SNP Conference demands energy action

16 Oct 2008

SNP Glasgow East by-election victor John Mason and Glenrothes candidate Cllr Peter Grant today brought the concerns of their voters over rising fuel prices to SNP Conference in Perth.

SNP Conference unanimously backed calls for Westminster to take real action to tackle rising fuel prices this winter with a payment of £100 for pensioners and a VAT holiday on energy bills for all households amongst the measures that should be introduced.

Speaking after he received a rousing welcome to conference SNP MP for Glasgow East John Mason said: “In the Glasgow East by-election the issue on the doorsteps was the rising cost of food and fuel. Even in July people were concerned about how they would pay their energy bills.

“In Glasgow East people chose to send a message to Westminster that it was time for action on fuel prices. They sent that message by voting SNP.

“Now the voters of Glenrothes can send a message to Westminster that we need real action to help families in Fife and across Scotland meet their gas and electricity bills this winter.

Speaking at Conference Peter Grant, SNP Candidate for Glenrothes said: “On every doorstep in Glenrothes people are calling for action to tackle rising energy costs.

“The pensioner I met whose fuel bill reached £300 in the summer or the family I met with Alex Salmond whose bills have increased by £25 a week, they need to know how they will pay their bills this winter.

“Warm words from Gordon Brown won’t heat homes this winter.

“The people of Glasgow East sent a message to Gordon Brown that it was time for action, now it’s the turn of Glenrothes.”

Resolution:

[b]Fuel Poverty[/b]

[i]Conference expresses concern at the rise in domestic gas and electricity bills of 40% since January 2008 which could push an estimated 30,000 people into fuel poverty including 13,000 people in the Glenrothes constituency.

Conference welcomes the efforts of the Scottish Government to target fuel poverty including the record number of central heating installations in the SNP’s first year in government and calls on the UK Government to take action to address the rising costs of energy bills this winter including introducing a VAT holiday on gas and electricity bills this winter, an additional £100 for all pensioners this winter to meet fuel bills, to reduce the costs of energy efficiency measures and calls on the UK Government to provide access to Scotland’s fossil fuel levy surplus of £120 million.[/i]

New Glasgow East MP makes Commons debut – Mason to prioritise narrowing the gap between rich and poor

14 Oct 2008

John Mason, the new Member of Parliament for Glasgow East, has delivered his ‘maiden speech’ to the House of Commons. Speaking during a debate on democracy and human rights late yesterday evening (Monday 13 October) Mr Mason covered a number of themes.

The East End MP paid tribute to his long-serving predecessor, David Marshall, wishing him a speedy recovery from his period of ill-health. Mr Mason then went on to highlight the economic factors that lay behind his election victory in July.

During the debate, John Mason said: “The people of Glasgow East elected me to send a message to the Prime Minister and now I am here to deliver it. That message is clear and simple. It’s time for action to help hard-pressed households who are struggling to make ends meet with the soaring cost of food and fuel.”

During the debate, Mr Mason flatly rejected the notion that his constituency was ‘an area of uniform devastation’ – a false impression propagated by some during July’s by-election campaign. He went on to welcome recent Scottish Government action to increase affordable housing availability in the city, called for lottery funding to be allocated to help provide a lasting legacy for the East End from the 2014 Commonwealth Games and criticised Glasgow City Council for allowing local school buildings to fall into disrepair over a period of decades.

Mr Mason pledged that whenever a measure was brought before the House of Commons – from whatever colour of Government – he would assess it by asking the question “Does this measure narrow or widen the gap between rich and poor?”

John Mason MP’s maiden speech

13 Oct 2008

Full transcript of John Mason’s speech in the House of Commons, 13th October 2008. John making his maiden speech

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): I should start by saying that I wholeheartedly agree with a lot of what the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) has just said in favour of democracy, so I shall delete that part from my speech.

It is a tremendous privilege to stand before the House today and have the opportunity to speak. I am only too well aware of the history of this place and of the number of highly respected Members who have represented my own beloved city of Glasgow and constituencies round about: some of them are here today. I thank the many Members who have warmly welcomed me to the House, and particularly Mr. Speaker for his help during the two months before I was sworn in; it is good to have a neighbouring Glasgow Member in such a key position. I was particularly keen to take part in this debate on democracy and human rights, but first I would like to make some opening remarks, as I believe is the custom.

The people of Glasgow, East elected me to send a message to the Prime Minister and now I am here to deliver it. That message is clear and simple: it is time for action to help hard-pressed households who, given soaring food and fuel bills, are struggling to make ends meet. During the by-election, Scottish National party pressure forced a U-turn on the 2p rise in road fuel duty. People are struggling to make ends meet, and an SNP success in Glenrothes would force more action over soaring household bills.

The swing that elected me to what was Labour’s third safest seat shows that Labour’s days of taking Scotland for granted are over. It is clear that people have had enough of the party’s broken promises, and want a change for the better.

Less than four short months ago, I was happily taking part in debates in Glasgow city chambers, with the outlook of a quiet July and a holiday in prospect. However, as has been said,

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley.”

We think that we have the future of ourselves, our economy and our country safely planned out, but events take a turn and we find ourselves not where we expected to be.

As I reflect on the past in this place, I particularly wish to mention my immediate predecessor, David Marshall. Although I had been a councillor in Glasgow for some 10 years, it was only when he became the Member for the newly created constituency of Glasgow, East in 2005 that our paths began to cross. I must say that in all my dealings with David Marshall I always found him to be helpful and courteous to me and to others, and I know that that was the experience of many who met him. Since my election, a number of constituents have approached me about a problem that David Marshall had been dealing with and asked me to take it up as well. I am more than happy to do that, particularly in the case of several asylum seekers whom David Marshall was helping and I seek to help as well.

Despite what is reputed to be the robust nature of Glasgow politics, many of the concerns of the two main parties there—the Scottish National party and Labour—are shared concerns. For example, in his maiden speech in June 1979, David Marshall referred to the poor state of many school buildings in the city. Twenty-nine years later, I am very much at one with him on that. He clearly believed that all children everywhere deserve a decent education in decent buildings, and I want to follow his example on that point. Just the other day, I received a letter from David Marshall wishing me well. That says a lot about him as a man. I am sure that the House would want to join me in wishing him a swift recovery from illness and a long and fulfilling retirement.

I understand that it is also customary on these occasions to mention one’s constituency, and I would like to make a few points. I assume that a number of Members visited Glasgow, East in July—although I realise that some could not make it—and were able to see for themselves the success and the problems. It is certainly not an area of uniform devastation, as some have had us believe—in fact, it is a very mixed area, like so many others. Old heavy industry has largely gone, with some new manufacturing and service industries in its place, but still one sees the wide open spaces where the factories used to stand. We have to do something about that.

Much of the ’50s and ’60s housing has been refurbished or demolished, with new and better housing in its place. The Scottish Government are providing grant for new house building, which is very welcome, as are restrictions on the right to buy. However, our Government’s powers are limited. We need to do something about that.

Some old schools have been combined and replaced with excellent modern facilities. However, there are still many popular schools with good educational attainment, despite the inspector’s report says that the building itself is very poor. All that I hear from head teachers and their staff is that a modern building is a huge morale booster for teachers and pupils. Labour-controlled Glasgow city council has let the schools down for decades. We need to do something about that.

We look forward to the Commonwealth games coming to Glasgow, particularly to the east end, in 2014. Glasgow has done well in having many of the facilities in place already. It is encouraging that the Scottish Government and the city council, despite being of different political persuasions, are willing to work so closely together in having everything in place for the games. It would be even better if lottery funding could be released to fund a lasting legacy, as has happened with many similar events in England. However, I constantly hear complaints from youngsters about the lack of local affordable facilities, which they feel are too far away or too expensive. We need to do something about that.

In preparing this speech, I was encouraged to read some of those made by Members in the past. I was struck that in at least two I found concern about one of the main issues that concerns me today—the widening gap in our society between the rich and the poor. As I listened to Prime Minister’s Questions last week, I noted the suggestion that things started to go seriously wrong in 1979. I will leave it to others to judge whether that is the case, but it seems to me that since that date some in our society have done incredibly well and some have done extremely badly, and that that trend has continued almost seamlessly no matter which party has been in power.

One maiden speech that I read referred to “a Budget which took from the needy to give to the greedy and which made the rich richer and the poor poorer.”—[ Official Report, 14 June 1979; Vol. 968, c. 699.]

That was from David Marshall in 1979. This is from another maiden speech:

“This is all because the Government’s philosophy is that the rich must get richer by way of tax cuts and that the poor must become poorer to ensure true prosperity.”—[ Official Report, 27 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 1241.]

That was from the then Member for Dunfermline, East in 1983. Both statements are criticisms with which I wholeheartedly agree. When a new measure is brought to this house by whatever Government in the coming years, that is the measure against which I will judge them. I will ask myself, “Does this measure narrow or widen the gap between rich and poor?” We are clearly in difficult economic times in this country and throughout the world. Yes, there may be a need for belt tightening by many of us, but if that does happen, it must be those who have least who tighten their belts least and those who have most who tighten their belts most.

John speaking in the Commons Let me turn to the subject of the debate: democracy and human rights. I am the most recently elected member of this House, so I have been most recently subjected to the democratic process. I would not go so far as to say that that gives me the strongest mandate of any politician in Scotland, but it does say something about how people in Scotland are thinking at this time. A growing number of voters in Glasgow, East support independence, and, despite scaremongering in some quarters, they are not afraid to vote for the party of independence. For too long, Unionist parties have sought to instil fear in the people of Scotland if they dared even to think of independence, but those scare tactics work only for so long because people eventually see through them. In this by-election, many people broke with family tradition when they voted. No longer are the people of Glasgow, East looking backwards—rather, they are looking forward in hope.

The two countries where I have lived most to date have been Scotland and Nepal; whether England will overtake Nepal remains to be seen. In the 1980s, Nepal had a ruling monarch with elected representatives, but the latter had little power. Political parties were not even allowed, so every candidate was an independent—allegedly. However, party tensions still lay below the surface. I remember sitting in my flat in Kathmandu during an election when a random stone came flying through the window. Human rights there were clearly limited, not least in the religious field. It was against the law to change one’s religion, and baptisms of new believers were generally carried out secretly at night. The most open I was able to be about my faith was at Christmas, when outdoor carol singing was allowed. However, I was still nervous that every time we went round a corner the police would be standing there. Clearly, other countries around the world have even less democracy and fewer human rights than Nepal. I am glad to say that the situation in Nepal has greatly improved over recent years, although that country still has its fair share of problems.

In Scotland we have a variety of voting systems for each of the four main levels of representation: Europe, Westminster, the national Government and local councils. While most of that will be familiar to Members here, it is the relatively new local council system that I want to bring to their attention and commend to them. It is a system of proportional representation by single transferable vote. It has been relatively well understood by the electorate, with very few spoiled papers. It is already used by some trade unions and pensions funds. It combines an emphasis on the individual candidate and on the political party—a balance that no other system is able to achieve. I want to commend the two parties in the previous Scottish coalition for combining to introduce that excellent system in my country. I hope that it can be extended elsewhere.

In conclusion, I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your forbearance and Members of all parties for their warm welcome.

Glasgow East victor takes seat at Westminster

06 Oct 2008

John Mason with supporters at Central Station before departing for LondonSNP by-election winner, John Mason MP, today took his seat in the House of Commons after sensationally winning the Glasgow East by-election on 24 July, overturning a Labour majority of 13,507 to win his seat with a swing of 22.54%.

Speaking in advance of his swearing in, Mr Mason said: “The people of Glasgow East elected me to send a message to Gordon Brown, and now I am here to deliver it.

“That message is clear and simple. It’s time for action – action to help hard-pressed households who are struggling to make ends meet with the soaring cost of food and fuel.


“During the by-election, SNP pressure forced a U-turn on the 2p rise in road fuel duty. People are struggling to make ends meet, and SNP success in Glenrothes will force more action over soaring household bills.

“The shame of fuel poverty in a land of energy plenty transcended the campaign in Glasgow East, just as it is now the defining issue on doorsteps in Glenrothes.

“The swing that elected me, in what was Labour’s third safest seat, shows Labour’s days of taking Scotland for granted are over.  It is clear that people have had enough of Labour’s broken promises, and want a change for the better.

“People in Scotland know that it is the SNP who have delivered real benefits for them and their family  and are helping them out in the hard times by freezing the council tax, investing in more police and reducing business rates and prescription charges.

“Now people want the same positive action from Westminster, and that is the message the SNP is taking to Gordon Brown.”