Last week I had the unfortunate experience of taking part in a parliamentary debate which got me cross.
The two things calculated to get me cross coincided when the Labour Party brought a motion which asserted that it would be lawful in public contracts to demand contractors to pay “the living wage,” and I then got talking about food banks.
To start with food banks: I find it wholly unacceptable that there are folk in my constituency, or actually anywhere else in this country, who are so desperate that they are effectively begging for food.
This is not just about low pay but research indicates that it is predominately about the way in which the welfare system has been messed around with by the UK government. I recognise that there are some lazy individuals around and the welfare system has to distinguish between applicants but what we are witnessing is a wholesale disregard for humanity, and of course it is women and children, and the disabled, who suffer most.
Frankly, this is a disgraceful state of affairs, reminiscent of Victorian times, and I’m sorry to remind you that it is entirely in the hands of the Westminster Government.
The living wage is not, perhaps, a well-known concept. It is an hourly rate calculated to allow an income on which one can truly, independently live, and it is higher than the national minimum wage, partly because the minimum wage has not been increased in line with inflation as it properly should have been. The proposal demanding that the living wage be specified in government contracts annoys me because it is contrary to all legal advice relating to European rules on freedom of contract, advice which Labour controlled Glasgow City Council also accepts, and the whole debate was quite simply grandstanding. Democracy deserves better and it is difficult to be sympathetic with the Labour Party in its current electoral plight. The Scottish Government is already paying the living wage to all its staff but it cannot compel contractors to do so.
Last weekend I was at the Remembrance Sunday service at St John’s in Stonehaven. We then made our way to the memorial up the braes for the laying of wreaths. It’s our annual reminder of those who suffered to preserve our democracy, and the privilege we all enjoy in living in a land where government is by the people for the people.
Today (Thursday) I shall be asking a parliamentary question about progress on getting a flyover at Laurencekirk. Of course we know the answer; a study is being carried out by consultants to establish the best engineering solution - it might not be to put the flyover at the south junction though the big problem is obviously there. That study was due to report about now but we understand the report will now be in February. I’m not happy about that but there may not be much which can be done to bring it forward.
What I want to know now is that the government is going to action the plan and get us the grade-separated junction we need. It’s not now just about safety; it’s actually about getting Laurencekirk and the surrounding area open for business as any planning proposal is now being halted by Transport Scotland’s insistence that the existing junctions cannot handle any more traffic.
Quite simply, this now needs action.