From 1st January 2010 this site will no longer be updated, in accordance with Parliamentary rules.
The site will be kept online and can still be used to find information and to contact John, but the latest news will be posted on the West Edinburgh Liberal Democrats website.
This blog aims to give an insight into the day to day life of an MP, rather than being a political soapbox.
28 February 2009
Scotland 26 Italy 6
Spending a Saturday morning at Lib-Dem HQ as a member of the Party Executive is not my idea of fun. As we dealt with the organisation of the Party inside, outside there were masses of people thronging the streets in party mood, heading for Murrayfield, where Scotland would be taking on Italy later in the day. After endless reports and discussion, which fortunately ended just before kick off, some then headed off to the match and I went to meet more businesses in the constituency to get feedback and to discuss how things were going during the current financial downturn. The shock of the day was when Scotland won 26 - 6. It was clearly all too much for one member of my staff, who, as a keen Scotland rugby fan, had not experienced a victory for a while. As someone who has supported the Scotland football team, I know the feeling well.
27 February 2009
The Westminster bubble
Normally, Friday is spent in Edinburgh, but this week I agreed to stay at Westminster to support a Private Members Bill, the Autism Bill. Anyone who has witnessed life for those who suffer from, or live with the problems of, autism know that much needs to be done and this Bill is a small step in the right direction. Outside the chamber the newspapers are full of the details of the former Royal Bank of Scotland Chief Executive, Fred Goodwin's £650,000 a year pension from RBS, the massive losses confirmed by the banks this week (£10 billion from HBOS) and the latest government action to take the risks from the bank of a further £325 billion of high risk liabilities. The full extent of the taxpayers liability could top £500 billion, a truly mind boggling figure. While all this is going in the real world, back inside the "Westminster bubble" as it is often called, we are trying to get a small change made to ensure that the one in one hundred people with autism, who desperately need more help now, get some of that assistance, before it is too late. One survey of autistic children showed that many not only suffer from bullying and are often excluded from school, but that they also have no friends at all. The suicide rate amongst those sufferers is much too high and even a small step forward today, would be a step worth taking. The new boss of RBS has also confirmed that the possible job loss figure for the Royal Bank of Scotland could now be as high as 20,000. Can it get much worse ?
25 February 2009
A sad day
My thoughts today are with David and Samantha Cameron, and their family, following the tragic death of their six year old son Ivan, who suffered from cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Words cannot begin to describe what any parent must feel at a time like this. Although life had been a struggle for Ivan from day one, I am sure he will have brought something special into the life of his family and he will be sadly missed by all who knew him. I hope the press and media respect the wishes of the family and give them some time on their own following their sad loss. Prime Minister's Question Time was suspended after Gordon Brown, William Hague and Vince Cable had made short statements to pass on their thoughts to the Cameron family. It was the right thing to do and an emotional time for all. It would have been wrong to go straight into PMQ and instead a short break and time for reflection was far more appropriate. For me it brought back memories of attending the funeral of the young son of friends who had similar problems to Ivan's. The death of a child must be the worst nightmare for any parent. Hopefully all MPs will all remember this the next time we take actions which put other people's children at risk.
23 February 2009
Spent part of the day speaking to many smaller local businesses and hearing first hand how they are coping with the credit crunch. Some are still as busy as ever, while others are having a really tough time. While there are many major employers in the constituency, there are also hundreds of small businesses, employing thousands of people and it is essential that they also survive the present economic downturn. Later in the week the final report from RBS will confirm one of the largest corporate losses in British history and plans being leaked to the press suggest that more job losses will follow. In the weeks and months ahead I have no doubt we will see some of the most difficult times in living memory for both large and small businesses.
22 February 2009
Congratulations to Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam on the birth of their new baby son Miguel born on Sunday. Nick will now take some time off to be with his family and Vince Cable will step in at events such as Prime Minister's Questions, for the next week or two. It is good to see that even party leaders can have a normal family life as well. With all three major party leaders having young children at home, this can only be a good thing. At a time when trust in many politicians, from all parties, is at an all time low, it is refreshing to read a story which shows that they are normal people too. Nothing brings you more down to earth than the arrival of a new baby, with sleepless nights and all the worries and joys rolled into one tiny bundle. Enjoy your time off Nick, and best wishes to all the family. Having survived a first birthday party at our home this weekend, compared to that - life at Westminster this week will be relatively quiet.
20 February 2009
One man's freedom.....
Freedom of speech is something that we must guard preciously, but what some claim as freedom, others can and will have a different view about. The decision by the Home Office to refuse Dutch MP Geert Wilders entry into the UK has sparked a real debate about his freedom to discuss his film. He was going to show the controversial film "Fitna" in the House of Lords. It links the Islamic holy book to terrorism and there are images of death and destruction, including executions and terrorist attacks in the film. In order to respond to constituents who have contacted me on this issue, I watched the film to see what all the fuss was about. The one thing I am sure of, is that banning the MP from the country gave him and his film a level of publicity that neither would have received otherwise. The BBC deciding to ban a record in the past, used to result in it flying up the charts, as it gained publicity it would never have had otherwise. The film was first released nearly a year ago and nobody had heard of it until now. Now, with all the publicity, over half a million people have viewed it over the internet. Mr Wilders has got exactly what he wanted - and the film is not worth spending the time it takes to view it.
19 February 2009
Community Councils will be going through a number of changes in the near future. The term of election for community councillors will change from three to four years with the current elections timetabled for October 2009. A restriction for registering the appointment of nominated members is also proposed to remove political parties from the list of groups able to appoint to the councils; a mistake, I believe. For nearly 30 years Community Councils have served as a vital local link for the public on a number of issues, such as planning concerns. Last night at the Corstorphine Community Council we discussed a wide range of local issues and concerns in the neighbourhood. I gave a short talk on Scam Awareness Month and described what people could o to limit the likelihood of anyone they know being conned out of their savings. While Parliament is not sitting at Westminster this week, it is an ideal opportunity to catch up with local events like this at the heart of local communities, such as Corstorphine.
16 February 2009
MPs second homes
Like many other people, I am amazed at the current story regarding the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith and her accommodation arrangements. MPs "second home" expenses have once again hit the news, and MPs from all parties are under the spotlight as to what their arrangements are. A number of people have asked me how the current system can be justified and the answer is; that it can't. If an MP can designate a place that is clearly not their main residence as just that, then the system must be changed. For most MPs from all parties the answer is clear. Their main homes are in their constituencies, this is where they return to when Parliament is not sitting, this is where their families live and this is where the children go to school. Their second homes are usually not "homes" but are temporary, places to stay while in London. There will always be some exceptions to the rules for those who base themselves in London, for a variety of reasons. In my own case, my main and only home is in Edinburgh, where I have lived for many years. No claims for anything related to my home are ever submitted to Parliament. While in London I rent a small flat with one bedroom and other basic facilities and all the costs of this are met by Parliament. This is in no way my "home" and when Parliament is not sitting and I return home - there is no question as to where this is.
11 February 2009
Any attempts to keep quiet about birthdays ended when I became an MP. One diary publisher, who supplies diaries to MPs, adds in at the bottom of page the names of the MPs with birthdays on that day and some newspapers also publish the birthdays. This has the odd result of many people sending you emails or wishing you happy birthday as they pass in the corridors - very strange. Tried to get called at Prime Minister's Question, but after being called last week, I fear it will be a while before my turn comes round again. The consolation was an enjoyable birthday lunch after PMQ with friends from Wales, who were visiting Parliament. Banking issues dominated the day's news, with the resignation of one of the Government's advisors. Up-rating benefits and pensions is the business of the day in Parliament tomorrow. How quickly the debate will have turned from Tuesday, with someone earning £60,000 a month, to Thursday - about people surviving on £60 a week. They used to say "a week is a long time in politics" now, two days is long enough.
10 February 2009
Bankers' bonuses and job losses
I walked into Westminster today with Vince Cable, as we had met on Westminster Bridge on the way in. When we arrived, we were engulfed by dozens of press and photographers wanting his views on the bankers coming in to be grilled at the Treasury Select Committee that morning. Listening to the former "top dogs" from RBS and HBOS (Sir Fred Goodwin, Sir Tom McKillop, Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson) saying "sorry" at today's Treasury Select Committee at Westminster, were just the opening remarks as the tip of the iceberg and the details of the chaos in the banking industry unfolded. Details of bankers' bonuses, the purchase of an overvalued bank for £10 billion, that is presently worth nothing, reckless lending, the sacking and gagging of staff who pointed out the dangers and risks to the banks of their actions. Most surprising of all was the admission that those giving evidence clearly did not understand many details of the workings of their own industry. As if this was not bad enough, later in the day the Royal Bank of Scotland announced 2,300 job losses.
6 February 2009
Driven up the wall
It's not often that this job, or my staff, drive me up the wall, but today was one of those days! Fortunately it was at the Ratho rock climbing centre, which rates as one of the top indoor climbing centres in Europe. I was visiting the centre with former MSP George Lyon and we were shown around the facilities by the centre manager, Graeme Gardiner, whom I had know from many years ago, when he worked at Edinburgh Zoo. The centre was first opened about 10 years ago, but suffered from many problems and was eventually taken over by Edinburgh City Council, who have turned it around and the facilities are now stunning. As well as the rock climbing walls there are many other great facilities for young and old, the energetic and the not so fit. It is probably one of the best, yet unknown gems in Edinburgh West. Pay it a visit www.eica-ratho.com
4 February 2009
February is "Scambusters" month and I will be raising the profile of this issue wherever possible. Thousands of innocent people are hit for millions of pounds every year, when they are caught by fraudsters or scams at home, by mail or through the internet. Many are too embarrassed to admit what has happened and I fear the number recorded by the Police is only the tip of the ice-berg. I spoke to one woman this week, whose mother lost her life savings and then the will to live, after being conned out of her savings by villains, posing as her friends. She was turned against her family and spurned all their attempts to help. Some elderly people have been found with thousands of letters in their homes all from various scams. Sadly help often arrives too late and in Edinburgh this week another example of this same problem hit the front page of the Evening News.
2 February 2009
Travel throughout the country descended into chaos as the first really bad weather hit the UK. Many flights, trains and buses were cancelled and although, in Scotland, we had missed the worst of the weather, travel south was impossible. In London no buses were running at all, runways were blocked with snow at most airports and Westminster was like a ghost town in the morning. Although the Houses of Parliament looked a picture under six inches of snow, few people were there in the morning to see it. Despite many attempts to rearrange travel, the weather won in the end and I stayed in Edinburgh for another day. The outlook for the rest of the week is more of the same. The worst snow for many areas in 20 years.
1 February 2009
Some months ago I had been invited along to spend a Sunday evening at Murrayfield Parish Church speaking to the "Just Us" group about disability issues. There was a good crowd in the hall, although it was freezing outside, and many might well have been tempted to stay at home. We discussed a wide range of issues relating to a range of disabilities and I touched on current campaigns I am running at Westminster to improve the lot of some of those who are disabled. Coming soon at Westminster is more legislation that will have a major impact on the lives of millions of those disabled and it was good to hear feedback about issues that concern so many people up and down the country. Speaking to groups and organisations over the last eight years has brought me into direct contact with literally thousands of people and is a good way of keeping my feet firmly on the ground.