Drew Smith MSP

Gaza conflict debate in Parliament

Yesterday in Parliament I lead a debate on the situation in Gaza and the wider region and the humanitarian disaster which has been unfolding as a result of the conflict.

You can read my introduction to the debate below and the full transcript, including all contributions on the Official Report.

Motion for debate – S4M-10675, Gaza:

That the Parliament regrets and unreservedly repudiates the ongoing violence and loss of human life in Gaza and Israel, which, according to journalists running risks to their own safety to report from the area, stood, as at 28 July 2014, at more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths and 45 Israelis; considers that the continuation of violence will further escalate the already severe and enduring humanitarian catastrophe in the densely populated Gaza Strip; believes that the number of Palestinian civilian fatalities, including many women and children, indicates a disproportionate action by the Israeli military; condemns both indiscriminate rocket attacks and military bombardment of civilians and believes that hospitals and schools, in particular, should be places of safety and therefore also condemns attacks on them or their use to store or fire weapons; confirms its view that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the continued failure to achieve a political solution to a problem that cannot be solved by violence; supports the comments made by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on 24 July, who has described the situation as an “intolerable, unacceptable crisis” and agrees with him that it is imperative for the killing to stop; notes calls for the international community to fully use its influence to break the cycle of failed talks, continuing occupation and outbreaks of violence that threaten the prospect of a two-state solution by renewed and robust efforts to broker peace and justice in the region with the objectives, amongst others, of an immediate interim ceasefire, a long-term plan to prevent further violence, efforts to aid the necessary rebuilding of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including the importation of vital humanitarian supplies into Gaza, and crucially a process that can finally lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel in accordance with previous UN resolutions, and notes calls for the UK Government to support these objectives and to prohibit the supply of equipment or parts of equipment that are likely to be used against civilians and for the Scottish Government to do all that it can in support of the same and to foster and maintain good community relations between all religious and ethnic groups who have their home in Glasgow and across Scotland and who, in common with people around the world, wish to see a settlement that respects the right of all human beings, irrespective of religion or race, to live in peace with both dignity and security.

Drew Smith (Glasgow) (Lab): I am grateful to all those members who signed my motion. I hope that the range of views that no doubt exists in the Parliament will have the opportunity of an airing this evening. In drafting a motion that I hoped as many members as possible could support and which would therefore stand a chance of reaching the chamber for debate, I tried to provide a form of words that would gain the broadest possible support. I hope that this debate will play a small part in a much-needed effort to assure the victims of this conflict of the greatest possible international coalition for peace and justice in the middle east.

I draw attention to my membership of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Palestine, of which I have previously been an officer, and I thank the current officers Sandra White, Claudia Beamish and Jim Hume for supporting my motion. I look forward to their contributions to the debate. I also refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a former member of the Scottish Trades Union Congress general council, as I will refer to the delegation to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories that I joined while I was a member.

In Scotland, as elsewhere in the world, there are a range of views on the solutions to the problems of the middle east and specifically those of Israel and Palestine. Parliament should reflect those if we wish our voices to be representative of the country and of note to those elsewhere. There are few neutral voices. However, the scale of the current and most recent violence, to which we are all bearing witness, and indeed the length of time for which the conflict has gone on have meant that there is a breadth to the voices that say that the current actions of the Israeli Government have been disproportionate. There are instances of action that require international investigation and indeed an international response that goes beyond simply wishing for talks or for different partners in the cause of peace.

I am a supporter of a Palestinian state. I believe that a viable state for the Palestinians is their right and that it is the duty of progressive voices around the world to advocate for it with resolution, with realism about the barriers to it and with firmness against those who frustrate the two-state solution on either side, whether in principle or by delay.

I believe that the current violence and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza is winning new supporters for the cause of justice and peace, not terrorism and not military action. The motion that we are debating condemns the scale of the violence on both sides. I condemn utterly and without caveat the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza, I condemn tunnelling into Israeli territory from Gaza, and I believe that the fear and danger that they represent serves no purpose other than the prolonging of the conflict, which reduces the likelihood that Israelis will question the actions of their Government, far less become advocates for engagement with their Palestinian neighbours. Correspondingly, the scale of the horror in Gaza does nothing to bolster the voices of those who recognise that a viable Palestinian state can be achieved only alongside a secure Israel and that it will be created through negotiation of land, not violence against civilians.

Peace for one society and normality for individuals and families will not be lasting if it is achieved only for one group. That is not a justification for violence. It is simply recognition that the underlying issues of the conflict continue. I visited northern Israel in the aftermath of operation cast lead and, like many other international visitors, I have been shown the rockets that come over the border from Gaza. I have spoken to Israelis about their fears of attack and I have no doubt that those fears are genuine. I have also spoken to Palestinians and international observers who have told me of the harsh and brutal reality of life under blockade in Gaza.

The images that we now see on our television screens, about which people are taking to our streets to protest, offend the world. Schools and hospitals that the innocent can only hope are places of safety have become a battlefield that is raging on a strip of land that is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Civilians and children have been killed and injured in their thousands.

To those who say that we need to step back from condemnation of the disproportion of the violence because it needs to be understood against the wider politics of the region, the dispute or the history of the peace process, I say that we should imagine being born into the world on the Gaza strip. Imagine the hopelessness of parents as they look at their children and imagine the desperate future that stretches far beyond the tiny horizons that surround them.

I have no doubt that others will use their time to talk about their reactions to what we are watching. The agony is perhaps more profound now than it has ever been before, but the truth is that much of what we will hear in the debate could have been said in any of the three years since I was elected to the Parliament; it has been said in the more than 10 years for which I have been actively involved in campaigns and it has been continually said in the 30 years of my life and long before that.

I hope that others will touch on the injustices that continue on the west bank, where Hamas is not in control, and I have no doubt that others will mention many of the advocates for the Palestinians who have put the case for change in the middle east better than I ever could, including the late Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu and former President Carter.

The truth is that, while the world desperately desires a lasting ceasefire to the current violence, the hope—the necessity—of a two-state solution is fast disappearing before our eyes. The situation is desperate, but the world simply cannot allow hope to die with the children of Gaza.

Time does not allow me to say all that I wish to, but I will end my speech, as the motion does, by urging the Scottish Government to continue its efforts to do all that it can for good community relations in our country. Members of our minority communities feel the pain of this conflict keenly and they deserve our solidarity, just as the innocent civilian victims in the middle east deserve our resolve in speaking out.

When I have asked ordinary Palestinians what Scots can do and what any of us can do as witnesses, I have been told, “Do not forget us. Do not forget that we exist.” When those who believe in a two-state solution speak out, that should not be described as support for terrorism, which is condemned by our citizens and by those around the world who believe that there is no violent solution to the political problem that exists in the occupied territories. When we tell our children what the United Nations flag represents, they should be proud of it, not compromised by it.

I hope that the message that goes out from the Scottish Parliament and from the debate is one of humanity. We see what exists and we recognise that it is unjust. The leaders of the world will continue to reflect on the steps that can be taken internationally, but the citizens of the world are making it clear that, in our individual actions, we will protest against bombardment and terrorism until lasting peace prevails and demands for justice are met.

Read more on this debate

  • Read the full debate online including contributions from all MSPs participating in the debate on the Official Report.
Ann McKechin MP

Politics Home Online: Sun and sport boosts UK spending

11 August 2014

 

The good weather and major sporting events contributed to strong growth in consumer spending in July, according to new data from Visa Europe.

Spending was up 2.4% compared to 12 months ago, the second biggest rise since April 2010 and tenth consecutive month the Visa Europe Expenditure Index has recorded an increase. The annualised growth accelerated from June, when it was 0.5%, despite an overall fall month-on-month.

Ann McKechin, a Labour MP who sits on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, welcomed the findings.

“It’s good news that there has been a rise in retail sales after a long period of slow growth. However the marked rise in personal debt over recent months should continue to give us concern that this increase may be temporary.

“Too many people are still suffering a decrease in their living standards and more must be done to tackle the income gap.”

Spending in hotels, restaurants and bars increased more strongly than any other sector, while face-to-face spending also grew by 1.9%. The data led Natasha Toothill, Visa Europe’s director of retail, to attribute some of the growth to good weather and sporting events like the World Cup and Commonwealth Games.

“Spend at hotels, restaurants and bars enjoyed particularly strong growth, up 8.1% on last year, as consumers splashed out on summer holidays and eating out,” she said.

“With low inflation, strong employment growth and rising consumer confidence, Britons are edging away from recession spending habits to indulge more on the things they enjoy.

“The high street continues a summer comeback with another month of growth in face-to-face spending, perhaps due to the summer’s warm weather and major cultural and sporting events, which bring with them an influx of domestic and foreign tourists.”

The Index is based on data from credit card payments which are then adjusted to reflect overall consumer spending. The figures point to the economic recovery continuing into the future, but Paul Smith, senior economist at financial firm Markit, warned that an increase in interest rates could threaten the run of good news.

“The data undoubtedly add to the positive news flow on the UK economy evident in recent months,” he said. “With the labour market tightening, and amid signs of a pick-up in wage inflation, we expect household expenditure to make further positive contributions to GDP growth in the second half of the year not withstanding any surprise hike in interest rates during Q4.”

 

This article was originally posted on the Politics Home website, you can view it here.

Ann McKechin MP

Politics Home Online: Better together for business

The BIS Select Committee has published a report on the potential impact of Scottish independence. Scottish Labour MP & BIS committee member Ann McKechin offers her thoughts on why we are 'better together'.

The new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, the first of which was named by the Queen last month, are testament to the capability and quality of the UK’s advanced industrial economy. The construction of the ships has employed 10,000 people in hundreds of companies in every single region of the country. What would a ‘yes’ vote in September’s Scottish Independence referendum mean for the future of this kind of collaboration, not just in manufacturing, but in the project management and consultancy services needed to deliver such ambitious projects?

The House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills committee, of which I am a member, has just published its opinion on the implications of Scottish independence for business. Our committee, made up of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Members from north and south of the border, concluded that on the basis of the evidence presented to us, remaining in the Union is in Scotland’s best economic interests.

Many businesses operating in Scotland, either headquartered there or elsewhere in the UK, are deeply worried about what independence would mean for their future growth. The total lack of clarity from the Scottish Government on issues as fundamental as financial regulation, EU membership and what currency an independent Scotland would use has made it very difficult for business leaders, let alone the general public, to make an informed decision about the future of their country.

The fact that the Scottish Government chose not to take part in the inquiry, despite repeated requests for evidence from the Committee, shows that Alex Salmond’s Ministers are persevering with their ‘head in the sand’ approach to the tough questions being asked of them. When discussing an issue of such magnitude, this is simply an insult to the intelligence of the Scottish electorate, who deserve to be given the clearest picture possible of the far-reaching consequences of independence before they cast their votes.

In short, our committee found that a newly independent Scotland would find itself suddenly severed from its largest export market in the rest of the UK, having to renegotiate entry back into the European Union on very uncertain and possibly materially more onerous terms, and without its own currency or a central bank necessary to set monetary policy. Re-accession to the European Union could take a long time – nobody knows how long because it’s never been done before – and it’s safe to say that the EU would take a very dim view of an independent Scotland hoping to join whilst using a ‘shadow pound’, against the wishes of an RUK Government.

The huge costs of setting up parallel regulatory institutions to oversee Scotland’s large and successful financial services sector in the event of independence are as daunting as they are unnecessary. 94% of customers of the Scottish insurance industry are outside Scotland, and 84% of mortgages granted by Scottish financial instructions are for properties elsewhere in the UK. The separation of businesses from their customers in the event of independence cannot fail to be detrimental for both parties.

On education, the Scottish Government’s current policy of only charging university tuition fees to students from the rest of the UK would, in the Committee’s opinion, fall foul of EU discrimination law, meaning that all UK students would have to be charged fees at the same level if an independent Scotland sought EU membership.

A ‘yes’ vote would create further problems for Royal Mail, beyond those already inflicted by its cut-price privatization by the Coalition earlier this year. Royal Mail delivers three times as much mail in Scotland as is posted there, meaning that if the post is classed as international mail during Scotland’s potentially lengthy negotiation to re-join the EU, costs would rise. The Universal Service Obligation would be put under further pressure because of Scotland’s relatively higher proportion of rural addresses, which would no longer be subsidised by the urban markets in the rest of the UK.

Overall, the argument for Scottish independence is one of heart over head. Study the detail, and you quickly realise that independence would involve a great unravelling of shared and highly integrated institutions, regulators and business relationships, which currently serve Scotland well. In a time of austerity, it is easy to portray the one-stop-shop of independence as a cure for all our woes, but division and insularity are not in our country’s interests. Currently Scotland enjoys the best of both worlds – devolution for domestic issues such as health, police and schools whilst enjoying the stability of being part of one of the world’s biggest economies. Building on our existing partnerships is better for all of us.


You can read this original article on the Politics Home website here.

Hanzala Malik MSP

Prostate Cancer: Men United

At the start of 2014, Prostate Cancer UK launched a Men United v Prostate Cancer – a campaign to create a movement for change in the battle against the most common cancer in men. By July, 185,000 people throughout the UK had signed for Men United to help us drag the issue of prostate cancer [...]
Anne McTaggart MSP

Commonwealth Games a Massive Success for Glasgow

Glasgow Labour MSP Anne McTaggart has today spoken of her pride at the overwhelming success of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. After being awarded the Games in 2007, they have been hailed as the “standout Games in the history of the tournament” by Commonwealth Games Federation Chief Executive, Mike Hooper. The Games came to a close on Sunday night with a spectacular closing ceremony which crowned what was a fantastic 11 days for the City. Over these 11 days, 140 Commonwealth records were broken with athletes from 71 nations and territories from across the Commonwealth competing in 17 sports. An...