Parliamentary Update: 19th November 2015
My thoughts and sympathies are with the people caught up in the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris at the weekend. France has had to endure more than any country should be expected to and I am glad that the Scottish Government is ready to help in any way it can.
Police Scotland has issued guidance and advice following the attacks and has highlighted that, while the overall threat level in the UK is severe, people in Scotland remain safe to go about their day-to-day business.
The UK Government seem to favour adding us to the list countries currently bombing Syria, but I believe the case for us to do this has not yet been made. Air strikes will not achieve the goal of ending this conflict, and it is imperative that the UK Government supports renewed diplomatic effort to resolve this humanitarian crisis as the clearest way to reduce further human suffering in the country. Only United Nations sponsored initiatives will carry the international consensus required to bring this conflict to a resolution.
People who carry out atrocities like this are extremists. Their actions are utterly reprehensible. But whatever they claim, their actions are a perversion rather than a representation of the religion they claim to speak on behalf of. Rather than turn on each other, we must stand together in solidarity with our friends in France.
I have been saddened by some of the hatred and misinformation doing the rounds on social media in the past few weeks, but more so in the last couple of days. Most of these tweets and posts are nothing short of racism. Scotland is a diverse multicultural society and this diversity is our strength. Terrorist attacks are designed to divide us, to help keep fear alive, and to foster hatred, but there can be no place for bigotry and prejudice in Scotland.
I stand with my colleagues both in Westminster and Holyrood in welcoming the refugees that arrived in Scotland this week. They are fleeing from the very people who carried out the atrocities in Paris at the weekend. I wish our guests well and hope that they can find some form of peace and time to recover from the horrific ordeal that they have endured. They need our help, not our hatred, and we can stand strong and welcome them, give them a safe place to sleep and let them rebuild their lives.
I know that there has been some fantastic work done already both on an local and national level, to make sure that those arriving in Scotland feel welcome and are provided with the support they need. Many people have made donations of clothing and blankets, and it was great to spend some time at the weekend with a local group in Ayr at a peaceful show of solidarity. We have a long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers and if we pull together we can help these vulnerable people become contributing members of our community.
Trade Union Bill
I was pleased to meet local representatives of UNISON last week to discuss the Government’s latest assault on workers’ rights. The Scottish Government has already asked the UK Government to exclude Scotland from the Trade Union Bill in its entirety, as the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s elected representatives at Westminster and Holyrood have expressed their opposition to it.
The threat posed to Scotland’s membership of the EU, which has guaranteed workers basic rights like fair working hours, paid holidays and protection from discrimination, by the forthcoming EU referendum only adds to the concerns of workers and trade unions across the region.
This Bill is nothing less than an attack on the rights of workers and hampers the ability of devolved administrations, local authorities and other public bodies to determine their own industrial relations, and, along with my colleagues at Westminster, I will continue to fight it.
Toys for Christmas
More than one in four children growing up in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock are living in poverty, with this figure rising to on in three in some areas. As in-work poverty and benefit sanctions continue to force a rising dependency on food banks, many impoverished families are looking at a bleak Christmas. That is why I have teamed up with South Ayrshire Foodbank and Ayrshire (East) Foodbank to collect donations of new and good quality used toys, children’s books, jigsaws, selection boxes and hats, gloves and scarves for distribution through the food bank network.
We are not looking for expensive gifts but anything, large or small, that would help make Christmas a little more joyful this year for some of our struggling families. The people of this constituency have proved their generosity time and again, and I am confident they will help ensure no local child wakes up on Christmas morning to find Santa hasn’t visited just because their family can’t afford it.
Donations can be made at my Constituency Office at 45a Fort Street in Ayr, between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday, up until 7 December.
The third investigation in three years has been launched into the negative human rights impact of the Government’s austerity cuts. The UN has launched an investigation into the impact of social security cuts on ‘disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups’ in the UK. This will include the impact of tax credit cuts, the growth in food banks and trade union reforms. The investigation follows reports that the UK has become the first country in the world to be probed by the UN on breaches of disability rights as a result of social security cuts.
To have a single UN investigation into the negative human rights impact of the Government’s cuts agenda would be worrying enough – to have three in three years is a damning indictment of the damaging austerity programme we are all living under.
Crohn’s and Colitis
I was delighted to meet with local representatives of Crohn’s & Colitis UK recently to discuss living with inflammatory bowel disease and some of the challenges people with Crohn’s or Colitis face on a day-to-day basis.
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis are the two main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, affecting more than 300,000 people in the UK. But it is a largely hidden disease, and one that causes stigma, fear and isolation. It is thought that many people with the condition go undiagnosed and suffer in silence.
We talked over a number of issues, and I will be taking forward some work with the local group around improving access to toilets in local shops and businesses for sufferers who just can’t wait.
Ayrshire Bus Users
Along with colleagues at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the three Ayrshire councils, I have been involved in the formation of a Bus Users Group for Ayrshire, in response to some significant changes to certain services in recent months. The purpose of the group is to take a proactive role in future bus service provision, rather than waiting until decisions have been made by service providers.
The first meeting of the group will be on Saturday at 10am at the Cabin in Troon, and will be attended by representatives from Stagecoach West Scotland, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, local councils, community councils and elected members. I will keep constituents updated on our progress on this issue.