You may remember that before Christmas there was talk of a UK wide TV debate on Brexit. In the end it didn’t happen because Labour and Tory party bosses couldn’t agree on a format. It’s probably just as well. At the time SNP demands to be included fell on deaf ears. It looked as if we might have the rather ridiculous charade of Teresa May and Jeremy Corbyn arguing over what kind of Brexit they wanted, with no-one at all putting the case against - a view which is now probably the majority one across the UK.
But the debacle over that debate has fuelled discussion about how political TV debates should be organised. This week parliament debated a proposal for an independent commission to put this whole business on a statutory footing. This is something I support and whilst we are in something of a Brexit hiatus waiting for the government to lose the vote on its withdrawal agreement, I thought I’d explain why.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more farcical, yesterday happened. Government ministers spent the weekend assuring us the vote planned for today would go ahead. Some were even claiming the PM might win it (it’s nearly Christmas after all, the season of miracles). Even late yesterday morning the Downing St press office were still telling us the vote was going ahead, while the PM was huddled with her aides and getting the Cabinet together for a phone conference. Within a few minutes it was clear she’d changed her mind. Again.
The vote is postponed. Until when, no-one knows. The PM came to the House of Commons and was frank – the only reason she’s delaying the vote is because she was going to lose. And lose badly. Once again this is all about her trying to hang on to power and sort out her own party rather than doing what’s best for the country.
It’s been a little while since I've written a blog on Brexit. Things are now moving quite quickly so I thought it might be helpful for me to share a few of my thoughts on where we are.
The proposal put forward by Theresa May last week is not a good one and not one I can support. While the SNP Scottish government remain of the view that the best option for Scotland would be to remain in the European Union they have, time and again, put forward compromises that would respect the wishes of the Scottish people, and those of the rest of the United Kingdom. These have been dismissed out of hand by the UK government.
The budget was last week. Did you notice? As squibs go, this one was pretty damp. We’ll be debating the detail in the finance bill next week but the real story is one of indifference and missed opportunity.
Since the 2008 crash, governments across the western world have seen their revenues unable to meet spending. In the US and most European countries the response was to use the power and funds of government to stimulate the economy. More public spending led to more jobs, more earnings and more taxes. Not here. For eight long years the Tories have applied the opposite approach: use the reduced income as an excuse to slash public spending. This is austerity. And no matter what Hammond and May might like us to believe, it’s still here.
We were supposed to set off from Johnston Terrace at one o’clock on last Saturday’s march for independence. In fact, it was a quarter past two by the time I turned into the Lawnmarket and began the walk down the Royal Mile to Holyrood.
That’s what happens when the biggest gathering in years descends upon the centre of Edinburgh and parades through narrow medieval streets. As a popular tweet quipped – we’re gonna need a bigger city.
It wasn't a surprise that we started the new parliamentary term with an Urgent Question on Brexit. However the answer I received to my question during this session was quite amazing. Raab said that the UK government's ability to consult the Scottish government will be constrained by Article 50 timetable which "is not of our choosing". Really? Who set the withdrawal date in law despite all the opposition parties arguing it would create inflexibility? Watch it here.
There's also a lot of discussion about a "People's Vote" on Europe. This month I used my Edinburgh Evening News column to set out my three tests for another referendum. You can read it here.
Going back to Westminster after the summer recess you can almost feel the impending doom in the air. It’s the calm before the storm. Everyone knows something bad is going to happen. Just not what exactly. Like waiting for the ghoul to reveal itself in a horror movie.
And as the dread unfolds the discussion about whether there should be another Brexit referendum will intensify.
As you may be aware, I love August. I get to sleep in my own bed every night, get out and about in the constituency and take in some of the Fringe highlights. As the MP for around 80% of Fringe venues I do feel I have a role to play in looking at how the city can benefit most from the summer Festivals. I used my August column in the Edinburgh Evening News to do just that – you can read it here.I also ran my regular street surgery in the Old Town this month – focussing on the Canongate polling district. Alongside individual problems and support, I talked with a number of residents about the issues affecting the community, many of which are enhanced by the influx of visitors from short term let concerns to the increase in litter and noise.
If you live in Craigmillar you’ll be well acquainted with the wonderful Green House. I had a great time helping Julie out in the Green House one lunchtime. It's a brilliant community resource - helping folk save money and the environment. If you're able to volunteer for a few hours, donate high quality goods or are looking for some bargains, make sure you pop in and support them!
How’s your festival going? Are you thrilled to bits at the world’s largest arts festival being on your doorstep? Are you overdosing on culture in one of the 200+ festival venues? Or do you spend August grimacing as it takes twice as long to get anywhere and the city centre is taken over by hordes of impossibly enthusiastic young people.
Whatever your view on the summer festivals there’s no doubt that they’re here to stay. So maybe the question we ought to ask is how can we make them work better for the city all year round. We need to get away from the festivals being something that are done to the city, to a place where they are a product of it.
The benefit of being the MP for Edinburgh's seaside is that when the sun came out, I got to take the team (or at least those who work on a Friday) for a wee post work treat. Nothing better than finishing the week with an in ice-cream on the beach!
It was great to attend the opening celebration for The Edinburgh Tool Library which is now resident on the ground floor of Tribe Porty on Windsor Place. I had my eyes well and truly opened. This isn't just for craft enthusiasts wanting to share woodworking tools. In fact, the tool library has a wide range of kit available to assist even the most enthusiastic DIYer including power tools and other equipment. There are also fully equipped workshops with bench power tools where members can come in and do their own work/repairs. Lovely to meet Janet, one of the full time workers based at the centre. At only £20 a year to join - I didn't need much convincing.
It was yet another busy month in the Palace of Westminster. I started July with a Question to the Prime Minister. For those who don't know, MPs enter a ballot to be able to ask something at PMQs. I enter every week and it really is just the luck of the draw as to if, and when, you get picked. This month I urged Theresa May to look again at the sale of Fort Kinnaird - it's simply not acceptable that Scottish taxpayers are being cheated out of £167 million from the sale of Crown Estate interests. Watch it here.
David Mundell was back in the hot seat for Scottish Office questions this month where I get to ask questions in my role as the SNP Spokesperson on the Scotland Office. This time I again focused on Brexit. The Chequers Plan completely changes the debate on joint governmental frameworks after we leave the European Union yet the Scottish Secretary confirmed he did not discuss the plan with the Scottish government beforehand. His shameful disregard for devolution continues. Watch it here.
The UK government tabled a general debate on strengthening the union. You can watch my full speech from the debate here.
In 2016, Nicola Sturgeon announced that there would be a Growth Commission to explore Scotland’s economy and the potential that might occur after Independence. Andrew Wilson chaired the commission and in May this year they published their final report – you can read it in full here.
There have been many commentaries on the report, from different political persuasions. Below is my contribution – written for the Scottish Left Review in July 2018.
This month in parliament we celebrated the 90th anniversary of all women being allowed the vote with the passing of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act. This built on the Act a decade before which gave some women – those over 30 and either married or property owners – the vote. Every time we mark these historical landmarks I am struck not by how long ago they were, but by how recent.
The 1920s were an age of modernity. The beginning of commercial air travel, radio and television broadcasting. An Avant-garde in literature, art and music was revolutionising culture. New advances in medicine and technology were being celebrated. And yet most women were denied the right to vote by law. It seems like something from the Dark Ages. It’s quite shocking to think that there are many people alive today who were born in these times.
We need to talk about democracy. The UK government recently hosted its first ever “National Democracy Week” – with no sense of irony.
We absolutely should be celebrating the 90th anniversary of the equalisation of voting ages for men and women. Nobody would argue with that.
It was great to be able to celebrate the re-opening of Bellfield at their family open day. Congrats to the team at Action Porty for all their hard work in achieving such the community buy out and for creating such a fantastic resource for the area.
As you may be aware, I've taken a serious interest in short term lets and the impact they are having across the constituency. This month I met with Council leader Adam McVey and Housing and Economy Convener Kate Campbell to discuss the issues and what actions the Council might be able to take.
It can't have escaped anyone's notice that the EU Withdrawal Bill was back in Parliament this month. And it came with some significant controversy. Given the large number of amendments proposed by the Lords you could be forgiven for thinking there'd be a decent amount of time allocated for debate but that wasn't to be. You can read my bumper blog on the main two days voting and the SNP reaction here but I'll pick out a couple of key points for you.
The way the debate was structured, combined with the archaic voting practices of Westminster meant that there was just 19 minutes allocated to the impact of Brexit on devolution. And it wasn't only about Scotland - it included Wales and the rather significant issue of the Irish border. 19 minutes and it was all taken up by the Minister. I recorded this video diary just after the final votes that night - it's fair to say we were feeling a little scunnered by it all.
Brexit rumbles on. Last week the SNP walked out of parliament in protest at not being allowed to discuss House of Lords amendments that will seriously affect how we are governed. If we can’t have our say inside the chamber we’ll make our arguments outside.
Meanwhile the UK government say we’re scaremongering. What power grab say the Tories? They claim that the Scottish government will get more powers after Brexit and not a single power it currently has will be removed. Is this true? Let’s see.
Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party