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After 2016, a year which produced many electoral surprises, 2017 promises also to be an interesting year for political anoraks.  Politics does not exist in a vacuum.  What will be decided this year by politicians, internationally, in Westminster, Holyrood and at the Local Government elections in May will affect the lives of everyone in our communities.

There are to be elections in France, Germany and other European countries which will affect how the UK’s Tory Government is able negotiate the way in which the UK leaves the European Union.  The ‘Little Englander’ attitude of pro-Brexit Tory and Labour MPs is unrealistic and dangerous.  Many of these MPs and Government Ministers truly believe that the sun did not set on ‘their’ Empire and that because they are England then everyone will agree to what they want.  It is not even clear yet what the UK Government is actually planning and the judgement of the Supreme Court as to how much say Parliament will have in debating and deciding a plan for negotiations will be crucial.

In Westminster the so-called rise of the Scottish Tories is paraded as some sort of new dawn.  In Scotland, however – and especially in Motherwell and Wishaw – people are not so easily fooled.  We know that the next batch of Tory cuts, especially those to benefits, are fully backed by Ruth Davidson and her Scottish Tory MSPs.  They are quite happy to discount the views of 62% of Scottish voters who want to keep our European Rights especially those related to work and travel.

The disintegration of the Labour Party in Scotland is an ongoing issue for all of us and permeates all levels of politics.  Kezia Dugdale has moved her party so far from its roots that she now focuses not on fighting Tory cuts but in becoming Better Together’s prime cheerleader.  Labour Councillors in London and Liverpool praised the SNP for following the Finnish model of Baby Boxes, gradually being rolled out across Scotland.  They saw this as a bold step in closing the gap between the worst and better off households, Scottish Labour saw it as #SNPbad.

Locally Labour are falling apart.  Riven by internal strife and knowing that they are highly unlikely to retain untrammelled power after the Elections in May.  Former Labour Councillors are so desperate to throw off the Labour yoke they are standing as Independents under an Independents Alliance banner – a very crude attempt to garner votes.

The local elections in May will be a decisive moment for the people of Motherwell and Wishaw.  A vote for change, a vote for the SNP in May could transform local politics beyond recognition.

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At the SNP Conference First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a four-point plan to boost trade and exports. She has also launched a consultation on radical new approaches to childcare which may help parents choose the type of childcare which best suits them. An  extra half a billion pounds will be invested into primary care, including GP services and health centres and, finally,  next summer, all newborn babies across the country will receive a baby box full of clothes, nappies, bedding, books, and toiletries. There will also be the launch of an independent review of the system that supports children in care.

I have deliberately referred to these measures in the first instance to give the lie to Tory and Labour politicians who keep advising the SNP government to “focus on the day job”. These policies show a focus on making Scotland a fairer more equal society.  There is a focus on helping those who are less able to help themselves.

I know that the Scottish Government is determined that the xenophobia which is being shown by the Tories will not be tolerated in Scotland where we are grateful for the input of EU nationals and those from other places who choose to make Scotland their home.  There is no doubt that they contribute massively to daily Scottish life – especially in our Health Service.

The recent Parliament recess did allow me to visit even more local organisations and to attend meetings regarding the Glasgow-Shotts electrification which has caused so much disruption in Cleland.  I have also spoken to the Transport Minister and there is much work being done to try to alleviate this disruption.

The re-opening of the Dalzell Works was a highlight for me and to watch the first plate being rolled under Liberty House ownership was amazing.

I was delighted to meet with residents and friends of Glenview Court and the volunteers of Befriend Motherwell in September. Important community focused organisations like these contribute so much to peoples’ lives and I am keen to urge people to volunteer if they can. If you wish to do so call 01698 440180.  The services they provide to tackle loneliness are particularly important to the elderly community.

My office has been contacted by many folk regarding Tax Credit payments disallowed by Concentrix (appointed By HMRC to administer this service) on false grounds.  It is appalling that so many hard working families have been treated so badly and cash taken away from those who most need it.

My staff and I videoed ourselves doing the Slosh (very badly!) to support Slosh Across North Lanarkshire which is raising funds for the Transplant Games next year.  I thoroughly recommend trying it with workmates, friends and family as it really makes everyone smile.

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I know that many of you will want to take part in the SNP’s listening exercise  which is seeking to gain a nationwide understanding of people’s views on Europe, Brexit and independence to grow consensus across Scotland in the wake of recent political events. Now is the time to have your say either online or in person.

I was delighted that North Lanarkshire Council have had an increase in funding from £17 to £23 million from the Scottish Government’s through the Affordable Housing Supply programme. The Council’s allocation has increased from £17 to £23 Million per year as the Scottish Government will now contribute £59,000 per house built. As the majority of the new houses will be built on Council owned land this is a great deal for local communities.

During the Parliamentary  recess I have been out and about locally to meet charities and organisations who are doing great work to help people in Wishaw and beyond.

I recently met with the new General Manager of Motherwell FC Community Trust Dawn Middleton and Business and Administration Manager Alison Wallace. We talked about the great work the Trust is doing in different ways helping people of all ages become more active, hosting special events and dealing directly with other local agencies to help them improve local lives. They do amazing work with Dementia sufferers and their families and offer work experience to young people which helps them develop skills employers are looking for. We also discussed new programmes some of which are about developing leadership skills in young women.

I visited Police Scotland’s Annual Fun Day at Motherwell Police Station and was delighted to meet and talk to many local people who were enjoying the day. It was a great afternoon and although I was accused of setting a bad example when I took a baseball bat to a riot shield held by a police “volunteer”.  I gave it my best shot I was outmatched by a six year old who went after me!

I return to Westminster on 5 September when we will discuss the Finance Bill which will now be steered through Parliament by Philip Hammond who replaced him. The result of the Brexit vote will inform many of the debates in the new session of Parliament and it remains vital that the SNP MPs constantly challenge the Government and continue to be Scotland’s voice at Westminster as Labour at Westminster no matter what the result of their Leadership election remain bitterly divided.

As usual my office has been busy dealing with constituent’s issues and judging from the feedback we are receiving people are appreciative of the very hard work my staff do on their behalf.

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The past few weeks have been extremely turbulent with the result of the EU Referendum and leadership wrangles in both the Labour and Conservative parties.

In the EU referendum, 62 per cent of the vote, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain.

But Scotland will be removed from the EU against the will of the Scottish people.

As a people we must consider all of the options that are open to us. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already had meetings with EU Presidents to consider Scotland’s continued EU membership.

While Labour and the Tories are taking the opportunity to bicker amongst themselves during one of the UK’s most uncertain times, the Scottish Government and the SNP at Westminster are the only ones with a coherent plan for taking the country forward.

There is also great uncertainty on the lives of EU nationals living here and British nationals living elsewhere in the EU.

There can be no doubt that they have made immense contributions to our local communities and wider society.

I have therefore written to new PM Theresa May to make a statement to confirm the future of EU nationals.

I joined the WASPI women outside Parliament in their fight for their pension rights.

Pensions are a contract; not a benefit, but the UK Government still refuses to respect their pension rights for which they have been working their entire lives.

This fight is by no means over.

In Parliament, I spoke up for Yvonne Mooney who achieved a bronze Olympic medal after coming behind a Soviet athlete who was later found to have been doping.

The UK Government must put pressure on the International Olympic Committee to remove all medals from any athlete found guilty of doping.

The long-awaited Chilcot Report has also been released highlighting the UK Government’s catalogue of failures in the Iraq War. It revealed that Tony Blair made a premature commitment to go to war to President Bush before Parliament was able to consider the evidence, stating “I will be with you whatever”.

The report also found there was no plan to rebuild Iraq post-invasion and soldiers were under-equipped.

With its findings, we can now turn our attention to secure justice for the deaths of the 179 British service personnel and countless innocent Iraqis.

One of the most enjoyable engagements I carried out recently was opening the International Conference of School pupils in North Lanarkshire at the GLO Centre in Motherwell. The enthusiasm, knowledge and commitment of all those who took part was immense.

If these young people are the politicians of the future then we are in very good hands.

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This will be my last column before the Holyrood Elections on 5 May.  Recently I have been working hard with Clare Adamson the SNP candidate for Motherwell and Wishaw to highlight the SNP’S achievements in government since 2007. I hope to welcome Clare as the MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw so that we can work together to help the people who live here.

Here in Scotland we have higher employment rates than the rest of the UK; free tuition for further and higher education; and free prescriptions and eye tests. The SNP government has built 30,000 affordable homes and pledged another 50,000; and increased NHS funding to £13 billion – the highest ever!

People in Scotland trust us to stand up for Scotland and its peoples’ interests as we did with the fiscal framework.  When the Treasury tried to get an agreement that would have cut Scotland’s budget by £7 billion John Swinney won a better deal for Scotland/

Last week in his Budget George Osborne announced further cuts to disability payments.  Since then the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith has resigned.  Even he could not stomach further cuts to disabled people whilst the Chancellor was reducing tax rates for the rich.  You can rest assured that I will vote against anything which makes the most vulnerable in our society poorer and benefits the rich.

Poverty is something that is far too present in our communities. To get a better understanding of what is happening on the ground to help people I recently set up a forum and invited local organisations to come together to discuss what they are doing. Forum members focus on a variety of issues from getting people back into work, fighting benefit sanctions, supplying food parcels and baby essentials and addressing mental health issues.

I was delighted to be asked by Nicola Sturgeon to be the Pensioner’s Champion for the Holyrood election.   I hope to show how the SNP government’s policies improve the lives of older people.  The SNP is committed to continuing measures such as free bus passes which enable older people to get out and about and which means that buses run during off peak times.

I have also started an all Party Parliamentary Group on Encouraging Older Women in Public Life.  I feel that Parliament should reflect society and older women are an under-represented group who can bring so much experience to public life.

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Last week it was really useful to have a Constituency Week away from Westminster.

I have taken full advantage of this by visiting local organisations such as Sacro and Routes to Work.   It is always interesting to speak to experts in their field and to learn what they are doing locally to improve people’s lives and chances.

I had a great time at St Aidan’s High School talking to pupils about my time at Westminster.  I really enjoyed sharing  tips with the debating team and hopefully some of my experience will help them do well in the North Lanarkshire Competition.

Time away from London has given me time to reflect on what is happening locally, nationally and internationally.

The Scottish Parliament elections will take place on 7 May and there is much work to be done to secure another SNP government which is committed to continuing to mitigate welfare cuts and to boost the Scottish economy.

We will have a referendum on EU membership on 23 June in spite of an appeal from our First Minister with Northern Irish and Welsh support to wait till later in the year.  The  SNP have been pressuring the Tory Government to put in safeguards to prevent Scotland being  taken out of the EU in spite of a majority of Scots likely to vote to remain in The European Union. Leaving the European Union would give the Westminster government free reign to roll back on many of the improvements to working conditions which have improved the lives of many Scottish workers.

In the constituency,  staff have been holding surgeries at foodbanks to assist people with their benefit issues or other problems they are facing. Volunteers at the foodbank told me that the most common reason for people seeking their help is due to the Tories’ sanction regime. We have always opposed Tory cuts against welfare and tax credits and will continue to do so.

This is also reflected in the Tories’ approach to Scotland’s new fiscal framework which could leave Scotland billions of pounds worse off each year. I recently discussed the issue on Politics Scotland and I am very clear that Scotland must not suffer as a result of the transfer of limited powers to the Scottish Government. The SNP will never make an agreement that would see Scotland worse off.   I am confident that John Swinney will only sign up to the best deal for Scotland.