Happy New Year to one and all.
I'm on the train heading back to that there London for the start of the new term at the political equivalent of Hogwarts.
The changes to women's pension have been brought in too quickly, and my colleagues and I in the SNP are supportive of the campaign against the Government’s proposal. My colleague, Eilidh Whiteford MP said back in 2011 that the issue was not only the pace of change, but it was about the context of a lifetime of low pay and inequality faced by many women. I was pleased to see that my colleague, Ian Blackford MP, the SNP’s Pensions spokesperson, was able to secure a debate in Westminster Hall in November and raised this matter with the Government’s Economic Secretary. It is only right that the Government are held to account over their actions, as it had previously stated in 2011 that they would consider transitional arrangements to ensure that women were not impacted disproportionately from the change. I have seen no evidence of this actually happening and they have been unable to confirm what had been done to protect women born in the 1950s. Although I was unable to do so myself, a number of my colleagues also attended the November debate in Westminster Hall, and if you are interested in some of the details of what they said, you can access Hansard via this link.
My colleagues and I will continue to question the Government on this matter because nobody should face inequality in their retirement plans because of when they were born. Indeed Mhairi Black will be leading a backbench debate in the Main Chamber on January 7th.
When I was back in the constituency I took a few minutes to reflect on the week in his week in Westminster. You can see it here.
I wasn't called to speak in Wednesday's debate on whether to engage in air strikes in Syria so I recorded some of what I would have liked to say.
For the most part this has been a sincere debate with people who hold strong and passionate views being prepared to listen to those who hold equally strong but divergent views with respect.
My SNP colleagues and I are extremely concerned about many aspects of the proposed TTIP deal. Those at least which have so far come to light - one of the greatest worries about the process has been the severe lack of transparency surrounding the TTIP negotiations. Our greatest concern, however, is any proposal that would expand Investor-State Dispute Settlements procedures - whereby companies can sue governments - and we will oppose any such expansion in the strongest terms. We will likewise oppose any possibility that it will involve opening markets in the service sector which could potentially include public services such as health, social services and higher education and the opening up of public procurement markets. I recently signed Early Day Motions 146 and 677 expressing my concern about TTIP and TiSA respectively. We are working with various trade union bodies (including the STUC) to raise awareness of the impact that TTIP may have on Scotland. We will of course resist any attempt to undermine European standards in the fields of public health, social and employment rights, health and safety and the environment. I also would encourage you to sign up for my colleague Alyn Smith MEP's newsletter where you can get the SNP's view from a European Parliament perspective.
Following the atrocious attacks in Paris, the UK Government appears to be on the brink of military intervention in Syria. In the absence of either a UN mandate or a coherent political strategy to end the civil war, I am not convinced that either air strikes or ground troops would bring stability to the region. Indeed, it is highly likely to lead to more civilian casualties and trauma. I am committed to a peaceful resolution to the increasing violence in the region.
At the SNP conference in October, a motion opposing UK participation in ongoing military action in Syria was backed unanimously. The motion stated that any airstrikes by the UK would be “militarily irrelevant” when American, Russian, Arabic, Turkish and French forces are already taking place. The motion calls for the UK government to support a renewed diplomatic initiative and recognise that only United Nations sponsored action will have the international consensus needed to bring the conflict and the humanitarian crisis that accompanies it to an end.
Earlier this evening I spoke in the House of Commons on the third reading of the Scotland Bill. Complex bills can be given several days of debate in the chamber but today, the highly technical and complex Scotland Bill was allowed a total of around six hours. When you take out the time for voting, realistically that only left about four hours to discuss and debate over 200 motions and amendments.
I recognised that many who voted no last year, did so because they are happy with the status quo and wanted to remain in the United Kingdom as it stands. However, there is another group of people who voted no because they believed what they were told by the leaders of the unionist parties, that a no vote on the 18th September was not a vote for the status quo but was a vote for a new relationship within the union where additional powers would be transferred. Undoubtedly this group were decisive in swinging the No vote.
I spoke against the undemocratic and draconian Trade Union Bill at its second reading on the 14th of September. I can assure you that my colleagues and I will continue vigorously to oppose this bill at its third reading tomorrow. This action, designed by the Conservative Government, seeks to deprive workers of their basic rights, rights which were hard won over the past 100 years. We will do our utmost to prevent this bill from becoming law.
The Bill threatens the right to pursue industrial disputes by legitimate means and the right to organise and to bargain collectively. We are also opposed to restrictions on Trade Unions using social media and support the usage of safe and secure online voting to maximise participation as well as changes to regulations regarding agency workers. Ultimately the proposed Bill places unreasonable restrictions on the rights of trade unions and their members.
The SNP group has been unanimous in its objection to the Tory party's obscene plans which will push the working poor of this country further into poverty.
The Conservatives are pushing through these changes because of an ideological belief in low taxation and minimal public services, and they are trying to use the fig leaf of the increased minimum wage to give the impression of decency to their plans. The new minimum wage, which the Tories are calling the living wage but is in fact well below the independently recognised living wage, in no way mitigates the effects of the cuts to Tax Credits.
I have long been a supporter of the Palestinian people, whose suffering at the hands of disproportionate Israeli Defence Force (IDF) attacks has been harrowing. The occupation of Gaza and the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank is both illegal and deeply unhelpful.
The current escalation in violence is particularly concerning with the IDF effectively implementing a shoot to kill policy on Palestinian citizens.
What better way to spend a Saturday morning than down the allotments? Craigentinny and Telforton allotments is run by committee and enables local individual, families, groups and charities to work plots of land in the community. I spent some time with them recently, discussing their work and the latest threat from a bid to build on the site.
There have been allotments at Telferton for over 90 years, throughout that time they have been worked and managed by generations of people from the surrounding area. The committee have turned Craigentinny and Telferton allotments into a limited company and registered charity. However, they do not own the land.
Just made the 6pm train to Edinburgh after a mad dash from the House of Commons. The debate of the day was EVEL (English votes for English laws). This was the third – or was it the fourth – attempt by the government to force through this shoddy procedure. And they won – predictably.
History was made today - and not in a good way. For the first time ever the rights of Scottish MPs have been curtailed in the Westminster Parliament. There will now be two classes of MP – those that can vote on everything and those that can’t.
I'm writing this on the train back to Edinburgh from the SNP conference in Aberdeen. We have just had our biggest conference ever - indeed probably the biggest political conference in Scottish history.
And by any measure it was a huge success. The SNP is a big organisation now - over 114,000 members - and many people have speculated that size would bring division. Indeed, there are some sections of the press so desperate for an "SNP split" story that they will make one up. Yet the party seems more united and focussed than ever.
I was delighted to be able to open my new office hub in Craigmillar recently. The old post office, turned campaign hub, is now a sub office for the team fulfilling the promise I made to voters during the election campaign. Areas like Craigmillar and Bingham are now the bedrock of our party and people have put their trust in me. The problems that people in this community face are only going to get worse with the Tory cuts. This office will form part of the resistance to their plans.
The office was opened by my new colleague Alex Salmond MP/MSP. In his speech he stressed the importance of the community having a strong voice representing those in need.
In the last few weeks I have been continuing my visits to local schools taking in Castlebrae High, Leith Academy and St Francis R.C. Primary School.
Local people will be well aware with the challenges that have faced Castlebrae and the school remains below capacity with regard to pupil numbers. However, this is a school on the up. During my visit I was impressed by the incredible passion and commitment of the Senior Leadership Team and wider staff team. Their care for, and belief in, the pupils is outstanding and pupils respond positively to this. I also took the opportunity to express my support for a swift move forward in the building of a new secondary at the heart of the community.
Prior to the election, a number of people asked me to clarify my position on fracking, something I was happy to do. I first got involved in politics in the late seventies through campaigning against nuclear power and ever since I’ve been an advocate of renewable energy. So, I guess that even when I first discovered what the term “fracking” meant (and realising that it wasn’t the ubiquitous expletive from the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica – of which I am a fan) I felt in my water it was a bad thing.
But I spent a bit of time reading up on the subject as I didn’t want to be accused of making a kneejerk response to the debate. And the more I read the more I concluded my initial instincts were correct.
After a weekend’s rest and refection I’d like to record some thoughts about the debate on the assisted dying bill which has been a concern for many, many people. I received a lot of letters from people in Edinburgh East asking me to either oppose or support the bill. There were passionate views held on both sides with the majority favouring a change in the law.
David Cameron's state visit for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not sit well with a number of the SNP group. Several of us attended a protest outside Downing Street organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
I spoke to the Jerusalem Post about my views.