The City should shape the future of Summerhall

The news that Summerhall is up for sale was greeted by shock and dismay by many. The maze of buildings in the former city veterinary school has won the affection of local people.

Maybe you’ve been to a performance in one of the quirky rooms that have been repurposed for the arts. Maybe you’ve been to celebration there. Or maybe you just remember a relaxing summer evening in the courtyard.

Over the last 13 years Summerhall has become a thriving hub of more than a hundred businesses. A unique arts complex. An asset for Edinburgh. Now all that could be under threat. But threat also offers opportunity.

The complicated patchwork of current leases are being sold with the buildings – a lot of going concerns. That means that wholesale redevelopment isn’t going to happen overnight. But in the hands of someone thinking of money, these leases could be run down one by one with current tenants sent packing and parts of the site redeveloped or sold off.

This salami style approach could see Summerhall dismantled step by step over the years to come. The possibility of that has been heralded by those marketing the site who talk about boutique hotels and student accommodation. This has done little to allay public fears.

Summerhall has been built on a shoestring. The shabby chic experience of walking through the venue belies the fact that it could be better if somebody spent a few bob on it.

So, could a sale be an opportunity to get much-needed investment into the complex? Maybe. But to help that happen we, the city, should take control of the situation.

That’s why I’ve written to the council calling on them to take a pro-active approach on developing a 25-year masterplan for the site. Working with existing occupants, through public consultation, plans could be drawn up to protect what we already have and build upon it.

We’re not powerless. Using planning and other powers, we can deter any unscrupulous or uncaring prospective buyers who are eyeing up the chance of making a mint at our city’s expense.

*You can read my letter to the Council Leader here

The John Swinney era will see us reposition the case for independence

They found it hard to get the words out; the unionist leaders in our national parliament. Protocol and common decency dictated that they congratulate John Swinney on his election as the parliament’s choice for First Minister. But after a few words dutifully acknowledging the result, the SNP bad homilies poured out of them.

With all the grace of bar room bullies and even less goodwill, Douglas, Anas and Alex tried to pretend simultaneously that no real change had taken place, yet it was outrageous that so much had changed without either the SNP or the electorate getting a vote. That paradox seemed lost on its proponents.

I called for a general election when Liz Truss became Prime Minister of the UK. So did many in my party. Why? Because on that occasion her appointment represented – by her own admission – a fundamental change in the government’s policy direction. This was not about implementing the mandate Johnson obtained in December 2019, but going far beyond. And that, rightly, ought not to happen with the public being consulted.

The handbrake turn Truss applied to the UK economy left it in a ditch. I’m not claiming it would have worked better had it been the choice of the electorate, but maybe they would have felt slightly less cheated about paying the consequences in higher prices and mortgages.

John Swinney, by contrast, is standing to lead a fixed term parliament and deliver the mandate his party was given May 2021. He will, of course, have a distinct focus and put his stamp on government, but the general social-democratic programme of the SNP government is unchanged.

There was no internal election for one reason and one reason only – the members did not want it. Several factors played into that outcome. The imminence of the UK general election; a view that there were better ways to spend £70k; the bruising leadership election just over a year ago which left many feeling once bitten, twice shy.

All of this was wrapped up in an overwhelming desire to get back on course, to achieve, and to win back those in the electorate who clearly are upset and angry at the party’s lack of focus in recent times. And when someone of the calibre of John Swinney was persuaded to put himself forward our members grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It was, as they say, a no-brainer.  

It worked. This week the party is as united, driven and focused as I have ever seen.

The unionist parties gave it about ninety seconds before going on the attack. If you are to believe them everything in Scotland is disastrous, crime is rife, our schools are failing, the NHS is in crisis, the country is falling apart. They hope through repeated assertion to create an avalanche of despair that will metastasise into anger and resentment of the SNP.

Their problem is that people are not daft. They are not fooled by statistics presented without context or comparison. Of course there are many problems in Scotland, some could be laid at the door of the SNP government, but most are the result of squeeze and constraint by Westminster.

We have avoided strikes in our health service resulting in better pay and higher morale. Challenges exist but people, particularly those who are in contact with friends and family in England, know things are better in Scotland. More young people from poorer backgrounds are going to higher education than ever before. There are fewer children in poverty due to the pioneering Scottish Child Payment. Free buses and cheaper rail fares are making public transport more attractive.

Our opponents try to present John Swinney as the continuity candidate, proclaiming nothing will change. They wish. It’s a bit rich to call someone a continuity candidate when he led the party before his recent successors held the office of First Minister.

Humza Yousaf is a warm, passionate, and thoughtful politician. Given a fair wind he could have had a longer and more productive term. But few were content to be fair. He was consumed in a vortex of SNP bad finding it hard and in the end impossible to escape. The closeness of his election undoubtedly didn’t help. It takes time to build and develop a mandate in office when the route to getting there was divided. And he was not helped by constant criticism both from within the partnership government and without.

Already, circumstances are different, have been made different, for the new First Minister. John Swinney already has the gravitas and respect that others in his position could only aspire to over time. He has a united party behind him. He is free from the obligations of a formal coalition agreement and is able to make alliances of the willing where he can. Undoubtedly, they will try, but our unionist detractors will find it much harder to make the dirt stick this time.

And so to independence.

This is what worries our opponents most. Their attack is two pronged. First, insist that independence is an abstract constitutional fixation removed from real public policy matters. Second, deny the government have a mandate to pursue the debate on how we are governed.

It is clearly an intellectual nonsense to pretend that how we are governed, and the output of that governance are unconnected. Maybe some of the fault is our own. Maybe the focus on how independence happens rather than why has allowed this false narrative to take root.

But is looks as if the hallmark of the Swinney era will be to reset and reposition the case for independence within the ambition for social and economic change that so many of our citizens desire. This is welcome. It brings together a strategy of maxing out the existing devolved powers of the parliament with an argument for more. It is at the point where the ability of the Scottish parliament is exhausted that the case for national autonomy is compelling.

A focus on child poverty is good place to start. Real improvements can be made by current Scottish government action – the Scottish Child Payment does just that. But this is mitigation, not elimination.

Children are poor because their parents are poor. One reason for this is because they have insecure and badly paid jobs.

To tackle this we need improved rights at work. We need a higher statutory minimum wage. The Scottish government has the power to do neither. In demanding such powers right now we make the case for independence.

So, we should be clear going forward. Political independence for our country is not about identity, but agency. About having the ability to change Scotland for the better. Not decades in the future but right now.

As we connect the argument for independence with the power to change, we must also insist on the democratic right of the people of Scotland to choose how they are governed. The people voted three years ago for a majority in the Scottish parliament pledged to offer that right to choose by pursuing another referendum. The Tories and Labour have denied them that right. They still do so.

It will soon be time to renew that mandate and pursue it with increased purpose and vigour. Which is why as we seek the transfer of legislative powers to Scotland, the one that matters most will be the right of the elected parliament here to decide how and when the people are consulted on their future governance.

NEXT 2024 ELECTION EVENT!

Join Tommy Sheppard, Stephen Flynn and Jeane Freeman as they discuss what will happen after the next general election. Book here

How will a large group of SNP MPs be able to influence the agenda at Westminster, hold Labour to account and help win independence for Scotland?

What levers do they have open to them and how will they apply pressure to Westminster to deliver the best for Scotland?

Tommy, Stephen and Jeane have a wealth of experience and insight, so come and take part in the discussion in this unique campaign event.

The bar will be open and (of course) there will be a raffle too and plenty of time to meet our special guests and socialise with SNP friends in what will be a relaxed and informative evening.

Tickets are £7 plus booking fee with proceeds going to the re-elect Tommy Sheppard campaign.

Doors open 6.30pm for a 7pm start- 9pm finish. Bar open until 10pm.

Rwanda plan is all about creating scapegoats and politicising misery

She was just seven years old. Her whole life ahead of her. And now she’s dead, drowned in the English Channel on Tuesday when an inflatable boat overcrowded with desperate people capsized.

Four others perished too. This is the third fatal incident involving people trying the cross the channel in small boats this year. It’s a deadly business.

Hours earlier the UK parliament passed the Tory government’s Rwanda bill after more than four months of wrangling. This bill purports to stop the dangerous channel crossings by deterring people with the threat of deportation to Rwanda should they try to do so. It will do nothing of the kind.

It is a horrific piece of legislation which should shame all those who voted for it and which will be a stain on the UK’s reputation as a liberal democratic country. Already the United Nations has said it is incompatible with the Refugee Convention and asked for it to be reviewed.

Central to the bill is the declaration that Rwanda is a safe country. This is in response to the Supreme Court’s judgment last year that it was not, and that therefore people seeking protection and asylum should not be sent there.

The Tories’ position is that Rwanda is safe because they say it is. In much the same way last year’s immigration act made it illegal to cross the channel in a small boat, even though it had been perfectly legal up to then. And then they said that because people had reached the UK illegally, they no longer had any rights to claim asylum.

This is in contravention of international law, but no matter according to the Tories. They are legislating to change reality, to say black is white, bad is good. They are creating a twisted parallel existence which is far away from the international humanitarian law that the countries of the world adopted in the aftermath of the second world war.

In the weeks ahead the number of small boat crossings will go up as the weather improves. But it will still be very dangerous. So, ask yourself this: why would the parents of that seven-year-old girl take the risk they did? Why will others? Why will they give every penny they have to smugglers and squeeze into dangerously overcrowded dinghies to risk death to get here?

The answer is simple. The terror that lies ahead of them is much less than the terror behind. These people are fleeing persecution from places where the basic rights we enjoy do not exist. Where women are locked up for dressing as they please, where gay men are thrown off the top of high buildings, where holding an alternative view or criticising the government gets you tortured and detained.

The people in those small boats are trying to find a better life for themselves and their children. They are escaping tyranny and asking for our help. In response we have declared them criminals.

If the threat of death is not going to act as a deterrent, why on earth would anyone think that the threat of being deported to Rwanda will be one? That is the central stupidity of this proposed scheme which involves the possible deportation of just a few hundred people. Having struggled across a continent, faced down every adversity, made it this far, it is ridiculous to think that anyone would not go the final twenty miles because of a five to ten percent chance they might be sent to Rwanda.

The government voted down every attempt to add some compassion into its proposals. Resisting for instance the notion that Afghans who had served alongside British forces and were now fleeing the Taliban might be exempted.

The Tories are determined to weaponise immigration as a means to distract people from their abysmal failures as the election looms. It is a desperate and sordid attempt to demonise some of the world’s most vulnerable people for their own political ends. They need to be challenged.

There never used to be small boat crossings. In 2018 fewer than 300 crossed for the whole year. So, what happened? Are more people trying to claim asylum in the UK?  Are we really facing some sort of dramatic rise in migration that might provide evidence for the wild Tory claims of invasion and swamping? No, we are not.

The only reason why we have people trying to come here in small boats, in a fashion now officially illegal, is that the government has closed down almost every legal means of people claiming asylum in the UK. The government claims it wants to disrupt the organised criminal gangs behind the people smuggling. Really? The truth is it was this government who created the business model for these gangs, who gave them the opportunity. Without the Tories’ policies the gangs would be nowhere.

We must also demand a sense of perspective against the claims that the number of migrants trying the get here represent some sort of existential threat to the survival of the country. We’ve all heard the sort of rubbish, “Britain is full up”, “any more will put the country under”.

What nonsense. Last year just under 30,000 made the journey, about 82 people a day. That’s 82 people arriving on a big island where close to sixty-eight million people live. About two thirds of those claiming asylum the UK were granted protection. At this rate we would need small boat crossings at the current level to continue for 50 years in order for numbers to reach a million people.

Immigration is a good thing. Throughout history the inward migration of people has been a positive benefit to those countries they call home. Today’s migrants in the main are young, fit, educated, and motivated, many with skills that would be of enormous advantage to us. Far from being a drain on our economy they would be a positive addition to it.

We can only hope that a new government will roll back on the right-wing xenophobia which now underpins immigration policy. Certainly, that is what the SNP will be pressing it to do. And as we promote our prospectus for an independent Scotland, we will ensure it encourages people to make our country their new home.

We live in a dangerous world. War, famine, climate catastrophe and political repression are drivers for more people to move for a better life than ever before. And unlike a generation ago everyone can now access information on their smart phone.

If we are to create a stable and sustainable world and ensure the survival of our species these problems will need to be tackled at source.

But in the meantime, the UK has a moral and legal responsibility to play its part in providing sanctuary and support for the most vulnerable people on the earth. Trying to get out of that responsibility by offloading it to Rwanda is reprehensible.

We must re-establish safe and legal routes by which people can apply for asylum. We must deal with their claims efficiently. This could be easily done by switching the millions spent on detaining people with pending applications to provide new trained staff to deal with their cases. And in the meantime, let applicants work, earn, and pay tax whilst they are waiting.

Doing that would save money, treat people fairly and create a greater degree of social cohesion in our communities and internationally. It wouldn’t of course allow the Tories to scapegoat immigrants and mobilise prejudice for political advantage.

WASPI update and advice event Friday 26th April

I’m hosting a free advice event alongside Age Scotland and the WASPI campaign to support women affected by the UK Government’s pension policy.

The event will update constituents affected by the pension shortfall as estimates have revealed there are more than 3,000 women in the Edinburgh East constituency who have lost out due to the UK Government’s handling of changes to the state pension age.

It will take place on Friday, April 26 at Portobello Library, 14 Rosefield Avenue, Edinburgh EH15 1AU from 1pm to 2pm.

Following the publication of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report, UK Ministers have so far failed to give a guarantee that they will honour the recommended payments. Labour have also so far failed to make any pledges to commit to pay outs for women impacted. The SNP has been campaigning for those affected to receive full compensation for the estimated 342,000 WASPI women across Scotland, which is the central ask of the WASPI campaign.

This event on April 26th will set out the ombudsman’s recent recommendations regarding compensation, what the next steps are and also give people a chance to raise issues with their local MP to take these up with UK Ministers.

Age Scotland will be on hand alongside the WASPI campaign and I to give an update for affected women on the situation and also answer any questions to help those affected access additional financial help.

Frankly, it’s nothing short of a betrayal that Labour and the Tories are still refusing to join our call to fully compensate the women who have been badly let down by the UK Government.

The report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman could not have been clearer: the WASPI women were failed by Westminster, and this needs to be put right. 

“I’ll be putting as much pressure as possible on the Tories and Labour to fully compensate the thousands of women across Edinburgh East and the many more across the country.

One of the most tragic aspects of all this is that thousands of WASPI women across Scotland have already died without receiving justice. I’ve been inspired by the determination of the women who have contacted me on this issue, and I’m determined to continue to do everything I can to support them.

I’m particularly delighted to have input from Age Scotland who will be on hand to support anyone attending with advice. They’ve been campaigning very strongly on this issue alongside the SNP and others to demand action of the UK Government with Katherine Crawford, Age Scotland’s Chief Executive saying in support of the upcoming event:

“The rise to State Pension Age left millions of women in great hardship, and WASPI campaigners have been fighting for many years to address this injustice. These women have waited long enough for vindication and can’t afford to wait even longer to be fairly compensated. Now is the time for swift action from the UK Government and Parliament.

“Our helpline advisors will be on hand at this important event to offer information about social security and making sure people are getting everything they are entitled to.”

UK Gov need to act now on district heating bills

Many people are still just making ends meet, still suffering from the tory cost of living crisis. So, imagine without warning, you get an overnight increase in your heating bills. Not by 10%. Not 20%. But by 500%!

That’s exactly what has happened this month to residents in Greendykes and other parts of the city where they are part of a district heating scheme. People are angry, and with good reason. Out of the blue they found their heating account charges had suddenly gone up from five pence a unit to 26 pence, adding up to £200 a month to bills. No notice, no explanation, just an automatic adjustment to their online accounts.

The Greendykes residents – some tenants, some owners – live in a new development built and managed by Places for People, a major housing association with property throughout Scotland. I backed residents in demanding the association step in to stop these ridiculous hikes by their contractors. To their credit, they have now said they will reverse the increase until they review the charges, but this is only a temporary measure.

The problem needs to be sorted at source. And the source is a crazy UK government energy support policy which treats district heating schemes as if they were commercial businesses rather than a collection of individual residents.

That means that the domestic energy cap set by Ofgem – currently 5.82 pence per unit – doesn’t apply to residents with gas or electric district heating sources but does still cover their individual electricity use.

District heating schemes are undoubtedly a good thing. More efficient, better for the environment. But UK government policy currently makes it five times more expensive than if folk had induvial boilers.

This has been a disaster waiting to happen. And after the business energy support scheme ended on 31st March, it is now happening.

I’ve written to Claire Coutinho the UK energy minister demanding urgent action to bring domestic district heating schemes under the Ofgem energy price cap. It’s a no brainer. Easy to do, regulations could be prepared and agreed in a few weeks. Let’s see if we can get a government that has been asleep at the wheel to finally wake up.

UK and the West must stop ignoring the plight of the Kurds

Thinking about your holidays? Turkey seems nice.

You’ll have seen the adverts on the telly. Happy healthy young people enjoying themselves on the Aegean coast. Looking like a cross between the casts of The Apprentice and Love Island, they soak up the sun, demonstrate prowess at water sports, and dine in Michelin restaurants and dance the night away. Capricious and carefree, everything is wonderful. Yes, Turkey seems nice.

If you live there, not so much.

Even more so if you are one of the minority Kurdish population.

Two weeks ago, there were municipal elections all over Turkey. Pro-Kurdish parties were expected to do well, not only in Eastern areas where they are the majority population, but in major cities where they represent the principal opposition to President Erdogan’s ruling AKP party.

One such area is the historic city of Van in Eastern Turkey – a place about the same size as Edinburgh. Abdullah Zeydan was the candidate for mayor for the Kurdish leftwing DEM party. He is no stranger to political repression having previously spent six years in prison for criticising the Erdogan government – an offence under the Turkish penal code. Released in 2022 he had his candidacy approved by the Supreme Election Board. On Sunday 31st March he got 55% of the votes cast in Van’s mayoral election.

No sooner were the votes counted than the Ministry of Justice demanded the local court disbar Zeydan and replace him with Erdogan’s candidate who had received just 27% of the vote. It’s hard to imagine any government so blatantly overturning an election result in this way.

The decision sparked mass protests not just in Van but all over Turkey and drew international condemnation. On this occasion there was a happy ending. Three days later on April 3rd, the Supreme Election Council overturned the local court and re-instated the elected mayor. This most egregious attempt to subvert a local election has been thwarted, but this is but one example amongst many in a systematic campaign by the Turkish government to silence its opposition.

The DEM party had been expected to do well and indeed they did. But they still had to overcome serial unlawful attempts to undermine the elections. Earlier in the year DEM released a summary of illegal voter registration in 21 constituencies where their support was strong. These are blatant attempts at major fraud to tip the balance against them.

An example is in Siirt city centre which DEM’s predecessor the HDP won narrowly in 2019 against Erdogan’s AKP.  Since last May’s general election registered voters at one address increased from 10 to more than 2,000 and at another building – owned by the police – from 7 to 1,996. At a third address which hadn’t previously existed, 2,555 men who have never voted before in Siirt now appeared on the register.

These are the ones that were spotted. It seems reasonable to think that with ballot stuffing on this scale, some of it has bound to have been undetected.

But fraudulent voter registration is very much the soft end of a campaign of political repression against Kurdish representation which has being going on for decades. The HDP, now DEM, can testify to being on the receiving end of political violence for a very long time. Their leaders, including MPs, have been jailed, their offices ransacked by mobs and their organisation demonised as terrorists by a media which is pretty much in the pocket of the president.

Modern Turkey has always had a built-in tension with that part of Kurdistan which it incorporated early in the last century, but it has been turbocharged since the military coup of 1980. Until 1991 the very existence of Kurds was denied, the Turkish government referring to them as “mountain Turks”. The Kurdish language was banned, and those who spoke or sung in it were imprisoned. Still today, it is illegal for schools to teach in the Kurdish language, even in places where that is the language spoken by most of their pupils.

Parties which tried to represent a Kurdish interest were banned in the 1990s and still play a cat and mouse game with the central state even today. This official denial of all things Kurdish led to resistance movements like the PKK and a guerrilla war fought with the government. Turkey proscribed the PKK as a terrorist organisation and set about enlisting the support of the US, EU and others to do the same. Keen to keep Turkey as a NATO ally, most of them obliged, although international courts have ruled that this did not follow international standards of due process.

Since Erdogan’s election as president in 2014 he has doubled down on demonisation of the Kurds. Following the failed 2016 coup, Kurdish parties who had opposed the coup were nonetheless blamed for it and their repression intensified. Erdogan unashamedly nurtured and galvanised a right-wing Turkish nationalism in which minorities like the Kurds were the enemy. Speaking Kurdish, or engaging in Kurdish cultural activities was likened to terrorist activity. And it worked. Last year, despite widespread and coordinated centre-left opposition in the urban areas, Erdogan achieved a majority in the general election and was returned for another term.

Article 299 of the Turkish penal code makes it an offence to insult the President. It is punishable by four years in prison. And what constitutes an insult appears to be in the ear of the person receiving it. Since Erdogan became president the number of prosecutions under this provision have risen exponentially. The president, it seems, has something of a thin skin. This is an exercise in power, not vanity; the articles are used to suppress and outlaw political criticism and dissenting views.

It’s not just the Kurds who are on the receiving end of political repression in contemporary Turkey. Many human rights activists have fallen foul of the state authorities too. The most prominent in recent years being Osman Kavala, sentenced to life in 2022 on flimsy evidence which has been condemned by the Council of Europe and many Western governments (though not the UK).

It is, however, the Kurdish question which is the running sore that divides Turkey against itself, discriminating against its minority population, and preventing it becoming a modern democratic country at ease with itself. From demonising their culture to razing their villages the ground, the attacks by the Turkish state have driven many Kurds to leave. Many are here. The next time you go to a “Turkish” restaurant, you will most likely be served by Kurds. There is a “Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan” group on Facebook who keep people up to date and coordinate support.

Kurdish people need, and deserve, our solidarity. We should begin by insisting that the Erdogan government ends it war on its own people and restarts the abandoned peace process with the PKK. Central to this will be the release of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The man who founded the PKK long ago turned away from the armed struggle and for decades he has been advocating peaceful transition and co-existence. He has led the Kurds away from the notion of an independent state and towards the idea of respect and autonomy with the existing states of the near East. His writings on bottom-up community cooperation have inspired social movements throughout Kurdistan. 

And he has done this for the last 25 years from a prison cell. Since being abducted by Turkish intelligence in 1999 he has spent his time incarcerated in a prison on Imrali island which the government built just for him. Ocalan is the key not just to justice for the Kurds, but for a brighter future for all of Turkey. Our government should join the calls for his release and stop turning a blind eye to the serial human rights abuses in Erdogan’s Turkey. 

This illustrates how crazy our election voting system is

THE clocks have changed. It’ll be brighter tonight. The year moves inexorably forward towards the coming General Election.

Elections ought to be moments of change. A point in history where power transfers from one group to another, where ideas are won and the direction of a country changes. Exciting even.

But looking south across the Border to the contest between the main Westminster parties, it seems anything but exciting. It is almost impossible for Labour not to win in England. Yet you would be hard-placed to find too many citizens animated or enthusiastic about it.

In part, this is down to a deliberate ploy by the Labour leadership to promise nothing and say less. The main opposition party are seeking election precisely on the basis of not changing the incumbent Tory Party’s overall economic framework. That can only mean that the people who are being excluded and denied by the current system will continue to lose out.

For them, the election will change nothing. Indeed, that will be the case for most of us. It is hard to detect any serious difference between the two main parties.

Now, many people – and I probably include myself – believe through instinct or hope that Labour have to be better than the Tories. But in truth ,when you compare the stated policies of the parties, it is hard to make that claim. In areas such as pensions, the Tories even appear to be rather more committed to the welfare state than their opposition.

This grubby, uninspiring contest we have to look forward to is the product of wilful actions by political leaders, but their approach is enabled – even perhaps necessitated – by a ridiculous electoral system designed to ignore rather than resolve political differences.

First-past-the-post might be okay where a binary choice is to be made, but in any other context is simply not fit for purpose. It is deliberately designed to ensure that those elected are required neither to have majority support nor to represent a plurality of opinion. In the great majority of parliamentary seats, the winner represents only a minority of the voters who cast their vote.

When these results are aggregated to a state level, the distortion exaggerates. The first dislocation of results from the electorate allows political parties to form majority governments with the support of much less than half of the electorate – or at least those in the electorate who can be bothered voting.

In 2015, David Cameron won a majority of seats in the House of Commons with just under 37% of the vote. On that basis, he gave us Brexit. Shocking? Undemocratic? For sure, but nothing new.

Ten years previously, one Tony Blair got an even bigger majority with close to 35% of the votes cast.

Perhaps the most grotesque distortion of first-past-the-post is in what happens when third or fourth parties do well. Far from seeing smaller parties get some minimal increase in their representation, the system just inflicts lethal damage on the party they have taken support from. This is because the winner doesn’t need a majority; just more than the person who comes second.

The are various websites where you can play til your heart’s content by predicting the outcome of the election assuming varying levels of support for each party. You plop in the vote share and press a button.

I try not to spend too much time on this but for the current purposes and to illustrate how crazy the system is, I ran this little exercise (It’s just for England and Wales).

Let’s assume Labour can get about 43% of the votes cast at the next election, the Tories 10 points behind on 33%, LibDems on just under 10% and Reform and Greens on five each.

That’s assuming a much smaller gap between Labour and Tory than has been the case for over two years now. But it sounds sort of plausible, I think. That split would produce a Labour government with an 120-seat majority.

Now, what happens if Labour support stays exactly as it is, but some Tories switch to Reform UK – which they are currently telling pollsters they will do in their legions? If 5% switch and the Reform UK vote goes up to 10%, the Labour majority rises to 188. If a further 5% switch, then the Labour majority goes up to 274 and the Tories are left with 100 seats.

There’s a point at which the changes become almost exponential, and seats start changing hands in droves without the winning party having to do anything at all. This is the sort of thing that gives democracy a bad name.

But if the distorted results weren’t already sufficient corruption of the electorate’s will, the first past-the-post-system conspires in other ways to undermine the expression and resolution of political differences. By its nature, the system requires the winner not to have majority support but to be the biggest minority.

That means it requires parties to form broad alliances of opinion to get levels of support above a third. In itself, this means that differences are resolved within parties rather than being matters for the general citizenry. Sometimes this leaves a party completely at odds with its own supporters, never mind the electorate as a whole.

Such is the case with Labour and Brexit where the party will not even contemplate returning to Europe even though this is the expressed wish of the overwhelming majority of their own supporters.

It cannot be healthy for democracy that not a single major UK party will commit to reviewing and reversing Brexit when this is what half of the population wants.

The toxicity of first-past-the-post for democracy intensifies as parties rooted in the centre-right or centre-left fight for the support of the same bunch of voters in the middle.

By definition, these voters will be paid more attention than those whose support is already in the bag, and by definition, this group of voters will desire a lesser degree of change than the rest.

he result is a set of less than inspiring polices and a whole lot of people well upset about that but unable to do anything about it. It’s little wonder many people will tell you: “They’re all the same.”

This frustration, the feeling of being unrepresented, festers and is destroying what passes for democracy. In England, Labour will win the next election, I’m sure. But it will be won by promising Tories they are in safe hands, by seriously alienating many traditional Labour voters, and with a huge level of frustrated abstainers.

It’s a weak base for governing and could end in disaster in a very small number of years.

Now, of course, we should note that the Labour Party at their last two conferences made commitments – by very big margins – to change the current electorate system.

But as if to illustrate exactly the problem, no sooner had these votes been called than Sir Keir and his entourage were insisting there would be no change.

The SNP support a proportional voting system where the results reflect the votes cast by the people. Given a chance, that’s what we will vote for, but in truth, the condition of parliamentary democracy in England is hardly our bailiwick and nothing is going to change until Labour say so.

Sadly, I can’t see that happening any time soon.

And in this – as in so much else – the aspirations of people who live here will be better served by Scotland becoming a new independent state with a proper functioning democracy enshrined in a written constitution.

Starvation used as a weapon of war in Gaza

Don’t take my word for it. Joseph Borrell, the EU’s foreign minister, and a man who is very careful with his words, said on Monday “This is unacceptable. Starvation is used as a weapon of war. Israel is provoking famine.”

Israeli ministers, and their apologists on the right of the Tory party, claim that they cannot allow aid to be delivered because Hamas will siphon it off for their fighters. Even if this were true to some extent, this is still an admission that starvation is being deployed for military purposes. But worse, Israel has extended the use of this tactic to attack the entire civilian population, most of whom are entirely innocent, their only crime to have been born Palestinian.

International law dictates that Israel as the occupying military power, are responsible for the wellbeing of the civilian population. Not only are they refusing to do that, they are stopping other peoples’ aid reaching Palestinians too. This is a war crime squared.

What little aid that does get in has no distribution process in place with UNRWA, the agency that could and should do it, neutered by the Israeli military. In consequence people already weak after eating grass and animal feed for weeks, scrabble over each other to fight for scraps. By definition those in most need will lose. It’s inhumane. Grotesque.

But the thing that should shame us most is that the UK government does nothing, acquiescence becoming complicity. 

I used to have some regard for Alaistair Mitchell, the minister who fronts the government’s foreign policy in the Commons since MPs are not allowed to question Lord Cameron. Not anymore. On Tuesday, questioned for nearly two hours, he repeatedly refused to call for a ceasefire, defended weapons sales to Israel, and never once uttered a word of criticism or admonishment of the Netanyahu regime. Shame on him.