To my surprise, sitting down and attempting to reflect on my first year as an MP at Westminster was actually quite difficult – the time has certainly flown by.
After taking a couple of weeks to absorb my new surroundings – as well as the archaic customs and conventions of Westminster – I was eager to make my maiden speech, as newly-elected MPs are extremely limited in what they can and cannot do before making their first speech. However, with no less than 50 new SNP MPs, making a speedy maiden speech proved somewhat difficult.
My opportunity to stand up in the House of Commons and deliver my maiden speech came in July during the Emergency Budget debate. Between you and me, the prospect of standing up and giving this speech was as daunting as you might think!
To my surprise, the speech went quite well – until nearer the end. I noticed that Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP was shifting uncomfortably in her seat. I looked up at the clock and, to my horror, I had overrun by nearly a minute. With the Deputy Speaker, Eleanor Laing, half out her chair, I skipped to the next page, delivered my final remarks and sat down a relieved man.
The Deputy Speaker showed remarkable patience with me that day – she happens to be from Renfrewshire, but I am sure that was not a factor!
Since making my maiden speech, I have asked 16 oral questions, submitted 97 written questions, tabled 16 motions and participated in 61 debates. I’ve had the opportunity to speak on a diverse range of topics, including the humanitarian crisis, abolition of the House of Lords, violence against women, post-study work visas, fuel poverty, WASPI and even outer space.
My personal interest in the unfolding humanitarian crisis and immigration led to me being asked to sit on the Immigration Bill committee for the SNP. I accepted and served on the committee alongside Anne McLaughlin MP. As Anne will testify, the Bill committee was incredibly demanding – long hours of preparation for multiple speeches and interventions on different sets of clauses and amendments for two full days per weeks.
Due to my previous exploits on the Immigration Bill committee, I was asked to sit on the Investigatory Powers Bill committee. This particular Bill was extremely complex and challenging as it deals with civil liberties and aims to grant additional powers to the police and intelligence services. Luckily for me, I was working alongside Joanna Cherry QC – a legal mastermind who was able to go toe-to-toe with other QCs and lawyers on the finer details of the judiciary and warranty processes.
Two other areas that I have focussed on over the last year are violence against women and pension inequality for women – two campaigns that I have become particularly passionate about.
Back in September, the White Ribbon Campaign was brought to my attention and it led to me carrying out a little bit of research about the campaign. White Ribbon is a global campaign which encourages men to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women – men and boys from across the world working to end gender-based violence and discrimination. I was really keen to help in any way that I possibly could.
I was proud to become a White Ribbon ambassador and to secure the first ever Westminster debate on the role of men in ending violence against women. I will continue to work with groups from across civil society on the issue of gender-based violence and we will continue to call on the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention which they signed back in 2012.
Over the past year, I have been able to see first-hand how out-of-touch the UK Government actually is. The WASPI campaign illustrates the complete ignorance of the Tories to the devastating impact that some of their policies are having on the lives of ordinary people.
Of course, like the WASPI campaigners, I fully support the equalisation of the state pension age. However, what I and many others don't support is the cack-handed way in which the policy was implemented by the government of the day and by successive administrations.
I am sure that we can all agree that if the age of which you can start to receive your state pension is pushed back by 5 years, it is something that we should know well in advance. Yet this is exactly the opposite of what happened. After the Pensions Act of 1995 was passed, the government failed to communicate its implications to the public. This was compounded when the Coalition’s Pensions Act of 2011 was passed, which enacted further changes to the state pension age – exacerbating issues for women born in the 1950s who didn’t know that they wouldn’t be eligible to retire at 60.
The UK Government is under increasing pressure from across the House to provide some transitional relief to women affected. I believe that MPs from across the political spectrum, and from across the UK, should come together and force the government to fulfil their responsibilities to these women. I hope that we can take this campaign forward as part of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for WASPI.
Finally, I have also been working hard on the Scottish Sport APPG. As chair of the APPG, I am currently meeting with a variety of governing bodies, associations and clubs with the view to establishing a work programme for the Scottish Sport APPG. So you’ll no doubt hear of our progress in the very near future!
It has been a trying year at Westminster as we’ve been up against one of the most reactionary, right-wing governments in modern times. Unfortunately the Tories have a majority; however, circumstances are what you make of them. We will continue to take the fight to the Tories and challenge their slim majority. I hope that my constituents can see that I’m doing my utmost to represent Renfrewshire and to stand up for Scotland.