This was a genuine fringe first: a play from Gaza in the heart of Edinburgh despite all of the obstacles in the way.
I visited the Thistle Foundation yesterday and met Mark Hoolihan, Diana Noel-Paton and some incredibly dedicated volunteers including Mags Hendry and Liz Deeming. They are an organisation based just off Niddrie Mains Road which supports people with disabilities and health conditions through health and wellbeing initiatives and supported living. They also work with health and social care professionals, offering training aimed at encouraging a cultural shift towards focussing on individuals needs rather than conditions or disabilities.
They are feeling very positive about the Scottish Government gaining more powers over welfare and hope that they will be able to use this change to greatly improve the work that they do.
I had the pleasure of visiting Craigmillar Books for Babies this morning and meeting Kara Whelan and Michelle Jones. They have been doing very important work with families in Craigmillar, Niddrie, Bingham and Magdalene for the last 17 years.
They aim to foster a love of books, rhymes and words both spoken and written, from a very early age.
I had a very moving visit to the Trussell Trust foodbank in Leith earlier. Ewan Gurr (Head of the Trussell Trust Team in Scotland), Rev. Iain May (Foodbank Chair), Arthur Mathieson (Project Manager) and all the volunteers work incredibly hard and offer a vital sticking plaster to our broken system. The most common reasons for people requiring the support of the foodbank are benefits changes, benefits delays and low income. It is imperative that we tackle food poverty and these systemic causes and I will be fighting for this in Westminster.
If you are in a position to be able to help, the foodbank is short of Smash, Jam, Sugar, Tinned Meat, Creamed Rice and Steamed puddings. You can find out more here.
On the 21st July, I backed the SNP's call for the Treasury to look again at exempting the Scottish Police and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from a continuing VAT anomaly. Police Scotland is the only police authority in the UK unable to recover VAT and is liable to an annual cost of around £23 million. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is similarly disadvantaged, and is liable for an annual cost of around £10 million.
My support was added in the debate on the Finance Bill:
It’s been quite a week to finish the first term of the new parliament. On Monday the Tories’ welfare bill passed its second reading by 308 votes to 124, the majority exactly equal to the number of Labour MPs who didn’t vote against it. This is an odious package of measures. Choice highlights include reducing the work allowance people on benefit can claim so that their payments are reduced, removing housing benefit for anyone under 25, and the two child policy which will deny benefits to larger families
The bill also reduces the benefits cap which any one household can claim to £380 a week. Not many people get this level of benefits and where they do you can bet most of it will be to cover the cost of high private rents. The effect of the cap will be to force people to move into poorer areas where rents are lower, cleansing nice middle class Tory areas of claimants and creating ghettos of poverty where the chances of getting a decent job are even more remote than before. This is a restructuring of welfare to achieve social engineering on a grand scale.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to the Answer of 15 July 2015 to Question 5846, what (a) proportion and (b) number of applications for a passport for a child overseas take longer than eight months to process.Answer (from James Brokenshire): A total of 49,173 international child passport applications finished processing in January-June 2015. Of this total, 1,068 (2.2%) took longer than eight months to be processed. The processing time is the length of time from receipt of the application to the passport being printed.
Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) must be fully satisfied that all appropriate checks have been completed successfully prior to the issuance of passport facilities. This is particularly important in relation to child applications as part of Her Majesty’s Passport Office responsibility to protect potentially vulnerable children, including those potentially at risk of child trafficking and to maintain the integrity of the British Passport.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to the Answer of 15 July 2015 to Question 5849, how many complaints she has received on slow service at HM Passport Office in each of the last two years.Answer (from James Brokenshire): Her Majesty’s Passport Office has dealt with a range of customer enquiries over the last two years. These enquiries have come from members of the public and from Members of Parliament on behalf of their constituents. Her Majesty’s Passport Office is committed to processing applications as quickly as possible while maintaining the high level of security within the application system. Those applicants who need to travel urgently have their cases considered as a priority
I can’t be the only one who finds the Conservatives attempts to portray themselves as the workers’ party risible and ridiculous. I’ve sat opposite them in the House of Commons for the last two months and I can safely say I’ve never seen so much wealth and privilege in the one place. The only working people many of the Tories know are the ones who work for them.
It’s all a PR exercise and like any other brand you can’t sell it if it’s crap. So let’s take a look at what the workers’ party has planned. This week’s budget is nothing other than an all-out attack on working people. Millions of police officers, nurses, teachers and local government workers throughout the UK will have their pay pegged to a one percent increase for the next four years. On top of wage freezes and paltry rises over the past five years, this will drive down the standard of living for many, many people.
I have been asked to add my name to Diane Abbott's Early Day Motion 66, Supermarket Disposal of Edible Food. I have been delighted to do so as I believe that we can take some simple but firm steps that will both eliminate food waste and benefit charities and food banks.
In addition, the SNP Scottish Government is doing what it can with the resources and powers it has to tackle poverty and food poverty. We are investing around £296 million from 2013-14 to 2015-16 in anti-poverty measures, including our £1 million Emergency Food Action Plan which helps 26 Emergency Food Projects provide food aid and funds FareShare to redistribute food from retailers to community organisations.
We are finally getting down to business at Westminster. Two major bills are now in Committee stage and we have been putting down multiple amendments for each.The EU referendum
The SNP were the only party to vote against having a referendum on the EU. We said in our manifesto that we didn’t see any need for one and, as Alex Salmond pointed out in the debate usually (with PR, independence, etc) you only have a referendum when asking people to agree to a change. More than 80% of Scotland voted for parties opposed to having a referendum and polls consistently show that Sots as quite content with being part of Europe. In spite of our opposition the bill passed its second reading with the support of the Labour "opposition" and so we now move on to look at the detail.
Although it didn’t feature in the recent Queen’s Speech, Tory proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act have alarmed many of us.
The 1998 Human Rights Act is a fundamental means of securing the rights and liberties of citizens across the UK. It was written to ensure that UK legislation conforms to the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights. It is one of the most important expressions of post-World War II Europe’s commitment to human rights and it is shocking that seventy years after Europe said ‘never again’, the Conservative Party would even consider repealing the Act.
The concerns of submariner William McNeilly regarding safety of the UK’s nuclear defence base at Faslane Naval base were published in the Sunday Herald in May. Mr McNeilly, who is still in military police custody, has written a detailed 18-page report called 'The Nuclear Secrets', which claims to lift the lid on the alarming state of the UK's ageing and short-staffed nuclear deterrent.
It is of little comfort to me that a Ministry of Defence probe, done in extra quick time, and with little public input has found the claims to be "factually incorrect". The SNP secured a debate on the matter in the first week of the new Parliament and I am proud that we are already taking action and standing up for the people of Scotland. However, the Government saw fit only to issue a brief statement on the matter. Alex Salmond is right when he says this is insulting to peoples' intelligence. As he said, clearly: "Trident is a key issue for people in Scotland. It is bad enough that Scotland is forced to house these weapons of mass destruction but these alleged breaches of security are deeply worrying - there must be absolutely no complacency."
Many constituents have been in touch regarding the Tory Party Manifesto promise to repeal the 2004 Hunting Act which banned fox hunting in England and Wales. Whilst there was no mention of it in the recent Queen’s Speech, we cannot guarantee the Government won’t return to it in the coming years given that the Tories remains committed to the repeal.
The former Labour deputy general secretary, turned SNP MP, talks to CommonSpace about life at Westminster Tommy Sheppard is no stranger to stand up.
He is, after all, the owner of the renowned Stand Comedy Club venues and also sits on the board of directors of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. However, since parliament officially opened last week, the stand up routines performed in the chamber of the House of Commons have left the newly-elected MP baffled.
Four weeks ago I was worried about writing this column on the eve of the last major parliamentary debate on Brexit. Anything could have happened, rendering my speculation obsolete by the time you read it. I shouldn’t have fretted. Anything could have happened but nothing did.
Here I am again. Groundhog day. It’s Tuesday. There’s a big debate tomorrow.
Tuesday. Another day spent discussing Brexit. Another day of my life I’m not getting back.
We are no further forward. As the clock ticks down to exit it’s only fair to ask: What the hell is Theresa May playing at?
Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party