I was hugely honoured to be named as the SNP’s Disability Spokesperson at Westminster in October 2016. I am passionate about fighting for society’s most vulnerable, in particular the rights of people with disabilities. Since taking power in 2010 the Conservative Party has launched a calculated and savage attack on these people, denying them crucial support and deliberately whipping up resentment towards these people as ‘scroungers’. This is quite simply disgusting, and I have done everything in my power to hold the Government to account at every step. Even the United Nations has urged the UK Government to halt its unfair and discriminatory treatment of disabled people. In doing so, the UK has been shamed on the international stage.
I have relentlessly challenged the Government’s decisions to limit access to Personal Independence Payments, to remove motability cars, to impose the Bedroom Tax, to cut vital services, to destroy the social care system, to introduce shambolic, unfair and humiliating capability assessments, and crucially, to use disabled people as scapegoats for their austerity regime.
On a daily basis I hold meetings with disabled people and disability charities to understand the issues facing ordinary people. I have applied countless times to hold debates in Parliament on disability issues to heap pressure on the Government whenever possible. I have asked questions to Government Ministers in the House of Commons, send written questions to Government departments and written letters to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pushing for action.
While I respect the democratic result of the Brexit referendum, I believe that by isolating itself from the world, the UK will suffer as a result. I have grave concerns about the impact of Brexit on this constituency and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the needs of this area and of Scotland are not forgotten. At Westminster SNP MPs put forward a series of amendments to the Article 50 Bill, including requiring the UK government to consider the interests of devolved administrations and protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK. However, these suggestions were ignored and the unamended Bill was passed with Labour’s support, giving the Tories a blank cheque for their Hard Brexit plan.
I recently became the Vice Chair of the Brexpat All Party Parliamentary Group. In this role I intend to stand up for EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU. These people and their families contribute hugely to the communities they have chosen to build their lives in, and as Vice Chair of this group I will ensure that the government does not treat them as mere bargaining chips in the upcoming negotiations. Along with the other SNP MPs for Ayrshire, I recently hosted a Brexit event in Prestwick with local businesses, business leaders and a Scottish Government representative to discuss ways in which the future success of business in Ayrshire could be secured.
PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE PAYMENT
Ever since the move from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment, which supports those with disabilities to live independent and fulfilling lives, the scheme has been disastrous. My constituents have been forced to undergo humiliating and inappropriate assessments, people with mental health conditions such as dementia, autism and schizophrenia have been excluded, and the scheme has been dogged by complaints over unfair dismissals and delays. As the SNP’s Disability Spokesperson, I have repeatedly held the government to account over its disgusting treatment of society’s most vulnerable. I have personally written to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Disabled People on numerous occasions to press them on these issues. I have met with countless disabled people and disability charities to understand their needs, taken part in Parliamentary debates on PIP, and challenged the government in the House of Commons over its repeated failures.
Luckily, for people in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to use the powers of the Scottish Government to end the misery faced by PIP claimants. But there is so only so much that the Scottish Government can do. I will therefore continue to fight against the government’s chaotic and irresponsible approach to disability support for people in my constituency, in Scotland, and across the UK.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
After a long period of inaction from the Conservatives and Labour, my SNP colleague Dr Eilidh Whiteford became the first SNP MP to have a Private Member’s Bill pass at Westminster. The SNP initiative, which had my full support, requires the UK government to ratify the Istanbul Convention and take further action to finally eradicate domestic violence. Once ratified, the Istanbul Convention will require the government to protect funding for domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres, 24/7 helplines and to offer counselling for domestic abuse survivors. The Convention also deals with female genital mutilation and ensures the provision of education on healthy relationships in schools.
RAPE CLAUSE & TWO CHILD LIMIT
The government’s new rules, which impose a two-child cap on child tax credits and a vile exemption for children conceived by rape, is a new low for the austerity-obsessed Conservative Party. The move will push 200,000 children into poverty and force survivors of rape to prove that they have been raped in order to feed and clothe their children. In their timid support for this policy, Ruth Davidson and her party have shown their true Tory colours – cruel, callous and shameless. Along with my SNP colleagues, I am actively opposing this policy and standing up for dignity and humanity. We will continue to call on the government to back down from this proposal and hold a public consultation on the issue.
The SNP proposed a new law at Westminster to ensure company bosses are held to account if they breach nuisance call regulations. The measures proposed have now been adopted by the UK government and company directors now face fines of up to £500,000 if found to be in breach of the law on nuisance calls.
It came to light some time ago that certain models of tumble dryer owned by Whirlpool have a mechanical fault which can lead to a risk of fires. At least one family in this constituency lost their home as a result of this dangerous fault causing a devastating fire. Whirlpool themselves have admitted that the machines pose a risk and yet the UK government has failed to take any action and has not issued a full recall of these dangerous appliances. I was deeply concerned by this and have held meetings with relevant parties to discuss what steps can be taken to pressure the government on this issue. I co-sponsored a request for a debate in Parliament, which was successfully granted. In this debate I argued that the safety of the public was at risk and urged the government to take immediate action by recalling the faulty appliances and ensuring that every person affected by fire caused by a Whirlpool machine is adequately compensated.
COMPENSATION FOR VETERANS
SNP MPs in Westminster, working with the Royal British Legion, successfully campaigned to force the UK government to ensure that veterans are entitled to the same compensation for asbestos-related mesothelioma as civilians who contracted the illness.
It is estimated that 10,000 children, displaced by the barbaric conflict in Syria, have disappeared in Europe while searching for safety. The reality is that many of these children will never be found and will most likely have fallen into the hands of human traffickers, criminal gangs, slave traders and rapists. As a parent, and a human being, this is utterly heartbreaking. After the government’s shameful rejection of unaccompanied child refugees under the Dubs amendment scheme, my SNP colleagues and I in Westminster have repeatedly pressed the government to reverse their decision.
With 20 years of experience at the Department for Work and Pensions, and hours spent listening to stakeholders when scrutinising the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, there is no doubt that benefits sanctions do not work. They are simply a cruel and unnecessary way of punishing people who do not do what the Tory government tells them to do. These people are often in already dire circumstances and desperately need the support of the state. By punishing them and withholding this support for what is often a minor misunderstanding, the government is pushing these families into further debt and misery. Charities and independent organisations have repeatedly shown that sanctions simply make things worse. I have consistently opposed this sanctions regime, speaking out in Parliamentary debates and challenging Ministers to re-think the policy. The SNP at Westminster proposed a Private Member’s Bill to reform the system, yet, despite only asking for small changes, the Tories used parliamentary tactics to talk out the Bill.
With just 15,000 lions left in the wild in Africa, the UK must step up and play its part to help protect this beautiful and iconic species from extinction. While other countries have taken steps to curb the trade in lion carcasses, the UK is lagging behind. I have therefore called on the government to ban the import of lion trophies. I hosted a roundtable discussion with a conservation group and other MPs in order to generate support for the ban and will continue to press the government on this issue before it is too late.
SECURING THE BEST DEAL FOR SCOTLAND ON HEATHROW EXPANSION
SNP MPs in Westminster, working with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown, have successfully campaigned to secure a deal on airport expansion that will create up to 16,000 jobs and over £200 million in construction-related spend here in Scotland.
MARKETING OF BABY FORMULA MILK
An SNP-proposed Bill won unanimous backing from MPs and will prevent baby formula milk manufacturers making potentially misleading claims by ensuring all health claims are independently researched.
USE OF SCOTTISH LIMITED PARTNERSHIPS FOR TAX EVASION
After pressure from the SNP, the UK government has committed to a review and consultation of the practice of using Scottish Limited Partnership business models to undertake illegal activities and evade tax.
At the end of 2016 a number of constituents contacted me in desperate need after their tax credits had been indiscriminately stopped by Concentrix, the company contracted by HMRC to reduce the tax credit bill. Many of these people had been accused of fraud, with absolutely no basis in fact. HMRC attempted to resolve the situation but struggled to sort through the chaos, leaving people with crucial financial support for weeks at a time. Not only that, but the cost to the taxpayer of sorting this mess was significant. As a result, I took part in a debate on this issue along with many of my SNP colleagues to press the government to review its policy of blindly imposing cuts without considering the impact.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT AND EMPLOYMENT AND SUPPORT ALLOWANCE
The government has continued its assault on society’s most vulnerable people with cuts to ESA and the roll-out of Universal Credit. Both moves will lead to widespread poverty and more difficulties for disabled people. Vulnerable claimants of ESA now receive £30 less per week, leading to health problems and spiralling debt. I have called out this callous move on numerous occasions and recently protested with disability campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament. I have requested Parliamentary debates on the roll-out of Universal Credit and will continue to fight for a fairer, more humane approach to social security.