53rd Edition

Monday 20th February

Monday morning, and I'm on the train to London. It will be a long week this week. Meanwhile, my column appears in The National newspaper every Monday. This week it's on new banking options for the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Photo: The National
There are options for troubled RBS in Scotland following independence

HERE’S a sobering thought: when Scotland becomes independent – hopefully in very short order – the nation’s banking system will be dominated by RBS. Much effort has gone into turning RBS around since its near-death experience in 2008. However, in all those years the bank has failed to make a profit, racking up a cumulative loss in excess of £50bn.

Given the bank remains in public ownership, and there seems little likelihood anyone will want to buy it any time soon, it is only prudent we should have a plan for Scotland’s second oldest financial institution. More to the point, how can we turn a liability into an opportunity?

You can read all of my column HERE

Back at Westminster after a week’s recess, it's a busy day. First up was a meeting with Andrew Bester, Chief Executive, Lloyds Commercial Banking & Stephen Pegge, their External Relations Director, to discuss the fallout of the court case concerning HBOS (now owned by Lloyds).

Its division in Reading handled small businesses which were forced, wrongly, into administration and then asset stripped. We discussed other possible such cases and their plans for compensation. I was pleased that they promised “input and insight” for the inquiry being organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Fair Business Banking, which I chair.

After that I met the Simply Health Managing Director, Mark Hamson,  regarding their work in East Lothian. Then, because I was summing up for the SNP on a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the London Stock Exchange I then met with their Director of Government Relations, Xavier Solano, to hear their point of view.

Finally, again in my role as chair of the APPG on Fair Business Banking I met with Rebecca McNeil, CEO of Barclays Business Banking.

I and a large number of my constituents have signed the e-petition against the State Visit of Donald Trump to Britain so I later attended the Westminster Hall Debate on that petition. It was very crowded, reflecting the feeling regarding this visit and there was a large demonstration against it in Parliament Square.

I spent the evening catching up with my correspondence.

Tuesday 21st February

In the morning I attended the Treasury Select Committee, which questioned Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane  and two Members of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, Ian McCafferty and Dr Gertjan Vliegh, on their recent Inflation Report.

You can watch the Committee’s proceedings HERE
In the afternoon I summed up for the SNP in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the London Stock Exchange.

You can watch that HERE

Wednesday 22nd February

I was delighted to meet with the East Lothian delegates from Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme who were on a visit to Westminster. Here I am with Nick, Russel and Angus, all farmers. Another, Chris, was watching Prime Minister’s Questions after I had secured him a ticket. There was not enough time to discuss all the issues and concerns we shared so I am arranging a further meeting in East Lothian.

Then, in my capacity as Chair of the APPG on Fair Business Banking I had a profitable discussion with Caroline Wayman, CEO of the Financial Ombudsman Service.

In the late afternoon I introduced a Westminster Hall debate, which I had initiated, on the activities of Cerberus Capital Management, an American private equity firm, specializing in "distressed investing,” buying up “bad debts.” The Cameron government sold £13bn of dodgy loans made by Northern Rock to Cerberus, an American company, in the run up to the financial crisis of 2007. It has been accused of asset stripping.

You can watch the debate HERE
I was glad to see the London Evening Standard report the debate, commenting:

“The US giant, the largest buyer of distressed debt in Europe, came under fire in a Westminster Hall debate this week after questions emerged over its treatment of customers and tax arrangements. The Wall Street investor has faced scrutiny since it snapped up the £13 billion Northern Rock loan book from the government in 2015.

 “SNP MP George Kerevan took aim at the Wall Street fund, accusing it of using “prohibitively expensive” fees to stop business customers refinancing their loans with rival lenders.”

You can read the full article HERE

Thursday 23rd February

My weekly column in the Courier comes out on Thursdays. This week it was on my activities during the February parliamentary recess - or rather, half-term.
Today I managed to attend to parliamentary and constituency business. A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the use of microbeads, which are damaging our environment as well as causing a potential health hazard for children.

Microbeads are tiny microplastic ingredients that are added to a huge variety of products but cause havoc in our oceans. Many of these products – such as face washes, industrial cleaning products, and make-up - are routinely washed down the drain, where these microplastics can endanger marine life, potentially ending up in the food chain and on our plates.

Although the government have said they’re in favour of a ban, I’m concerned that what's being proposed does not cover all products that contain microplastic ingredients, and therefore won’t provide the protections for the marine environment that are needed.

I'm pleased to report that my SNP colleagues and I are pursuing this in the UK Parliament.

Friday 24th February

On Friday I'm usually in East Lothian for advice surgeries and visits to constituents. But today I had to be at Westminster as the SNP issued a three line whip to vote in favour of a bill to combat domestic violence and force the government to ratify the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women proposed by my SNP colleague, Dr. Eilidh Whiteford MP. Almost all the SNP MPs were out in force to give it our support,

After Eilidh introduced her bill a Tory MP, Philip Davies, spoke for 91 minutes in an attempt to block a vote in favour. He and his friends also introduced 50 wrecking amendments. This is despite the fact that their leader, Theresa May, expressed her support for the bill at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Fortunately we were able to call a vote and the bill was passed. A proud moment for Eilidh and the SNP.

Sadly, I missed the memorial service for Tam Dalyell. A great man, and a friend for many years.
Saturday 25th February
Up early, and I managed to cram a few meetings into the day.

First to the Johnnie Cope in Prestonpans to meet Andrew Stevenson, who is planning to turn it into a community centre with the help of his brother Arron, and the landlord, Paul Kane, who is right behind him. This is a great building - a 1930's roadhouse like the  Maybury, or The White House in Craigmillar, which has been successfully converted for community use. Andrew, an experienced youth worker, is already cleaning and redecorating it with the help of his young patrons, who also help run the cafe.

It's recently been gifted two snooker tables, one of which was used by German prisoners-of-war during the Second World War. The other came out of the Fire College in Gullane, with a team of volunteers who reassembled it on site.

What Andrew needs now is help with writing a Business Plan which will guarantee Paul some income, and I agreed to pull together a few people to help him. Here are Paul, Andrew, Arron and I trying out the green baize.
On to Haddington Farmers' Market for lunchtime pies.

Then to East Linton to meet up with Cllr. Paul McLennan, who wanted to talk to me about the interminable delays in reinstating the railway station.

It's a sad story: the Scottish Government has raised its contribution twice since I met with Transport Minister Humza Yousaf last summer, and will now cover 60% of the costs. Unfortunately, East Lothian Council refused to match this generous offer even though it is sitting on an underspend of £5 million this financial year, and also has substantial reserves.

To match the Scottish Government funding the Council would only have had to pay out an additional £1 million, which they could easily afford. But they refused – and the project is on hold again, maybe for another five years, maybe more. This shows a serious lack of vision.

And of course I picked up the weekend meat shop from Linton Butchers while I was there, including some award-winning sausages for Sunday breakfast.
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