May 23rd, 2016

Monday 16th May

Monday morning and I'm on the train to London for another week at Westminster.  On Mondays my regular column appears in The National Newspaper. Today I'm writing about the EU Referendum and the civil war in the Conservative Party. Being at Westminster, I see the two warring factions attack each other every day. 

Photo : Reuters

George Kerevan: Why the Tories are likely to implode even if the Remain campaigners win
IN one sense the outcome of the EU referendum has already been settled: the British Conservative Party is irrevocably split. The only thing that could save matters is a decisive win by the Remainians, led by David Cameron and George Osborne.

However, polls suggest that outcome is highly unlikely and that any vote to remain inside the EU will be a narrow one. In which case, the politically poisonous legacy of Cameron's Project Fear campaign against the Leave campaigners will continue to eat away at Tory unity. There is even talk in Westminster that Cameron's days as Tory leader are numbered, whichever way the referendum cookie crumbles next month.

How has it come to this pass a mere 12 months after David Cameron and side-kick George Osborne won their unexpected victory in the General Election? Walk the corridors of the Palace of Westminster and you will find two quite antagonistic Tory parties. One is the pro-big business, pro-big banks grouping led by Cameron and his heir apparent, George Osborne. The other is a rising English nationalist movement, so far lacking a clear voice of leadership, that sees the need to create a new political project south of the Border.

You can read the full article here.

Tuesday 17th May

56 students from North Berwick High School visited Parliament on Tuesday. We arranged a workshop for them with the Education staff, and then they put me on the spot at a question-and-answer session in the Jubilee Room, just off Westminster Hall. I was impressed by the range and depth of their knowledge. There were definitely some budding politicians present.

Later that day, I met with my SNP colleagues in the Treasury Team to discuss our Alternative Queen's Speech prior to the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday.

Wednesday 18th May

Today was the State Opening of Parliament. All the Scottish MPs wore white roses, as they did last year.

Following the Queen's speech the new session of Parliament began, with a first debate on the merits of the government's rather thin legislative agenda.

In the evening I attended the annual CBI Dinner where I was a guest of the Scottish Whisky Association, who expressed their concerns about Brexit.  Of course, in East Lothian we have the famous Glenkinchie distillery, which I have visited.

Thursday 19th May

On Thursdays my weekly column appears in the East Lothian Courier. This week I wrote about the Queen's Speech and the disaster that is the new Universal Credit benefit system. I've already held emergency meetings with local agencies in an attempt to protect local people being put at a disadvantage by Universal Credits. 
On Thursday I also wrote  to Muirfield Golf Club (a.k.a the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers) to express my outrage and extreme disappointment after the announcement that the club will maintain its policy of not accepting female members.

This utterly selfish move sends entirely the wrong message to the rest of the world about our county, as well as undermining years of collective effort and public support to attract visitors to Scotland's historic "golf coast".

I urged them to hold a second ballot. 

I also tabled an Early Day Motion on this issue, which received cross-party support.


"That this House condemns the decision by the all-male Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield Golf Club, to vote to continue to exclude women from full membership; notes that while a majority of members did support a change to the club's rules, regrettably a small minority was able to block the two-thirds vote required to admit female members; further notes that as a result of this retrograde step, the sport's governing body, the R&A at St Andrews, has said that Muirfield will no longer be eligible to host the Open Championship; further condemns this decision for sending entirely the wrong message to the rest of the world regarding Scottish society, as well as undermining years of collective effort and public support to attract visitors to Scotland's historic golf coast in East Lothian; condemns the decision for signalling to women that their interest in golf is being discouraged, while it sends a very wrong message to young men about treating women as equals; calls on the club to continue internal discussions and hold a second ballot to allow full membership to everyone regardless of sex; and calls on the Sports Ministers of the UK and devolved administrations to boycott future events held at Muirfield until this happens."
I took a train back to Scotland following the debate on the Queen's Speech on Thursday. As usual, I used the train journey to look at constituents' cases and respond to some of the dozens of letters my office receives every week.


Friday 20th May

Friday began early with a trip to the BBC studios in Edinburgh to discuss Muirfield Golf Club's decision again on 'Good Morning Scotland'. The more pressure the better.
Later, in between meetings with constituents at the office, I met representatives of the Dunbar Fishermens' Association at McArthur's Store, the 18th century harbour building which has been lovingly restored by Dunbar Harbour Trust for storage and community use. We discussed among other things the minimum landing sizes for crab and lobster being proposed by the Scottish Government, and I will be writing to the new Minister, Fergus Ewing, to support their recommendations. It was a beautiful day in Dunbar.


Saturday 21st May

I spent this afternoon at the Big Nature Festival on Levenhall Links, where an industrial site has been transformed into a wildlife sanctuary, attracting a rich variety of birds and insects. Large flocks of waders (especially oyster catchers), gulls and ducks roost in the area, which is the only roost between Cramond and Aberlady.

This is the second year running that the RSPB have held the Festival here, and it is a perfect venue. I was delighted to meet up with local Councillor Stuart Currie, and Ruth Currie, who is a wonderful caseworker at our office in Haddington. Then I went on to explore the different activities on offer. There was a good show of East Lothian produce, so I bought Dunbar Bakery bread, delicious mustard made by The Spice Witch in Prestonpans, and am planning to experiment with Knops Beer Company's new Riding of the Marches beer.  

I also met the folk who will be taking me out on a Seabird Cruise to the Bass Rock next Thursday, and ended the day by buying a painting from Haddington-based wildlife artist Darren Woodhead, an outstanding painter of seabirds.

Sunday 22nd May

I spent the morning working on papers for tomorrow's Treasury Select Committee. We have commissioned a report on the consequences of leaving or staying in the European Union, and it runs to 120 pages.

But the afternoon brought a real treat for Angela and myself: cruising off Musselburgh with members of the Fisherrow Sailing Club, while helping the Royal Yachting Association Scotland publicise the benefits of sailing for young people. Apparently there are 50,000 boat owners in Scotland, and some of the best cruising locations in the world. Including Fisherrow.