There have been some daft arguments put against allowing people in Scotland to have a choice about the future of their country.
You have no mandate Ruth Davidson tells Nicola Sturgeon. Really? Did the SNP not mention this in their manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election last year? Let’s check. Maybe it’s buried away somewhere. No wait. Page 24 has a whole section on a second referendum. It says: “We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum … if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”
I’ve been denounced – again!
This time I appear to have incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church in Scotland’s hierarchy. A front page report in yesterday’s Scottish Catholic Observer claims I have a “plan” to outlaw Catholic schools and that my views are “chillingly intolerant”. Sadly due to the deterioration of Scottish journalism once great newspapers like The Scotsman have simply rehashed the story without even the pretence of checking fact or context.
The hills around Jerusalem were drenched in sun the last time I was here. It brought out their significance and history. This week, though, the Holy Land has been visited by a Scottish winter. As I peer through the steamed up windows of our VW Transporter, it’s decidedly dreich out there.
I’m here on a parliamentary delegation to see if the political mood matches the weather. The trip is organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (www.caabu.org) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map.org.uk). Over four days we have a packed schedule of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, human rights groups and the UK Foreign Office. We also get the chance to see first-hand what it’s like to live under a military occupation.
I write from the train, speeding towards London to begin another week traipsing the corridors of impotence. This week, as many, will be wall to wall Brexit as we debate the terms on which we should be leaving the EU, and try to protect Scotland’s position amid the chaos.
But something else is dominating the international agenda and consumes the imagination of every person who dares hope for a better world. Trump. What on earth has happened to America?
You’ll not be surprised to hear that ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union, I have been receiving lots of letters and emails from constituents raising their concerns. While there have been a couple of requests asking me to respect the UK wide result and vote to trigger article 50, the vast majority have asked me to do all I can to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.
That’s not a surprise. In Edinburgh 74.4% of people voted to remain in the EU. For all its flaws, people across our city recognised the overwhelming benefits of EU – be they economic, cultural, environmental and civil.
This week I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment, in doing so pledging my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who were murdered during the Holocaust as well as paying tribute to the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.
Friday 27th January will mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history.
I did ten press-ups this morning. It’s a start. Like many others the first days of my fledgling new year are driven by diet and detox. After the season of Christmas party excess and forced bonhomie it’s time to reset the body. The road to hell and all that…
I write on bank holiday Tuesday. The last day before the start of a new political term; last day of distraction. Tomorrow I’ll need to fire through the gears and get up to speed for the political challenges of 2017.
Earlier this year I stood for Depute Leader of the SNP. At the time I made a promise that I would be transparent about the financial side of my campaign. Any such campaign involves expenses and fundraising and I have set out a summary of these below. I am really grateful to everyone who supported my campaign either by donating directly or coming to one of the fundraising events.
In the end we raised more than we needed. I promised at the time that anything left over would be donated to the local campaign to support refugees. I’m delighted tell you that I have donated the surplus of £565.07 to Re-Act (Refugee Action Scotland) - a not for-profit international humanitarian aid project working to help bring vital supplies and support to the displaced refugees across Europe.
Next year is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. If you’ve not heard of it, you will do. This 67 word statement by Sir Arthur Balfour, then British Foreign Secretary, is claimed by many to be the first public iteration of the British government’s support for a Jewish state in the Middle East. Despite its brevity it also declared support for existing Arab people in the region. Some, especially those who feel affinity with the State of Israel, see the centenary as a cause for celebration, and have begun the process.
I cannot agree. I find little to celebrate in that part of the Middle East today. Israel, which has become one of the most heavily militarised countries in the world, continues its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade of Gaza, territory designated by the international community to become the fledgling State of Palestine. The resentment fuelled by the daily oppression of the occupation feeds a seething resentment of Israel, creating permanent tension and insecurity. Rather than seek a solution the right wing government of Israel is step by step annexing land by building illegal settlements across the occupied territories. This whole area is a powder keg that could blow at any time. Reasons to be cheerful? I think not.
It’s just before 10am on Monday morning and according to the Virgin Trains website I’m hurtling towards London at 103mph. At this rate we might even be on time. It's been a while since I wrote a blog so thought I'd give you an insight into my week ahead.
It’s looking like a busy week in the political equivalent of Hogwarts. As soon as I get in I’ve got a meeting with the Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards to discuss her review of the Code of Conduct which MPs need to adhere to. I’m my party’s representative on the Standards Committee which is overseeing the review and I’m keen to press her to tighten up in a number of areas.
I write this barely 60 hours after finding out that the people of the UK had voted to leave the European Union – and in truth I’m still trying to get my head around it.
Shock was the first feeling. Sure, I knew that a leave vote was always on the cards, but somehow I never really believed it could happen. I thought in the final stages that enough had been done to save the day; that people would reject the narrow minded intolerance on which this most reactionary of campaigns was based. But it turned out that I was living in a Caledonian bubble and that England, outside of its metropolis, is indeed another country.
Four elections and a referendum: It’s been a helluva five years. With the new SNP Government now sworn in the party can at last move off a permanent war footing. It’s time to take stock, re-group and plan.
And what a change in the political terrain has taken place. The Labour heartlands are no more. Once the party of the working class, Labour is now only capable of clinging on to constituencies that contain a substantial liberal middle class committed to voting tactically to keep the SNP out. And the SNP, although still able to straddle the class divide in its appeal, is now without doubt the political representative of central Scotland’s working class communities.
No matter how you look at it, the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary election was a convincing win for the SNP. The party was seeking an historic third term after nine years in charge at Holyrood. It got it. With knobs on. More votes than ever before in a Scottish parliamentary election and a bigger share of the vote too.
What’s not to like? Well, I guess the fact that even though it was its best ever performance the party still lost a few seats and narrowly missed out on an overall majority. That, though, is how the system is designed. It is almost impossible to get more than 50% of the seats unless you get more than 50% of the votes. Almost, but not quite. Last time round in 2011 the SNP did just that, but in retrospect it’s pretty obvious that was something of a fluke, involving winning some unlikely seats by a whisker in three or four way marginal contests. Nowhere illustrates this better than what happened in Edinburgh.
I will be voting to stay in the European Union in June. This is not in the belief that everything is in perfect working order, but in the hope that we can work with neighbouring countries to turn it into a much better institution than it is now.
I hope that Scotland will soon be an independent country but to get things done, whether at home or abroad, we will have to work together with other countries. An independent Scotland will have to work with the rest of Britain on a great number of things. And we’ll certainly need to work together across Europe. This means choosing to share or pool sovereignty and there’s nothing wrong with that - providing that choice is freely made and people have the right to change their mind.
The Sunday Express recently reported that I have broken one of the rules of the House of Commons. These things have a way of getting out of proportion, so I wanted to be very clear with everyone about what has happened.
All MPs have to register any outside interests, including shares they own in private companies.
“Welcome to Israel” she said with no more sullenness than passport control officers the world over. And that was that, I was through. No “just follow me sir” to a windowless room, no search, no hassle. My colleague Hameed, who was organising our trip, wasn’t so lucky. An hour and a half later he joined our party on the other side of customs. We’re here on a four day trip from the UK parliament: six MPs, three Labour, and three SNP.
This is a report of what we saw and what we heard in discussions with over 20 MPs, NGOs, academics and a few punters too. Things aren’t good. Israel/Palestine is a powder keg waiting to blow. With everyone’s eyes on Syria and Yemen today and Iraq and Iran before that, the problems on the shores of the Med have fallen down the international agenda. And yet whilst solving the Palestinian conflict wouldn’t automatically lead to peace in the wider region, it would sure make other resolutions a damn sight easier.
Frustrated doesn’t begin to describe my mood yesterday when – for the fourth time in as many months I was down to speak in a debate in the Commons and didn’t get called. Of course, there’s no guarantee that anyone will get called by the Speaker and there’s a degree of chance and randomness about having your say. It’s also the case that the more you speak in debates, the less chance you have of being taken, as priority will go to someone who has spoken less. I’m now falling foul of that rule; although it doesn’t seem to apply to John Redwood – a Tory MP who seems to get to say his piece on pretty much everything!
Yesterday’s debate was on the negotiations taking place between the UK and Scottish Governments on the fiscal framework that will underpin the transfer of new powers to Scotland as set out in the current Scotland Bill. As subjects go, it’d be hard to think of anything more important to Scotland, and yet only four Scottish MPs were able to contribute including the Tory Secretary of State and his Labour shadow.
I don’t know if it's because I've never been to an Arab country in the winter before. Or if I was brainwashed as a kid into thinking the Middle East must be hot all the time. Whatever, there's something very incongruous standing in a main street in Amman looking at lots of colourful Arabic shop signs whilst buttoning an overcoat against cold, wet sleet.
I’m here on a parliamentary delegation funded by the Palestinian Committee of the Jordanian Parliament. Both our hosts and the weather have gone out of their way to make us feel at home: it’s dreich and miserable, worthy of Scotland at its worst.
Today we are debating the important issue of the equalisation of the State Pension age for men and women (thanks to Mhairi Black who secured the debate). The UK Government’s dreadful handling of this change has resulted in profoundly unfair effects for women born between 6 April 1951 and the early 1960s. They now have to contend not just with the equalisation of their retirement age to the new higher age of 66, but also with this happening over a very short period of time.
The injustice here springs from the lack of notice provided to women born in the 50s and early 60s, despite having previously been promised more time to plan and greater tapering provisions. Understandably, many then relied on and factored in these promises for their retirement planning.
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?