Happy New Year to you and welcome to my January Newsletter. Before parliament returns next week, it's a good opportunity to reflect on what happened in December and on the year ahead. I don't think any of us could have predicted the political events of 2016 and I'm struggling to make any predictions about 2017. What is clear is that Brexit will continue to dominate in Westminster. Yesterday's resignation of the UK's ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, and his scathing comments since show that even the highest level of civil servants don't know what Brexit actually means. It's going to be an interesting few months ahead.
December saw two Private Members Bills (PMBs) from SNP Members of Parliament. The first was from Mhairi Black as she attempted to change the cruel system of sanctions in the UK benefit system. Unfortunately the bill was blocked much to the frustration of our group. We weren't even looking to scrap sanctions all together (unfortunately that can’t be done in a PMB) but the Bill would have made it compulsory for Job Centre advisors to take a claimant’s personal circumstances into account before issuing a sanction.
There was much more positive news 2 weeks later when Eilidh Whiteford became the first SNP MP to ever get this far in changing UK law. Her PMB focused on getting the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention and thus taking a big step towards ending violence against women and children. Congrats to Eilidh and the campaigners who worked so hard to get the Bill past this most challenging first stage.
There was an urgent debate on the humanitarian crisis in Syria which many constituents have written to me about and which worries me greatly. You can watch my contribution to the debate here.
It’s my role as Cabinet Spokesperson to hold the Government to account on all matters Cabinet related – trying to improve Government systems for everyone in the UK. Last month I raised a legitimate concern about Lords members filibustering to stop changes to the ridiculous system of hereditary peer by-elections. In response the obsessed Tories once again fail to answer the question but instead talk about the Indy Ref. You can watch it here.
Many of you will know that I sit on the Standards Committee. Last month the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards launched a review on the Code of Conduct by which MPs are required to abide. One of the topics under debate is second, and subsequent, jobs. I have made a detailed submission to the review arguing for a five-point plan to regulate external employment. I’m not saying that MPs can’t have other jobs, just that there should be limits - you can read more on my views in the Edinburgh Evening News.
A highlight this month was popping into the Cats Protection Christmas reception. I was delighted to be able to give my support and will be following up on some of the issues they raised. The giant kitten made a great photo too.
Just before the festive break, The Scottish Government set out the Scottish Government’s proposals to protect Scotland’s interests following the EU referendum.You can read more about the proposals here.