Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Richard Thomson, the SNP MP for Gordon, in the House of Commons on 20 January 2020.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) and to be called to make my maiden speech on behalf of my constituents as the newly elected Member of Parliament for Gordon.
Before I get under way, I draw Members’ attention to the fact that I am a member of the Aberdeen city region deal joint committee, and I confirm that I have supplied this information in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests because it is relevant to some points I wish to make towards the end of my speech.
It is a particular privilege to make my first parliamentary contribution as my party’s spokesperson on business and industry. Before I come to the substance of the debate, however, I take this opportunity to acknowledge the service of my predecessor, Mr Colin Clark. I first got to know Colin when we were both councillors in Aberdeenshire. I had particular reason to get to know him because his election as a councillor for Inverurie deprived me, as the council leader, of a working majority. However, whether in our dealings on Aberdeenshire Council, in my dealings with him when he was a Member or, subsequently, in our dealings throughout the campaign, I have always found Colin to be a very courteous and generous opponent. I wish Colin, his family and the team of staff who worked alongside him all the very best for the future.
Like many colleagues, it has been a privilege for me to have served in local government, and particularly to have had responsibility, as council leader, for all the local government area of Aberdeenshire. I will resist the temptation to say that I now represent the finest part of that historic county, not least because I have no wish to be assailed quite yet by indignant parliamentary neighbours, on whichever side of the Chamber they happen to sit.
Nevertheless, Gordon is a constituency of real contrasts. Geographically, despite its northern location, it sits right on the cusp of highland and lowland Scotland. It is a mix of city and country, upland and lowland, urban and rural. Starting in the north-west, taking in the historic town of Huntly and the villages and landscapes of Strathbogie and Strathdon, it heads eastwards into the fertile agricultural lands of the Garioch and Formartine, where towns such as Insch, Inverurie, Ellon and Oldmeldrum sit close to rapidly expanding settlements like Kintore and Balmedie. Finally, it sweeps down to the banks of the River Don, where the historic papermaking industry continues to this day—in fact, it is where much of the paper we use here in the House of Commons still comes from—and then into the northern suburbs of the great city of Aberdeen, taking in Dyce, Bucksburn, Danestone and Bridge of Don itself.
Many of my constituents still find work in the traditional areas of agriculture and food production. Many, of course, work offshore either in the oil and gas sector or in the burgeoning renewables sector. In Gordon, we brew, we distil and we grow. Through the offshore energy sector and the north-east’s world-leading universities, we extract, we harness, we innovate and we power. The strength of the private sector is complemented by the role of the public sector and those who teach, who care, who make, who mend and who help others to live the best lives they possibly can, whatever their circumstances.
Gordon is a constituency that not only makes things; it makes people. It is an area where people are hard-working, fair-minded and community-spirited. It is a welcoming place that embraces those who come to make their lives there, no matter where in the world they come from and no matter what their circumstances. It is a place that earns its prosperity, even if sadly still too few have the opportunity to participate in it. In short, we are a region rich in human and natural capital, and in the end markets for what we produce, we are an area that has always looked outwards to Europe and the world, and is determined to continue doing so.
My constituency is one that emphatically did not vote to “Get Brexit Done”—quite the reverse. People there are pragmatic and well understand the benefits EU membership has brought us, as well as the pitfalls of trying to leave under a Government seemingly without a clear idea of the terms on which they would like that to happen. Although my constituents can take political uncertainty in their stride, they understand well the need to progress on the basis of a realistic consideration of the problems that might occur. Watching supporters of the Government swaggering into television interviews and arguing about who is going to have the biggest set of bongs in the negotiations to come with our European partners leaves them, as it does our European partners, pretty well cold. This House, in its deliberations to come, would do well to heed the wise words of the Danish Finance Minister Kristian Jensen, when he observed that
“There are two kinds of European Nations—there are small nations, and there are countries that have not yet realised that they are small nations.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a small nation. I, like my colleagues, hope to see another one emerge on to the international stage in the not-too-distant future. When you understand, as we do, that it is possible to enhance your national sovereignty by sharing it and that it is possible to share it without anyone else getting it, you see that it is little wonder that EU membership has not ever seemed to provoke the kind of existential crisis in Scotland that it has elsewhere in the UK.
This is, of course, a debate on the economy and, in drawing my remarks to a close, I wish to highlight three challenges pertinent to my constituents in particular. The first relates to the energy transition. Of course North sea oil and gas will continue to meet our energy needs and provide employment for some time to come. However, we need to be preparing to enact a just transition to the low-carbon industries of the future, harnessing fully the skills and knowledge of our present industries. The best way to start would be to ring-fence the corporation tax receipts from that industry and invest the proceeds with that objective in mind.
The second relates to diversifying the local economy. We need to be growing other areas of our economy in the north-east too, whether that is in digital, life sciences, food and drink or tourism. This is something on which there is complete consensus throughout the north-east, so it remains a disappointment to me that when it comes to the Aberdeen city region deal and the subsequent side deal, the Scottish Government are still out-funding the UK Government’s contribution by a factor of 2:1. The Scottish Government are also still doing too much of the heavy lifting on broadband, given that responsibility is still in the purview of Westminster. I believe it is time the UK Government started to take their responsibilities for that seriously, while they still have them.
The final challenge relates to alignment with the single market. We can well see the contradiction between a Prime Minister who assures our colleagues in Northern Ireland that there will be no divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and a Chancellor who says that there will be changes. There is not so much as a chlorinated chicken whiff of a trade deal coming along that will compensate for the trade deals we are about to leave behind. We must remain in alignment with the single market and not allow the Prime Minister another chance to crash out, leaving others to pick up the pieces of that failure.
If the election brings us two comforts, they are these: first, the Prime Minister is now the master of his own destiny and so is responsible for and in charge of everything that now follows, with the resulting mess being his and his alone. Secondly, the people of Scotland have chosen my party to represent them in this place to defend their interests. That is a task I look forward with relish to carrying out, along with my colleagues.