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20 June 2017

An Upside Down World

One of the things that comes with my being a member of parliament is travel between Banffshire and Edinburgh. About 11 hours each week on trains. And that’s where I am as I write.

There many distractions – the tea trolley has just been round and the beaker of refreshing liquid sits before me. Other passengers are plugged into their music – an irritating percussion, sans all melody, invades my space.

Even in this electronic age, printed newspapers still can be bought. I find myself reading a neighbour’s – upside down. It’s a skill I acquired in another life before politics – and which remains of value.

And in the aftermath of the most depressing election campaign in the 55 years since my first, we have an upside down world which needs to be turned right-side up. Most people haven’t learnt to read upside down yet.

In Scotland, the Tories are celebrating after being left with less than a quarter of the available seats while my SNP colleagues are nearly three times as numerous. While at Westminster the great gamble – to increase Teresa May’s power and authority – has become the great scramble – to hold onto power after having to cede authority. The prospect of a great alliance between Tories and DUP is an unedifying one.

After the election I only know one thing the Tories are against and know nothing of what they are for. My house, and that of others around me, received no communication from the Tory candidate and nothing about their plans.

But that is essentially froth. We are leaving the EU. And as I write, four days before negotiations start, not one of us – and I suspect no Tory MP beyond the Cabinet, perhaps not even all of them – knows what the label on the exit door says. Because there are many possible ways out.

Economists are (almost) universally against our leaving the single market when we leave the EU. Why?

We are a very successful exporting nation. In particular in food and drink. And for us in the North East that is a particularly vital interest.

It will be of no value if our fishermen are able to catch more fish because we have left the Common Fisheries Policy if we compromise any of our ability to sell into our most valuable markets – Spain, France and the rest – through our wonderful products being delayed – and losing quality – as they wait in queues to clear customs and have certificates of origin verified.

And it threatens our processing industries if fisherman land fish in other countries – as many already do and may increasingly do – and deprive us of the employment and profit we need to earn.

It’s been many months since I suggested that Scotland’s fisheries minister leads for the UK on that part of the negotiations. With the Tories loss of their majority it’s time for imagination, collaboration and openness about our EU exit objectives.

And perhaps in an upside-down world, more polishing up of my (upside-down) reading skills in the hope that I might learn more what of the Westminster Tories are up to.

6 June 2017

Manchester

Like many, I have connections with the North of England. A grandmother was born in Northumberland in 1868. And today I have the families of two cousins and of a niece for whom Manchester is their nearest big city. A best friend who grew up in the streets from which the bomber came.

None of us will be without connections to such a real world, and wonder about the criminal actions of people who wish to attack innocent citizens in the name of a perversion of true belief.

Manchester is a very large city but events there have reached into a Scottish island community of about 1,200. Barra has always been one of my favourite islands and I can shut my eyes and hear the sighing of Atlantic waves beating the sand at Tangusdale beach.

Today it is the sighing of two families from there - one experiencing tragic loss of one of their own - one now supporting a child cruelly injured on what should have been an exciting day out to a concert.

Barra has known loss before. The modern war memorial that stands on the hill overlooking Castlebay on the road to Vatersay contains the names of the many who fell in last centuries’ wars. A disproportionate share.

Our then enemies lie here too, with German sailors whose remains had been swept ashore on Barra being memorialised in a local cemetery.

And what now?

A significant contingent of firearms trained police from Scotland have travelled to Manchester to assist. We’ve been the biggest source of outside assistance to our friends down south. Last year the Scottish Government had been criticised for upping the numbers such trained police. But it seems, sadly, that we do need them in a modern world.

After a couple of days “lock-down”, but with business continuing, the Scottish Parliament is, like other parts of Scotland and the UK, back to normal.

But the normal to which we return is one where the security threat is now only considered severe. For a couple of days it was critical.

So it remains important that we continue with normal life while each and every one of us is vigilant.

We must not allow the very tiny number of people who represent a threat to our way of life and to people in our communities to make any headway at all.

Postscript.

Since I wrote on Wednesday about Manchester, we have now seen the people of London suffer over the weekend. I can do no better than quote their Mayor who said that his city “will never be cowed by terrorism". We shall all be with him on that.

Stewart Stevenson
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