Brexit farce continues with yet another Ministerial resignation. Has there ever been a more incompetent or unstable Government in recent times? Only the end days of the John Major Tory Government can be comparable. Yet, the Prime Minister is blithely touring the UK with stage managed media events to promote her “deal”.

Then you look at two of the senior positions within the Cabinet – Amber Rudd is DWP Secretary only months after being forced to resign after “inadvertently misleading “ parliament over deportation targets. The phrase the man on the street may have used was lying about this matter. Then there is Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, who resigned previously for breaching the Ministerial Code, in his role as Defence Secretary. This was because he broke security clearance issues and conflicts of interest by giving government access to his friend and best man, Adam Werrity. I am all for rehabilitation, but it seems some politicians can just continue unabashed. Are these really the people to be trusted to be senior UK positions? Is it any surprise that Liam Fox’s past comments in his new role include slagging British businesses “for spending too much time on the golf course?” Or that a trade deal with the EU would be the “easiest in human history”? It seems his judgement still needs significant improvement, but the UK is reliant on him being able to negotiate skilfully.

Fishing Post Brexit

Future fishing quotas have become headline news. At times it seems this is the most important aspect of Brexit. There is no doubt that fishing is so important to the coastal communities that still rely on the industry. However, there is a reality that within the wider UK economy, the entire fishing and seafood industry only accounts for 0.1% of GDP. The actual marine fishing itself is 0.02% of UK GDP. This is why Ted Heath the Tory Prime Minister said the Scottish fishermen were “expendable”. From his perspective, he was more than happy to trade Scottish fishing quotas for other trade benefits. As a guilty hangover, this is why Tory MPs have made such a big deal about fishing, although over the years they managed to shift the blame to the EU and Common Fisheries Policy.

The actual position is much more complicated – 75% of fish caught gets exported to the EU. Therefore, a trade deal without tariffs is needed to allow that seafood to be exported. A customs agreement is required so the seafood gets exported without delay. These aspects are much more important to the majority of Scottish fishermen, who work in small boats. Yet, there is a risk these matters are overlooked because of the powerful lobby of the Scottish Fishing Federation (SFF), which can be dominated by the big players who have the supersize vessels that catch 80% of the fish, despite being small in number. This is also why the fishermen closest to our area, the west coast based ones have pulled out the SFF. These are aspects I will be weighing up as a member of the Fisheries Bill Committee.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Withdrawal Agreement

As we head towards the countdown to the so called “meaningful vote” on the EU withdrawal agreement, then there will be much debate about what it really means. For a start, it is not “a deal”. It is a withdrawal agreement, which confirms all the aspects that need to be decided before the UK can leave the EU. All the aspects that Teresa May says she has achieved – she hasn’t actually. These are the planned end agreements for her i.e. a free trade deal, ending of free movement, a customs arrangement. Not one aspect of this has been agreed as “a deal”.

The accompanying political agreement contains 144 paragraphs, most of which contain the word “should”. This is in the context of each party should explore options to..”, each party will discuss..” confirming all the outstanding dialogue and negotiations. A critical example near the start of the document is as follows:

“The future relationship should be approached with high ambition with regard to its scope and depth, and recognise that this might evolve over time. Above all, it should be a relationship that will work in the interests of citizens of the Union and the United Kingdom, “

Who can read this and conclude that Teresa May has actually secured a deal? It is also bizarre that for over two years she has blithely stated that “No Deal is better than a Bad Deal”. Now she says this deal is as good as it gets even if there’s stuff in it you don’t agree with it, and so therefore everyone just needs to back it as a No Deal scenario is so bad!

WASPI Debate

I spoke again in a WASPI debate, defending the fact that these women should be compensated for being misinformed about their pension retirement age. Only one Tory backbencher made a contribution – which was truly awful- and one of his key points is that to change anything is unaffordable. Knowing full well that has always been a Tory mantra, I got updated figures from the House of Commons library on what the likely affect has been of the tax cuts introduced in the 2017 and 2018 budgets. Cutting corporation tax, inheritance tax, higher tax thresholds and ISA giveaways is projected to cost £78.6bn by 2025. Think what this near £80bn could be used for instead of lining the pockets of the wealthiest in society. When you hear Tory MSPs calling in the Scottish Government to spend more money then remember they support their colleagues cutting these taxes at Westminster taking £80bn out of the economy.

William McIlvanney Visit

I was delighted to visit William McIlvanney Campus and speak to two Modern Studies Higher classes. It is always enjoyable to be put on the spot, and try to answer as honest as I can. It must be a sign of where the UK is heading when part of their topics are “poverty, health and wealth”.

I am always up for any school visit, and happy to try and assist with any enquiries regards school assignments- just get in touch with my office.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

The Deal

At last we have a draft Brexit deal. Or we don’t actually as all the things that the UK haven’t been able to reach agreement is kicked into the transition period to be further agreed or fall apart again which is more likely. With only four additional cabinet resignations, then that seemed almost calm given that both wings of the Tory party hate the proposals.

I have heard a few people say they feel sorry for Teresa May because of the difficulties she has had to put up with and all the infighting. On a human level that is true. However, she was the one who called a general election when she didn’t need to and run the worst campaign ever. She is the one who triggered Article 50 without a plan. She is the one who created “red lines” that she couldn’t deliver on. She is the one who has kept her cabinet on a 50/50 split of extreme right wing Brexiteers and “soft” or remain MPs. She is the one who did a grubby deal with the DUP. She is the one responsible for the Windrush immigration scandal. She is the one not listening or caring about the effects of Tory policy and the hardships they are causing. Therefore, she does not have my sympathy as she has created the entire mess.

The effects of Tory Policies

While I can be politically bias when complaining about UK Tory Government policy, it is an eye opener when the UN Rapporteur, Professor Alton has said that he had encountered "misery”. That the policies are “cruel and misogynistic” and that UK Ministers “are in denial” about the scale of this misery. How damning does evidence need to be before the Tory Government changes some of their policies?

To Resign or Not

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary threatened to resign if Northern Ireland got treated differently in the Brexit deal. They did and he didn’t resign, and now complains about the colleagues who did resign, as they are ignoring collective cabinet responsibility. I think it fair to say, any talk of resignation from him is all bluff, which doesn’t bode well for him being a strong representative for Scotland within the cabinet.

Stewarton Yuletide

As part of advance preparations for small business Saturday, I visited a number of businesses on Stewarton’s main street. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and all the shops were excited about the forthcoming Yuletide, Thursday 22nd November. With the shops all opening late as well, I recommend a visit to Stewarton – you will not be disappointed!

Kris Boyd

I was delighted to see Kris Boyd get a well-deserved testimonial with Killie. It is also fantastic he is donating any money he makes to his Scott Boyd foundation. The number of goals he has scored is incredible, and I have always thought it unfortunate he has played in some of the poorer Killie teams during his career. We can dream that he might yet end up with silverware at Killie under the tutelage of Steve Clarke.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Armistice Remembrance Events

In the build up to the 100 year anniversary of the end of WW1 and the signing of the Armistice, I was delighted to attend the official opening of East Ayrshire’s Remembrance Garden. It is a fantastic turnaround of the former sunken garden at Holehouse Road, Kilmarnock. A poem was specially commissioned and it is engraved into the impressive entrances to the park. I was struck by the language in the poem – very much our local vernacular. It transpires this was because phrases were taken from letters from local people that were written during the war. A great way of localising the tribute.

I attended a remembrance event at William McIlvanney Campus, consisting of poems, song, drama and music.  It was fittingly emotional and respectful. I also got to saw the research undertaken by the various pupils and there was even a full uniform of a soldier from Kilmarnock on display. A great effort.

On Armistice Sunday, I laid a wreath at Kilmarnock Cenotaph. I am aware that there were many extra special efforts being made this year at memorials all over East Ayrshire, but as they all tend to take place at the same time, then it is not possible to attend the others. I did manage to Rugby Park where there was an afternoon service to remember the football players of the club who lost their lives in both wars. Well done to Ray Montgomerie for organising this.  One that has grown considerably in the past few years.

Westminster Recess

Yes, there was yet another Westminster recess – a November recess that actually only consists of two extra days that the Parliament is not sitting. It does seem strange and I know many members of the public view these things as additional holidays. However, an extra couple of days in the constituency and working in my office was welcome as it allowed me to catch up on casework with my hardworking staff.

Where I do take some issue, is that with Parliament only sitting on a Monday and Tuesday, then the Government tends to make business non-voting, allowing many MPs not to require to turn up. For example, to pad out business, they put on a general debate on Road Safety. A topic that is not unimportant, but there had been a Road Safety debate just two weeks previously in Westminster Hall, and another one programmed as backbench business. So how can this be a good use of parliamentary time in reality? As Transport Spokesperson I made these observations and challenged the Minister to provide updates on any actions from the recent debate on road safety, but from the non-answer it would seem any suggestions for improvement aren’t exactly being taking on board. Another example of UK Government inefficiency.


And the next weekly Ministerial resignation, number 23 out of the Government is Jo Johnson. I wonder when the farce will end? Given Jo is at the opposite political spectrum to his brother, I do wonder what family dinners will be like for the Johnsons!

These comments were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.