Parliamentary Update: 20th May 2016
A YEAR IN OFFICE
As this month is the first anniversary of the 2015 General Election, I have been reflecting on the work of the past twelve months. People across Scotland voted last May for MPs to stand up for Scotland at Westminster, to stand against austerity, and to be a strong force for equality, social justice and progressive change. I believe we have delivered on that.
My colleagues and I opposed austerity and welfare cuts, leading the opposition to the cuts to tax credits and support for disabled people, both of which the Chancellor was forced to abandon. We secured a freeze on fuel duty, a freeze on Whisky duty, and long-overdue support for the oil and gas sector. We were the first to raise the issue of the refugee crisis last year, and forced a change of heart on child refugees. We pushed for more powers to be devolved and fought plans to cut Scotland’s budget. We opposed the decision to bomb Syria, and put pressure on the Government to provide details of UK forces in Libya.
And here at home I have met voluntary organisations and businesses, lent my support a number of charities and support groups, visited opencast sites and windfarm developments, and toured visitor attractions across the constituency. I have highlighted issues with rural banking, problems for local exporters, and I have worked with local dairy farmers who are struggling with the farmgate price of milk. I have opened my office for donations of school clothing for local kids, bedding and blankets for refugees and a Christmas toys appeal for people using foodbanks.
In total, I have supported more than a thousand constituents who have asked for my help, and I have responded to more than three thousand messages from constituents on a huge range of issues. The year has flown by and I have loved every minute of it. The next few months will see us tackle the EU referendum and debate the renewal of Trident and I relish the opportunity to continue to stand up for the people of this constituency.
ANOTHER BANK CLOSURE
The Royal Bank of Scotland have announced the closure of their branch in Dalmellington on 16 August, which they are blaming on customers ‘increasingly choosing to use different ways to bank’, suggesting that transactions at the branch have fallen by 16 per cent since 2011. However, this drop in over the counter business is well below the UK-wide decline of 36 per cent since 2010.
Yet again, the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland is letting down rural communities, particularly as this is the only bank serving Dalmellington, and is the last bank between Castle Douglas and Ayr. It will make it very difficult in particular for older folk and people without transport to access banking services and for small businesses to manage their cash banking needs.
I believe that RBS should reflect the needs of the communities it serves, and stop shutting branches to make up for their self-inflicted losses. I have written to the CEO of RBS expressing my concerns and the disproportionate impact this decision will certainly have on Dalmellington and the surrounding area, and will keep constituents updated on any progress made in this area.
UNACCOMPANIED REFUGEE CHILDREN
I am backing a new campaign calling on the UK Government to do more to reunite unaccompanied refugee children in Europe with their families in the UK. The campaign, launched by Unicef UK and Citizens UK, calls on the UK Government to redouble its efforts to help lone child refugees that are stuck in camps across Europe – including on the UK border with France – despite having a legal right to be with their families in the UK. Many of these children have been in camps for months because of delays in family reunion procedures and a lack of support on the ground.
The UK Government must speed up its efforts to resettle these vulnerable children. We know that many thousands of unaccompanied child refugees have gone missing in Europe in the past year – many of them victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse. There is no excuse for the delays these children are facing – they are unnecessary and completely unacceptable.
As the campaign by Unicef UK and Citizens UK highlights, we know that there are at least 157 refugee children in Calais right now who could be safe and protected with their families in the UK if the Government were to get its act together. The longer we fail to fulfil our commitment to these children the greater the risk to their safety and wellbeing. The UK Government has a moral and legal obligation to take urgent action now and do everything it can to reunite these children with their families.
More information on the campaign by Unicef UK and Citizens UK to reunite child refugees with their families in the UK can be found at: http://www.unicef.org.uk/Media-centre/Press-releases/Syrian-teenager-calls-on-government-to-do-more-for-unaccompanied-refugee-children/
SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS
As many constituents know, the Scottish Parliament elections took place earlier this month. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate John Scott on his re-election to the Ayr constituency. While there is much that we disagree on, we both believe that more needs to be done to highlight what Ayr and Ayrshire has to offer. I would also like to congratulate Jeane Freeman on her election to the Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency, where she takes over from Adam Ingram, who stood down at this election. I am sure she will work as hard for the constituency as Adam did, but she does have rather big boots to fill.
The SNP’s victory in the election was of historic proportions. It is the first time since devolution that a political party has won a third consecutive victory in a Scottish Parliament election. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the Government will be open and inclusive, reaching out and striving to find and to build on common ground on issues such as education, the economy and the environment.
In addition to John or Jeane, constituents can also call for support on devolved matters from our list MSPs for the South Scotland region. They are Claudia Beamish (LAB), Rachael Hamilton (CON), Emma Harper (SNP), Joan McAlpine (SNP), Colin Smyth (LAB), Paul Wheelhouse (SNP) and Brian Whittle (CON). Their contact details can be found at www.parliament.scot. As ever, if you need any advice or support on issues reserved to Westminster, you can of course still contact me.
THE QUEEN’S SPEECH
We have now moved into another legislative term in Westminster, as marked by the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech this week, which laid out the UK Government’s agenda for the coming year. It is my belief that, with so much to be done to boost economic growth and create a fairer society, this was a wasted opportunity with little to be welcomed for Scotland. There is no progressive action on pensions, social security or the economy.
Whilst there are some measures to be welcomed, such as the likely delivery of a universal service obligation on broadband, this Queen’s Speech delivers nothing on pension reform for the WASPI women, on the simplification of the tax system, on social security, or on major action on the economy to boost exports and productivity. Over the last 6 years, we have seen time and time again that the Tories are ideologically wedded to their programme of austerity and, unfortunately, this Queen’s Speech will deliver more of the same.