Please enjoy reading my blogs about areas of interest.
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The old UK parties, Tory, Labour and Lib Dems, have reconciled themselves to life outside the EU, regardless of any damage being inflicted. None are arguing for a future in the EU anymore. That is a huge contrast with the much more outward looking SNP. We want Independence in Europe.
Consider recent events. Just over three short months ago on Christmas Eve, 2020, the UK and the EU concluded a Trade and Cooperation Agreement regulating their future trading relationship. What have been the consequences? Here are a few highlights.
Exporters of goods now face a hard customs and regulatory border between the EU and the UK. A recent estimate suggests that the extra red tape could cost Scottish businesses well over £1 billion a year.
Those that follow the debate will know too that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement has created a customs border in the middle of the Irish sea, creating additional problems for businesses that trade with Northern Ireland.
The movement of people has been constrained. Scots and EU citizens no longer have the right to go to the other’s territory to work and live there on the same basis as before. Piecemeal visa-waiver arrangements and national right-to-work rules are now in force. UK professional services providers, such as doctors, engineers and architects, have lost their ability to automatically work in the EU; they must have their qualifications recognized in each EU member state where they want to work. Scotland needs to be open and attract many professional and skilled people. The UK is shutting the door.
Significantly, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement does not include meaningful provisions for trade in services, which make up some 80% of the economy. Scotland has a long history of providing financial services globally. It is now caught up in the UK’s Brexit mess. We are already losing jobs and investment to the EU. Even before January 2021, Ernst and Young estimated UK banks had shifted well over £1 trillion in assets and sovereign debt trading to cities such as Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Milan.
Thousands of jobs have already been moved to various EU cities such as Dublin, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam.
The UK’s Office for Budget responsibility has claimed the immediate cost to the UK of lost access to the EU will be about 1% of national income. Over 15 years, it also estimates Brexit will leave us facing a further 4% loss of potential gross domestic product compared to what would have been by remaining an EU member. These official estimates are thought by some experts to be overly optimistic!
Scotland has a choice. Join me in making that choice for jobs and investment in Scotland. Make it Michelle Thomson for Falkirk East.
Politicians are regularly bombarded by requests to sign up for one cause or another, by a huge variety of campaigning groups. There are so many good causes, it is not possible to effectively support them all.
Although I have a particular interest in supporting causes in the local community, it does not mean my eyes are shut to more global issues. Some causes are very well known and attract lots of funding, but there are too less well known causes that are no less deserving.
In September 2015 I attended a short debate in the Westminster parliament. It wasn’t a debate brought forward by the government or any of the opposition parties, so the attendance was sparse: less that 10 MPs if memory serves me correctly. The Speaker had agreed to give a colleague a 90-minute debate on the topic of “The use of children as suicide bombers”.
It was a harrowing experience. I learned a lot about the scale of the problem worldwide, and I also learned about the aftermath of violence, and how little support was given to the humanitarian issues involved.
There is so much violence in the world. I eventually became involved in supporting an organisation that seeks to support victims of violence from the likes of landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Although western governments spend millions supporting the clear up explosive weapons, often there is nothing put in place to support the long terms impact on innocent individuals, families and communities. Often children are the most innocent of all the victims. I do what I can to provide support to those, like my former parliamentary colleague, who continue to raise these rarely seen causes and provide a voice for the innocent victims.
So although I can’t do everything, I find it helps to keep me grounded and aware of how lucky I am, to contribute what I can and give a voice of the most vulnerable and innocent people in our society. If I am elected as MSP for Falkirk East, I hope my voice can be raised in support of those most in need in our community.
There has been significant disruption to schools arising out of the pandemic.
Teachers have adapted quickly to home-based learning but it’s understandable that most parents, pupils and teachers look forward to a return to traditional schooling.
But is that enough? Have the debates fuelled by the pandemic about exams, online learning, blended learning, continuous assessment to be quickly forgotten as we return to pre-pandemic days? I hope not.
I would hope to see a national conversation about how we deliver education in the future. Amongst other things, we need to research and capture what can be learned from our experiences over the last year.
For example, did we have the most appropriate exams and assessment systems pre-pandemic, or have recent experiences taught us something new? What different needs have arisen from different subject areas dependent on the extent to which they are skills or text based?
Individual learners too have different preferences in terms of learning styles. Has the pandemic disruption been all negative, or have some pupils thrived? I don't know.
The point is we need to find out and learn.
And what about parents? Should more be done to support parents even once schools return to normal? Would some parents be interested in learning more about supporting home study?
Research into adult learners (a joint DEMOS-Google project) published in February 2020 just before the pandemic, revealed some very interesting findings about online learning. Based on a large survey of 10,000 adults in employment across the UK, it found the following:
If adults in work benefit greatly from online learning might some older pupils soon to be leaving school be assisted by having some continued experience of online learning?
As is clear, I don't have the answers. But hopefully I know some of the questions that need to be asked!
Education and skills are critical, and particularly for future generations.
I will be supporting moves for the further development of a whole system approach to education and training, from nursery school to school, to college and university.
I also support the development of different pathways through learning to provide greater choice and opportunity for learners and businesses.
I will say more about schools in a later blog, but I want here to focus on the skills sector, and in particular for young people about to enter the labour market.
Skills opportunities must take a variety of forms. For some young people who may have lagged behind at school, they will require well supported first steps into skills training. We are lucky in having colleges who already have developed the capacity and provision to provide such early support and opportunities. I will champion the role our colleges, such as Forth Valley College, can play.
I think we could do more to support the development of world leading skills provision. The competitive demands of the 21st century combined with the right of every Scottish citizen to have the best possible opportunities require further development. At present there is an understandable focus on “competence”. But as a recent report commissioned by the SNP Government highlighted, we need to target international excellence.
We need to build the qualifications that will allow us to do so. I will be arguing the we should move beyond benchmarking Scotland’s skills system against other nations of the UK, and refocus on international benchmarking against the best in the world. This would support the SNP Government’s ambitious international trade policies.
In my life outside politics, I have been involved in research that has begun to scope out some of the opportunities available to Scotland.
We need to grasp the international opportunities becoming available and raise our ambitions on behalf of both our young people and our economy.
Only the very best should ever be good enough.
I have been asked a number of times about ‘the currency issue’ when Scotland is an independent country.
There is no country in the world that does not use at least one currency. A currency provides a means of exchange and an internationally recognisable means to trade. It is underpinned by a financial infrastructure, aimed at securing stability. There are many currency arrangements in operation across the world.
Let us quash the first big myth. There is nothing (and nobody) to stop us using the pound; it being a fully convertible currency.
In many countries across the globe the pound can be used without any agreement from the UK being necessary. Anyone that tries to tell you otherwise is, quite simply, telling you fibs! Ireland, for example, used the pound for 56 years after gaining independence.
What was discussed during the independence referendum of 2014 was setting up a currency union with the rest of the UK. The UK Government at that time claimed they would not wish to do this – but have subsequently conceded that this was simply them playing politics.
The Sustainable Growth Commission published in 2018 advised using the pound but without a currency union until such time as it makes economic sense to launch our own currency. I am happy to leave the precise timing to the judgment of an independent Scottish Government as we can’t know in advance what will be happening globally at the point of independence.
Many businesses in Scotland already operate in parallel currencies and have accounts in other currencies such as US dollar and the Euro as part of their international trading strategy.
For each option there are considerations; for example, at the point of independence it makes sense to continue contracts such as pensions and mortgages in pounds sterling. Mortgage-holders and issuers, and pensioners will look for stability and certainty at the point of transition.
Fundamentally, you use the currency(s) that suits your needs the best.
Finally, the question of currency has not been vexed over by the multitude of other countries that have become independent. It is but one of the areas that will need to be considered – and by no means the only one. We have already started thinking about transition plans to ensure we are well prepared to provide the Scottish people the strongest possible financial and economic infrastructure to enable the best future choices to be made.
Scotland’s right to protect our children is under threat from the Tories at Westminster. Sounds unbelievable?
Yes, it does, and all the more shocking that it is true.
On March 16th 2021 the Scottish Parliament approved the bill to enshrine the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots Law. This international convention is based on the notion that children have clear rights as human beings. It requires governments to enshrine four basic principles in law, namely:
Governments must respect children’s rights “irrespective of the child's parents or legal guardian, race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, poverty, disability, birth or other status.”
Government’s must adhere to the principle that “In all actions concerning children…… the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration."
Government’s must “ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child."
Government’s must ensure “the view of the child (is) given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
However, the UK government have indicated in a letter to the Deputy First Minister on 24th March that “our concern is that…. the bill would affect the UK Parliament in its power to make laws for Scotland”. The UK government is threatening to take their case to the Supreme Court.
In plain language, the UK government wants to retain the power to make laws for Scotland that may not comply with the rights of the child.
I can think on no better example of where the values of Scotland so dramatically diverge from the attitude of the UK Government. Scotland has made its choice to value all children, to protect all children and the UK government is now challenging our right to do so.
It is also an example of where Scotland wants to be outward looking, and set the best of ethical standards for our future. Isn’t the future of Scotland deserving of the best?
I know from talking with many people, and local small businesses, that over recent years there has been a loss of trust in banks and other financial institutions. Most small savers are effectively paying banks to hold their savings with interest rates near zero and, together with bank charges, many are in reality facing negative interest rates.
Small businesses all too often in recent years have faced additional burdens. Indeed, the behaviors of some banks have been widely condemned as they have in effect ruined perfectly viable local businesses through unforgiveable practices such as bank loans being manipulated and leading to asset stripping. RBS has probably been the most prominent culprit via its GRG division, but other banks too have squeezed the life out of many small businesses.
That’s why when I was an MP, I was a member of an all-party group for “Fair Business Banking”. When I left parliament, I was then appointed as an Ambassador for the all-party group, and I continue to fight for a fair deal for individuals and small businesses alike. Last year, I was also appointed as an adviser to Northern Ireland’s all-party “Fair Banking and Finance” group. However, I have been surprised to find there is no equivalent cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament.
Therefore, if I become the MSP for Falkirk East, I intend taking the lead in creating a cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament, similar to those at Westminster and in Northern Ireland, to fight for a fairer deal for the people of Scotland, including our local small businesses.
I know from my discussions locally, that there are many small businesses in our community that would benefit from fairer dealings from their banks, as would many individuals. I intend using my experience and knowledge to ensure their case is heard and reform put on the agenda. I’ll be fighting for you.