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Parliamentary Update: 1st July 2016

EU REFERENDUM

The UK voted last Thursday to leave the European Union by 51.9% to 48.1%. The Leave campaign won the highest share of the vote in England and Wales, while Remain won the highest share in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Since the results were announced, it has become apparent that there is no post- Brexit plan. The Prime Minister has resigned and both the Government and the official opposition have decided to use this crucial moment in our history to play out internal party power struggles. Meanwhile, UK share prices are so volatile that some stocks were temporarily suspended, Sterling hit a 31-year low, and we have witnessed a very disturbing series of racist incidents directed against fellow citizens who happen to come from other European countries.
 
The result in Scotland was overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union with 62% of votes cast – and every single local government area in the country voting to remain in the EU. I am, obviously, hugely disappointed that we find ourselves in this position. This result is bad news for Scotland, bad news for the UK, and bad news for Europe.

These results demonstrate that the four nations of the UK are pulling in different directions. It is my belief that it is democratically unacceptable for Scotland to be taken out of Europe against our will, and our attention must now turn to where we go from here. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that she and the Scottish Government will explore ways to protect Scotland’s place in the European Union, and the Scottish Parliament has united behind her, granting an overwhelming mandate for the Scottish Government to commence discussions with EU institutions and member states.
 
Following this result, I am conscious that many EU citizens living in Ayrshire may be feeling anxious and unsure about the future. I would like to reassure them that, despite the vote, their rights to live and work in this country will be unaffected in the immediate future, they remain welcome here, and their contribution to our society is valued. There are 173,000 citizens of other EU countries living in Scotland who enrich our culture, strengthen our society and benefit our economy, and it is important for them to know that Scotland continues to appreciate their presence here.

THE DEATH OF JO COX MP

The murder of Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen, was sickening and shocking. While I didn’t know Jo personally, it was clear to everyone in Parliament that she was a passionate and dedicated politician. Before she entered Parliament she had spent 10 years in some of the world’s most dangerous war zones, working for Oxfam, and she brought that experience to her work as an MP.

She was doing her job when she died, serving her community, and to be so brutally cut down at such a young age and with so much still to give is beyond comprehension. Jo contributed a huge amount in her time in Parliament, and my heart goes out to her husband and two young children.
 
Her tragic death has reminded us in the starkest way possible of the need for everyone who works in the public arena to take their personal security seriously. The Police and the parliamentary authorities have been working closely to ensure measures are in place to protect elected members and their staff. However, I believe it is important for MPs to be as accessible as possible to their constituents, and will not allow this incident to get in the way of that.

BANK CLOSURES

The issue of bank closures continues to impact on the constituency. The last bank in Maybole closed its doors earlier this month and the following weekend the town ran out of money, with the remaining cash machines all running dry by lunchtime on Saturday.

I have written again to the CEO of Lloyd’s Banking Group, as the Bank of Scotland chose to board up their cash machine when they closed the branch. I think it is important to continue to hold them to account for their decisions, as it may give them pause for thought when looking at other branches in Ayrshire which may be on their hit list.

Meanwhile, officials at the Royal Bank of Scotland have finally agreed to meet with me regarding the imminent closure of the last bank in Dalmellington. This branch serves the whole of the Doon Valley, being the only bank between Newton Stewart and Ayr. Customers are being advised to use the branch in Cumnock, but anyone familiar with the area will realise the difficulties this will raise for local people and businesses.

The Parliament debated the issue of bank closures this week, and I was disappointed to be unable to attend. The full debate can be read at https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2016-06-30/debates/16063040000002/BankBranchClosures, and it is worth noting that the Access to Banking protocol is set to be reviewed. The protocol was good as far as it went, but it did not go far enough, and has not been adequately monitored. I look forward to the review when it happens, and believe that a renewed protocol must impose a duty to ensure that vulnerable customers, small businesses and rural communities can continue to access over the counter banking services.

WILLIAM HILL CUMNOCK

I was invited to visit the William Hill shop in Cumnock recently, which gave me the opportunity to meet local staff and to discuss the company’s approach to social responsibility and fair employment, as well as their plans to introduce apprenticeships.

I think it is really important to engage with the gambling industry. Every MP the length and breadth of the country has betting shops in their constituency, employing local people and contributing to the make-up of their communities. While I have concerns about the impact of betting on poverty, and how we safeguard people in vulnerable situations, I have found William Hill, and the betting industry in general, to be responsive to criticism and to be enthusiastic about looking at where it can improve.

During the visit I was able take up their offer of a free charity bet, and was delighted when Iceland beat Austria in the Euro 2016 qualifier, which saw them progress into the knock-out stages of the competition. William Hill have agreed to donate my winnings to local five-year-old Tilly Sharkey, who is battling a rare form of cancer. Tilly’s story has touched everyone’s hearts and I am happy to do whatever I can to support her and the family during what must be a very difficult time.

EQUALISATION OF THE STATE PENSION AGE

The SNP Group at Westminster lent our support to the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament this week, which was demanding the UK Government investigates transitional measures for 1950s-born women impacted by rapid rises in the state pension age.

I agree with the principal of equalising the state pension age, but cannot support the deeply unfair manner in which the changes have been made – first in 1995 and exacerbated in 2011.  It is morally reprehensible that many thousands of women will actually lose out financially as a result of changes that were deigned to make pensions more equal. We have repeatedly called for action from the Government, with my colleague, Mhairi Black, leading a backbench business debate on the issue in January which received cross-party support.

It is now six months since Parliament voted unanimously to condemn the appalling way women born in the 1950s have been treated and we must have action now to address this. A pension is a contract, not a benefit so we need to have transitional arrangements for these 1950s-born women who have worked hard all their lives and have contributed to the UK economy.