Below is the text of the speech made by Anne McLaughlin, the SNP MP for Glasgow North East, in the House of Commons on 19 December 2019.
I have been returned to Parliaments often enough to know that in the first few days it is supposed to be friendly, collegiate and jovial. There is barely a human being on the planet who I do not wish well, but I cannot feign joviality simply because some Conservative Members get irritated and would rather we in the SNP cheered up or just shut up. I cannot feign it when I represent many people who have long since lost the energy or reason to smile because of what successive Tory Governments have put them through. I cannot pretend that there is anything collegiate about this place when I have sat through debates in Committees, spoken up for constituents and talked about the real pain and distress that many of them have felt because of UK Government policies, yet the policies are still railroaded through and their pain and distress are ignored and intensified. There is nothing collegiate about that, so I will not be feigning anything. I will just be sticking up for my constituents and for Scotland.
During this long debate, I was softening, because I am a very soft-hearted person, until the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) got up to speak. I am going to pick up on just two of the many things he said that absolutely enraged me. The first was when he talked about somebody—I missed who it was—who had posted the number for the Samaritans in response to the Conservative Government getting their big majority. If he does not understand that thousands of people are in a really bad way and are very distressed that they will have to go through another five years of even worse policies and the impact they will have on them, he does not understand even his constituency.
The hon. Gentleman then talked about how the absolute priority must be letterboxes. Now, I am a letterbox anorak as much as anybody else in here, but he talked about how he was constantly damp and frozen during the election campaign and how he had to deal with all these horrible letterboxes, and he said that had to be an absolute priority. I am sorry, but I have loads of constituents who are constantly damp and frozen because they cannot afford to heat their homes, and he will have plenty of them as well. If they had heard him say that, they would feel extremely let down by him.
I will be collegiate about my predecessor. Paul Sweeney was a tough opponent, mainly because we agreed on so much and shared so many political interests. He is passionate about urban regeneration, restoring civic pride and the built heritage of Glasgow, particularly Glasgow North East, from where he hails. He considered it a huge honour to represent the area he grew up in. Politics can be really tough. It is not just a job we lose, and it is not just us who lose our jobs, so I wish him and his team well for the future.
I would like to redress a terrible faux pas that I made when the results of the election were announced in Glasgow. I paid tribute to my opponents’ campaigners and completely omitted to mention my own team. This has been pointed out to me once or 25 times in the past week, so now, from the bottom of my heart, I thank not just the voters of Glasgow North East, whom I do thank, but my brilliant campaign team, who were determined to move heaven and earth to get me elected—and they did. If it is not stretching it a wee bit too much, can I just say that one of them, Esther, celebrates her birthday today? Happy birthday, Esther.
What is in the Queen’s Speech for the constituents of Glasgow North East? [Interruption.] “Hee haw” I hear my colleagues say. Let us look at some of the issues facing some of my constituents. What is in the Queen’s Speech for people being forced to use food banks as they wait weeks for universal credit—support to which they are entitled—to arrive? Nothing. What is in the Queen’s Speech for the WASPI women, who should not have to be fighting but whose fight will continue, alongside many of us, until justice is done? Nothing.
What in the Queen’s Speech for people such as my constituent Donna from Carntyne, who is due to give birth in March but will do so alone because she does not earn enough for this heartless Government to allow her Tunisian husband to join her? Donna was a residential childcare worker—not highly paid but highly valued and absolutely necessary. She did that work by day and DJed by night and she still did not meet the minimum income threshold. What is in the Queen’s Speech for her? Absolutely nothing.
What is in the Queen’s Speech to help to stem the rising number of drugs-related deaths in Scotland—I refer to measures over which the Scottish Government have no control? Absolutely nothing. What is in the Queen’s Speech for EU citizens living in my constituency who have been stuck in limbo for the last three years? Nothing but more fear, more uncertainty and more hostility.
What is in the Queen’s Speech for children, often born here, whose parents cannot afford the £1,000-plus fee to apply for citizenship? Nothing, although now that the High Court has ruled these charges on children to be illegal, I look forward to the Government’s response. Finally, what is in the Queen’s Speech to help communities to transition to be greener and more sustainable? Nothing.
Let me elaborate on some of the aforementioned. I assume that information on the green energy deal to aid communities to become greener and more sustainable will be forthcoming at some point. I urge the Government to be very careful about how whatever it is they plan to do is implemented. Nothing should discourage people from participating but, unfortunately, the last attempt by the Government to do this, the last green deal, left many people penniless and mistrusting. Putting right what happened to those people will go some way—some way—to lifting the suspicion that many now feel.
Not long before losing my seat in the 2017 election, I was made aware of the issue of green deal mis-selling in the Barmulloch and Balormock areas of my constituency. A constituent who I have come to know very well— Mr Dougie Wilson—turned up at every surgery to update me on what was by then coming to light. That started me on a road that I am still on—a road that I stayed on, in solidarity with the 60 constituents affected by this, when I lost my seat. I am a little further along in terms of getting justice for people, but truth be told we have got nowhere near as far as we should have done because of the shambolic response from previous Governments. If this truly is a clean slate and fresh start, as the Prime Minister alluded to, I urge the Government to do what the SNP Government have to do as part of their day job, which is to mop up the mess left behind by the last UK Government.
Let me read something that one of those constituents said to me. This is important. May is 84 years old and she is widowed. She was told by a company approved by the UK Government that the cost of her green deal products would be nominal, that she should not worry, it was a Government scheme and they would pay the bulk; she would have pennies to pay. That was followed up by, “Hurry up and sign, or you will lose out.” This is what she said to me:
“When I got the paperwork with the figures on it I was so shocked I had an asthma attack. I was very distressed and panicked to see that I had somehow signed up to a loan of £10,000 with interest of £8,000. I am from a generation of people who save up if they want something. Other than my mortgage, I have never taken out debt, and although that sum might seem low to some people, it was horrifying to me.
At the time, I did not say anything because I was too shocked, too embarrassed. I am 84 years old, I felt stupid for not knowing what I was signing. I felt ashamed and I felt vulnerable. I did not feel in a position to complain. I thought I had no choice and I blamed myself. I don’t blame myself any longer.”
She does not blame herself any longer because she has the support of the fantastic Green Deal Action Group in Glasgow North East, which is made up of 60 of her neighbours, all of whom have different mis-selling stories to tell, all of whom this Government have heard from, but most of whom have been ignored or fobbed off. Let me be clear: they will not be getting fobbed off any longer. Apologies, cancelled credit agreements, refunds and compensation are what I am asking for. This is an issue that affects people not just in my constituency, but across Scotland. I am very grateful to those of my colleagues, particularly on these Benches, who carried on the fight and formed the all-party group on green deal mis-selling, for which I provided the secretariat.
I said that there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech on drug deaths. Last year, in Scotland, we lost 1,187 of our citizens to drug-related deaths. The Scottish Government have set up a drugs death taskforce, which is made up of a range of experts, including those with lived experience. They are looking at the changes that they can make, but some changes cannot be made without the permission of the UK Government. The Scottish Government want to allow injecting drug users to use a safe and supervised health facility so that, if they go into overdose, someone is there to get help, but they—the grown-up, democratically elected Government of Scotland—are not allowed to do that.
I join the calls of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) who has led the charge on this in the way that only she can. I join in her calls for the devolution of powers to enable Scotland to provide safe injecting facilities, and I will say more about that on a future occasion, but I am one of those people with lived experience of drug addiction. I lost a family member to a heroin overdose. He died, yes, because he injected heroin, but also because when he went into overdose, instead of calling for medical assistance his friends took fright and fled the scene because they were scared that they would be arrested. It is absolutely clear to me that he could still be with us today if those facilities had been available, as he would have been allowed to feed his terrible addiction in relative safety. Disappointed as I am not to see anything in the Queen’s Speech to help people in that position, I will work with other families, with drug users in Glasgow North East and with campaigners such as Faces and Voices of Recovery UK to fight for whatever measures are necessary to preserve lives and to make those lives worth living.
I said at the start that I would not feign joviality. I talked about the fact that no matter what we say and no matter how good a point we make, the UK Conservative Government are not listening, but that will not stop me, because I learned a very valuable lesson when I was elected in 2015. I met a group of women in Springburn in my constituency, and they were excited because two days earlier they had watched me speak in a debate on benefit sanctions. I told them how I felt that I had wasted my time and that I was banging my head against a brick wall because it changed nothing as nobody on the Government Benches was listening. They told me never to think like that. Yes, they want us to change things for them, but they told me that just knowing that someone who understood what they were going through was in this place, speaking up for them and fighting on their behalf, and being able to see and hear me do that meant so much to them. It made them feel that they were not voiceless.
So I will fight for the justice that my constituents need and deserve, but even if this Government are not listening, never again will I feel like I am wasting my time. Speaking up for the constituents of Glasgow North East is what I will do every day until the day we all walk out of here for the last time and head home to Scotland to build the socially just, compassionate and independent Scotland in which they deserve to live. We know that it will happen. This Government may be in denial, but deep down they know it, too. Independence is coming very soon, and Members should be sure of that.