21st Edition
July 12th, 2016

Monday 4th July

Monday morning and I'm on the train to London for the first week at Westminster following the vote to quit the EU.  On Mondays my regular column appears in The National Newspaper. 
Photo: The National
George Kerevan: Let’s make sure the numbers are right when indyref2 comes

TO secure a majority for Scottish independence, the second time around, we need to find convincing answers to a number of questions. And find those answers in the next 30 months or so, before we are dragged out of the EU against Scotland’s wishes. Let me lay out the areas where we need to put forward bold solutions. Note: I’m not offering definitive answers here – that’s beyond my pay grade – merely ring-fencing where research has to be focused.

First: will the EU let an independent Scotland back in, post a UK Brexit? Certainly Spain’s current premier, Mariano Rajoy, has a habit of casting doubt over a Scottish entry. However, a close textural reading of his latest pronouncement – while rejecting separate talks with Scotland as part of the UK’s Brexit negotiations – leaves open the door to our eventual membership as an independent nation. As always, Rajoy is more concerned with resisting Catalan separation from the Spanish state than with Scotland itself. But Europe has bigger problems and these will ensure a warm welcome for an independent Scotland.

The Little Englander orientation of the Brexiteers could fatally compromise Europe’s peace and security. Firstly, because it has given momentum to Europe’s neo-fascist and populist right, which wants to kill off the EU and its democratic values. Witness the re-run of the election for the Austrian presidency, which now could propel an anti-EU, neo-racist candidate into that office. Secondly, by creating uncertainty for years to come, Brexit undermines the security of the Nordic and Baltic countries when faced with the Mafia-style politics of Vladimir Putin in their neighbourhood. In this dangerously fluid situation, Scotland’s positive orientation to Europe will find favour with our Continental partners. Besides, our strategic geographical position in the North Atlantic makes us key players and necessary allies of the Nordic and Baltic countries.

You can read the full article here

On Monday afternoon, following the weekly SNP Treasury Team meeting, where we discussed the economic and financial implications of Brexit in Scotland, I went to the Chamber to listen to Mrs. May's ministerial team's comments on the future of the approximately millions of EU citizens living and working in this country.

At the time of the debate, the then front runner of the Tory leadership contest and now Prime Minister-in-waiting had not been able to guarantee these people, who contribute day in and day out to the UK economy, an unequivocal right to stay. It is a bit ironic to see that Mrs May is planning on using the lives of these citizens as bargaining chips in the negotiation with her European counterparts, given that the UK is the EU country which has the highest number of its citizens living abroad .

Read the article here

Tuesday 5th July

On Tuesday morning, I went to the breakfast briefing organised by the New Economic Foundation in partnership with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

The briefing was the opportunity for Ozlem Onaran, Professor of Economics at the University of Greenwich to present the main findings of a reject project she carried out with the NEF which was entitled "Working the Economy".

The executive summary and the main findings of the research summary are available here 
Later that morning, I went to the weekly meeting of the Treasury Select Committee for a hearing on the the UK’s future economic relationship with the European Union.

Our four witnesses were Professor Michael Dougan, from the University of Liverpool, Dr Robin Niblett CMG, Director of Chatham House, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, former UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and Raoul Ruparel, Co-Director, Open Europe.

You can watch the session here :
On Tuesday night I went to a meeting organised by Compass to gather post- Brexit supporters of a progressive alliance. Among the speakers were Tommy Sheppard MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Clive Lewis MP, John Harris Guardian journalist, Aminca Gichinga from "Take back the City" and Vince Cable, former Business Secretary.

Wednesday 6th July

On Wednesday morning, I joined the vigil organised by Stop the War Coalition and other pacific organisations in front of the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, on the day of the publication of the Chilcot report. I had the opportunity to speak to the crowd and reassure them that my colleagues and I in Parliament will make the best use of our scrutiny powers to hold accountable those responsible for what was Britain's worst foreign policy episodes since WWII.

Following the protest, I went to the Chamber to listen to the Prime Minister's statement on the Chilcot report and the following debate. Alex Salmond, former Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, made a particular powerful speech in response to the PM's statement.  
Following the debate in the chamber, I had the opportunity to meet privately with the British ambassadors to the Middle East, including Morocco, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Libya. Scottish MPs meet regularly with the UK's diplomatic staff to exchange information and views.

Thursday 7th July

On Thursdays my weekly column appears in the East Lothian Courier. Scroll down on the right to read it. This week I focuses on the outcomes of the European Referendum vote.
On Thursday, I met with business and banking leaders in the City to discuss the implications of the Brexit vote and the work of the Treasury Select Committee.

As a constituency MP, I am always keen to engage in conversations with the local business community in East Lothian. I have sent a letter to our main business leaders in the county to bring them up to date on the Brexit vote and seek their views on the way forward. 


Friday 8th July

Today we celebrated the bicentenary of Musselburgh Racecourse, with the Queen and Prince Philip in attendance. I wished her luck with the horses she had running, but she had no great hopes for them.

It's such a great story – that in 1816 the Musselburgh town council of the time was so forward-thinking that it offered the links for horse-racing, which then moved permanently from Leith to Musselburgh. I’m so impressed that Musselburgh Racecourse is still on its original site, one of the few, and still in the hands of the local council. It is a significant tourist attraction for East Lothian, and I hope that my efforts to establish an All-Party Group at Westminster,  Friends of Scottish Racing, will raise its profile.

More importantly, the replacement for the Horserace Betting Levy next year by a system which will actually benefit the racecourses, should ensure that 2017 will be an even better year for Scottish racing, allowing Musselburgh Racecourse to continue to invest further in the visitor experience. It’s absolutely imperative that we close the loophole which currently allows some operators to avoid making any contribution to the sport from the increasing amount of remote and offshore betting.

Saturday 9th July

This was a busy day, starting in Dunbar, where I'd kindly been invited to the informal launch of The Backlands Project.  Here The Ridge is in the process of regenerating the overgrown areas accessed from the High Street via Garden Lane. Managing Director Kate Darrah introduced Paul Zochowski, Principal Planning Officer for East Lothian Council, who gave a fascinating history of the backlands, originally vegetable gardens for the tenements in the High Street, and spaces where pigs could be reared.

I am honestly amazed at how much has been achieved since I was last here, a few months ago. It was a wilderness. Now the first garden is almost complete, its walls rebuilt, a polytunnel, raised beds and sheds installed, and the ground already producing salad, radishes and courgettes. What really impresses me is the way that The Ridge is involving the wider community in the process. The garden is wheelchair-accessible, and people who have little experience of employment are learning valuable skills.

The Ridge is collaborating with North Light Arts, so that this year’s John Muir Artist-in-Residence, Kathy Beckett, has been running workshops to develop ideas for the garden, and her planting plans are on show there. The wool she has dyed with natural plants is being crocheted into flowers by North Light Arts director, Susie Goodwin, to raise funds for the Backlands Project.

Emerging from Garden Lane on to Dunbar High Street, I decided to drop into the Found Gallery to look at their exhibition of Nicole Stevenson's luminous paintings. I found the owners, Simon Glover and Amy Christie, celebrating its fifth birthday, offering customers Prosecco and a cake specially commissioned from next-door neighbours the 1650 Coffee Shop, and wished them all success for the next five years.

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Having picked up the bread for the weekend from The Bakery, I went on to Archerfield for Hops in the Garden, the all-day fund-raiser for Leuchie House.  It was in full swing when I arrived, even though Barbara Dickson wasn't expected for another five hours. The brainchild of a surgeon at the Western General, the programme of music, Knops Brewery beer, Thistly Cross cider and other local delights in The Walled Garden was proving a winning combination, with Mairi O'Keefe giving guests a warm welcome.

 The Walled Garden was proving to be an ideal venue, offering a huge stage, lots of standing room in front of it and a comfortable seating area in the marquee. I was tempted to stay on for the dancing. It looked as if Leuchie House was on its way to raising a substantial amount towards its running costs. Let’s hope that Hops in the Garden will become an annual event. Certainly, I would be back next year.
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