Monthly Archives: April 2019

TOWARDS A UNIVERSITY OF THE CITY OF PERTH

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I am really pleased that a renewed debate about the possibility of a ‘University of the City of Perth’ is taking place and I encourage everyone interested in Higher and Further Education in Perthshire to get involved. 

Perth College is a remarkable institution with deep roots in the city. It has travelled far in the many decades it has served Perth and Perthshire. Just look at how it has grown since it first began offering courses in building trades in its old Rose Terrace site. Perth College now has over 2,800 students enrolled this year, served by an incredible and talented staff team. It also has acquired an international reputation. It is a centre of excellence in aircraft engineering. It also now offers degree courses in everything from music to social sciences.

The major transformative moment for Perth College was when it became incorporated into the University of the Highland and Islands. The degree courses started to arrive and Perth College became part of a proper paid up higher education institution. As one of the campuses of UHI, Perth College has been put clearly on the map and it has been transformed in the process.

But like every institution it must consider its future and take into account the risks presented by current conditions and structures. Perth College remains as just one of the 13 campuses of the UHI and is therefore constrained in what it can do to develop its future and reach. It also remains vulnerable to any institutional changes within the UHI, as we saw from experience last year.

As such I agree with Perth and Kinross Council and other politicians from across the political spectrum that now is the time to look seriously at Perth securing its own university, and the college becoming the University of the City of Perth.

A University of the City of Perth would have far reaching benefits to the rest of the city and county. University cities attract incredible economic benefits and investments – we only need to look to Dundee with its two universities to see what a dedicated university can do for the local economy. It would also be fantastic to hold on to the many school leavers who currently leave Perth to pursue their university studies elsewhere. It is such a depressing feature of our city that we lose so many of our talented young people to city competitors, some never to return. Perth lost out to Stirling when Scotland got its first new build university since medieval times in 1967. We can not lose out again.

Then there is the risks of doing nothing. Last year there was the attempt to integrate the colleges of the UHI into the head executive office in what would have been nothing more than an amalgamation. Had this gone ahead it would have compromised the current UHI model with potentially disastrous consequences for students and staff in Perth. Where this was rightly seen off  there will be other such attempts in the future and the UHI model remains vulnerable and open to further ‘restructuring’. Most recently UHI withdrew rurality funding to Perth College precipitating the disastrous closures of the Learning Centres in Blairgowrie, Crieff and Kinross with staff being made redundant and students losing out.

And the thing is we’re almost there. As part of the UHI we already have degree courses, we have an excellent site within the city environs and we have a dedicated and committed staff group. All it needs is the ambition to take this forward and grasp the opportunity to go out on our own. I encourage everybody to think about this seriously and to consider the benefits a stand alone university would bring to our city. With our renewed city status and our growing population now could be the time for the University of the City of Perth. 

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My Brexit update – April 2019

Over the past few months MPs inboxes have been overflowing with emails about Brexit. Over the course of the next few days, I will be writing out to those constituents who have contacted me offering their views with an update as to how I voted and the thoughts behind my choices.

A copy of this email is here on the public record –

Thank you for your communication. I am writing to you with an update on the Brexit process to set out the recent decisions I have made and the reasons why. 

Can I first of all say that the interests of the people of Perth and North Perthshire will always come first for me, and I will be guided by the wishes of the majority in my constituency who voted to remain in the EU. I have, though, been prepared to compromise and work with others in Parliament in order to try and secure a majority in the House for a deal being progressed.

Let me try and run through the decisions that have been made and my position. First of all I have voted against any measure that would take the UK out of the EU with no deal reverting to World Trade Organisation arrangements. This is simply the worst Brexit option and the impact on Scotland’s economy and trading arrangements would be significantly detrimentally impacted. Because of votes in the House this threat has diminished but still exists. I will continue to vote against any measure that brings that back. 

On compromise motions I voted to reject any proposal that did not ensure a customs union combined with membership of the single market. Both of these aspects are required to ensure that our vital economic interests are protected. It is as a member of the single market that freedom of movement can be maintained. Our population growth in Scotland is almost entirely predicated on freedom of movement and our demographic issues would be raised to unacceptable levels if vital sectors did not have access to the pool of labour provided by freedom of movement. 

I have also led the call and provided the first amendments in the House of Commons to simply revoke Article 50. This would stop the process of leaving the EU at all and fall into line with the position of my constituents and nation of Scotland. I have supported all measures that have proposed this. 

I have been unable, thus far, to support the motion that proposes that a deal is put to the British people in a confirmatory vote. Supporting this motion would mean that the Prime Minister’s deal (or some undefined version of Brexit) would be allowed to pass in return for some sort of unspecified confirmatory public vote. It is a measure in which we would be asked to allow a Brexit deal to proceed through Parliament with the hope that those throughout the rest of the UK would then reject it. It greatly concerns me that it does not contain a commitment to have a remain option on any future confirmatory vote ballot paper. It also concerns me that we have not secured any guarantees for Scotland’s position for our unconditional support for this confirmatory vote. However, if this emerges as the only chance to stop Brexit I am prepared to consider it. 

Lastly I supported the bill to secure an extension to the departure date. This is now imperative to stop the risk of leaving with no deal and provide a space for alternatives.

It remains the case that in spite of our best efforts and arguments we may not be able to save the UK from itself. If Brexit does come to pass the people of Scotland will need to consider carefully what options we have open to us to protect our interests and move on to a more positive destination.