Lesley Laird: Now we see the result of pandering to right wing rhetoric
In the first of a series of regular columns, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Lesley Laird gives us the rundown of the view from Westminster.
Westminster is a strange place. Some weeks, little of any great importance seems to happen and other weeks fly by as the Government lurches from one catastrophe to the next. This week, it was the latter.
Theresa May’s government’s handling of the Windrush Generation scandal has dominated both the headlines and parliamentary business.
David Lammy has done a stellar job of holding the government’s feet to the fire and the Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s coat is hanging on a shoogly peg.
We all remember the “go home” vans that were sanctioned by Theresa May when she was in charge of the Home Office – yet this week her adviser at that time said she knew nothing about it. That alone should be a sackable offence!
Those vans were part of the “hostile environment” Theresa May was so proud of in her days at the Home Office.
Well, now she is seeing the fruits of her labour – British citizens losing their jobs, being denied NHS treatment or even being deported.
This is what happens if you pander to right-wing rhetoric when formulating your immigration policy.
In the middle of this shameful episode we had Scottish Questions to contend with. For those unfamiliar with this regular treat, it’s an anti-climactic half an hour where the Secretary of State for Scotland stands at the Dispatch Box and dodges questions fired at him from all sides of the chamber.
This week, our Shadow Scotland Minister, Paul Sweeney, pressed David Mundell on the Scotland Office’s £50,000 spend on targeted social media – and whether state propaganda was a good use of taxpayers’ money in the midst of austerity. He got no answer, of course.
The SNP also seemed keen to know about his use of social media consultancies – I couldn’t possibly comment, but some might say that’s rather ironic given their own controversial dealings with Cambridge Analytica.
I used my questions to press the Secretary of State on the negotiations that have been taking place between the Scottish & UK Government on the devolution of powers after Brexit – the dreaded Clause 11.
On Tuesday, we learned that negotiations between the SNP Government in Holyrood and the Tory Government in Westminster had broken down. Simultaneously, it was announced that my Labour colleagues in the Welsh Government had reached a deal.
It has been widely reported that Mike Russell had also reached an agreement on Clause 11 only for Nicola Sturgeon to reject it.
We predicted that games would be played with the constitution and tried to head off the problem time and time again. We’ve laid amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, we’ve asked for records of the Joint Ministerial Committee and we’ve worked closely with the SNP at Holyrood to support their Continuity Bill.
It is undeniable that there are ulterior motives at play. That’s why I asked David Mundell to publish the minutes of all meetings between the Scottish and UK Government on Clause 11. He got us into this mess in the first place and people deserve to know what has been going on behind closed doors.
We could have spent the last year trying to find solutions to the 24 areas of dispute that all sides agree will be required. Instead, they’ve wasted precious time bickering.
The Scottish Government’s difficulty revolves around consent, but it is important to remember that the UK Parliament is sovereign – that is what the people of Scotland voted for in 2014.
Currently, if consent is sought but denied, there can only be two outcomes – stalemate, or the UK Government overrules Edinburgh.
The deal on the table strengthens that process. Instead of the Scottish Government simply being overruled. The UK Parliament would act as arbitrator in a dispute, with the UK Government and the Scottish Government both entitled to put their cases to it.
It boils down to a straightforward question. Do people trust the Welsh Labour Government that believes in devolution or do they trust the Scottish Nationalist Government that believes in wrecking it?
Either way, Scotland was and remains part of the United Kingdom that welcomed the Windrush Generation to these shores to rebuild our post-war state. Yet the Government is treating them as illegal aliens.
If anyone thought that this saga had run its course they were very much mistaken. And the longer it rumbles on, the harder it becomes for Theresa May to keep at arms-length from her tenure as Home Secretary. If this Government was serious about learning from its mistakes it would ditch her net migration target and the “hostile environment” that accompanies it.
But be in no doubt, this was not just an unintended consequence – this was policy.
For now, Amber Rudd is acting as a “human shield” for Theresa May as further facts emerge.
Under examination by Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper, Ms Rudd said there were no deportation targets for Civil Servants to hit. Then in another twist she had to row back and confirm there were indeed targets, but that they would now be withdrawn. We can only hope that as we edge closer to the truth we are also closer to a satisfactory conclusion.
That image of the Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury docks brings to mind the great ships which used to be a familiar sight on the Clyde, and this week Scottish MPs were delighted to stand with the GMB at the launch in Parliament of their “Turning The Tide” report on shipbuilding.
This report is a crucial element of the GMB’s “Making It” manufacturing campaign and only served to underline the critical stage we are at as an island nation in terms of losing our defence and civilian shipbuilding capability. UK shipbuilding and repair is a £2billion industry that directly employs nearly 32,000 people and supports a further 20,000.
But the reality is many of the UK’s international competitor shipyards are heavily subsidised by their governments.
It is this that the MoD fails to take account of when it focuses on price over “best value”. A strong shipbuilding capability in the UK generates highly skilled, well-paid employment for thousands of people who in turn pay taxes and spend in their communities.
Growing up in Greenock and Port Glasgow, I can well remember that traffic used to stop when the yards came out at the end of the working day. But what the people there know is that once the skills and capability are gone they cannot be brought back.
Let’s make sure we hold on to what we still have.
Find out more about the GMB’s campaign at www.making-it.org.uk