As we prepare for the Christmas recess all the talk is of an early General Election. A vote of no confidence is apparently to be imminently considered with the prospect of an early General Election on the horizon. A vote of no confidence following the Fixed Term Parliament Act now no longer means that an automatic General Election would follow. Fourteen days have to be set aside to form a new Government and the Parliamentary arithmetic does suggest that no alternative Government readily presents itself.

To secure a Labour led majority all the other parties in the House would have to unite to oppose the Tories, a highly unlikely proposition. There is also talk of a Labour minority Government and where it is possible it would be the lamest duck in the duckpond infirmary. Also the experience of the last minority Labour Government in the 70s should stand as a salutary lesson to my comrade friends. 

But do Labour really want a General Election? It is all they’ve been banging on about for the past few months but when offered the support they demanded they went curiously cold on the idea. Yes, they are right, there are optimum times for success but surely it doesn’t get any better than straight after a vote of confidence in a Prime minister who had one third of her party declining

to offer that assurance. Following the meaningful vote is now the time talked about by Labour ‘strategists’ for them to make their move but don’t be too surprised if something else emerges which would mean Labour rethinking this again. 

And looking at the polls it’s easy to understand why Labour would be nervous about a General Election. Most opinion polls show the Tories and Labour neck and neck with most showing a continued Tory lead. For all the chaotic shambles enveloping the Tory Party there seems little love for Corbyn’s Labour. Labour are also doubly conflicted by the fact that even in the midst of Brexit meltdown at least 45% of the UK still want to leave the EU and an awful lot of the people who still support leave are represented by Labour MPs. Brexit would continue to dominate a General Election forcing Labour at last to take some sort of stance. Probably the best Labour could seriously hope for in an early general election is to become the largest party at Westminster swapping this hopeless position with the Tories. 


Where an early election wouldn’t necessarily be greeted with cheers from the rafters in a Perth and North Perthshire constituency where we ‘enjoy’ a 21 majority it would certainly be welcomed more enthusiastically than last year. All opinion polls show a modest rise in support for the SNP with a similar decline in support for the Tories and Labour. This will be a Brexit General Election and the Tories most certainly won’t get away with the ‘vote Ruth Davidson to oppose a 2nd referendum’ nonsense they did last time. The Scottish public will demand to know what the Scottish Tories will do to deal with this crisis and the conjuring tricks of last year won’t work. The Scottish Tories also now have a Westminster record to defend and the actions of their singularly useless group of MPs will be cruelly exposed. The opportunities to win back seats from the Tories and Labour will be there for the taking.  

We have to be ready for an early General Election and we will have to ensure that it stays on our ground this time. We have been entirely consistent on Brexit and have represented our constituents effectively through this crisis. We also have a neat and elegant solution to all of this for Scotland. As solutions go they do not come any better than getting completely out of this mess and making our own way as a nation of our own. 




It was Norman Lamont who said of the equally disastrous John Major Government ‘we give the impression of being in office but not in power’. Such is the situation with this Government they don’t even give the impression of being in office! Never before has such overwhelming shambles characterised a Government’s approach to running the country. The tenuous majority they secured with the £1 billion DUP bung seems to be abandoned as the DUP vote against the Government. As the sound of ‘never’ reverberates from the opposition lobby this must be the worst political investment in history. How this Government must wish that they had included some small print which obliged the DUP to hand back the cash if they voted against them.

With no majority the Government are now very reluctant to test the will of the House. Last week the SNP got through two amendments in the Finance Bill on tax avoidance and fixed odd betting terminals because the Government dare not face defeat. They are prepared to face the indignity of accepting opposition amendments to crucial bills rather than lose a vote. They are now in the position where they are barely capable of running the country.

It is in this very tenuous minority situation they now have to put the most important vote of recent times to Parliament. With the EU having approved their Brexit deal it now comes to the House of Commons to give its view and we will now have our say on the 12th December. The Government are therefore doing everything possible to restrict Parliament to a binary choice of their bad deal or no deal. They are doing this even though there is no majority in the House for neither of these options. The real battle of what we eventually vote on is quickly becoming the first big battle in the House of Commons on this ‘meaningful vote’.

Because of the delicacy of the situation the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons were charged with investigating this and they detailed three possible options. Follow the usual practice of the House, to allow the Speaker to call more than one amendment for decision at the end of debate. This would allow the House to determine the process and secure the maximum number of options. This option is hotly contested by the Government. The second is the Government’s preferred option to have the vote on their deal put first and only consider amendments if it fails. The last option is to have an almost pointless set of indicative votes on amendments to test the will of the House.

What is crucial is that the House must be able to express its view and consider the deal on the basis of whatever it chooses. There are signs that the Speaker (usually responsible for the selection of amendments) is growing increasingly exasperated with the Government insistence of the binary choice of the ‘devil or the deep blue sea’ and the incredible stand off between him and the Leader of the House on this was something else.

Such as its importance that the outcome of this piece of procedure could determine the future of a nation. It would be unthinkable if we were to have an outcome that had no majority and we just had to accept it. Having no majority and having no real chance of getting their deal through this Government might just be prepared to burn down the whole House with a no deal Brexit before it hands back the keys. We start the debate on this the week after next. We have to know exactly what is on offer when that debate commences.


As Brexit approaches its inevitable disastrous endgame the calls for a People’s Vote grows more strident. Reinforced by 700,000 people marching through the streets of London, the SNP will apparently support any second vote in the House of Commons It now seems there is an irresistible momentum towards a second EU referendum and together we will halt their Brexit.

Only I have big concerns about supporting a second Brexit vote and I am particularly anxious about supporting such a vote without any guarantees that our choice in Scotland will be respected next time round. In the last vote Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU only to be totally ignored, with our national view contemptuously dismissed. Every attempt to broker an outcome acknowledging how Scotland voted was rejected and any position to try and minimise the impact of Brexit in Remain-supporting Scotland binned before the ink was even dry. Now we are to offer unconditional support for another referendum which could produce the same result and conditions throughout the UK once again.

No-one from the People’s Vote campaign has attempted to answer the question, which is: What if Scotland votes to remain (which it will) and the UK as a whole votes to leave again (which it might)? They won’t answer because, for them, it is a UK vote and the outcome in Scotland is irrelevant and just the same as the outcome in any other part of the UK. They simply do not acknowledge that we as a nation have our own national view and national interest.

To say that we will sign up to a referendum without any guarantee that our Scottish national voice will be at least acknowledged is little more than an open invitation to have our national view ignored and disrespected all over again. We are simply inviting all the indignities we are currently enduring to be replicated and refreshed.

Then there is precedent. There is now a view amongst the politicians leading the People’s Vote campaign that all big constitutional referendums should now have a “confirmatory” second vote. The politician with perhaps the highest profile in the People’s Vote campaign, Vince Cable, has explicitly said that a confirmatory vote would be required on a successful independence referendum. By enthusiastically buying into this confirmatory vote for an EU referendum, we weaken our hand in resisting Unionist calls for a second vote on a successful indyref. You can just imagine the Unionist chorus: “You were all for a second confirmatory vote on the EU but not one for independence.”

And if they were successful in using this precedent against us, unreconciled Unionists would be working non-stop from the day after the referendum to ensure that a successful outcome would be overturned. Every apparatus of state would be deployed and they would ensure that the worst possible “deal” would be offered to the Scottish people in the hope that their Union could be rescued.


But in saying all this Scotland would want the UK in the EU. The most seamless transition to independence would be with a common customs union whilst being part of the EU single market with the rest of the UK. With the UK out of the EU, borders will become the totemic scaremongering feature of a future referendum campaign. One can only imagine the relish a Unionist campaign will have in insisting the Scottish people will have a hard border and no common travel area with the rest of the UK. Having the UK in the EU is in the interests of Scottish independence.

We want Brexit reversed and I hope that somehow it can still be stopped. But the second vote advocates have to come a couple of steps towards us and at least acknowledge that the UK is a Union of nations each with its own national view on the EU. But they won’t. Beyond the Unionist politicians who lead the campaign there are the celebrities like Bob Geldof and Dan Snow, people who couldn’t be more strident in their opposition to independence. To throw our weight behind their People’s Vote without any guarantees or recognition of our national position is like throwing the dice on someone else’s roulette wheel.

Realistically, though, It is very unlikely to be realised. We will be out of the EU in less than six months and there is just not the political capacity to win a second vote. The few Tories likely to vote in favour will be swamped by the number of Labour MPs who believe that the “result must be respected” even if the Labour front bench could be tempted to support it. We could be presenting all sorts of risks to a future independence referendum for nothing.

The only thing likely to stop Brexit is the contradictions of its own incompetent impracticality and we should never stop pointing out the disaster that is coming our way in the vain hope that it can be stopped. There is a sense that the campaign for a second vote is over before it has really begun. The key choice that is facing Scotland is do we want to be part of a UK out of the EU with all the disastrous consequences or do we want to determine our own relationship with the EU as an independent nation?





Those familiar with the activities of Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament will know that they like to be photographed with their more senior and better known colleagues. Any cursory glance at their social media output will see a phalanx of photos with any number of UK Ministers and Secretary of States. Beaming with pride and bonhomie they look glaikitly into whoever’s iPhone is available to capture ‘the moment’. Inevitably, there will be the caption. Included will be the essential words ‘working towards, listening, resolving, showing’ with the clear message that it is they that have the access and the ear of Ministers. Having become the most supine, obedient and enthusiastic of lobby fodder Scottish Conservatives need something, anything, that suggests somehow they are doing something. 

So what do you think happened when I asked for the self same meetings with these Ministers that I identified in those photos? Well, not one agreed to meet with me, with most not even giving me the courtesy of a response and one telling me that I can take up the issue with her in the tea-room!

In trying to give these Scottish Conservatives this ‘leg up’ the UK Government has dangerously politicised access to Ministers for narrow party political advantage. There isn’t even an attempt to hide this co-ordinated and crude attempt to give this advantage and it is is something that goes against every principle of the Ministerial Code. 

Access to Ministers must be something that is afforded to all Members of Parliament. We are all elected to serve the people of this country and every constituent should be afforded the same rights from Ministers through their democratically elected MP. To politicise access for party political advantage is simply unacceptable and anti-democratic.

And this politicisation of access is now hindering the work that is required to resolve and deal with the pressing issues across my constituency and the people I represent. For example, I alongside my Dundee colleagues, recently wrote to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury asking for a meeting to discuss the delays in the Tay Cities Deal, a meeting that was refused. I have since seen a social media contribution from a Tory MP, who has one Tay Cities Deal project in his constituency, sitting down with the Chief Secretary where he boasts he is discussing his project with her.


Then just this week there was a photo of a Scottish Tory MP pictured with the Home Secretary with a caption from her saying she was discussing a seasonal agricultural workers scheme. The next day a pilot scheme was announced in an obvious attempt to try and credit her with its introduction. This is despite me writing to the Home Secretary to meet several weeks ago and also chairing an all party Select Committee which recommended a scheme’s introduction. 


The killer though must be a visit to a job centre in ‘my constituency’ where a Scottish Conservative MP hosted the Disabilities Minister, a meeting of which, I wasn’t even informed! She of course has never even gave me the courtesy of a response when I asked for a similar meeting. 

All of this is a shocking abuse of Ministerial party patronage. I can understand why this Government feels the need to give extra support to these Scottish Tory MPs. Their main contribution in Parliament is to rage against a Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government beyond their Parliamentary responsibilities, irritating and bewildering their constituents, who just want proper representation in the Parliament in which they were elected to serve. Giving the illusion that they can somehow ‘influence’ decision making with their party colleagues is an easy and lazy bit of Parliamentary cover. 

The range of issues with which Scottish Conservative MPs have now been credited extends to ending VAT on police services, the revitalisation of the oil and gas industry and the worldwide success of Scotch Whisky. Next we’ll find that they are responsible for the Scottish enlightenment, the finding of the Loch Ness monster and the lunar moon landings! The simple fact is that they have no influence on a Government that is tightly controlled from the centre and riven by its own contradictions and tensions, The only role required from the Scottish Conservatives MPs is to enquire ‘how high’ when asked to jump on behalf of their Government. 

If anything they have got in the way of ensuring that solutions are properly delivered. Take this week’s announcement of a Seasonal Workers Scheme. I tried to secure an all party approach and consensus in securing a useful scheme that properly consulted with the industry. The hastily arranged effort to try and credit a single Conservative MP managed to disappoint everybody in the sector with the Government announcing a scheme providing a paltry 2,500 workers of the 64,000 that they themselves say is required. 

With an absence of 20 years the re-introduction of Scottish Conservative MPs into the Scottish political wildness was always going to be a ‘difficult’ project. Where we can put up with their blind obedience to their Government and their almost hysterical attempts to ‘attack’ the Scottish Government in all their Westminster contributions we can not allow them to get away with this abuse of Ministerial access for critical constituency issues. It must end now. 



I really loathe their Brexit. I really do. Never before has the main objective of any Government been to intentionally impoverish the people they serve with such chaotic and clueless abandon. There is no redeeming quality to what the Tories are doing to us and the fact that my country so overwhelmingly rejected it just makes this loathing even more acute. I want to stop their Brexit and there is just no way that I will ever be reconciled to what they are trying to achieve with taking us out of the European Union against Scotland’s national collective will.

It should therefore be easy for someone like me to buy into any and all efforts to stop their Brexit. Another vote to stop it? What could possible be wrong with that? 

Well, there are in fact just a few issues that require a wee bit more attention before I sign up to any campaign. The main one being what if Scotland votes to remain again (which it will) and the UK as a whole votes to leave again (which it might)? No one form this ‘people’s vote’ campaign have attempted to answer this question other than some glib response that it would have to be a UK wide result. Well, I’m sorry that isn’t good enough. Brexit is a problem created beyond Scotland, mainly out of divisions which abound in a Conservative party that has 13 of Scotland’s 59 MPs. We wanted nothing to do with this and when we were obliged to vote on the issue every part of Scotland voted to remain. Why should Scotland participate in an exercise that has explicitly ignored our view and won’t respect it in any rerun? At the very least we would need to see some equivalent support for a second referendum on independence. Surely, these democrats in the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign thoroughly believe in the right to choose and reconsider?

Then there is precedence. There are fears that if a second vote on the EU is delivered a similar type of second vote on the terms of independence may also be insisted upon. This one concerns me less but remains an issue. Any future indy vote will now have to have, built in to the campaign, that a positive vote will be definitive and conclusive. We should also be confident that a Scottish Government taking us to independence will make less of an utter mess of it than the current UK one is doing with Brexit. There will, though, be unreconciled unionists who will use any precedence on Brexit as a means to undermine our independence vote and we should be wary.

But in saying all this Scotland would want the UK in the EU. The most seamless transition to independence would be with a common customs union whilst being part of the  EU single market with the rest of the UK. With the UK out of the EU borders will become the totemic scaremongering feature of a future referendum campaign. One can only imagine the relish a unionist campaign will have in insisting the Scottish people will have a hard border and no common travel area with the rest of the UK. Having the UK in the EU is in the interests of Scottish independence.


My approach to a second EU referendum then is to be supportive without being one of its champions. I would want them to succeed and wish them all the very best. I would not vote against a second vote in the House of Commons and am open to supporting it if I can secure a commitment that the result in Scotland would be respected.

Realistically, though, It is very unlikely to be realised. We will be out of the EU in just 7 months time and there is just not the political capacity for a second vote. The ‘people’s’ vote campaign is going to target the Labour Party for support. One can only wish them the very best with that with a Labour party that almost exceeds the Tories in the clueless Brexit stakes. The only thing likely to stop Brexit is the contradictions of its own incompetent impracticality and we should never stop pointing out the disaster that is coming our way in the vain hope that it can be stopped.

But there is a sense that the campaign for a second vote is over before it has really begun.

The key choice that is coming is does Scotland want to be part of a Brexitised UK or does it want to determine its own relationship with the EU as an independent nation? The debate around a ‘People’s vote’ maybe coming to a close just as the real debate about saving Scotland from the disastrous consequences of their Brexit is about to begin. 

The Tories and Perth Royal Infirmary


In the last few weeks I have had to reassure a number of my constituents who have been under the impression that accident and emergency is to close at Perth Royal Infirmary (PRI). This has been the result of an irresponsible campaign by Conservative proportional list Members of the Scottish Parliament, who have been prepared to suggest that this closure will ‘effectively’ take place. Let me reassure my constituents – accident and emergency will not close at PRI. What will happen is that all unscheduled surgery will now be undertaken at Ninewells, in order to ensure the highest level of care and to make sure that my constituents will have access to the new dedicated Acute Surgical Receiving Unit. And that is the way it should be. If you are involved in a life-threatening situation, you would want to go to where the expert clinicians are based and have full confidence that you will secure the highest standard of care.

What has happened across Tayside is that there has been a review of all acute surgical services with recommendations about how the existing NHS estate should be best utilised. We are facing increasing demands on our NHS with improved life expectancy and new treatments becoming available. The Scottish budget is also being systematically cut by the self-same Tories at Westminster who remain committed to controlling public expenditure as part of their general campaign of austerity. It is, therefore, incumbent upon NHS managers to ensure our assets are effectively managed. These list Tories, of course, know this because they were at the same meetings that I also attended where they barely raised a whimper in protest. The plans for Tayside were designed by the clinicians after extensive public consultation and the Tories’ irresponsible campaign only commenced when the Scottish Government approved what the health service experts proposed. 

What the Tories will not tell you is that health services at Perth Royal Infirmary are to be expanded. An expanded elective surgical service (surgery which is planned in advance) will be based at Perth Royal Infirmary to treat both cancer patients and other conditions – including complex major surgery to fully utilise the excellent care facilities and to ensure that these longer term treatments are undertaken closer to home. A&E will remain open as usual and the people of Perthshire can be fully confident of an A&E that will attend to them as required. 

But imagine for a minute, if you will, an NHS administered by these Tories. We only have to look to NHS England where the Tories are fully in charge. There the Red Cross have had to assist and A&E departments have had to close their doors to patients. This is just part of a Tory NHS England in real crisis, where privatisations remain a feature of a party ideologically indifferent about a real quality NHS. 

You seriously cannot believe a word the Tories say about the NHS and I urge you to treat with caution any further statements from them. What is being closed are schools right across Perthshire by a Tory Perth and Kinross Council. That, though, remains another story. One which you will not hear about from their proportional list MSPs.



It’s going to be a tough old night for everybody associated with Runrig as the band pull the curtain  down on 45 years this weekend. I had the incredible pleasure of being the keyboard player for the band at the height of its success and the experience of being part of Runrig changed me as much as Runrig changed the face of Gaelic’s place in Scotland.

There simply hadn’t been a band like Runrig before and there won’t be another one quite like them again. Their contribution to Scottish music and culture can not be overstated. Runrig reintroduced Gaelic to a new generation of young Scots and then took Gaelic and highland culture round the world. 

What Runrig offered was a perspective of Scotland from the north delivered in its authentic voice. Scotland had never heard its like before and would forever be altered by its profound message. The songs spoke of historic institutional cultural damage, of emigration and clearance, of land ownership and of our shared home and identity. In rediscovering the part of Scotland that was Gaelic it could be said that Runrig helped Scotland rediscover a large part of itself. 

For most young people growing up in Scotland in the 60s and 70s Gaelic was misunderstood if it was ever even considered at all. A cultural ‘tweed curtain’ ran the length of the Highland line and it was still a time of ‘teuchters’ and weird highland stereotypes. Scotland was still dealing in tales of a Highlands cleansed and made palatable by Walter Scott’s ‘Balmorality’ and what Scots saw of Gaelic culture was largely in the shape of Calum Kennedy and Dotaman. Gaelic was at best a charming other world but one that was largely disposable and dispensible.  

When Runrig emerged in the 1970s the future of Gaelic was very much in doubt. Gaelic had been largely deserted by young people who had most of the language beaten out of them at school before what was left challenged by the more readily accessible rock and pop music. The Scottish folk revival of the 60s had largely left Gaelic music untouched and what remained of its promotion was left in the hands of village bards and sing-songs behind closed doors. 

It was in this environment that the early Runrig started writing their own Gaelic songs. The fusion of Gaelic traditional song and rock music would probably have remained a minority interest if not for the song-craft of Calum and Rory MacDonald. Their ability to make the local universal, for being able to talk of big historical themes and make them relevant and real, to observe the huge truths in small things, defined a song writing approach that readily reached out beyond the confines of the West Highlands. 


Then there were the songs. Songs like Dance called America. A song written about how the aristocracy mocked and mimicked the forced emigrations during the clearances. Then there is the Gaelic epic ‘Siol Ghorraidh’ written about an obscure medieval battle fought on Sleat in Skye between competing branches of Clan Donald. There’s ‘Fuaim A’ Bhlair’ a song that recalls how the highlanders were enlisted as canon fodder for the empire adventures.

But contemporary concerns were there too. Saints of the Soil celebrates the Assyntt community land buyout where Ravenscraig is one of many songs that addresses the deindustrialisation of Scotland. But then there is also ‘the Loch’. Loch Lomond became a defining song of the band and rarely could one song be so unrepresentative of a bands whole catalogue. Like most of the band I had a love/hate relationship with ‘the Loch’ but now find it highly amusing that its has ended up as a staple at the close of Scottish weddings.

The MacDonald brothers have always tried to down play the political significance of Runrig but I won’t share that reticence. Runrig put the big political issues to song and told the world of historical injustices and their contemporary equivalents. Runrig could be said to be part of the sound track of the coming of the Scottish Parliament. The 1987 song ‘Alba’ talks of that ‘empty house in Edinburgh without authority or voice’ with ‘the beautiful soil of the people still in the hands of the few’. It should come as no surprise that two members of Runrig stood for Parliament and one now remains the longest serving MP from Scotland


But this probably didn’t matter to the legions of fans who just loved the music. And Runrig sold records in the barrowload. Over 2 million albums sold worldwide with top 5 records in the UK, Germany and Denmark. I’ll never forget how the album Amazing Things just lost out on being the UK number 1 by one of the lowest margins ever to the Greatest hits of Hot Chocolate. Runrig was Scotland ’s biggest band in the late 80s and early 90s. When in 1991 the BBC asked the Scottish public to vote in their music awards Runrig won all categories even coming second in the top female singer category. They never run the awards again. And foreign audiences lapped it up particularly German speaking Europe and Scandanavia. I’ll never forget German fans telling me that what they enjoyed was an immersion in an easily accessible cultural package when so much of their own culture was out of bounds because of history. 

Even with all the well deserved plaudits I still don’t think that the cultural contribution of Runrig has been properly acknowledged. Runrig had to survive and compete in a bizarre and fashion fuelled music industry marketplace that could never properly understand the band far less properly market them. Runrig, though, went beyond genre with songs that will prove to be timeless. There will be other bands who will come and go but none will be able to open our eyes to part of our nation with such beauty, poetry and drama as Runrig. 

Gaelic is now a national language of Scotland. Gaelic medium is a feature of our education system. There is Gaelic broadcasting and multitudes of Gaelic bands. Where there remains political detractors there is a tremendous effort and broad consensus in rescuing this beautiful language and culture. A language that helped define and chronicle Scotland itself. Runrig is a huge party of this ‘recovery’. This will forever be the band’s enduring legacy.