Ann McKechin MP

Daily Record Online: Being a Glasgow 2014 Clydesider and part of the Commonwealth Games was a joy

ANN McKECHIN recounts her experience of being one of the thousands of volunteers making Glasgow's Games possible.


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PEOPLE make Glasgow is the city’s latest marketing slogan but it is also the lasting impression for the tens of thousands of visitors to the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Last week I swapped the benches of the House of Commons to join the 13,000 plus Clydesiders who are a key part of the huge engine which is driving Glasgow’s biggest ever event.

I’ve spent the last six days welcoming the Games Family and VIP guests to the marvellous Tollcross International Swimming Centre which has undergone a major refurbishment for the Games.

On our first morning we greeted the Prime Minister, David Cameron, First Minister Alex Salmond, the Presidents of Fiji and Singapore and, not least, HM the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh all within a two hour period!

Our small team who had just met a couple of hours beforehand managed to pull out all the stops to ensure the visits went smoothly guided by our magnificent team managers, Gemma and Suzanne who both work for Glasgow Life.

It was great fun to work with such a friendly and enthusiastic set of volunteers. A few of our group had been volunteers at the London Olympics and wanted to enjoy the experience again here in Glasgow – they have been delighted with the warm welcome they have received throughout the city.

Volunteers came from all corners of the UK and stayed in friends’ houses, caravan parks and even campsites, all at their own cost, so they could take part.

We met guests from many of the 71 nations of the Commonwealth and were able to join with them in seeing some truly world class sporting performances – special admiration for the Barbados officials who wore fleece jerkins on one of the hottest days of the year and kept them on whilst watching the competition in a very warm pool!

The atmosphere in the city has been truly amazing and I’ve been struck by how friendly everyone has been and the number of conversations I have had with total strangers over such a short period of time.

The cultural programme has filled our streets with song, performance and art and the G sign in George Square has quickly become Scotland’s favourite spot for group photos.

Glasgow has witnessed the biggest influx of visitors in its history and its citizens have responded to the challenge with humour and warmth. Even the chap tasked with packing passengers on to the platform at Buchanan Street underground managed to turn it into a form of entertainment with a loud booming theatrical voice.

That sense of irreverence came across in the Opening Ceremony which turned Tunnock's Teacakes and Scottish terriers into cult items but at the same time rightly had a clear message on the need for tolerance.

Along with many others, I will have very happy memories of the Games for many years to come and I am sure that our city will benefit from our ability to showcase not only 10 days of first rate sport but a confident and welcoming community.

We should all be proud of how the Friendly Games have been welcomed in the Commonwealth’s Friendliest City.

 

You can view this original blog post in the Daily Record Online

Hanzala Malik MSP

World Hepatitus day: raising awareness

On July 28th, I went along to a World Hepatitis Day event in the heart of Glasgow in St Enoch Square. World Hepatitis Day aims to increase the awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis as a major global health threat. All types of viral hepatitis can cause inflammation of the liver; however, hepatitis B and [...]
John Robertson MP

Naming Ceremony for HMS Queen Elizabeth

I recently attended the naming ceremony of the new HMS Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was there for the official naming.

This was a wonderful feat of engineering for all six yards, both north and south of the border. I want to pass on my congratulations to all those who worked on it, and in particular, the 2000 employees at Scotstoun yard.

Here are a few photos from the event, with MPs representing the constituencies holding the other two Scottish yards, Ian Davidson MP (Govan) and Thomas Docherty MP (Rosyth), among others.

Ann McKechin MP

The Herald: Agenda – Ann McKechin on Chemical Sales

The last week has been dominated by two truly horrendous foreign news stories:

 

the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner carrying 298 people over eastern Ukraine and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, where deaths are running at more than 500 people. Over the same period, more than 700 have been killed in Syria during the ongoing onslaught by Isis in the latest phase of a brutal civil war.

The predictable response in the first two instances is to call for sanctions. David Cameron has called on France to halt a warship order destined for Russia and thousands of supporters for the Palestinian cause demand an arms embargo against Israel.

But weapons tend to have a long shelf life and the common thread is that no-one could have predicted this series of events three years ago, in the case of Ukraine in a shorter period. The 21st century has been marked by increasing volatility and the dramatic ending of long established regimes in some of the most contentious parts of the globe. Establishing an arms export policy that adequately addresses both the need to maintain ethical standards and meet the new strategic challenges emerging has never been so challenging.

This week's publication of the Arms Export Control Committee's annual report could not be more timely. The report provides a wealth of information on the scale of our export industry and, in particular, to those 28 countries listed of concern on human rights by the Foreign Office, worth £11.9 billion.

Our committee work was focused this year on the sale of dual-use chemicals to Syria including one licence (not utilised) granted during the initial stages of the civil war in 2012 when Syria was a known holder of chemical weapon and a non-signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

After a great deal of prodding by the committee, the Government conceded that licences were granted without specific ministerial authority. Given that we know UK chemical components exported to Syria in the 1980s and 90s were utilised for chemical weapon manufacture, this appears to be astonishingly lax practice.

The increasing sales of dual-use cryptographic equipment and software to countries of concern is, as our committee states, "a matter of considerable disquiet". The EU has tightened the regulation of surveillance technology exports but the Government needs to give this area much more attention, given the rapid technological changes and the credible information on how this equipment has been used to suppress human rights and spy on opposition activists.

It is baffling, for example, why Bahrain has been added to the Business Department's priority markets list, notwithstanding the very serious human rights concerns reported over a lengthy period.

Ratification by the UK of the Arms Trade Treaty is welcome progress but our evidence revealed that the Government has taken a step backwards in considering its criteria on exports that may be used for internal repression. The new consolidated criteria omit the statement "an export licence will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed by … concern that the goods might be used for internal repression" and the committee considers this to be a substantive change in policy that weakens the previous test introduced by the Labour Government in 2000.

As our report states, in the past two-and-a-half years alone, the Government has had to revoke 209 licences to 17 different countries and suspend a further 109. We conclude that our policy on control essentially reacts to events and fails sufficiently to take into account the nature of the regimes concerned. The fate of Libya and Syria shows us the failure of our policy to consider long-term change. Who would like to predict where Egypt or Saudi Arabia will be in the next five or 10 years?

It is time to commit to a thorough recalibration of our policy on exports. It is, of course, impossible to predict every event but recent history should teach us the lesson of the need for much greater caution.

 

You can read this original article in The Herald.

Ann McKechin MP

The Sunday Mail: Ministers are slated after the Sunday Mail revealed how nerve gas chemicals were sold to Syria

MPs investigating why the sales of chemicals that could be used to make sarin gas were approved by civil servants call for tighter controls on exports.

 

THE Government have been branded “irresponsible” and accused of a “serious failure” over the sale of nerve gas chemicals to Syria, exposed by the Sunday Mail.

MPs investigating why the sales were approved by civil servants called for tighter controls on chemical exports.

Last year we revealed how British firms had been given permission to sell chemicals to Syria that could be used to make sarin gas, unleashed in devastating attacks on rebel areas in the civil war there.

Export licences for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride were sanctioned before and after the conflict erupted and our revelations prompted an investigation by Westminster’s committee on arms export controls.

Glasgow North Labour MP Ann McKechin, a committee member, said: “The UK Government needs to fully accept the committee’s recommendations in relation to the export of dual use chemicals so that in future the UK’s reputation is not stained with possible association with chemical weapon use.

“I would also hope that Government and arms companies understand that our committee will always reserve the right to fully examine any export licence when it is in the public interest.”

In a damning report published on Thursday, the committee said there was a “serious failure of due process within the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills”.

The MPs added that civil servants’ claim “there were no grounds for refusal” when the chemical export licences were granted in January 2012 was “grossly inaccurate”.

A decision to grant five export licences by the last Labour government between 2004 and 2010 was also branded “highly questionable” by the committee.

The report did not name the UK firms involved but revealed they included a “brass-plate” company – existing in name only.

Licences were granted despite the applications being reviewed by intelligence at the Ministry of Defence and at the top-secret Porton Down military base in Wiltshire.

As a result of the catalogue of failures, the body said chemical export licences should not be granted to countries that are holders of chemical weapons and who have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The chemicals sold to Syria, potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride, have legitimate industrial purposes.

But they are also key ingredients in sarin, the gas used by president Bashar Assad’s regime in attacks linked to the deaths of almost 1500 civilians, including hundreds of children.

A fraction of an ounce of sarin, either ingested or inhaled, can kill. Victims who survive often suffer brain damage.

United Nations chemical weapons inspectors confirmed that on August 21, 2013, sarin was used in an attack on the Ghouta agricultural belt around the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Images of dying children shocked the world and brought the US to the brink of military action against Syria.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon said the attack was a war crime.

A leaked document earlier this month showed UK firms had sold chemical weapons precursors to Syria in the 80s.

The then foreign secretary William Hague said two weeks ago: “We judge it likely that these chemical exports by UK companies were subsequently used by Syria in their programmes to produce nerve agents, including sarin.”

Yesterday, the Government denied the licences issued in 2012 to Syria involved chemicals that could be diverted for use in chemical weapons and, in any case, the chemicals were never delivered.

A spokesman said: “Two licences were issued in January 2012 to export sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride. Both have legitimate commercial uses, in these cases for making shower and window frames.

“The stated use was credible and the quantities were consistent with that use. Following the introduction of new EU sanctions on Syria in June 2012, both licences were revoked before any chemicals were exported.

“The Government is carefully considering the committee’s report and will provide a detailed response to Parliament in due course.”

 

You can read the original version of this article here.