Many people have written to me regarding campaigns of interest to them. Below you can read my position on some of the most recent campaigns people have contacted me about.
If you would like to speak to me about anything specific then I am happy to hear from you. You can also sign up to hear from me through my regular newsletter. You can do either of these by signing up here.
The Scottish Conservatives support the right of homeowners and tenants to enjoy the use of their property, but we know that the SNP Government’s proposed regulations will significantly impact self-catering businesses, as well as Airbnb and similar short-term let providers.
Now is not the time to regulate short-term lets and enact a licensing scheme that will unnecessarily burden an already struggling tourism industry.
Given all of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that representatives of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers and the Scottish B&B Association quit the SNP Government’s working group on this issue earlier this year, with one representative referring to the working group as a ‘sham’.
While the final version of the licensing scheme that was brought to Parliament attempted to rectify the concerns of some businesses, these changes did not go far enough and it regrettable that this legislation was approved at Committee last month. Scottish Conservative members opposed this legislation and will continue to do so when it is brought back to Parliament.
Tourism businesses across Scotland have been devastated by the pandemic and the last thing they need is to be burdened by more red tape. Going forward, we will continue to challenge the Scottish Government on this issue with the aim of ensuring that any changes to the law in this area are both necessary and proportionate.
Gender Recognition Act
The Scottish Conservatives recognise that improvements to the system of gender recognition would be beneficial for trans people. Now that the SNP Government have published their bill we will constructively scrutinise proposals that may help to make the system and process easier.
However, as drafted, the proposals do not protect women’s rights and they do not offer enough protection for women’s safety. Women have raised legitimate and reasonable concerns about sections of this bill and it is essential that the SNP Government both listens to and addresses those concerns.
Improving the process for transgender people must not come at the expense of women’s rights and safety.
Cladding on Buildings
We all remember the awful scenes from the Grenfell Fire, and we should be doing all we can to stop anything like that from happening again. This will mean that some buildings in Scotland will need to be reclad, but we believe it would be unfair to expect homeowners and lease holders to be expected to foot the bill for this work.
I welcome the decision from the UK government to place the obligation on developers to pay for recladding buildings, which will protect homeowners and leaseholders from these costs. I would urge the SNP to do the same in Scotland.
The SNP Government’s record on cladding is very weak. The SNP have still not banned flammable cladding in Scotland. Flammable cladding was banned in England over three years ago, so there is no excusable reason why we cannot do the same in Scotland.
They have also given no certainty to homeowners or lease holders over whether they will be made to pay for recladding on flats. It should be incumbent on developers to make sure their homes are safe and secure. Simply put, the people of Scotland should not have to pay to feel safe in their own homes that they bought or leased in good faith.
The Scottish Conservatives would undertake an extensive audit to identify all buildings where combustible cladding is used, not just high-rise properties, and support remedial work where it is needed.
We have called upon the SNP to offer clarity to homeowners and lease holders and to ban combustible cladding as soon as possible. Like so many other issues, the SNP have dithered and delayed for far too long, putting thousands of lives at risk. The people of Scotland deserve better.
Hate Crime Act
Intolerance, bigotry, racism or prejudice of any kind should not be accepted anywhere in a civilised society.
We must recognise the profound harm which hate crimes cause to the victim and the community they belong to, but there is a vital balance to be struck between freedom of expression and cracking down on prejudice. The SNP Government’s Hate Crime Act does not strike this balance.
In general, I support the findings of Lord Bracadale’s review in 2018 that the best way to punish hate crime is by aggravators which can be added to existing crimes, rather than standalone hate crime offences.
The SNP’s offences of ‘stirring up hatred’ threaten freedom of speech, and fail the simple tests of being clear, certain and capable of enforcement. There was an unprecedented response to the Justice Committee’s call for views on the Hate Crime Bill and most of those published raised grave concerns about this area. The Scottish Police Federation stated the bill could ‘devastate’ the relationship between the police and the public. The Scottish Newspaper Society said it ‘poses a serious threat to freedom of expression’ and the Faculty of Advocates warned that the Bill’s flaws mean there is ‘no alternative but to reconsider the draft bill’.
Our amendments which would have protected free speech were voted down by the SNP and all other parties. As a result, we voted against the Bill as it threatened freedom of speech and failed to protect the right to privacy.
The Scottish Conservatives would repeal the SNP’s Hate Crime Act with a Protection of Free Speech Bill, to protect our fundamental right to freedom of expression. The SNP ignored its flaws from the start despite widespread opposition from academics, lawyers, journalists, entertainers and faith groups.
I am disappointed that the SNP Government did not include an aggravator for criminals who target vulnerable persons like the elderly. Tougher sentences for these sorts of offenders is something the Scottish Conservatives have campaigned on for a number of years and was recommended by Lord Bracadale and Police Scotland. We also regard this Bill as a missed opportunity to make meaningful steps towards restorative justice – where the victim of crime is put at the heart of the justice process.
Coping with terminal illness is of course hugely distressing and difficult, both for the patient and their family. These cases are truly moving and evoke the highest degree of compassion and emotion. Should the law in this area ever be altered, I believe it is neither a matter for Government to decide nor a matter for the judiciary, but ultimately a matter for Parliament, and individual MSPs in a free vote.
You may be aware that the original End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill was defeated at Stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament in 2010, and Margot MacDonald’s Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill was also defeated in 2015.
Following the proposals lodged by Liam MacArthur MSP, if draft legislation comes before the Scottish Parliament, I will consider it carefully.
Ferguson Marine & Ferries
When the SNP Government hired Tim Hair as ‘turnaround director’ in 2019, they claimed it was in order to revitalise Ferguson Marine. Instead taxpayers have been hit with a bill of over £1 million in order to cover his salary.
Instead of ferries being produced here in Scotland, they are instead produced in Eastern Europe and in Turkey.
In the meantime, passengers are being faced with delays and cancellations because of aging ferries, and just recently the SNP government chose to spend £9 million on what has been described as a small and slow second-hand and diesel-powered ferry from Norway.
The SNP Government’s inability to get to grips with the situation at Ferguson Marine, and their repeated failures regarding the shipyard, has resulted in them repeatedly failing island communities.
As ever, there was little consideration from the SNP for quality or consistency of service, nor cost to the taxpayer, and I would urge them to consider the needs of passengers and islanders over political dogma.
Interlinked smoke and heat alarms
I support the measures coming into place that aim to protect homeowners and tenants by increasing the fire safety of homes across Scotland. But while I support measures to improve safety, I am very concerned by this change in the law which has been introduced with very little publicity and could cost families hundreds of pounds at very short notice when I know finances are tight.
These regulations are about ensuring people are safe in their own homes, but we know that can only happen if people have the provisions and time to make the necessary upgrades. But as it stands, financial support to install the required equipment will only be available to those in receipt of pension credit or with a property in Council Tax band A. It is not acceptable that fewer than 2,000 households are likely to benefit from the SNP’s £500,000 fund.
When I raised a number of these concerns last year, the Scottish Conservatives were successful in campaigning for the implementation of regulations to be delayed by one year to February 2022. We welcomed the Scottish Government bowing to this pressure from many concerned individuals and organisations including Age Scotland.
But the many of the same mistakes are being repeated again this year, and too many individuals are learning of this change in the law at a late stage. On top of this, the SNP Government have carried out no assessment of how many households will still fall foul of this new legislation. We are therefore calling for the introduction of these laws to be delayed once again, to give every household ample opportunity to ensure they meet these new regulations.
The UK Government have announced that the UK will continue to meet our commitment to the world’s poorest, spending 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid in 2021 – amounting to £10 billion pounds in this year’s Spending Review. During a time when we need to prioritise jobs and public services, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people.
I believe it is right at this difficult time that the UK Government puts rebuilding our country and protecting jobs first. However, we hope to see the 0.7 per cent international aid commitment restored when resources allow in the future, and the Chancellor has indicated that this will be the case.
Based on the latest OECD data, the UK is still the second highest aid donor in the G7 – higher than Italy, Japan, Canada, and the US.
The UK is and will remain a world leader in international development, demonstrated by the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and a major girls’ education summit next year. Very few countries do more than us to lift communities out of poverty or tackle climate change worldwide. And the UK Government have been a world leader in funding vaccines and treatments for coronavirus worldwide.
Jobs at Scotland's Airports
Jobs and livelihoods across Scotland are under unprecedented pressure and I appreciate that the aviation sector is particularly vulnerable in the economic crisis in which we find ourselves.
We have all lived through months of lockdown which brought the aviation sector to a standstill. Now that restrictions are easing, and the SNP Government has finally got to grips with its plan for air bridges, I am hopeful that some progress can begin to be made. The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly demanded scientific justification from the SNP for their restrictions on travel and those returning from abroad.
The pressure is now on the SNP Government to take real action to protect the workers and businesses that rely on a thriving aviation sector. Scotland's airports need clarity at this time in order to be able to plan for the future in a sustainable way. There has already been enough damage, we cannot afford any more confusion, delay or distraction like we have seen in the last few weeks.
Both myself and my Scottish Conservative colleagues are committed to protecting jobs and livelihoods in every sector and region across Scotland, and we will continue to urge both of Scotland's governments to do all they can in that regard.
Deposit Return Scheme
The Scottish Conservatives supported Scotland setting the most ambitious climate change targets in the world and we believe Scotland and the UK should continue to hold the highest environmental standards.
We believe a Deposit Return Scheme could help to improve recycling rates, cut down on both waste to landfill and plastics in our waters, and ultimately help to protect the environment. We have called for a well-designed, accessible and fair scheme that encourages people and businesses to do the right thing and help cut down on litter and waste. We will continue to support the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland, although we share the concerns of businesses that a UK-wide scheme may be more appropriate and successful.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we believe a slight delay to the Deposit Return Scheme is the right approach. Many companies are facing bankruptcy and workers are being laid off in unprecedented numbers. It is a very difficult time for small shops across Scotland, and we do not think it is fair to add to their burden at this precise moment. The Deposit Return Scheme will not be successful without the support of the business community and they have pressing concerns about their immediate future during this global crisis. To have the biggest impact on saving our environment, we believe a delay to the Deposit Return Scheme is necessary.