The Tories and Perth Royal Infirmary

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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.

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THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER BAND LIKE RUNRIG

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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. 

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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

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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. 

RURAL SCOTLAND AND INDEPENDENCE.

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It wasn’t all that long ago. They were the ‘SNP heartlands’ and we seemed unassailable. When I was first elected in 2001 the SNP at Westminster held 5 seats and all of them were from rural Scotland. From Kinross to Kinloss it was the North East shoulder of Scotland that returned SNP MPs and it was rural Scotland that sustained our Parliamentary footprint. In the nascent Scottish Parliament it was no different. In 1999 we won 7 constituency seats, all rural, the 6 constituencies we won in 97’s General election with the addition of Inverness. In fact if we were to look historically at where the SNP had won all their Westminster seats at General elections prior to the 2015 breakthrough, other than Dundee, they were all mainly rural. 

Fast forward to 2018 and the whole situation has flipped. The majority of the seats we hold are now in urban Scotland and the losses we sustained at last years General Election were in the seats that we used to rely on to give us our Parliamentary presence. 

What has happened in rural Scotland and what does this tell us about our prospects for securing independence? Because, let’s not forget, these rural seats were also the parts of Scotland that returned the biggest No votes in the 2014 independence referendum. Seats that stood alone in voting for independence supporting SNP politicians are now the seats we appear to have the greatest difficulty defending. 

Some say that rural Scotland is just returning to its natural Conservative ‘home’. Where rural Scotland did vote for the Conservatives in large parts of the last century it doesn’t explain why it was also the first part of Scotland to return independence supporting MPs? Maybe it’s even something to do with the ‘nationalist unionist’ narrative that people like David Torrance have recently written about. Before the SNP had fully emerged as a serious force Conservatives in large swathes of rural Scotland helped carry the torch for Scottishness, home rule and the preservation of much of our cultural iconography. Our Scottishness was very much under threat by a strong post war, all pervasive, unifying British identity and rural Conservatives in places like Perthshire and the North East were amongst the most curious defenders of our national symbols. It was only with the emergence of Thatcher that this part of Scottish Conservatism was effectively killed off. I often wonder if the logic of this ‘nationalist unionism’ had been properly pursued what sort of Scottish Conservative party might have emerged and where this interest in ‘nationalism’ might have taken it? The thing is rural Scotland is politically complex and is open to the idea of constitutional progress. We have prevailed in rural Scotland before and we can again. 

The other reason given for current rural disenchantment with independence is it is now seen as an urban concern. Most of the groups that emerged out of the independence referendum were left wing with a strong ideological and class base to their vision for a future independent Scotland. Where this played well in constituencies with a tradition of voting Labour there was perhaps an inevitable consequence in areas where small ‘c’ Conservatism is the predominant community and political value. For so much of rural Scotland observing the talk of a movement seeking to ‘transform’ our nation was maybe just a bit too much to take. 

But the urban/rural circle has been squared before and it can be squared again. There is also the example of the Highlands, the one part of rural Scotland that has mainly stuck with the SNP, and we need to know why we have prevailed there and lost elsewhere.

But more than anything we need a new independence case for rural Scotland. Opposition to independence has hardened in rural Scotland following the referendum experience but this means we just have to work all the harder to get it back on board again. It is about developing agendas that support and develop the rural agenda and explaining the opportunities independence can bring. We have to learn to speak to rural Scotland whilst listening and agreeing with them a bit more. And there are a lots of opportunities for debate. 

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Food and drink is now our premier export and branding issues concern rural Scotland. Excellence in Scottish produce is one of our nation’s most important international calling cards and it is under threat from a Brexitised UK determined to pursue a one ‘UK’ approach to bilateral trade deals. Then there is the power grab. So many of the 24 powers that the UK wants to maintain in their desire to secure this UK ‘single market’ are in agriculture. This imposes a UK determined straight jacket on our farming sector and limits our ability to pursue our own priorities. 

Then there’s the obvious consequences of Brexit. Top amongst this is immigration and worries that there may not be a seasonal workforce to harvest the fields of rural Scotland. This extends to the rural hospitality sector where the bulk of hotel staff in large swathes of rural Scotland are from Eastern Europe. The ending of freedom of movement will have a bigger consequence in rural Scotland than anywhere else. There is also what happens when the £3 billion of EU farm subsidies comes to an end in 2022. The UK Government have wittered on about ‘rewarding efficiency’ but has produced no solid plan about what will happen. Scottish farming is more dependent on this EU support than any other part of the UK and is the most likely to be hurt with its withdrawal.

In the next few months I will be hosting a variety of meetings with rural businesses in my constituency and I will be listening very carefully to the issues that farming interests want to see pursued. My view is that rural Scotland is at a cross roads on a number of its preconceptions about Brexit and possible constitutional progress.

In the next case for independence we have to get to a One Scotland approach that unites every sector and part of Scotland. Where there are parts that need extra reassurance we have to offer it and understand the concerns. We must make sure that no part of Scotland is left behind in our quest for independence.

THE OPTIMUM CONDITIONS FOR INDYREF SUCCESS

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It now looks like a second referendum is set to dominate our Depute Leadership contest and I believe that is a good thing. We are at a critical juncture in how we proceed with a second referendum and it is something that we simply have to get right. The debate seems to centre round whether we should proceed with a referendum simply because we currently possess a mandate or whether we hold one when there is good evidence it can be won. 

I think everyone knows my view on this by now and it begins and ends with my firm belief that we simply can not countenance losing again. We are so close to securing our historic objective that to throw away a victory that we’ve so patiently and constructively worked for over the decades through impatience would be the worst type of defeat. I want to see evidence it can be won and I want it held at the time of our choosing when the optimum conditions are in place for success. 

People have asked what these conditions are and what evidence is required? It is a fair question which I will try and address.

Before I do I want to first go over what these ‘optimal conditions’ are not. 

Firstly, they are not when we are less than one year away from having lost over one third of our independence supporting MPs to candidates who had as their main campaigning message ‘No to a second referendum’. The SNP Government had only weeks previous to last year’s General Election placed independence centre stage by successfully securing support in Parliament to request a fresh section 30 order from the UK Government. Where there were other issues at play in last year’s General election an early referendum was by far the most dominant and we can not ignore the fact that the SNP lost half a million votes. 

‘Optimal conditions’ are not when a significant gap exists between support for independence and support for an ‘early’ independence referendum. Every test of public opinion has shown that this gap is real and we simply can not wish it away. Support for independence remains impressively at around the 45% we secured in 2014. I don’t know how we can otherwise conclude that there are a number of people who still support independence but who do not want an early referendum. Indeed, in my campaign last year I came across identified independence supporters who told me that they were voting Conservative to stop an early referendum.

‘Optimal conditions’ are also not when a majority of our fellow Scots continue to tell us they still oppose independence by a significant margin when public opinion is tested. Many have said that simply holding a new referendum will somehow secure a majority and just by initiating a renewed contest we will secure a victory. This ignores just how hard it is going to be to secure a majority. That last five precent we need to win over in a renewed referendum will be the hardest five percent we have ever had to convert. It is a five percent that is deeply dug in with over five years of intense debate about our country’s constitutional future.

That then brings me on to what we need to do to start to move towards ‘optimal conditions’. First, and most obviously, we need a new case to win over that last tough, entrenched, 5 percent. They are going to take a lot of shifting and we have to get on to their territory. Everyday issues such as currency, pensions and perceived deficits are the obvious issues we have to address but so are things that persuadable unionists care about. To win we are going to have to be creative. Things like the cultural connections and attachments that are valued across these isles and even things like British identity are going to have to be tackled and reviewed. It is also about returning to a One Scotland approach to independence. The places we lost in 2014 were in rural and affluent Scotland and we need to ask searching questions about whether appealing to one sector of our community we may be losing out to another. It means listening to persuadable unionists, understanding their agenda then winning them over. 

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Then there is Brexit. We simply can not leave Yes leavers semi-detached from the Yes movement. Forget stay at home ‘over eager nationalists’ the people who stayed at home last year were Yes voters who voted to leave the European Union. Proceeding to another indyref with this unresolved will be like proceeding with one hand tied behind our back. Then there is recognising the opportunities around Brexit. Brexit will be an unmitigated disaster for our fellow Scots and when it properly hits our fellow Scots will want to review their constitutional options.  

The ‘optimum conditions’ then is when we have done all of this. When we can feel confident that we can go to the Scottish people with a new case for our country’s independence with the outstanding impediments to success addressed. It means seeing support for our country’s independence being the sustained choice when public opinion is tested. It is hitting the sweet spot when Brexit impacts and people actively want out of an isolated, desolated UK. It means seeing support for the SNP returning to the levels we achieved around the last referendum in electoral contests. It means evidence. If securing our independence was easy we would already be an independent country. This is going to be hard, hard work and no amount of just wishing it can be easily achieved because we want it is going to get us there. We owe it to future generations of Scots to win this and rescue our nation from a disastrous Brexit and a UK determined to erode our national Parliament. We simply have to have a nation of our own run by those of us who live and work here.

So, again, and again, and again – rinse and repeat, losing again is simply not an option.

HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT

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Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I wish I could say it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), but I cannot. The only thing I will say is that when it comes to a world view and political values, he and I are probably on the opposite sides of the spectrum. His intemperate remarks about Scottish independence do him no credit whatsoever. He wants to pull up the drawbridge and leave the European Union and other institutions, whereas we want to join the world and we welcome the fact that the world will welcome Scotland as an independent nation.

The Government’s stated aim with this Bill is to make the UK a more “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants. I give the Minister 10 out of 10 and say to him, “Well done and pat yourself on the back,” because the Government have most certainly achieved that with this Bill. They have just made the UK an even more intolerant place for the rest of us to live in.

This Government have also achieved something I never thought I would see in the 12 years I have been a Member of Parliament: an Immigration Bill that is even nastier and more pernicious than all those that have gone before. All these right-wing immigration Bills have to achieve is two simple things: kick as many people as possible out of the country and prevent as many people as possible from getting in in the first place. That is what every single immigration Bill we have had from right-wing Governments, whether they be Blairite or Conservative, has done: kick out as many people as possible and prevent as many people as possible from coming in.

Sometimes Governments have to be inventive. This Bill relies on some of the traditional routes, such as making appeals harder, enforcement more difficult and life more miserable for people living in this country who should not be here. However, it is also inventive, because it covers social services and health and tells landlords to become immigration officers. This Bill will turn race relations into a nightmare, bringing suspicion based on ethnicity into our social services and the housing market.

Like most right-wing parties, the Tories’ pre-conceived idea about immigration is that it is a bad thing that has to be dealt with and managed. To them it is a burden. Right-wing Conservatives such as those in this Government

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want to get the numbers down. That has been the case throughout history. Conservatives would probably have tried to stop the Normans and the Vikings coming here on their boats in the 9th and 10th centuries. Theirs is a world view of barriers and of preventing people from coming here.

We live in a globalised, interconnected world in which the transfer and movement of people have never been greater. We are standing in London, for goodness’ sake! This is one of the greatest cities, if not the greatest city, in the world. One third of the people who live and work in London come from outwith the United Kingdom. It is they who built this magnificent city.

We should listen to what the Mayor of London has to say about these issues. He wrote a fantastic article in The Daily Telegraphthe other day—I wish the Conservatives would read it—under the headline, “It’s mad to blame our housing crisis on ‘blooming foreigners’”. I would not put it that way, but the Mayor of London is spot on. He recognises the value of and contribution made by high-end and low-end migrants to London. I recommend that my many Conservative friends in the House take a look at what the London Mayor has to say about this issue, because they will get some sense from him, unlike the hon. Member for Peterborough.

Yes, this country has changed. My country, Scotland, is changing, too. We do not vote Conservative. We approach these issues differently. Debates such as this show that we are pulling apart politically. We would not have such a debate in Scotland; we would not discuss such themes. We are drifting apart as a political culture.

This place is living in the early days of UKIP UK. That is where we are in this country. It started a little while ago, but it really came through with UKIP’s success in the local elections. That changed everything. We now live in UKIP UK. The party does not have one member in this House, but it is pulling all the Conservative party’s strings and dominating political debate. Everything is predicated on UKIP and Nigel Farage.

UKIP’s victory was closely followed by the hate vans and the ridiculous texts trying to get people to go home. I secured a debate on the hate vans last week. Perhaps I should get a bit of credit for getting rid of the appalling things. It took ages for the Minister to respond to me about them, but a week after the debate, we have got rid of the hate vans. That is a result.

Even this Conservative Government realise how ridiculous it was to drag a billboard around the streets of London, ranting at people to go home, with a telephone number and a text number. That is what they were reduced to. It could not get more ridiculous. What would have been next? The Minister was one of the few people in the Home Office who was prepared to defend the hate vans. He was in the studios all last week saying that, with a bit of refinement around the edges, they might be okay. He was prepared to put son-of-hate-vans on the streets. Thank goodness that has been ruled out by the Home Secretary. Let us be sure that it does not happen.

Are the Opposition opposing the Bill? I do not know. They do not like aspects of it, but they are compromised. If they are to win the next election, they have to win votes in the south. That brings us back to UKIP UK. They are aware that immigration is a hot issue in seats

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that they have to win, so they are having to be very careful about what they say. The Conservatives are right to point the finger at them because they are not doing a thing, but they should not let the Conservatives bully them. The Conservatives are saying that the seven to nine years of high immigration when Labour was in government were a waste. One of the best things that Labour did was to get people into this country. It built cities such as London and rejuvenated cities such as Manchester and Leeds. Labour Members should not let the Conservatives bully them into thinking that they did the wrong thing on immigration.

Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I would appreciate some clarity on the SNP’s position. I presume that the UK Government will need help from the Scottish Government on the landlord checks and on the NHS proposals, as those areas are largely devolved. What is the SNP line on that?

Pete Wishart: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me to talk about Scotland. There are proposals that relate to devolved services that we are in control of. We do not like them—we do not like them at all. We are in charge of the health service in Scotland. We would need to be convinced that these measures were in the best interests of Scotland before we would go through with them. Scotland is a different country. The hon. Lady knows that, and I think she would agree that we would not do these things.

Dr Huppert: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his debate last week. I agree with him on that issue. I also share his concerns about landlords. Is he as pleased as I am that there will be only one pilot in one location and that the policy will not be rolled out without a vote? Does he take some comfort from that, even though he might not be totally reassured?

Pete Wishart: I take a little comfort from that, but not a great deal. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is thinking, but I am sure that he will not vote for this nonsense tonight. I know what he has said. I can see all the Liberals sitting there thinking, “Uh-uh! This is not a liberal Bill.” It is one of the most illiberal Bills that we have seen from this Government. It will be an absolute disgrace if even one Liberal goes through the Aye Lobby tonight. When I sat on the Opposition Benches with them, I heard them rant against new Labour immigration Bills. This Bill is 10 times worse than anything new Labour concocted.

Scotland has had the “go home” project. The UK Border Agency office in Glasgow was telling people to go home before they had even sat down. Now that we have got rid of the appalling hate vans, I want the Minister to guarantee that we will not have “go home” messages at UKBA offices. We do not want that in Scotland. We do not have UKIP in Scotland. Nigel Farage had to get a police escort out of Edinburgh. We hate UKIP to the bottom of our ballot boxes. It has not secured one deposit in Scotland. We do not want to take part in the appalling race to the bottom that the Conservatives are engaged in with UKIP—a race to the bottom that they can never win. They will never out-UKIP UKIP. It is the master of right-wing gimmickry. If the Conservatives enter a race with UKIP, they will only get beaten. I think that the Minister knows that.

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This matter is important for Scotland. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) is right about that. We have our own demographic issues and population requirements. I will tell Members the difference between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. When the Scottish Government received the latest population figures, they put out a press release welcoming the rise in the Scottish population. Could you ever, Madam Deputy Speaker, imagine a UK Government welcoming a rise in population? That is what distinguishes us as a Government from them—we welcome the contribution of immigration. We have our own population requirements, but we are stuck and burdened with a set of immigration policies that are almost the exact opposite of what we require. That is why we must wrest control of our own immigration requirements.

Our population has gone up and that is good, but there are concerns that it might still fall. Even 10 years ago, we were worried that our population might fall below the 5 million mark. Thankfully, that did not happen. The health provisions will cut across our responsibility for devolved services, and we will have to look at them carefully before we do anything.

There is one thing I want to say about immigration, because we do not like any of this stuff—it is just rubbish. The UK Government’s immigration policy is having an impact on Scotland’s great universities. We have three universities in the top 200 universities in the world. We have fantastic world-class universities and this Government are hurting them. Just stop it. We want to ensure that we get the best possible students to our universities. All this rubbish that the Government are proposing puts more and more people off. We have to compete with other English-speaking nations around the world to ensure that our universities stay world class. We just wish the UK Government would get out.

This issue is simple. Let us admit that Government Members seem to be going in one direction—the emerging UKIP UK has its own set of values, culture and political direction—and in Scotland we are going another way. We do not like this stuff. We do not vote Conservative and we hate UKIP, so we are not going to go in that direction. Here is a novel solution: why do they not do their own thing and we do our own thing? It is called independence and it works for most countries. Next year, thank goodness, we will achieve it.

SCOTTISH FISHING HAS ALWAYS BEEN ‘EXPENDABLE’ FOR THE TORIES

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This has not been a good couple of weeks for the Scottish Tories. Totally embarrassed and overexposed on fishing, as well as being isolated in trying to defend the Repeal Bill’s power grab, by diminishing the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

I lost a lot of good friends and colleagues in what we can now only call Tory lies on fishing. These Tory candidates cynically responded to Scottish fishing concerns about the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), by promising that they would be out of the CFP the day we left the EU. We now know, of course, that we will still be in the CFP on that day, but worse than that we will still be in the CFP without a vote or a say, with the rest of the EU 27 deciding how fishing stocks will be managed in UK waters. You could not get a worse possible position to be in and Scottish fishing communities are rightly furious. The Scottish Tories, in trying to get out of this hole, even attempted to reset and redefine the ‘red line’ they drew only a few days before to the date that the transition period will come to an end.

But just as we saw this week’s betrayal in all its glory, we started to see the seeds of the next one. European nations jealously guard their access to UK fishing waters and they have already said that they will demand continuing access to UK waters when we leave the EU. Already, they are starting to say that any final deal must include continued access. Fishing contributes very little to the UK economy, but sectors like The City and car manufacturing greatly do by comparison. Fishing was expendable in the past, it is being betrayed in the present and it will be sold out in the future.

Why Scottish fishermen ever thought they could rely on the Tories is simply baffling.

But what about these ‘brave’ Scottish Tory MPs who say that they will vote against the final deal if fishing is sold out? Don’t make me laugh! This supine and craven bunch have never even seen the inside of a lobby opposed to their Government.

They even supported their Government in removing free school meals to English school children, even though their vote did not count because of the English Votes for English Laws procedure. So determined were they to demonstrate their support for their Government, they turned up in person to have their votes discounted. For all their huffing and puffing they do exactly what they are told by their Westminster masters.

But you will just take us back into the EU, hence the CFP, they sequel. Yes, our intention is to re-join the EU, but we will seek to scrap or fundamentally reform the CFP to suit Scottish interests. With a seat at the top table we will put Scottish fishing interests first. We certainly do not start with the assumption that fishing is ‘expendable’ and we will secure the best deal possible for Scottish fisheries.

The stark choice for Scottish fishermen is an independent Scotland at the top table, negotiating on behalf of the sector or a Brexitised UK Government with its history of betrayal negotiating a Brexit deal with fisheries reduced to a bargaining chip for bigger UK priorities.

Scottish fishing should have a bright and secure future and once it is in the hands of a government that actually cares about the sector and its priorities then change will be made.

WE MUST CONDUCT OUR DEBATE WITH RESPECT

_86576131_flagafpWell that’s been quite a couple of days…. In the last few days I’ve been called a ‘poster boy’ for the ultra unionist group Scotland in Union, I’ve had my commitment to Scottish independence questioned, my ‘lifestyle’ has been disapproved of, I’m apparently ‘settling down’ in Westminster and I’ve even been called an ‘Etonian boot licker’. None of this came from political opponents – all of this is from people who claim to support Scottish independence on Twitter.

Now, I’m a reasonably robust political character, hardened by almost 17 years in Parliament and used to the occasional scrap on Twitter. I was one of 6 MPs who had to put the case for the last referendum in the most hostile environment imaginable when we had to face down 640 unionist MPs at Westminster. I won my seat against all the odds last year when the Tories told me that it was a 99% certainty that they would take it. I am not easily thrown of my stride by criticism or attacks but I was genuinely surprised by the vehemence of people I presumed were political comrades. It would be easy to dismiss this as ‘just twitter’ but I know that environment reasonably well and I have to conclude we might have an issue and difficulty in our movement.

My ‘crime’ was to simply express my view that we must be as pragmatic as possible in calling a second referendum on independence. I referred to my experience in the most canvassed constituency in Scotland and I asked legitimate questions about the gap between support for independence and support for ‘an early referendum’. I asked how we may re-engage yes leavers and I, again, put the need for a new case to persuade those amongst our fellow Scots who remain unconvinced about the case for independence. My conclusion was that we simply can not afford to lose another referendum.

People then seemed to somehow presume that by suggesting a pragmatic approach I was ‘calling off’ a second referendum. That I wouldn’t use a ‘hard earned’ mandate that I was being ‘defeatist’ and ‘depressing’ the Yes movement. The thing is I didn’t say anything about when a referendum should be held, I simply put forward my view that it should be held when there was good evidence it could be won. Even the most enthusiastic proponent of an imminent referendum would concede that ‘if’ consecutive opinion polls showed support for independence plummeting to below 30% a degree of caution should be exercised?

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This unleashed the most extraordinary response on Twitter (and I have to say exclusively on Twitter) and led me to question how we can proceed with debates such as this – because believe me, we need these debates. Positions have to be challenged and analysed. Evidence has to be presented and judgements have to be made. Shouting people down, name calling and misrepresenting people’s views will not help anybody. If this happens people with legitimate views will be silenced and discouraged in coming forward with their own views. No one in our movement has all the answers and at this juncture in the fight for our nation’s independence we need as much input and ideas as possible.

I withdrew from the Deputy Leadership because I got a little bit of a flavour of this when I was working up a few ideas whilst considering standing. I was concerned that the debate might descend into what I have just experienced and I didn’t want our contest dominated with all of this. I will certainly not be deterred from forcefully speaking my mind and I will not be silenced. I will continue to put forward what I think is right for my country and right for the case in securing our nation’s independence.

I will say this once again. The only thing that matters to me is my country securing its independence and I believe losing again is simply unthinkable. So let’s unite, lets welcome all views with respect, and let’s get out and win…….