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FERGUS EWING: My 'crime' was standing up for my constituents

By Fergus Ewing

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MSP Fergus Ewing slams the deposit return scheme.
MSP Fergus Ewing slams the deposit return scheme.

The rejection of my appeal against suspension from the SNP parliamentary group, was as predictable as the future movements of the tide.

My “crime” was standing up for my constituents, some of whom would have lost their jobs, and for local businesses that would have folded, had the dire deposit return scheme actually gone ahead.

It was the worst piece of regulation I have ever seen and several hundreds of businesses all over the country agreed.

The experience does raise a wider question: What is an MSP for? And when there is clear conflict between the party line, and constituent's interests, what is to be done?

To me there is but one answer. Unless an MSP is prepared to stand up for constituents, then he is letting them and himself down. So, I pledge to continue to speak out for my constituents using my judgement, and if that leads me into further difficulty with the whips – so be it. Let the cards fall where they may. As I observed: “If my constituents had wanted a doormat, they would have gone to B&Q!”

Suspended capital funding

In fact, that opportunity to speak out arose just two days after the suspension was lifted; at a packed public meeting in Grantown last Thursday night.

It arose because the Scottish Government, without warning, suspended capital funding for health capital projects all over the country. The Highlands have been hit particularly hard. In my constituency this means preventing completion of the circa £2.4 million project to upgrade the Grantown-on-Spey Health Centre.

The Scottish Government point out, fairly, that their capital budget has been cut by £400 million a year. But unlike other projects paused, construction work on the Grantown project was nearly completed. Roughly 80 per cent of the work has been finished. The GPs at the practice believe that by halting the project, some or all of the notional capital saving of around £500,000 will be eaten up by additional revenue costs: Extra costs of running the old Ian Charles Community Hospital for maybe three more years. As well as loss of the old buildings for conversion for much-needed housing for key workers.

Its heating cannot be turned down, its electrics are faulty, and additional temporary work is needed for it to be safely used. In short, this decision will be a false economy where the public purse ends up worse off.

Therefore, this is an absurd decision and I pledged to the public meeting that I would as their MSP, fight it on their behalf. I hope to do so with cross-party co-operation from other Highland MSPs, and to seek urgent meetings with the NHS Highland chiefs and the cabinet secretary for health Neil Gray. The decision can and should be reviewed and overturned.

It’s not party politics but common sense. One member of the public queried why we are spending millions a year on creating a new national park when priorities such as our health service are being neglected. Quite so, Sir! And more on that very topic in the next column…

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