In this report, I highlight some of the issues in which I have been active over the last year before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election. It gives an outline of my views, our policies, and what I've been doing in Parliament and in the constituency on behalf of local residents.
Of course, I can only give a selection of the issues which I’ve taken up over the last year and in the past. You can find details of all my speeches and questions in Parliament since I was first elected here.
The referendum and Scotland’s future
Scottish and UK politics have of course been dominated over the last year (and more) by the referendum. I voted ‘no’, like the majority of people in this area, but I recognise everyone who voted in the referendum, whether yes or no, did what they felt was in the best interests of Scotland.
So I want to see the future arrangements for the government of Scotland being something which a clear majority of people are willing to work with. I’ve always backed a strong Scottish Parliament with a wide range of powers over Scottish affairs, and that is what I’ve been working for since the referendum.
I want to see a settlement which will stand the test of time. I want to see MSPs working with MPs, councils, and the wider community to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament for the good of our country, instead of preparing for another referendum.
A strong Scotland within a reformed UK
I know that one of the reasons that many people want to see radical change is that they are unhappy with much of what happens in government, whether in the UK or Scotland.
That’s why during my time as an MP I’ve campaigned hard for the current unelected House of Lords to be replaced by a smaller democratically elected chamber. I made clear my views again in a recent debate in Parliament as you can see here so I’m glad Labour is now calling for just this – a new ‘Senate of the Nations and Regions’.
But that’s only part of the picture, there’s much more change needed as well. I support Labour’s plans for a Constitutional Convention to look at a fundamental reform of the way the entire UK operates. In my view, part of the change we need is a fairer and more proportional electoral system – even more vital when we have so many parties represented in Parliament.
And we should also have much wider devolution all round to ensure that cities and local communities are given greater powers. That’s as true for Scotland as for the rest of the UK, as the reality has been that the SNP Scottish Government has actually centralised more powers than in any other part of the UK. You can find more on my views on how we need to change our constitution and politics here.
Tackling poverty and inequality – and a fairer society
Of course, constitutional reform is not enough. What is important is what is done with the powers that government has. Poverty and inequality in Scotland are growing and many ordinary households are struggling to meet basic bills.
One of the most shocking signs of that is the difficulty that some people are finding in meeting funeral costs for loved ones and I challenged the Government on the help that is available from the Social Fund in questions to Ministers as you can see here.
Another sign of poverty is the increasing number of people who have to use food banks. That should be a source of shame to government whose welfare cuts are leaving people without the means to live. I made this point in a debate as you can see here.
Scottish Labour has set out policies aimed at bringing people out of poverty and you can find details here. Of course one of Labour's first priorities in the next Parliament will be to abolish the bedroom tax.
We also need to stop employers who abuse zero-hours contracts which leave workers not knowing how much they will take home each week. Workers on zero-hours contracts should be entitled, if they wish, to get a proper regular contract with proper employment rights. Ed Miliband has said that they should get that right after 3 months and you can find more details here.
I spoke out recently on carers not being paid for their travel time as you can see here, and pointed to the shocking rise in the numbers paid less than a living wage who now number almost 5 million across the UK, up from 3.4 million in 2010 – you can see exactly what I said here.
I support Labour’s commitment that future governments in the UK and Scotland will make paying a living wage a condition of bidding for public sector contracts and ensure social enterprises and voluntary organisations get contracts to support people in finding work.
Fuel poverty and energy bills
More than one million people in Scotland are living in fuel poverty, and millions more struggle to afford to heat their home properly. I led a debate on energy bills last year in Parliament where I highlighted how so many people struggle to meet their energy bills which remain high even when the wholesale price falls because of the way the energy market works.
Labour is committed to a freeze on energy prices if we win the next election, and giving the regulator powers to force price cuts if price falls in energy markets are not passed on to consumers. But we need a complete overhaul of the energy industry to introduce real competition rather than the current domination by the ‘Big six’.
I also attacked the Government on high standing charges that energy companies are increasingly introducing which mean that even if customers cut their use they may not see much reduction in their energy bills. Lower tariffs may seem enticing but can mysteriously disappear once someone switches. You can find my speech on that here.
Changes in benefits
I am angry at many of the key welfare changes introduced by the current Tory/LibDem Government that have left some people in fear of losing their home and others destitute.
The bedroom tax
Labour will axe the bedroom tax if we form the next Government. It is a cruel measure which has hit some of the poorest in our society, and forced some to give up the flats in which they grew up and have brought up their family.
The reality is that there is simply no alternative accommodation for people to move to because neither the UK nor the current Scottish Government have made affordable housing the priority it should be. I’ve spoken frequently on this issue in Parliament, and campaigned against it with community organisations as well. You can find one of several speeches I have made on this in Parliament here.
Labour is committed to building 200,000 new homes a year over the next Parliament and we will fund that through a new tax on bankers’ bonuses.
Disabled people should not be excluded from society
I have spoken out in Parliament on a number of occasions about the way that people who are disabled or seriously ill with conditions like cancer are currently facing delays of at least 6 months to even be assessed for Employment and Support Allowance or the new disability benefit, the Personal Independence Payment.
That means that they face the additional worry of how to cope financially as well as their medical condition. I want to see claims from all people with terminal conditions fast tracked. You can find what I said in a debate here.
I have also campaigned against the chaos and poverty the Government has caused to people through delays and the incorrect assessment of people’s conditions.
There are other ways as well we can make it easier for disabled people to play a full part in society – barriers to disabled people can also affect many other people as well.
So I have pushed the Post Office hard to ensure that there would be sufficient alternative provision after the St James Centre Post Office closed within easy walking distance and that those offices have good disabled access.
Another issue I raised this year is the closure of Waverley station to vehicles which has affected disabled people but also cyclists who access the station at present through the pedestrian walkway.
Transport - putting the public first
Keep East Coast Rail public!
I have been actively campaigning with to keep the East Coast line in public hands – since it was taken back into public ownership in 2009 by the then Labour Government it has returned over £1bn in profits to the taxpayer rather than to shareholders but the current Government has been determined to reprivatize it on ideological grounds.
Although that has now happened, I believe we should be allowing public sector or cooperative/mutual operators to take over rail franchises - and that includes not just UK franchises but also the Scotrail and Scottish sleeper franchises which the Scottish Government has recently handed over to another private operator (which is itself an offshoot of the Netherlands state railway company!).
I believe that we need real investment in transport and have been arguing strongly that planning for High Speed Rail to come to Scotland should start as soon as possible. You can find a speech I made on this here. However, we must pay proper attention to putting in place environmental protection when taking forward High Speed Rail. This was something which we looked at and reported on in the Environmental Audit Committee as you can see here.
I also want to see the UK and Scottish Governments spending more money on repairing streets and pavements. Potholes are bad for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
I was one of the MPs behind a major report on cycling policy – ‘Get Britain cycling’, I spoke in a major debate on cycling policy which you can find here.
Climate change and environmental sustainability
A major part of my work in the House of Commons has been as an active member of the Environmental Audit Select Committee which helps to hold the Government to account on environmental issues. We’ve published a number of hard hitting reports this year, covering issues like
• the environmental risks of fracking
• action on air quality
• impact of a Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP)
• sustainable development goals
• a strategy to protect bees from pesticides
• finance for the green economy
• protecting marine habitats and species
• reducing waste and encouraging recycling
You can find all of those here.
There’s no doubt in my mind that climate change and excessive exploitation of the world’s resources are amongst the biggest threats faced by the world community. The very survival of the human race demands that MPs, Parliaments and government, recognise the scale of the challenge and act accordingly.
Working for a fairer world
We live in a world that is increasingly insecure. And so I’ve been backing steps to make the world safer and secure not just for us at home, but internationally.
I’ve long backed the call for the UK to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on international aid. Although the current Government failed to follow through with a pledge to enshrine that in statute so future governments can’t renege on that commitment I am pleased that it has finally become law thanks to a Private Members’ Bill.
That’s the moral thing to do – we should not stand aside when millions throughout the world still face starvation, homelessness, or lack of a basic education. And crises like Ebola show how weak the health services are in countries affected whilst HIV/AIDs is still a major problem in many parts of the world.
But it’s also in our national interest to help people in poorer countries. A more prosperous world means more trade, more jobs, and more economic security for the whole world community.
We cannot just isolate ourselves from crises around the world. That’s why I have been arguing that the UK should take more of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria as you can see here. I have been a strong supporter of human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad.
I also challenged the Government’s refusal to support European search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to help save refugees fleeing conflict and destitution. Thousands of these drown cruelly each year.
We do, of course, have to protect the security or our country and our citizens, but in so doing we must not undermine the fundamental rights and liberties which are essential to our democratic way of life, nor should we refuse to help those in need facing destitution or persecution.
In Parliament, I have repeatedly called for international action – through bodies like the European Union, the United Nations, and others to work together to tackle the root causes of international crises. I have spoken up on many international issues, as can be seen from my speeches and questions in Parliament here. Only international cooperation, mutual respect for other cultures, and a fairer international economic and financial system, will make the world a safer place for us and future generations.
In this report, I highlight some of the issues in which I have been active over the last year before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election. It gives an...