First Friday of the month, 1-2pm, Constituency office, 166 Great Junction St
Second Friday of the month, 3.30-4.30pm, McDonald Road Library
Third Friday of the month, 1-2pm, Stockbridge Library
Last Friday of the month, 4-5pm, Royston/Wardieburn Community Centre
You can also drop by or write to the constituency office, 166 Great Junction Street, EH6 5LJ. Note that Deidre is normally working in London from Monday to Thursday when parliament is sitting, but casework staff are available to help take forward any weekday.
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Anybody reading what the UK's Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been writing or listening to what he's been saying might think that he has great plans for the environment. He's talking a good game, praising NFU members for their work to prevent environmental degradation and the work they do against climate change.
No-one seems to be noticing the little lines he's dropping in, though. For decades the EU has paid farmers subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy to help keep food prices low. There has always been disagreements about how the system works and whether it benefits all farmers equally and it has always been changing to adapt but when the UK leaves the EU next year the payments will stop.
Gove is suggesting a new form of payment from the UK Government to landowners. He wants to move the subsidies away from food producers to reward landowners who deliver what he calls "public goods" including "environmental enhancements". What are those? Well, he wants to see some land untilled and trees planted and wildlife encouraged; he wants to see "resilient habitats" and "richer wildlife" where there was once food production. I hope I'm wrong but it sounds to me like he's talking about grouse moors and shooting estates picking up some of the cash which used to go to farmers.
The UK Government has a commitment to maintain the CAP payments, in cash terms, until the next UK general election but no commitment to keep paying the same subsidies for food production. They can take money away from farmers and give it to Lord Bufton Tufton to subsidise his hunting,shooting and fishing business.
That, of course, means that food production is no longer subsidised to the same extent and food prices would go up. Smaller farmers might struggle to survive without the CAP payments they've relied on for so long and it might seem a better option to sell up and move on.
Diversity in farming would be lost - the big farmers, big agribusinesses, would be buying up smaller farms and consolidating their landholdings. Little businesses would go under, family farms would disappear, and massive businesses would rule the countryside.
That would satisfy some of Gove's other stated ambitions. He says he wants to see much more technology and automation in farming – and that's much easier with really big farming businesses. He says he wants to see fewer people employed in agriculture - more machinery and more
technology, more genetic modification and new plant bio-security but fewer people working. All of that is much easier with bigger farms and fewer players in the game.
So food prices go up, small businesses go bust, public money in mthe form of subsidies will be more and more concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer big landowners, and food production will become the preserve of a hegemony. The very rich will get richer off the public purse and richer still by controlling the means of producing food while the poor find that food is no longer affordable. Doesn't sound like the land of opportunity and promise that the Brexiteers promised us, does it?
Here's the thing, though - Gove is responsible for the English system and the devolved administrations are responsible for their own patches. I don't think anyone expects the Scottish Government or the Welsh Government to shaft their farmers in this way - or to make food more expensive for the people they serve. Northern Ireland, of course, is anyone's guess just now with no political leadership in Stormont but Scotland and Wales are fairly safe bets.
So if Scotland controls its own system and Wales does the same, why am I concerned about Gove running off on his merry way? Well, with us being dragged out of the EU and stuck in a union with England that leaves that nation as the elephant in the bed - we're tied far too tightly to what happens down south. Both ends of that elephant are dangerous.
Being cut off from the free trading of the EU will mean that our food producers will find it harder to sell into Europe and our farmers will find it harder to survive. With no or limited access to the cheaper food that's produced in Europe our food prices will rise. Our trade with England and being cut off from the EU will mean that England's food price increase will also affect us.
Brexit has many disadvantages but one of the worst might be that a Government in London chasing an ideological goal could do us massive damage. I don't think that will be their intent, it's just that our interests won't even be part of their calculations. It's going to be a bumpy ride and it's only just getting started.
A new walking touch rugby group for men and women over 50 is being launched by Edinburgh BATS rugby at Raeburn Place. Information from organisers below - contact them for more details.
Walking touch rugby is a non-running, non-contact version of rugby union for men and women. This new initiative is designed to provide over-50s who are looking to become more active with a fun, healthy and safe way to get some exercise in the fresh air and enjoy the benefits of a team sport. The sessions will be fully supervised by professional coaches and previous rugby experience is not required.
The hour-long sessions, which will cost just £2 per person, will take place on Monday mornings at 10:00, starting from 16 April.
Tea and coffee will be available in the clubhouse after the sessions to give people a chance to socialise.
Other than trainers, no specialist equipment is required; just remember to dress comfortably and for the weather. No booking is required. If you are interested, just turn up at Raeburn Place (entrance at the corner of Comely Bank Road and North Park Terrace) a little before 10.00 on Monday 16 April and be prepared to have a great time.
For more information, please email Callum Black, BATs' Development Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org
MONDAY March 5
On Monday I responded for the SNP to Sajid Javid's statement on the overhaul of the National Policy Planning framework in England (although the announcements, such as they were, had been largely pre-empted by May earlier that day)
I offered him some suggestions for additional action based on the SNP government strategies and results but - well, see his response! Can't see why the Sec of State wouldn't at least be interested in hearing alternative approaches but even the mention of ending Right to Buy caused him to almost choke on his words as he spat out a response:
Some of our exchange featured on Radio 4's Today in Parliament that evening - although according to the BBC's reporter I was "not letting modesty get in the way of (my) question" - not sure why I should be modest about our Scottish Government's record in this area, while *always* acknowledging the need to do much more.
Tuesday morning was Scottish Affairs Committee and more evidence for our Digital Connectivity Scotland Inquiry - particularly interesting to hear from smaller organisations with imaginative solutions for our remoter rural areas that are already yielding good results.
In the afternoon, I co-hosted with other MPs an event for the Kennel Club, around the horrible electric shock dog collars. While their use has already been banned in Scotland after energetic campaigning by my colleague Ben Macpherson MSP, their sale can only be banned by Westminster as the powers to do this are still reserved. There seems to be some movement lately on this after huge numbers of the public have supported the call for stopping this barbaric practice. I understand a consultation and proposals for a ban are set to be announced shortly. Thanks to everyone who got involved in the campaign!
On Wednesday I got a question in to the Secretary of State for Scotland at Scottish questions:
Not much of a response to an entirely reasonable question as you can see!
Later on that day I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate entitled Local Museums, where I was very pleased to talk a little about the City of Edinburgh Council's wonderful Museums Service team which I had the great good fortune to work with in my time as Convenor for Culture and Leisure.
I also raised the drastic cuts of up to 40% central government funding to local authorities in England - several of the English MPs referenced this as having a severe effect on the services such as local museums that council services were able to offer.
Later that evening, along with other SNP colleagues, I attended a reception for Scottish Chambers of Commerce, having several fascinating discussions with a variety of business representatives from Scotland - and on the day before International Women's Day it was a real pleasure to catch up with the dynamic Liz Cameron its Chief Exec!
On Thursday at DEFRA questions I asked whether agricultural subsidies from Westminster after Brexit would be largely targeted towards food production; the Minister seemed a little confused by this, or perhaps he simply isn't ready to reveal the answer just yet. I have some concerns that Gove's supposedly 'green' plan will subsidise wealthy landowners such as shooting estates over the small farmers... something I'll be keeping a close eye on.
I then fronted for the SNP in a statement from the Home Office on the developing situation around Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
Finally I spoke in the International Women's Day debate in the afternoon. Here's my speech (or read transcript here):-
After the debate I managed to catch the 6pm train Thursday, home around 10.45pm.
Friday was a very busy round of constituency meetings, including an update with the Leith Theatre team - great to hear of all the very positive developments in that project including their plans for the extra million pounds they have received from the council.
Really looking forward to the 2018 Hidden Doors Festival too after their rundown of its programme too.
On Saturday morning I was at a busy Fairtrade event at Out of the Blue (thanks to Athol and Karen holding up the t-shirt below!) and a Big Brew Traidcraft coffee morning, kindly hosted by Anne Mackenzie (below). This involved delicious fairly traded food and tea and coffee and good conversation (political and otherwise!) with her guests. A bit of disappointment was expressed at supermarkets seeming to be slipping back a bit on their commitment to Fairtrade - fewer displays it seems, with less produce on offer. I'll be sure to raise this with supermarkets in the area.
Hope that gives a flavour of my work last week. I'm back down at Westminster but my Edinburgh office is staffed Monday to Friday and my drop-in surgeries are listed on this website as well as local press, posters and my facebook page ('like' the page to follow my daily musings!). Please get in touch if there's anything you want to discuss.
SNP politicians are calling on the Tory government at Westminster to use its reserved powers to ban the sale of electronic shock collars across the UK.
Leading animal welfare groups united this week to praise the SNP Scottish Government's decision to use its devolved powers to introduce a "prompt and effective" ban on the use of shock collars and other forms of harmful electronic training devices for dogs.
The British Veterinary Association described the Scottish Government's announcement as "a real win for animal welfare".
The move follows a campaign led by Ben Macpherson, the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, who was jointly calling for the Scottish Government to ban the use of the devices, and crucially for the UK Government to ban the sale of shock collars using powers retained at Westminster.
The campaign's focus is now firmly on Westminster, with the Tory UK government under growing pressure to use its reserved powers to ban the sale and distribution of electric shock collars and end their use for good.
Ben Macpherson and SNP MPs, Tommy Sheppard and Deidre Brock, have today launched a Westminster public petition calling for the UK Government to "ban the sale of shock collars and other harmful electronic training aids" for dogs. The petition is available to sign at all three of the politicians' constituency offices, and an online petition will follow shortly.
Commenting SNP MSP, Ben Macpherson, said:
"I'm delighted that the Scottish Government is introducing a prompt and effective ban on the use of electric shock collars and other electronic training devices that can cause pain or distress to dogs - these devices are capable of causing suffering, and fully banning their use in Scotland is absolutely the right thing to do.
"However, this positive action from the Scottish Government isn't the end of the matter – the power to ban the sale of shock collars lies at Westminster and now it's time for the UK government to step up and do the right thing. It's time for the Tories to introduce a UK ban on the sale and distribution of these cruel devices, and also to follow the examples set by Scotland and Wales and ban the use of shock collars in England.
"On the back of yesterday's good news from the Scottish Government, I will now continue to work with animal welfare organisations and SNP colleagues at Westminster to push the UK Government to play its part and ban the sale of shock collars across the UK."
Commenting SNP MP, Tommy Sheppard, said:
"I very much welcome the Scottish Government's ban on the barbaric use of electronic shock collars on dogs and congratulate my colleague Ben Macpherson MSP and fellow campaigners on their success. But responsibility for the sale of such devices lies with the Tories in Westminster so we now need to turn our attention to London. It's vital they follow the example set by Scotland and Wales and ensure there is an outright ban on the sale and use of such collars across the UK."
Commenting SNP MP, Deidre Brock, said:
"There's loads of evidence that positive reinforcement works better than punishment for training - dogs love their tucker and react to rewards. Zapping them with an electric shock is like something from medieval times, let's end the sale of these devices now. It's good to see the Scottish Government taking a lead on this (if you'll pardon the pun!) - hopefully the UK Government will do their bit too."
Photo: [from left to right] Deidre Brock MP, Ben Macpherson MSP and Tommy Sheppard MP launching Westminster petition, in Leith.
Commenting Harry Huyton, Director of OneKind, said:
"Electric shock collars cause pain, are unnecessary, and have already been banned in Wales. I welcome Ben Macpherson's efforts to get these cruel devices banned here in Scotland and across the UK, and urge anyone who cares about dog welfare to sign his petition. The vast majority of dog trainers agree that positive, reward-based techniques are the way forward, not the archaic administration of pain to force a dog to submit to the will of the owner."
Dee McIntosh, Director of Communications and External Affairs at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, said:
"Battersea is very pleased to hear that the Scottish Government has decided to ban electric shock collars. Battersea has long called for these brutal training devices to be prohibited, as it is never acceptable to apply electric shocks to an animal. We believe positive reinforcement techniques, such as reward-based training, are far more effective at changing a dog's behaviour without inflicting unnecessary pain. We are greatly encouraged by the Scottish Government's decision, which will mirror the ban already in place in Wales, and urge the UK Government to follow their example."
EU Withdrawal Bill - Labour and Tories let us down
Two days of debates on the EU Withdrawal bill culminated in the UK Government pushing it through almost unscathed - in the end nearly all the Tory MPs, including those from Scotland, meekly followed their party into the voting lobbies to vote through this bill. The honourable exception was Ken Clarke who has been consistent throughout, unlike many colleagues who despite much wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout the many days of debate dutifully fell into line in the end.
The Scottish Secretary David Mundell broke his own clear promise that amendments would be brought forward to protect devolved powers during its passage through the House of Commons. I'm not sure what else his office have been doing but when they're needed to step up to the plate they've been absent on the job. As I said in the Evening News article, Mundell is acting like a modern day Tricoteuse, knitting while Scotland is being cudgelled. It is an absolute scandal that these crucial amendments have been left to the House of Lords, that unelected peers will have more say than Scotland's elected MPs.
Scottish Affairs Committee - Immigration Inquiry
I had two Scottish Affairs Committee meetings this week. The first was another in our evidence sessions on immigration, featuring representatives from Higher and Further Education, from Oil & Gas and from Life Sciences. The latter panel on the whole seemed generally remarkably relaxed about the impact of Brexit on their ability to attract talented employees from Europe, which I have to say puts them very much in the minority of our witnesses so far.
A different story in the contributions from Professor Andrea Nolan, Principal of Napier University and Chair of Universities Scotland, Andrew Witty from Colleges Scotland and Annette Bruton, Principal of Edinburgh College, who are extremely concerned at the prospect of Brexit and any further squeeze arising from it on their ability to attract overseas students. Annette advised us that their non-EU students had dropped from 215 to 29 after the last restrictions to student visas introduced by the Westminster Government, so she's worried about the risk to their 3000 EU students if they also have to come through the immigration system. All spoke at length of the social, cultural and economic value of overseas students.
So far most of the organisations we've seen so far seem in favour of some sort of differentiated approach to immigration for Scotland. My constituency office deals with many such cases and frankly, despite the best efforts of UKVI staff who are clearly understaffed and under the political cosh, have found the UK immigration service complicated, gaffe-prone and clearly under enormous stress. I look forward to the day when an independent Scotland devises a simpler system that suits our needs, as opposed to the increasingly hardline requirements of successive UK Governments...
The second committee was meant to be a one-off, called in light of RBS's shock decision to close 62 banks across Scotland. Unusually the committee was in complete agreement on this one - RBS has treated its loyal customers shamefully and must pause and reconsider. I asked Les Matheson the executive who appeared for RBS if the bank had a moral duty to consider the wider economic impact of such decisions on communities. Here's his answer - I leave it to you to decide if he answered that one or not...
Making the Industrial Strategy Work for Women
This week saw the launch of the Annual Report of the Women and Work APPG on which I sit, entitled 'Making the Industrial Strategy work for Women'. Shamefully the UK government's Industrial Strategy green paper made no mention of women at all, something that was addressed finally in its white paper.
While there I caught up with the amazing Clare Gray, Disability Advocacy Adviser at the Shaw Trust and Eleanor Lisney who is a member of the Sisters of Frida campaigning group. As I discovered at the meeting of the Disability APPG chaired by colleague Lisa Cameron MP that I attended the next day, disabled people were equally invisible in the Industrial Strategy green paper, although campaigning groups have, through a lot of hard work and many meetings with ministers managed to reverse that glaring omission.
Nominations wanted - Shaw Trust Power List
Clare reminded me of the Shaw Trust's 2018 Power List, a publication that recognises the UK's 100 most influential people with disabilities and which is open to any living person in the UK who has a disability or is a neurodiverse individual. It's been created to demonstrate that disability need not hold anyone back from whatever they aspire to, and I think that's a really worthwhile to support.
Visit to St Columba's HospiceBack in Edinburgh on Friday I was privileged to visit St Columba's Hospice on Friday morning. My deepest thanks to Chief Exec Jackie Stone & Director of Fundraising Jon Heggie for showing me round. Their wonderful staff & volunteers support patients & their families 7 days a week with services that include day therapies & outreach work. Inspirational.
Trinity Academy and Trinity Accies Burns Supper
Finally a big thank you to Trinity Academy Parent Council and Trinity Academicals Rugby Club for a very memorable Burns supper on Saturday night.
It was a quite remarkable Immortal Memory from Head Boy Jack Liddell and we were later treated to the best performance of Tam o' Shanter I've ever heard. Braw!
19/07/19 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm Stockbridge Library Surgery
26/07/19 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm Royston/Wardieburn Community Centre
02/08/19 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm Constituency Office, 166 Great Junction Street Leith
09/08/19 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm McDonald Road Library
16/08/19 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm Stockbridge Library Surgery