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Tommy Sheppard MP Newsletter
Well, that was a challenging year to say the least.
It’s sometimes hard to comprehend how we have found ourselves in this situation, being led deeper and deeper into chaos by a UK Government we didn’t vote for, with a compulsive liar at the helm. One who is increasingly behaving like a tin-pot dictator. As we approach the end of the second year of this awful pandemic, and the devastating effects of Brexit become more and more apparent, Boris Johnson and his government are clearly not fit for purpose. The deeply shocking. and ongoing, revelations about those in Downing Street blatantly breaking Covid rules (and probably the law) on, not just one, but numerous occasions, demonstrates the total lack of respect these people have for the rest of us. While people lay dying in hospital beds, they were getting together for a laugh and a drink.
I look back at the independence referendum of 2014, and I think how different all this could have been for the people of Scotland…
However, all is not lost. We will have another chance to get out of this mess.
Throughout last year I campaigned for independence, speaking at rallies and serving on the boards of the Scottish Independence Convention and the Common Weal think tank. I scored court victories over the UK Government on their secret taxpayer-funded union polling ([link removed]) , which they are still fighting me on. And in May I was out helping to get three Holyrood colleagues elected on a clear mandate to hold another referendum once the covid crisis has passed.
In Westminster, the Tories’ ongoing attack on decency and democracy is deeply disturbing. They are trying to outlaw peaceful protests, criminalise refugees who flee to the UK, bring the impartial elections watchdog under government control, and give themselves the power to ignore court rulings when it suits them. Any one of these moves would be alarming, but when put all together, it’s downright terrifying. I – and all SNP MPs – will do everything we can to fight against these draconian measures.
Covid has affected each and every one of us. The battle to get this pandemic under control is an international effort, but myself and my team have tried to offer as much help on a local level as we can. We’ve been here to help interpret the rules and guidelines, listen to concerns about vaccine passports, assist with applications for support, and help constituents stranded overseas to get home.
As ever, I tried to be out-and-about in the constituency as much as possible to meet people and hear their views. The changes I have seen in Craigmillar have been a real highlight – a new high school people can be proud of, and the new community festival really taking off.
In March I published a Private Members’ Bill seeking to decriminalise drug use and legalise drug consumption rooms. The passing of this bill would have ensured excessive drug use is no longer treated as a criminal justice matter, but as a health emergency. Opinion is changing. The bill had supporters across the House of Commons, including in the Conservative Party, but the government still won’t take these proposals seriously. People are dying while the UK Government continues to criminalise and stigmatise some of the most vulnerable in our society. It must stop, and it must stop now.
Individual constituents contacted me asking for help over 2,000 times last year. I and my team always do our best to answer every query. We can especially help with UK government organisations like the DWP, DVLA and Borders Agency, but we also can, and do, refer people directly to more local services like foodbanks and school uniform banks as well. Here is just a couple of examples of how we may be able to help:
* My office helped a self-employed constituent nearing retirement age overturn an unfair decision by HMRC, which would have had a terrible effect on her weekly State Pension payments. She had been paying the wrong class of National Insurance Contributions and my team and I argued that this was due to HMRC’s inadequate and sloppy communication. After nearly two years of fighting HMRC over this, they have finally relented, much to my constituent’s relief.
* A vulnerable constituent contacted my office as they were having difficulty paying their rent and faced eviction. We investigated their case and uncovered significant failings in how the Department for Work and Pensions had handled their benefit claim. After months of challenging the DWP to put things right, the constituent received an apology and was awarded over £6,000 in backdated disability benefits, including interest. We also made representations to the Council who agreed to pay over £5,000 in backdated Housing Benefit.
In 2019, I published a report on the House of Lords, demonstrating how Scotland was massively underrepresented, and the views of the Scottish people, massively misrepresented. At the beginning of 2021, I published an update. Two years on and, rather than signs of improvement, we are even further away from an accurate reflection of the demographics, or the political beliefs of the people of Scotland. The party representation within the Upper Chamber, (excluding Crossbenchers), compared with democratically elected House of Commons was as follows:
House of Lords
(65 Scottish peers) House of Commons
(58 Scottish seats)
Labour 27 (41%) 1 (2%)
Conservative 29 (45%) 6 (10%)
Lib Dem 9 (14%) 4 (7%)
SNP 0 (0%) 47 (81%)
This suggests that over 80% of the Scottish voting public are totally unrepresented in the House of Lords. It is high time that this archaic and undemocratic institution be abolished.
A big feature of my mailbag is always campaign emails, where constituents are encouraged by organisations to contact me en masse about a topical issue. Climate change really stood out among the almost 5,000 of these emails that came in last year. Constituents can be reassured that I am fully behind Net Zero, opposed to Cambo, and will push the UK Government to go beyond their disappointing COP26 commitments.
As the new wave of Omicron swept across the country, Christmas and Hogmanay were perhaps not the big celebrations we had hoped for, but the most important thing was for everyone to stay safe and well. The people of Scotland have done an incredible job, working together and doing our best to keep this virus at bay. I know it's been tough, but hang on in there. We have better days ahead.
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Tommy Sheppard MP . 94 Portobello High Street . Edinburgh, EH15 1AN . United Kingdom
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