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Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.
20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament
 A Happy New Year to all of you. 2019 is a special anniversary for our Scottish Parliament which turns 20 on 1 July. The Corporate Body has approved a year-long programme of events and activities to showcase the positive impact the Scottish Parliament has had.


I understand that plans include events planned during the year include the launch of a new public exhibition telling the story of the Parliament; a series of family days; and a national photography competition to find the best images illustrating Holyrood’s 20-year history. 

We’re told by the Parliament’s Chief Executive, Paul Grice, that this is just a flavour of what is planned. 
68,000 newborns benefited from the Baby Box
 Latest figures reveal that 68,513 newborns across Scotland have enjoyed a Baby Box since the policy was introduced in 2017. Across NHS Lanarkshire, that means 7956 Baby Boxes have been 'delivered' - along with the babies!

I have seen many mums across Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse and have enjoyed the delight expressed by mums. The practical, genuinely useful and well thought out contents have helped many mums to get to grips with a new baby. 
As well as the Baby Box, the SNP Government has also launched the Best Start Grant to support low income families with financial help during the early years of a child’s life.

The new benefit offers eligible parents or carers £600 for their first child, £100 more than the DWP Sure Start Maternity Grant it replaces. It also provides £300 for all subsequent children – there is no cap at two children as there is in the UK Government’s equivalent policy.
Brexit: The ongoing crisis
It’s just 81 days until 29 March, the date upon which the UK is set, not so much to leave the EU, as to fall out of it with an enormous crash. We, in Scotland. continue to fight for our interests.

To compound matters, we have Jeremy Corbyn completely opposed to the very idea of a second referendum. Last week he was backing it, declaring if that was what Labour party members wanted, then he was open to it. In a poll by YouGov, 72% of Labour Party members said they wanted the opportunity to vote again, armed with the increased information they now have to hand, but Jeremy said no.
The survey also suggests that as many as 88,000 Labour members have considered quitting the party over Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Brexit.

Then you’ve got the ongoing panic and rifts of Theresa May’s side. As I write, I can’t tell precisely what her deal (or no deal) will do in the House of Commons on 14 January, but it seems likely it will fail to get the support she needs.
What happens then, no one, least of all the UK Government, can know for sure. While the Leavers may get their blue passports back and can continue to declare their British identity just as they have always done, the economy will take a tremendous hit. 

Picture courtesy of The Herald

This is not Utopia. It is something more like Dante’s Inferno where jobs will disappear at a terrifying rate as European investors accustomed to free trade arrangements pull out.

Their customers are not going to pay sudden tariffs that increase costs by anything up to 40% or even more under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
For example, why would the EU customers for Scottish lamb, for our famous whiskies, for our fish and shellfish - of which we sell 75% to customers in the EU - for cars made in the UK, suddenly agree to pay a tariff for those goods?

Nor will the customers in the supermarkets of Spain or France be willing to pay a much higher price for imported, non-EU produce that won’t be regulated by the EU Food Standards agency.
I have previously talked about the issues around the drugs upon which many lives depend and which the UK mainly imports from continental Europe.

These include anti-cancer drugs, insulin, immunosuppressants, anti-asthmatic treatments and hundreds more. What happens to those supplies after Brexit?

The Government is stock-piling drugs - another huge and unnecessary cost of Brexit - but that won't last long if we aren't receiving replacements. Even if we are, then you can be certain the UK NHS will have to pay tariffs on those imports, putting ever more strain on the health service. 

The ‘poverty trap’ of the two-child cap and the rape clause

More families in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse are going to see the impact of the ill-considered two child policy from February onwards.
From next month, the cap will apply to all new claimants regardless of when the child was born. This will mean that families who have a third child (or more) will be negatively affected.
The cap also means that women must disclose if their child was born as a result of rape or coercion if they are to receive the financial support their child is then eligible for. -the rape clause. Roll up the witnesses.
Tory MP, Nadhim Zahawi, said benefits to families with more than two children should lose child benefits and tax credits for the third and subsequent children – unless they can prove that the child is a result of a rape.

Polly Toynbee, in the Guardian, said: “As the Child Poverty Action Group eloquently argues, benefits for children not only spread the cost of living between richer and poorer, but also smooth the bumps in everyone's life cycle. When children are born costs are highest and earnings meagre, but later many will earn more, pay more tax and take less out."
40% of parents failing to receive child maintenance under DWP scheme
 To add to the hardships of those on lower incomes and struggling to find employment, the UK government’s “collect and pay” scheme for child maintenance are failing to get the money owed. The SNP continues to renew its calls for the service to be devolved so that we can deal with it properly through our own Scottish Parliament.

Latest figures for the quarter to March 2018 show that compliance with the scheme is at 60%, with 8,800 parents due to pay and 5,300 paying some of the maintenance due. 
The UK government-run Child Maintenance Service (CMS) currently place a 4% fee on to any receiving parent and charges an administration fee of £20 to open a case. 
People in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse are already telling me the problems they face. The scheme is just not fit for purpose. The irony is that many of those eligible cannot afford to take up the Child Maintenance Service scheme.
12 months that strengthened the case for independence
The “abject failure” of the Westminster establishment to respect Scotland’s interests over the past year has been a “powerful demonstration of why Scotland needs independence”, says SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown.

It might not be an entirely new message, but it’s one that constantly needs to be reinforced and particularly in the context of Brexit chaos.. The UK is doing the people of Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse no favours.
Over the past year, the UK government’s incompetent approach to Brexit negotiations has left the UK’s political establishment in chaos as March 2019 approaches.
Keith Brown says that In 2018, the UK government has:
* Ignored repeated attempts by the Scottish Government to pursue a compromise option of single market and customs union membership – the best option for jobs and household incomes short of EU membership

* Proposed a deal that could see Northern Ireland given a competitive advantage over Scotland

* Attacked devolution by changing UK law after the fact to undermine Holyrood’s cross-party attempt to prepare Scotland’s laws for Brexit

* Opposed the efforts by Scottish politicians to establish whether the UK can revoke Article 50 – giving us crucial clarity over future options

* Delayed a vote on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement to protect the Prime Minister – and recklessly pushing the UK closer to a No Deal Brexit

Mr Brown adds:
“The past year has been eye-opening – with the dysfunctional, self-serving and childish approach of the Westminster establishment on full view as never before. 
“Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and our voice and interests have been side-lined from day one.
“The contrast with independent Ireland – who have received overwhelming support and solidarity from other EU nations – has been startling.
“While we would welcome an early General Election, the sad fact is Labour have been just as divided and opportunistic over Brexit as the Tories have.
“Only independence will put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands – rather than being stuck with a failing Westminster.”
He is so right and I do believe we will move forward towards that ultimate goal in the coming chaotic year.
Tackling social isolation and loneliness
I was proud and delighted to kick start our world-leading strategy tackling social isolation and loneliness in the Chamber on 18 December. This country has become one of the first in the world to develop a national strategy to deal with the serious problem of social isolation.

The strategy will be backed by £1 million over the next two years to support and expand innovative projects and approaches to bring people together. We’ll be bringing improvements to health and social care, bringing more accessible transport and investing in digital connectivity so that we can help to build more closely connected communities.
Actions in the Strategy include working with health and social care integration authorities to address social isolation; piloting a new housing solution for older people to test out intergenerational and co-living arrangements; working with partners to raise awareness of the value of befriending; engaging with older age groups to understand how digital technology could add value to their lives.

In Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, as well as throughout Scotland, one in 10 people report often feel lonely for myriad reasons. In this fast-paced world, older people can feel ignored and overwhelmed.
People often feel afraid to admit they are lonely or isolated yet these feelings can affect anyone at any age, or stage, or walk of life. It is known that social isolation and loneliness can have a significant impact on a person's physical and mental wellbeing which is why we are tackling this issue with a preventative approach allowing loneliness and social isolation to be treated as a public health issue.

This is just the beginning of work we are doing to tackle loneliness but we can't do it alone. It is the responsibility of all of us as individuals and communities, and within the public sector, local authorities and businesses to reach out with kindness and build a country where all of us feel welcome within our communities and valued as an important part of society.

I believe that it is not just a kindly or compassionate thing to do; it is an absolute responsibility and all of us who are able need to play our part and think ahead to when it might be you or me who feel alone and isolated.