It may not be the issue that is most exercising the good people of Perthshire, but Lords Reform is the issue that has dominated the agenda in the House of Commons. Last Tuesday, it even led to the biggest rebellion we have seen since the coalition came to power. Forget double dip recession, rising unemployment, or even the conniving banks, it was the men and women in ermine that we spent the best part of two days debating.
Now, the House of Lords is a uniquely anachronistic institution. It is a blight on our democracy and is stuffed full of political placemen, cronies, donors and almost incredibly Church of England bishops! Somehow this assortment of patronage and privilege has a say on how this country is governed, and it is a democratic disgrace. There are now also almost 800 of these people costing the country millions and millions of pounds in the process. They call themselves Lords and the reek of privilege is something that should appall everyone in this country.
And, of course this should be addressed, and you would think that any democratic person would sign up to that mission- but not a bit of it. This is the House of Commons after all. The UK parties all agreed to address Lords reform in their manifestos and Nick Clegg indeed presented his proposal to the House last Tuesday.
Although Clegg’s proposals were pretty half baked (15 year terms for senators, and the retention of 20% of places for cronies), it was at least progress. But you should have heard the shrieks of protest from Tories rallying to the defence of their friends in ermine. This democracy would undermine our democracy was about the most ludicrous of claims. It would be a challenge to the House of Commons, as if the Commons doesn’t need a bit of a challenge. All of these modest proposals proved too much for 81 of these Tories and they rebelled in full conscience that they were doing the right thing.
Now, hopefully Scotland will be well shot of London Government and this won’t be our concern, but our proposal is just to get rid of the whole shooting match. The UK Parliament can get by perfectly well with one chamber and there are enough MPs to do the work. In Scotland we have demonstrated that with our beefed up committee system, scrutiny can be performed.
The House of Lords is just about everything that is bad about London rule and thank goodness we have a way out.
Several decades ago Johnny Nash reminded us of an unalterable truth when he sang, “there are more questions than answers”. Now, he clearly wasn’t thinking of the “no” campaign when he belted out this little ditty in the 70s, but this sort of encapsulates the early skirmishing in the independence debate.
Everything from the size of intelligence services in an independent Scotland to the exact size of the merchant fleet, the unionists demand a full and detailed response.
This, of course, is a calculated attempt to suggest that not everything is thoroughly thought through and that independence is some sort of leap in the dark. “Hah”, these cunning unionists conclude – “this is your lifetime ambition and you can’t even tell us what insignia the boy scouts will wear when you separate”.
When the answer to a particular question is given it is conveniently ignored and the next question is then posed, and thus it goes on, indefinitely!
The intention is to wear us down, sow confusion and invent erroneous answers – the more obscure and potentially unanswerable the question, the happier they are.
The only problem for them is that Scotland will make a decision about its future on the basis of the most detailed comprehensive prospectus ever presented to a nation considering its constitutional future. The white paper being prepared by the Scottish Government will detail, in an almost overwhelming totality, how Scotland will govern itself as an independent country. It is on the basis of this white paper that Scotland will make its choice.
And it’s absolutely right that the Scottish Government prepares this work and presents the Scottish people with a vision of an independent Scotland.
But independence as a concept is bigger than any white paper. What independence will do is return all of the decision making about Scotland to the people who live and work here.
Independence means that it’s all in our hands. After independence if the Scottish people elect a Government that wants large armed forces then that’s what they will get. Similarly if it wants a Government based on the Scottish Greens’ world view, then they will similarly also secure that. If a particular approach isn’t working the Scottish people can replace the Government of an independent Scotland with another one, which will do something differently. It’s what normal independent countries do and it’s actually quite a simple concept.
The Scottish people want answers to all those questions and they want to know how an independent Scotland will work. Our prospectus will offer just that. But it will be the Scottish people who will ultimately be in charge of all of the decisions about our future. It is the ultimate form of self Government and it is right that every nation has the self respect and dignity to take these decisions for itself.
I mentioned in last month’s Quair article about the threat to the Black Watch name. I was so concerned about this and I had received so many representations from constituents, that I obtained a debate in Parliament on this.
This debate was the first opportunity for Ministers to clearly set out the UK Government’s intentions. While taking some encouragement from the Minister apparently ruling out any threat to the golden thread of regimental names, cap badges and insignia, it is disappointing that he did nothing to unequivocally end the uncertainty over the future of our historic units. This is an issue about numbers as well as names. My SNP colleagues and I will certainly seek to hold the Westminster Government to account on this.
I want to highlight to readers the fact that hundreds of millions of pounds of Housing and Council Tax Benefit are going unclaimed in Scotland. Improving take-up rates for income-related benefits would benefit low-income families and would also enable them to be more active in the local economy.
It is particularly important as we approach the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, that no-one misses out on transitional support they may be entitled to. Research by Children 1st has revealed that the total loss of Housing and Council Tax Benefit to Scotland is between £248 – 443million. That is a huge amount of money that could be of real help to those who are struggling to make ends meet in these difficult times.It is estimated that between 15,200 –24,000 couples with children in Scotland are losing out on an average of £15 a week or £780 a year in unclaimed Council Tax Benefit.
Given those figures, I am sure that there are many hard-pressed families in Perth & North Perthshire who are not getting the support they are entitled to and I would urge anyone who thinks they might be missing out to get their entitlement checked out.
The UK Government was recently forced into some policy u-turns over their ludicrous plans for both a ‘pie tax’ and a ‘caravan tax’. These very poorly thought out proposals would have had a huge impact on small businesses across Perthshire.
This daft and damaging, half-baked idea would have upped the price of a pie and would have meant more paperwork and reduced profits for many hard-pressed businesses. The Westminster Government claimed the aim of the change was to ‘clarify the definition of hot takeaway food’, but ended up in a muddle that was as clear as gravy, leading to some utterly ludicrous potential scenarios around the question of when a pie would count as hot or not. Campaigners rightly pointed out that these plans were a recipe for disaster and I am very pleased that they have finally been ditched.
I am also pleased that they have backtracked on another daft scheme they had up their sleeves – the planned ‘caravan tax’ – which had also angered many people. I have received numerous representations from constituents on this issue and I raised it with the Treasury. The UK Government could do with a bit more reversing on this one, though, as they still intend to impose VAT on static caravans, albeit at 5% rather than the original 20%.
I can be contacted at my office in Blairgowrie at 35 Perth Street, Blairgowrie, PH10 6DL, you can call me on 01250 876 576 or email me at wishartp@ parliament.uk