Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

HOW I VOTED IN THE INDICATIVE VOTES

Tonight I supported the amendment to support the revocation of article 50 and I opposed all measures that would possibly lead to a no deal Brexit.

I could not in full conscience support the motion which asked for a confirmatory referendum and I set out the reasons for that here. No motion secured a majority in the House.

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 with the hope that those throughout the rest of the UK would then reject it. It also greatly concerns me that it does not contain a commitment to have a remain option on any future confirmatory vote ballot paper.

This problems with this were just too great for me and I could not expose my constituents to these risks  The only Brexit deal on offer is the Prime Minister’s and I would risk letting a deal pass that would make my constituents poorer; that would end freedom of movement with all its disastrous consequences for economic growth and our population issues, and that would deny our young people the opportunity to live and work freely across a continent.

This confirmatory vote also has serious consequences for our future independence referendum. In supporting this we might be expected to support a ‘confirmatory’ referendum for any deal we  negotiate with the UK to secure our independence. This would be an open invitation for those opposed to our nation’s independence to try and undermine that result and invite the UK to give us the worst possible ‘deal’ in order to reverse that result. There is also the issue that we have not secured any guarantees for Scotland’s position for our unconditional support for this confirmatory vote. There will therefore be those who will insist we respect the result of this confirmatory vote even if Scotland votes to reject the ‘deal’ and the UK votes to accept it.

My view is that the clear way forward is to get fully behind the campaign to revoke article 50 in line with how the people of Scotland voted in the EU referendum.

Eventually, though, I believe we are going to have to forcefully make the case that the only way Scotland can rescue its EU membership is as an independent nation, and regretfully conclude that a UK solution to Scotland’s continuing EU membership is unlikely to emerge.

I will continue to oppose Brexit and do everything possible to protect my constituents from the worst excesses of this chaotic Brexit.

REVOKE, A ‘PEOPLE’s VOTE’ and SCOTLAND

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What a weekend that was in the campaign to see this Tory Brexit end and ensure our place in the European Union remains secure.

A million people marched through central London for a so-called People’s Vote, and the petition to revoke Article 50 had just passed five million at the time of writing. There is a real sense that the public want this madness to end and it’s starting to feel like the beginning of a real people’s revolt.

The petition has forced revoking Article 50 on to the agenda as a real proposition. Until this weekend, very few people in Parliament took this proposition seriously. When Angus MacNeil and I first presented this amendment to Parliament a few weeks ago it secured the support of only 12 MPs. That is because the main driver to stop Brexit has been the People’s Vote campaign. This had been presented as the only means to stop Brexit and therefore attracted all the attention

People have even tried to conflate revoke with a second referendum, with some even wanting Article 50 revoked just to start all the madness over again with another vote! It is therefore important to understand that the two are significantly different.

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Revoke would end Brexit in an afternoon. We have the “Scottish Six” to thank for this. It was they that secured the landmark judgement in the European Court which stated that the UK could unilaterally revoke Article 50. Revoke is a clear, straightforward route to rescuing the UK’s place in the EU and its simplicity is the thing that has driven so many people to sign the petition.

Revoke would also secure Scotland’s place in the European Union in line with how we voted and what we as a nation clearly want. A People’s Vote is a lot more complicated. Firstly, its advocates can’t agree on how this should be progressed and what should appear on any ballot paper.

There are also the issues for Scotland. We have not secured any protections for our national interest in a second referendum in return for our unconditional support.

If Scotland voted to remain again (which it would) and the rest of the UK voted to leave (as it very well might) we could be expected to respect the UK-wide result again.

Worse than that, the momentum for a People’s Vote is for what is called the Kyle-Wilson amendment. This is a compromise specifically to get the Labour Party off the hook in line with its almost contradictory Brexit policy. It proposes that the Commons allows the Prime Minister’s deal to pass on condition that it is then put to the people in a confirmatory referendum.

We would be asked to vote for (or at least abstain on) the Prime Minister’s deal. We would have to let a deal pass that we know would make our constituents poorer; that would end freedom of movement with all its disastrous consequences for economic growth and our population issues, that would deny our young people the opportunity to live and work across a continent

Scotland’s EU future would be out of our hands and we would have to trust a Labour Party whose leadership wants to leave the EU and can’t even say if remain would even be on the ballot paper.

It is also a “confirmatory” referendum with all the associated risks. If this principle was extended to a future successful independence referendum, Unionists would be working from the day after the vote to undermine that result and the UK would ensure we were given the worst possible “deal” in order to try to reverse the result.

Eventually Scotland is going to have to accept that the only way we are going to rescue our EU membership is as an independent country. At some point Scotland is going to have to decide whether we go down as part of Brexit Britain or make our own relationship with Europe as an independent nation.

For all the dramatic activity over the weekend, none of the proposed UK options are likely to salvage our situation. The days of a UK solution to Scotland’s EU membership are swiftly coming to an end, just as it is becoming apparently obvious that it is only the people of Scotland who can rescue our EU membership.

ABSTENTIONISM AND THE SNP

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There has been a bit of traffic on social media recently that I abandon my post at Westminster and ‘return’ to Scotland with the rest of my fellow SNP MPs.

Borne out of frustration at the treatment of SNP MPs at Westminster I have to say I will never abandon my post as an SNP MP and leave my constituents at the mercy of this Tory Government. I was elected to represent all of the people of Perth and North Perthshire regardless of how they voted – something I have pledged following every election I have contested. To up-sticks and walk out of Parliament would be contrary to every commitment that we as SNP MPs made to the people who voted for us and it would result in us never being elected to anything again. I will leave Westminster only when the people of Scotland have voted for Westminster to no longer be a feature in our national life. 

Where abstentionism is a perfectly legitimate political tactic it would be an absolute disaster for the SNP. Like it or not, Scotland is still part of the union and Westminster is the legitimate Parliament of the UK. Westminster remains responsible for the economy, most welfare, foreign affairs and crucially the constitution. It is currently taking our nation out of the EU against our national will and diminishing the powers of our Parliament. To allow them to pursue this agenda without speaking up on behalf of our nation would be a gross abrogation of responsibility. Under these conditions standing for election on a pledge to not turn up and represent the people who elected us would be the very definition of political suicide in Scotland.

The SNP is not Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein do not recognise the legitimacy of the UK state in Northern Ireland and exist exclusively to return unity to the island of Ireland. They represent a distinct political constituency in Northern Ireland and their agenda of a united Ireland is entirely different to a party seeking independence and the end of a political union. Where violence has been a feature of Irish unification no one has even secured a nose bleed in the democratic cause of Scottish independence. Our movement is based on consent, majoritarianism and democratic legitimacy. Scotland is not Northern Ireland. 

Nothing would delight the Tories more than empty SNP benches. It has been the SNP that has been the only effective opposition to the Tories in the past few years. Witness the way they try and shout us down and silence us whilst remaining almost silent when the hapless ‘official’ opposition speaks up. Observers of Parliament have taken this ‘compliment’ as a demonstration of disrespect and the reason why we should abandon our posts. Believe me, in my 18 years in Parliament, there has never been a golden age when the SNP has been listened to in respectful silence. We have secured nothing other than their total contempt because we represent everything they oppose. We seek an end to their ‘precious’ union and our social democratic agenda is the exact opposite of their austerity and support for the wealthiest in our society. 

The simple fact is that we will only secure our independence when a majority of our fellow Scots believe that it is in the best interests of our Scottish nation. This is secured by persuading those yet to be convinced and there are no shortcuts. Independence will not be achieved by leaving our constituents in the lurch and Scotland without a voice in a Parliament seeking to diminish our authority. 

A PEOPLE’s VOTE AND AN INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM. ONLY ONE CAN PREVAIL.

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In Scotland there are currently two campaigns being conducted to secure two different and distinct constitutional referendums. One seeks to reverse the decision of the EU referendum and keep the UK in the EU whilst the other seeks a second referendum to make Scotland an independent country. Both sit rather uncomfortably and incongruously with each other and success in securing one would almost certainly mean that the conditions for the other would disappear. If independence is secured through a referendum a UK wide People’s Vote would not be necessary in Scotland. If a people’s vote is successful the set of conditions to progress independence in the near future all but disappears. 

The SNP supports both of these referendums but our recent emphasis and focus has been primarily to back the call for a people’s vote. We started out as sceptics of a People’s Vote, to rightly conceding that we would not stand in its way, to being a passive supporter, to ending up as one of its biggest cheerleaders. A second EU referendum now underpins practically everything we say on Brexit.

Such is our endorsement of a People’s Vote that we have unconditionally given our support to a second EU referendum, regardless of its outcome, and without any guarantees for our nation or acknowledgement of a future vote in Scotland. Without the inclusion of a set of conditions we could be expected to ‘respect’ the outcome even if it meant that Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will again. If somehow a People’s Vote is successful we remove the very conditions that makes Scottish independence a majority position amongst the Scottish people. Critically, we also remove the specified condition of the current mandate included in our manifesto in 2016.

With opinion polls remaining obstinately consistent since 2014 it is Brexit that provides the best opportunity to progress the independence agenda. Nearly every opinion poll shows a lead for independence in the event of Brexit taking place. The conclusion of this therefore would be to solidly and consistently argue that it is independence that would ensure that Scotland was rescued from a Brexit it doesn’t want and never voted for. Instead we spend a disproportionate amount of our time promoting a mechanism that could actually remove the conditions that make independence more likely. Where it is a noble intention to want to save the UK from itself we have to be entirely sure that it wants to be rescued. Opinion polls do show a lead for remain but none are decisive and the latest polls are beginning to show a tightening in this contest particularly when remain is pitched against viable leave options.

Rerunning this contest is also not consequence free. For a start it is likely to descend into the ugliest democratic choice that the British people have ever participated in. You can only imagine the campaign the Brexiteers will run. It probably wouldn’t even be about Europe anymore. it would more than likely end up as a verdict on the ‘political elite’ and how that ‘elite’ denied the British people their democratic choice. Scotland wouldn’t be immune from this anti-politics contest and it will almost certainly impact on our domestic Scottish politics. We would then have to try and re-stimulate another referendum campaign after this experience and the referendum fatigue we saw at the General Election of 2017 would be as nothing to what would prevail after this.

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It is true that the cause of Scottish Independence would be better served with the UK remaining in the EU. Divisive issues such as borders and free movement of goods are undoubtedly better served with an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK in the EU. But all of this is beyond our control. It will be England again that will decide whether we remain or leave the EU. I always believe that it is much more useful to try and influence events which are under our control rather than waste energy on events that we can not change or influence. 

I also get that there is political mileage in encouraging remain voters who voted No in the independence referendum to our cause. As a constituency MP I am struck by the sheer numbers of new people getting in touch with me and the interest that there is in the Brexit debate is unprecedented. However we don’t help Remain/Nos on that journey if we don’t properly detail to them that the end destination of that journey has to be Scottish independence. 

In the last few days I have noticed an encouraging new tone in our statements about Brexit with more of an emphasis on independence as opposed to a second EU vote and that is to be welcomed. The First Minister will reveal our plans for an independence referendum in the next few weeks and my views on that are well known. I profoundly believe that we should only have a second referendum when there is good evidence it could be won and that it be held when there are the optimal conditions for success. I believe that another defeat would be unthinkable and could fatally undermine any future campaign for Scottish independence. 

That is why we must fully take advantage of the disruptive forces that come our way and demonstrate Scotland’s fragile position as a junior partner in the UK. Brexit helps provide these conditions but as yet we have barely nudged support for Scottish independence in the polls. As the disaster of Brexit approaches and the very real consequences start to be felt that could all change and we have a duty and responsibility to detail clearly that it is only Scottish independence that can rescue our nation from the all encompassing isolating ugliness of Brexit. A ‘people’s vote’ should not be opposed, and I would always support it in any vote in the House of Commons, but it is in building support for the referendum that will ensure that there will be no more Brexits that should always be our priority.  

SETTLED STATUS – WHAT THE TORIES ARE REALLY DOING TO EU NATIONALS

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Over Christmas, when very few people were paying attention, the Home Office put out a video and further information on its EU Settlement Scheme. Full of stock photos of smiling people, apparently having a whale of a time, the video provided a chilling and provocative reminder of the precarious situation EU nationals living within our community endure as we approach Brexit.

In a rare moment of clarity the Home Office confirmed that EU nationals would have to ‘apply’ to remain in the UK under the Settlement Scheme and a new menacing tone was introduced. The video detailed that criminal checks would be required and that specific data would be accumulated on EU nationals who have lived in the UK for decades. This time there was no dubiety about the cost. Every EU national without citizenship or leave to remain would have to pay the £65. Children would secure the ‘cut price’ cost of £32.50. The most invidious feature was the underlying threat that failure to comply or failing the ‘application’ could result in, well, who knows what…… It was as unsettling as it was sickening and sent alarm bells throughout the UK’s 3.6 million strong EU national community. 

I suppose we all knew that this day would come. Immigration and ending freedom of movement is the cold beating heart of their Brexit. Keeping people out and othering those from beyond our shores is the de facto case for leaving the European Union. The day of reckoning was never going to be pretty. Leave groups have to be pandered to and the new dawn of Brexitised UK has to be clearly understood. We are creating a new drawbridge society and those who have already made the journey here will have to know their place and fully understand why this Brexit has to be done. Ending freedom of movement is paraded as the main ‘prize’ of their Brexit. For these Brexit Tories, those that made the journey under FoM are an unfortunate consequence of something that pre Brexit Britain got so badly wrong. EU nationals are, I suppose, for the Brexit Tories, Britain’s big mistake. 

So far the Tories have been very careful to promote a culture of reassurance and comfort. A sort of ‘don’t worry your pretty little European head’ has been the tone and message. It was unsustainable. Promises of ‘no change’ to status and ‘everything will be the same’ can’t work when everything is to be completely different. Registration would always require applications and checks or there would be no point in any sort of registration at all. This is a Tory Home Office that created the ‘hostile environment’ its instincts are to start with suspicion and then work backwards from there. 

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At least they are starting to be honest. Their draft immigration bill sets out clearly the type of nasty, intolerant Brexit UK they want to create. Everybody knows that EU nationals greatly contribute to our economy but that doesn’t matter a fig when there are Faragists to pander to. Scotland’s population growth is almost entirely predicated on immigration. We have a dependency ratio that is about the most acute in Western Europe. Ending freedom of movement will be disastrous for our economy and for the service sectors that soak up the majority of inward migration. We didn’t vote for this Tory Brexit but yet we will be the nation that will be most impacted from this, the main plank of their case for leaving.

I loathe their Brexit. Everything about it simply diminishes us. It is impossible to identify any redeeming feature of what the Tories are doing to us in this chaotic and clueless mission. But it is what they are doing to our friends and colleagues from Europe that makes me loathe their Brexit even more. 

As we shape up the sort of new country we want to be in Scotland we will assess everything that the Tories have done on immigration and vow to never, ever follow them down that souless, barren, self-defeating cul-de-sac. Scotland is better than this and soon we will show that to the world.