Monday, 30 November 2009

Political credibility relies on displaying good judgement

At a time when politics and politicians are widely discredited it is vital that those seeking to rebuild the reputation of politics demonstrate good judgement in order to prove to the electorate that they are capable of representing them honestly.

I met up with Jackson Carlaw MSP and Bill Aitken MSP yesterday with every intention of taking part in the STUC's march and rally against racism in Scotland. Make no mistake, after our participation in the impromptu march against the BNP a fortnight ago, Scottish Conservatives are more than willing to stand up and be counted in the political coalition against racism. However, on our arrival in St Andrews Square it became apparent to us that many of those attending had their own very personal agendas that had little to do with protesting against racism in Scotland.

In particular my comment relates to a banner displayed for all to see at the front of St Andrews Square stating "Boycott Racist Israel" (seen being carried as part of the march between 1 minute 8 seconds and 1 minute 11 seconds of the STV news item at This had nothing to do with the advertised purpose of yesterday's march and rally, as explained in the glossy literature distributed by the STUC to political parties and community organisations, and has everything to do with a political agenda pursued by people who are far from engaged in seeking peace between an Israeli state able to live within secure borders and a viable Palestinian state. Indeed it is often possible to directly link this sort of public statement to anti-Semitic activities in the UK by the minority of mindless idiots who pursue hate based on the Jewish religion or the existence of the State of Israel.

So without hesitation Jackson, Bill and I decided that participation in yesterday's march and rally was inappropriate as it would fail to register our objection to this banner and the sentiment it expressed.

Imagine then our astonishment as we watched the Secretary of State for Scotland and the General Secretary of the STUC set off on the march not 6 feet from, and with a clear view of, this banner - for me an astonishing lack of judgement from the Member of Parliament who represents the largest Jewish community in Scotland.

And that is not the only demonstration of a lack of judgement from our erstwhile MP over the past week.

The Internet is a wonderful forum for communication but must, as with the electorate, be treated with respect.

Today we find that Jim Murphy has had to remove comments from his website after receiving a letter informing him that if he did not remove the item, or if he repeats the claim made in it, he will face defamation action, (read more at

By making statements about your opposition that are untrue all you do is bring politics into further disrepute and the claims Mr. Murphy was making about a split between Tories on schools admission policy could not have been further from the truth.

The truth is you will not find any difference between Conservatives on the issue of St Ninians admission policy. We believe the Council, with a view to future expansion of East Renfrewshire, is right to redraw the catchment area and that this should preserve the principle of East Renfrewshire schools first and foremost for East Renfrewshire residents children. After all it is the East Renfrewshire council taxpayer who paid for the school to be built and who pay for it to be maintained. So committed to this position are we that we included this issue as part of a full page advert in this weeks Eastwood Today before Mr Murphy's claim was made.

But instead of stating his own position, so that the electorate can judge him accordingly, we found East Renfrewshire's MP claiming a split by deliberately misattributing a statement made by Paul McBride QC who represents the Conservative Party in Scotland on law and order issues.

Far from having stated it was "completely unacceptable" to redraw catchment boundaries Paul actually used the words in relation to the way the consultation exercise has been instigated and conducted having been asked for his professional opinion on the facts. Paul is senior counsel to a number of Scotland's newspapers and his opinion, as well as that of another non-partisan QC who has reviewed the legality of the Council's position, is that the process has not been conducted in line with our Council's own policies and guidelines and that this has left the Council taxpayer of East Renfrewshire exposed to potential financial loss. Paul's concern is that consultation should be fair and that the taxpayer should not be asked to waste money settling expensive legal action where it is entirely predictable and avoidable. East Renfrewshire Council has already had to back down on one Court of Session action and I am informed settled legal costs at our expense. This is surely unacceptable at a time when our Council is having to look for voluntary redundancies and COSLA are warning of even deeper cuts and financial hardship to come.

So let's be clear, Conservatives support the case for redrawing catchment boundaries for St Ninians in anticipation of East Renfrewshire's increased population as developments like Greenlaw are built and inhabited but this must be done properly and it would be "completely unacceptable" if this was done by exposing the Council taxpayer of East Renfrewshire to financial loss.

Demonstrating good judgement in the way we live our lives and in the campaigns we fight is the only way for politicians to excite and reengage the public we seek to serve. I hope to demonstrate I am ready to serve the people of East Renfrewshire by the decisions I take and the campaigns I fight. Whether the same can be said for my principle opponent only time will tell, but until then I think the evidence of his lack of judgement is clear for all to see.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

No place for racism or fascism in Scotland

A few Sundays ago I was invited, at short notice, to attend a meeting of the Muslim Council of Scotland to discuss what action, if any, right minded individuals should take to protest against a meeting of the racist a fascist English and Scottish Defence Leagues in Glasgow on 14th November. While some elder members of the community felt there should be no counter demonstration, in order to avoid any conflict, it quickly became apparent that a counter demonstration could not be avoided and that Scotland United Against Fascism and Racism would hold a rally and march in Glasgow that day.

Looking at the list of participants, and understanding they would be supplemented by elements from far left politics, it was with some apprehension that I asked organisers for a speaking slot for the Conservative Party. To my delight they agreed immediately as they understood the need for all main political parties to unite in opposition to the politics of hate and division.

So, on Saturday Annabel Goldie MSP, Jackson Carlaw MSP and I attended the Scotland United rally in Glasgow Green. Annabel spoke from the platform alongside Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Mohammad Sarwar MP and Robert Brown MSP - as well as speakers from the Church of Scotland, the STUC and many other organisations from across the UK.

To say Annabel spoke with great passion, following our success in beating the BNP in the Glasgow North East By-Election despite the predictions of just about every pundit on the night, would be to do her a great disservice. She was, in my humble opinion, brilliant. Scotland and the United Kingdom are a great place because we are tolerant of each other, respect our differences and work together to make our communities better.

For me, one lesson for politicians is that individuals and communities seem to have been able to demonstrate this cohesion better than our political parties are able to articulate it.

Marching along Clyde Street, up Jamaica Street, along Argyle Street and then up Queen Street into George Square alongside 3,000 people was a terrific experience. Young and old; black, white, brown and every shade in between; Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh and those of no faith at all - we all marched to the beat of a band of drummers and showed the good in Scotland, while at the top of the town around 80 racist, bigoted thugs were escorted to the City boundaries by Strathclyde's finest and told not to return.

There is no place for racism, fascism and bigotry in Scotland and it is now for political parties to conduct an open and honest debate about our collective failures on policy that have given people a reason to turn to the BNP. While the number of people voting BNP remains relatively small none of us should accept as much as one vote for these people.

My own anecdotal evidence from campaigning in Glasgow North East is that in part people looked to vote BNP to register their displeasure at immigration policy and that this concern about economic migration was not solely directed at people with a different skin colour or religion. I found a number of people concerned at an influx of workers from eastern European countries in an often misguided belief they are "taking our jobs".

No one would like to see our homegrown talent in work more than me. The sad reality is that in many cases domestic workers are not prepared to take low paid roles in less attractive industries and that without some economic migration to fulfil job vacancies our economy would suffer.

In the recent edition of Question Time that featured Nick Griffin a member of the audience asked Jack Straw whether the rise of the BNP was in part due to a failure in immigration policy by the current Labour government. Mr. Straw chose to say he did not believe this was the case when every other objective political commentator would conclude it is not only the case it is the primary reason for their success. The truth is that it is not only Labour who have failed on immigration but it is down to them that the past 12 years has given rise to a belief our borders are like an open door and that people move in and out of our country unchecked.

If you want to know the real truth about the BNP you can find it on You Tube. They would like you to believe they are patriots looking after their own but the truth is they are actually preoccupied by the colour of skin and the religion you follow. From Holocaust denial to compulsory repatriation based on the colour of your skin. If you do even the most basic web search you will find the evidence for yourself.

Last Saturday I was proud to stand up against the BNP, and its offshoots, and to claim the streets of Glasgow, Scotland and the United Kingdom for the law abiding majority who just want to live in peace. For us all to beat the BNP we need to be able to debate issues like immigration in a mature and responsible way and without any fear of being accused of being racist. Our country has so much to offer and that is why people from across the world chose to come here. But, as an island nation, we need to manage our resources wisely if everyone is to get a fair chance to achieve their potential. That is the task in hand for politicians of all our major political parties as we move towards the British General Election - it is a challenge I for one relish and a responsibility I am happy to take on.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

It's time for individuals to tackle the MP expenses fiasco to restore faith in politics and politicians

It is all to easy for MPs and candidates to sit back and wait for independent reports on the future of MP expenses. The reality is this is just an excuse for some not to take personal responsibility and start acting in a way the public finds acceptable.

David Cameron has made it clear every Conservative MP will have to conform to a standard higher than that currently imposed by House of Commons authorities. I am happy to go along with this and to go further so that the people of East Renfrewshire can have faith that if they elect a Conservative MP the highest levels of probity will be adhered to in their name.


1) I will publish online details of all my personal expenses incurred as a Member of Parliament

2) I will publish online details of all my office expenses incurred as a Member of Parliament

3) I will publish online details of all donations of more than £1,000, in line with Electoral Commission rules

4) I will appoint a local firm of auditors to approve expense accounts at the end of every financial year and publish their report in an Annual Report produced and distributed at no cost to the taxpayer

5) I will provide unedited copies of all expense claims to local newspapers at the end of every financial year

6) I will never claim for food

7) My first home will always be in East Renfrewshire where I live with my wife and baby boy

8) I will never claim for furniture or household goods

9) I will meet all tax liabilities - such as Stamp Duty - without claiming them from the taxpayer

This very simple nine point plan represents a new way of thinking at Westminster and would place East Renfrewshire at the forefront of the public's demand for change.

The UK Parliament is known around the world as the "mother of all parliaments" and we must restore public faith in our parliament at home if we are to be treated seriously abroad. So let's get on and effect change by having a General Election so that the public can pass judgement on a tired and directionless regime. The job of candidates is to ensure we give them a real choice as to what type of politics, and politician, they want to represent them in future.