Angus MacNeil MP to meet HHP over housing concerns 

MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Angus MacNeil is to meet with the Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP) in the coming weeks regarding concerns over housing on the islands.   

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:  

“At the recent Western Isles Fishermen’s AGM concerns were raised about the lack of housing in Leverburgh. Following that meeting I wrote to HHP raising the need for greater accessibility to housing in Leverburgh and in other areas and was delighted to learn from HHP that they are indeed conducting a feasibility study in Leverburgh.

“HHP tell me that they are currently researching and will reporting on the housing needs in Leverburgh with a view to building. I hope that they do go ahead and build in Leverburgh but I understand that they have to go through their procedures.

“It is right that HHP do their processes of diligence, but it is also right that voices in the community that probably instinctively know what is required, are given due weight as well. I am amplifying these voices and calling for houses to be built in Leverburgh to meet the needs of the community, businesses and all.” 

Isles MP supports calls for urgent action on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Angus with Richard Ratcliffe during his first hunger strike in 2019.

Isles MP Angus MacNeil stood with cross party MPs at Westminster yesterday (Tuesday) calling for the UK Government to finally act and secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Mr MacNeil was contacted by a high number of constituents asking him to attend yesterday’s debate and put pressure on the UK Government to act.

Nazanine Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been unlawfully detained in Iran for nearly six years, separated from her young daughter and family.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, began a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office on 24 October, hoping to put pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to meet Iranian delegates at the COP26 climate summit and to demand freedom for Britons detained in Iran.

In an Intervention at the Westminster Hall debate yesterday, Mr MacNeil said: “If we were able to engineer a vote today on the payment of the debt, it would be unanimous.

“Is there a way that we can engineer a vote in the main Chamber on the debt, so that we add pressure on the Government to pay the debt and get Nazanin home?”

The UK owes money for failing to deliver tanks Iran bought in the 1970s.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe believes she has been imprisoned as leverage for the debt.

The case of Mrs Zaghari Ratcliffe made headlines again in recent weeks after she was sentenced to another year in prison, just weeks after she reached the end of a five-year sentence. She was first jailed in Tehran in 2016 on spying charges, which she has always denied.

Her husband, Richard, maintains she is being used as a bargaining chip in the dispute over the unpaid debt, as well as leverage in talks over the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Mr MacNeil met with Richard Ratcliffe during his previous hunger strike in 2019 and has written several letters to the UK Government urging them to redouble efforts to secure her release.

He added: “SNP MPs in Westminster continue to press Boris Johnson and the Foreign Secretary to do much more to help Nazanin’s release. The fact that Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and other ministers did not take the time to come out of their offices to visit Richard Ratcliffe at his tent and see first-hand how desperate the situation is, is a sign of their disregard for the issue.

“Empty words will no longer be enough – a proactive approach is needed by this government. The FCDO must now once and for all set out evidence of detailed and concrete steps to get her home.”

MacNeil introduces bill on Cash for Peerages

 

Angus MacNeil MP has today introduced a bill in the House of Commons to limit those who donate money to political parties from getting a peerage.  

The Peerage Nominations (Disqualification of Party Donors) private members bill would mean that those who donate more than £50,000 to a political party would be banned from a place in the House of Lords for 5 years after their donation. 

This follows recent reports in The Sunday Times where 18 political donors, who donated more than £3 million, to the Conservative Party were nominated for peerages.  

As well as the private members bill, Mr MacNeil also laid an early day motion on Monday 15th November in Parliament which has received cross party support.  

Commenting the MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar said: 

“Those who donate large sums to political parties often magically find themselves in the House of Lords.  

“Following the recent revelations by The Sunday Times, I wrote to the Met Commissioner Cressida Dick calling for an investigation into this and I also wrote to the Leaders of the political parties who deal in peerages, namely the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats calling on them to halt this procedure.  

“If the House of Lords and democracy at Westminster wants to stop being the joke of Western European Democracies, the practise and the possibility of cash being exchanged for a place in the Parliament must clearly come to an end.

“The fastest and clearest way for this to happen is for Boris Johnson, Sir Keir Starmer, Sir Ed Davey to either individually or collectively say they will no longer appoint people to the House of Lords if they give their political parties money. Anything other than this is a maintenance of a practise which corrupts the UK.” 

ENDS  

Notes: 

Bill below: Peerage Nominations (Disqualification of Party Donors) Bill

Early Day Motion text: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/59137  

Democracy must not be eroded, says Isles MP

Democracy must not be eroded, says Isles MP Angus MacNeil who has this week written to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police calling for more investigation into the links between Cash and Honours.

He has also written to the three main party Leaders – Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Leader of the Conservative Party; Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party; and Sir Ed Davey, Leader of the Liberal Democrats –  urging them to commit to stopping this practice.

Mr MacNeil raised the issue of Cash for Honours back in 2006 but it was decided by the Crown Prosecution Service at that time not to pursue this further. He raised it again in 2014 when the departing Lib Dem, Lord Oakeshott, bemoaned that he had not ended the practice. Mr MacNeil stressed that there is agreement amongst all parties that this is a problem.

The issue is now back in the spotlight with it being reported in the media this week that at least 18 people who donated £3 million, or more, to the Conservative Party are now sitting in the House of Lords.

In a letter to Dame Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Mr MacNeil said: “I think at the very least your officers should be conducting preliminary investigations and questioning those involved. Standards in public life demand that such a step is taken. If you, as the gatekeepers of Law & Order, look the other way on such matters, then this practise will continue and our democracy will be further eroded.

“I raised this issue in 2006, yet the practice continues today. In 2006, it was only on the balance of probabilities that the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to carry this further to the courts. However, the balance of probabilities may be different this time, however, we cannot get to that stage unless you are prepared to step up to do the public and the standards in public life a great service to the United Kingdom.”

Scottish independence could be won in an election, says Angus MacNeil

Events in politics may now mean for certain that a referendum on Scottish independence is blocked and the only avenue to ask the population the question on independence is at an election.  

This month’s Supreme Court decision on blocking Scottish Parliament bills was a seismic event which could affect the independence process for Scotland for years to come.  The court told Scotland, pretty bluntly, what we all should actually know, that power devolved is power retained, and Scotland’s parliament is not the most powerful parliament in Scotland. 

129 MSPs of all the parties, who all backed the legislation incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the European Charter on Local Self Government thought this legislation was within the powers of the Scottish Parliament – but it was not.   

Perhaps the politicians can be excused given 3 groups of lawyers likely thought similarly.  Namely, the Scottish Government’s lawyers, the Scottish Parliament’s lawyers and the Scotland Office’s lawyers all, thought the same, (the latter of course being the lawyers of Tory Secretary of State Alister Jack), for these Bills to reach Royal Assent stage.  All have been reminded that Holyrood is, indeed, closer to a council than a sovereign parliament, clearly a trapped vassal, which might come as a surprise to most at Holyrood.  

Recently I went to a Holyrood Magazine award ceremony, (I am not often around Holyrood) and was seated at a table with some convivial Labour and Tory MSPs.  What struck me about the event, is that all MSPs see themselves as parliamentarians in a proper parliament and vassals of no one.  Alas to paraphrase Dylan Thomas, “They sing in their chains like the sea”.

Now the Supreme Court has just reminded the Scottish Parliament that they have had clipped wings from the outset, as opposed to being the body that clipped their wings, as some construe the Court’s ruling.  The Court is the referee making judgements on the law as it stands. 

Therefore, the question arises, what will happen to a contentious Referendum Bill, where MSPs and 3 groups of lawyers will certainly not agree, with many voices convinced that this too is outside the powers of the Parliament.

Indeed, the SNP’s architect of the “11 Point Plan” for a referendum in this Scot Parliamentary term, incorporated a visit to the Supreme Court at Point 10, reaching Point 11 may well be a forlorn hope. I certainly would not bet on the Scottish Government managing to hold a referendum.

Some people in the only debate forum we have had in this area, Twitter, feel that any denial of a mandated referendum is riding roughshod over democracy, it may well be, and I have every sympathy, but such an opinion is not considering the vassal creature that is the Scottish Parliament. 

The Scottish Parliament looks to be no freer in organising a referendum on Scottish independence, than the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar might be to have a referendum for rescinding the 1266 Treaty of Perth and

return the Hebrides to Norway.  Either body, the council or the Scottish Parliament may get a mandate for something, but if it is not within their powers to deliver, they therefore cannot.

This is not to say all is lost for independence, it is just to say that a referendum is likely to be blocked regardless of the party in power in Scotland whether it be the SNP, Greens, Alba or the man in the moon. 

The flipside is that the Tory Government at Westminster are clearly very anxious that the Scottish people do not get asked on independence.  Hence, they will do all they can to prevent the Scottish people giving a verdict on the issue.  The best way the UK Government sees to achieve that end, is ensuring their vassal Scottish Parliament cannot hold a referendum, by blocking the asking of a question, because the answer could be problematic for them. If the Scottish people demonstrate a democratic desire for independence, this a problem for Tory Westminster does not want to arise.

Even with a referendum effectively ruled out, the Tories will still raise it as an issue not because it has a chance of happening but because it will keep their unionist voters twitchy and anxious, and the Tories hope they will continue to almost unthinkingly vote Tory for reasons of constitutional angst. 

If referendums are indeed to be blocked, due to lack of power at the Scottish Parliament, then the clever thing to do will be to use elections, in fact it will be the only ballot-box option left open. Elections also happen every 5 years which may console nationalists needlessly nervous of losing a referendum.

The alternative to a referendum on independence is not unthinkable – it is humdrum now!  Further we should not wallow in the “tranquilising drug of gradualism” as Martin Luther King might have cautioned.  For the good of society, national and international, we need an urgency in Scotland.

Some cynics may feel that sharp minds in the Scottish Government are quite aware the Referendum Bill will falter and hence there is no rush to push the Bill in Holyrood. Later disappointment is better than early disappointment from an activist management point of view. Who would want to face activists when pertinent warnings for a Plan B  have been wilfully ignored?

However, it must be dawning now on the few minds that were too thrawn to allow a debate on “Plan B” in the last few years, that now there is probably no other option but to use an election for independence.  It was quipped before the 2021 election that the 2026 election would be the 2021 election for slow learners. Let us hope that the 2031 election is not therefore the 2026 election for the most stubborn of slowest learners.  

Best we all get our heads around the simple fact that there likely will be no referendum before the next Scottish election, which for the purposes of a majority and the franchise, will be the next best independence opportunity.  

Independence needs the permission of the people and can neither be declared or indeed conversely denied by opposing sets of politicians.  There is always hope, with clever moves reacting to an opponent’s strategy and even a vassal parliament can pull off a checkmate, but only if we can capture the will of the people for independence in the ballot boxes of Scotland. 

As published in the Press & Journal on October 28th 2021: https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/politics/scottish-politics/3562209/angus-macneil-i-certainly-would-not-bet-on-the-scottish-government-managing-to-hold-a-referendum/

Angus MacNeil comments on HIAL & Prospect discussions update 

“It is good to see that HIAL and the union Prospect are moving towards the right outcome. It was certainly worth defending these airport jobs and I am pleased that political colleagues of all parties, across the Highlands and Islands, joined with myself and Alister Carmichael of Orkney and Shetland, to get the right decision with regards to island jobs.

“I am sure that Scottish Government Ministers will be delighted that the scrutiny from 5 political parties means savings of £2 million for them, each and every year, by keeping the jobs in the islands, rather than centralising in Inverness.  This is the right decision and I congratulate HIAL and the union Prospect, for their work. 

“This issue is too important for our communities; we need to maintain island jobs and that has also saved the Government’s purse.”

Additional vessel is a step in the right direction, says Isles MP

The addition of the vessel, MV Utne, to the Calmac fleet is a step in the right direction, says Isles MP Angus MacNeil.

“This is a welcome step in the right direction.”

Mr MacNeil welcomed the news that a deal has been reached to purchase a ferry for deployment on the Clyde and Hebrides network – a move that should relieve some of the current pressures on the network.

Deployment details will be confirmed by CalMac in due course, subject to the vessel achieving MCA certification and the completion of crew training and sea trials.  Engagement work is now underway with key stakeholders to develop detailed deployment, cascade and related timetables for the 2022 summer season.

Mr MacNeil said: “This is a welcome step in the right direction. The islands are popular and demand will keep growing but we also need a booking management system that gives different time-length opportunities for booking.”

The MV Utne has been earmarked for the Oban-Craignure route, and communities in Skye and the Western Isles will also benefit as a result of the cascade of vessels elsewhere on the network.

Isles MP meets with WICAS on the impact of the Universal Credit cut on island claimants

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil met with representatives from Western Isles Citizens Advice Service (WICAS) this week to discuss the impact of the cut to Universal Credit uplift on island claimants.

Mr MacNeil has already written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Riki Sunak MP urging the UK Government to retain the £20 uplift which has been a lifeline to more than 1,500 people in the Western Isles who have been claiming Universal Credit throughout the pandemic.

He also supported an Opposition Day Parliamentary Motion to cancel the cut, which was backed, but will not, unfortunately, prevent the UK Government from going ahead with the cut.

He said: “This week’s meeting with representatives from WICAS was extremely helpful in identifying the real daily impact that this cut will have on people who are already struggling financially. It is not right that so many people are kept on the edge of financial stress due to warped Tory money ideology.  The physical, mental and social well-being of too many people is impacted by the UK Government’s policy of keeping people in poverty.

“The whole WICAS team work extremely hard to provide key support and advice to those most in need.  They have also helped to bring in an incredible total of at least £870,000 to the Western Isles economy in the last year, a figure with a likely high multiplier effect.

“The team tell me that money is the main issue being raised with them by members of the community and the UK Government is about to make this worse.

“I will continue to press the UK Government to retain the uplift, although it seems unlikely they will back down.”

Hector Macleod, Western Isles Citizens Advice Service (WICAS) said: “WICAS are currently dealing with a sharp increase in contact from individuals with debt related issues, and are braced for a further wave of calls from clients when the £20 uplift of Universal Credit is withdrawn at the end of September.

“By the very nature of the uplift and subsequent withdrawal of this additional benefit, it will be the poorest in our society who will be affected most. WICAS call on all elected representatives to lobby the Government, and ask them to reconsider the removal of this crucial support and consider the impact on those most affected.”

In August 2021 there were 1,530 people on Universal Credit in Na h-Eileanan an Iar. 9.6% of the working-age population of the constituency (those aged 16-65).

In July, 632 people on Universal Credit in Na h-Eileanan an Iar were in employment, 41.3% of the total number on UC in the constituency.

The SNP have repeatedly called on the UK to make the uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits permanent and to extend an equivalent uplift to people claiming legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers Allowance.

The UK Government confirmed the uplift to Universal Credit will be withdrawn at the end of September, just as the furlough scheme ends, and the OBR expects UK unemployment levels to peak.

Angus MacNeil MP had a virtual meeting with WICAS this week.

Isles MP writes urgently to the Ministry of Defence on disruption to GPS systems during military exercise

Angus MacNeil MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar has written urgently to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) seeking an immediate review of the current system of notification to the fishing industry of Naval exercises which require the Global Positioning System (GPS) to be disrupted.

Mr MacNeil was contacted by the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association (WIFA) who informed him of incidents in recent days when vessels in the Minch had received a less than 30 minute warning that GPS would be jammed leading to extreme disruption and potential danger.

NATO exercises Joint Warrior 21-2 and Dynamic Mariner 21 have been taking place on the west coast this week.

In a letter to the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace MP, Angus MacNeil said:

“I would urge you to review the current practice of advance notification to the fishing industry prior to the commencement of exercises when GPS or any other systems need to be disrupted.

“A less than 30 minute warning that GPS will be jammed is extremely disruptive and dangerous to the fishing industry and other marine users.

“It is vital that they are fully aware of times of jamming, at least 48 hours before, to enable the fishing industry to plan future commercial fishing operations safely to avoid seabed obstructions which could result in injury to crew or damage to the vessel if the vessel gets caught in any obstruction.

“I am asking for urgent clarification of future intentions for blocking GPS or any other systems for the duration of this joint exercise.”

Duncan Macinnes, Secretary of WIFA said: “It’s totally unacceptable for the fishing industry being issued with a navigation warning that their GPS is being jammed within the next 30 minutes.

“This short notice presents a significant risk to vessels relying on GPS for avoiding underwater obstructions whilst they are towing and could result in vessels becoming entangled in obstructions that could result in injuries to crew or damage to vessels if their gear becomes entangled in obstructions.

“We welcome the prompt response of Angus MacNeil, MP, in raising this matter with the MOD so that proper procedures for notification of jamming GPS are issued well in advance of any future MOD exercises.”

Isles MP supports last minute strive to retain Universal Credit uplift

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil this week backed a Parliamentary Motion to cancel the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit – a change that will directly affect more than 1500 island residents.

In an Opposition Day debate in the Houses of Parliament, Mr MacNeil voted along with his SNP colleagues and other parties, while Conservative members abstained.

The results of the vote are non-binding and so the UK Government will now proceed to end the £20 a week uplift which has been a lifeline to 400 families with over 700 children in the Western Isles during the pandemic.

Mr MacNeil has written to the Chancellor the Exchequer Rishi Sunak urging a rethink and is due to meet with Western Isles Citizens Advice Service (WICAS) later this month to discuss this situation further.

He stated: “It is disappointing that although the motion to prevent the end of the Universal Credit uplift was backed, it will not prevent the UK Government from going ahead with the cut.

“Ending the uplift will effectively mean a pay cut for low paid workers and some of the poorest families and vulnerable children are about to have household income slashed.

“I will continue to press the UK Government to rethink and make the uplift permanent to prevent more families being plunged into poverty.”