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.
Then into the chamber to check the temperature. On the face of it today’s debate is about English Higher Education – about which I’m obviously concerned but unlikely to make much input unless it affects things in Scotland. However, you can bet there’ll be an emergency statement or two. My guess is that all week parliament will be dealing with the fallout of the Trump election. Today is the first session of parliament since his win and I expect the May or Johnson will have something to say – they certainly ought to.
At 4.30 I’m hosting a reception for Community Alcohol Partnerships which tries to bring the drinks industry and public agencies together to tackle alcohol abuse and underage drinking. I’ll be presenting awards to two local people, Sgt Mark Pickavance and Scotmid’s Ian Lovie, who have been instrumental in the success of a local scheme in East Edinburgh.
Tomorrow is looking hectic. Standards Committee first thing and then to a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Palestine where we are meeting Tobias Ellwood the Minister for the Middle East to discuss whether the government is going to do anything to help get the peace process back on track.
Palestine is a bit of a theme this week. Later tomorrow supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign are lobbying parliament and aiming the speak to their MPs. In the evening I’m chairing a rally at the House of Commons with a range of speakers – including some Conservatives – on the current situation in the area. Entitled “You can’t build peace with concrete” it’s an attempt to persuade the Israeli government to take part in talks which are being brokered by the French.
The SNP group meets on Tuesdays too and tomorrow will be our first chance to assess what Trump means for Scotland and what we can and should be doing about it.
First thing on Wednesday I’m speaking at a debate in Westminster Hall on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration which is next year. Westminster Hall is like a mini-parliamentary chamber. Debates run with the same rules but there are no votes as such – it’s a way to raise awareness of a subject and get stuff on the record. The Balfour Declaration is regarded as a commitment by the British Government in 1917 (Balfour was the Foreign Secretary) to support the establishment of the state of Israel. It says “His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. But people often forget the next bit which says “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. That’s what I’ll be speaking about.
Every Monday to Thursday in parliament there’s a question time for a particular department. These are arranged on a rota and on Wednesday it’s the Department for International Development’s turn. MPs submit questions and there’s a draw to see who gets to ask one of a limited number of questions. I am number six this time so I’ll be consulting with colleagues on our international team about which subject to go on.
Straight after that it's Prime Minister’s Questions – which happens every Wednesday. In 18 months I’ve only ever been chosen to ask a question once – despite submitting requests every week. This week is my second PMQ and I’ve been drawn number two. I’ll decide on the day what to go with, and it’s always good to have a couple of different ones prepared just in case, but it’ll be hard to resist asking something about Trump.
Wednesday afternoon I’m juggling a bunch of things. I want to attend the APPG on dignity in dying of which I’m a member. I’ll also pitch up to support events in favour of guide dogs, human rights, and the campaign against bullying. At teatime there’s a very important briefing on what is likely to be in the autumn statement later in the month which will have huge implications for everyone.
On Thursday I’m down to speak in the chamber on the main debate of the day which is a motion to ask the government to reconsider cutting £30 a week off the ESA benefit for disable people. My colleague Neil Gray has secured the debate and I’m hopeful all the opposition parties will be working together on this to try to persuade a few Tories to jump ship. The film “I, Daniel Blake” has been raising awareness of just how hard it is to negotiate the system. Unless we can stop it things will get a lot harder for many disable d people next April as the money they have to live on is cut from £109 to £79 a week.
After that debate it’s a dash to Kings Cross to get the train home. I’ll be speaking at a meeting in the university that evening, so let’s hope Branson’s trains are running on time that day.
Friday is my main constituency day and I’ve a load of stuff in the diary including speaking at a conference at the Hibs stadium and meeting people at my regular advice surgery in the city centre. And on Friday night I’ll be at the SNP club in town to hear Robin MacAlpine speak on a new industrial policy for Scotland.