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!