“We Poles are a freedom loving nation.”

Polish-Scot actor Tomek Borkowy
Actor Tomek Borkowy is urging fellow Poles to vote Yes on 18 September.
Jean has welcomed Polish-Scottish actor Tomek Borkowy’s announcement that he will be voting Yes in the independence referendum. Tomek is a household name in Poland, as the star of the hugely popular drama series Dom (“Home”), which ran for twenty years from 1980 to 2000. He first came to the UK in 1977, unable to speak English, and is now a British citizen and runs Edinburgh-based international performing arts agency Universal Arts.

Tomek said:

“A Yes vote is a vote for the new opportunities for all people in Scotland, but especially for Poles, who left their country because they felt marginalised by Polish politics and politicians. A lot of us have succeeded here and many more will. Scotland gave us an opportunity, and we will repay our debt.

“I will vote Yes because I strongly believe that this is the best deal for the people. We Poles are a freedom loving nation. Only 25 years ago we reclaimed our full independence. We understand the need of a nation for self-determination and most of us, I hope, will support it.

“Scotland has more economic potential than most European countries which regained their independence in the last quarter of a century and I urge all of my countrymen to vote Yes and be involved in the social, cultural and political life of our adopted country.

“Unlike the rest of the UK, which persistently is more inward looking, Scottish parties supporting independence are outward thinking. Scottish independence will open more self-development opportunities for Poles and the prospect of a balanced and enhanced life for them and for their children.”

Jean is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Groups on Poland and Culture. She said:

“I’m really delighted that Tomek will be voting for independence in September. The Polish community has contributed so much to Scotland, and should grab this opportunity to shape our shared future with both hands. They’ve more than earned it.

“I am proud that Scotland has a good record of welcoming not just Poles, but generations of New Scots from every corner of the globe, in contrast to the UK establishment’s increasingly xenophobic rhetoric. The chance to build a country of mutual respect and friendship, not fear and loathing, is one of the great prizes of independence.

“As Scotland considers our constitutional future, we have much to learn from Poland’s example. The 1791 Constitution of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the first in the world to recognise the people as sovereign, and we can take heart from Poland’s centuries-long but successful struggle for independence, first from occupation and latterly from Soviet domination.

“As Tomek says, the Polish people know more than most the value of freedom. I am so proud to work with the Polish community in Parliament, and will be even more proud to celebrate with them on the 19th of September.”

The Electoral Commission have provided Jean, as Convenor of the CPG on Poland, with a factsheet on the voting rights of Polish citizens in Scotland – like all EU citizens, Poles have the right to vote in the referendum as well as in the European Parliament election on 22 May, Scottish Parliament elections and local government elections.

Everything you need to register to vote is available at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

Advertisements

Poet George Gunn on George Robertson’s ‘cataclysm’

George Gunn
Thurso poet, playwright and educator George Gunn
You might have seen George Robertson’s ridiculous doom-warning yesterday, that independence would be “cataclysmic” for the West and a boon for supposed “forces of darkness”. Here’s a brilliant and funny response from Thurso poet and playwright George Gunn:

Good Morning & Here Is The News

Good morning & here is the news
on the evening of 7th April 2014
former Labour politician George Robertson
(now Lord Naw Naw & self proclaimed prophet)
has reportedly experimented in public
with a new chemical element
recently discovered in the production
of apocalyptic scare-mongering
against the democratic process
in a small European country
of just over five million people

this element is called Pomposherous
its properties are that when it is exposed
to the cool air of reason
it becomes very unstable
& begins to smoke alarmingly
producing intense heat but strangely no light
& then eventually it combusts violently
emitting a hot gas
that is nauseous to the human senses
& fatal for most small mammals
if inhaled

last night former Labour politician George Robertson
was apprehended by authorities in New York City
for illicitly selling Pomposherous without a license
& for inciting public cataclysm

Lord Naw Naw this morning was unavailable for any serious comment

Press Release on the Independence White Paper

Here is a press release from me, in which I react to the Independence White Paper, which was launched by the Scottish Government on Tuesday.

“HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS MSP:  INDY WHITE PAPER PUTS SCOTLAND’S KIDS FIRST

Independent Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has congratulated the Scottish Government on the independence white paper Scotland’s Future [1], saying they are right to put Scotland’s children first with a plan to provide 1,140 hours of childcare for all three and four year-olds, and all vulnerable two-year-olds.

Ms Urquhart also pointed out that many, including herself, will have some disagreements with parts the Government’s plans – such as on NATO membership, monarchy and currency – but that independence means that decisions on these issues will be finally be in the hands of the people of Scotland to take for themselves.

Ms Urquhart said:

“Our children are, to quote the title of the white paper, Scotland’s Future. They are the reason we should want to build a better nation and they’ll also be the ones who will do much of the building. So the government are to be congratulated for making world-class childcare and early years education a top priority for an independent Scotland

“Quite unlike the direction of travel at Westminster, the white paper sets out an ambition for a more equal Scotland. Greater equality for women must be central to that, and the childcare pledge will make it much easier for mothers to continue their careers if they choose to, and to flexibly share parenting duties with fathers.

“Much progress has been made on childcare in Scotland in recent years, but we need independence to achieve this radical an expansion. That’s because it is a stimulus measure that will pay for itself in the extra tax received from women choosing to work who otherwise would not be able to – but that can only work if the revenues stay in Scotland. Control of our economy by the UK Treasury makes it impossible for Scotland to pursue forward-thinking, stimulus policies like this and ties us into the austerity death spiral.

“The white paper is only one party’s vision, but it is a vision that should inspire confidence that Scotland can and will be a successful, progressive, independent country with many options available to her. The paper itself acknowledges ‘some would prefer Scotland to become a republic, to leave the EU or NATO, or to have our own currency’ – and I would prefer all of those things. But after independence I will have a fair chance to make my case to fellow Scots, while under Westminster those decisions are not ours to take.”

ENDS

For more information or comment, please contact Gary Cocker on gary.cocker@scottish.parliament.uk or 0131 348 5053.

Notes to editors:

1. The white paper Scotland’s Future is available at http://www.scotreferendum.com/ as a PDF or eBook. Hard copies can be ordered free in the UK bye by phoning 0300 012 1809 or emailing referendumwhitepaper@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.

The Week Ahead (11th November-17th November)

This Parliamentary week began with work in the constituency office on Monday, followed by a Hogmanay launch on Tuesday morning, and the usual parliamentary team meeting.  In the afternoon, I’ll be attending a meeting ahead of the Members’ Business Debate on Moray Library closures as well as our weekly Independent/Green Group meeting.  The rest of my afternoon will be busy, with two further meetings and a speaking slot in the City of Culture debate at Parliament.  I’ll end Tuesday with a visit to the Edinburgh Napier University Merchiston Campus.

On Wednesday, I’ll begin with my usual attendance of the Finance Committee, of which I am a member.  In the afternoon, I’ll be attending an information session with Scottish Water, then going to the University of Strathclyde to chair a session of an event on the Constitution of an Independent Scotland.  I’ll be back in Edinburgh to attend a Visit Scotland event at the Parliament, then a Polish-Scottish multimedia showcase opening.

Thursday will begin with an STV breakfast reception, followed by meetings with various organisations.  In the afternoon, I’ll be attending an event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, another on levels of debt in Scotland, and the Stage 3 debate on the Independence Referendum Bill.

On Friday I’ll be in Forres for the A96 duelling exhibition, and then travelling back to Ullapool for the launch of Lesley Riddoch’s new book, Blossom.

Motion: The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil

That the Parliament notes that 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the first tour of the play, The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil; understands that it was performed by the 7:84 theatre company across the Highlands and Islands, and in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ireland, and was written by a group of artists with many talents, including Gaelic singing and fine traditional music making; considers that it was effective in raising issues affecting the Highlands and Islands over the last few centuries, including land ownership, class divide and economic change; believes that its commentary on the cause and effect of the Highland clearances, inequitable land ownership and the discovery of North Sea oil still have relevance; considers that the arts play a vital role in political debate and thought in Scotland, particularly ahead of the 2014 independence referendum, and welcomes the work of writers and artists that articulates contemporary Scotland as well as The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil.

Motion: 2014 Edinburgh International Festival

I lodged the following motion in Parliament today expressing my regret at the decision taken by the EIF to not commission any productions examining the independence referendum next year. It seems such a shame that the opportunity is being passed up by the EIF to use the event to show the role that the arts can play in the big decisions of our time, regardless of their angle or viewpoint.

That the Parliament notes with regret the reported decision taken by the director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Sir Jonathan Mills, to exclude any independence-themed productions from the 2014 event; believes that, regardless of voting intentions, the cultural sector has a massive role to play in the referendum; considers that political neutrality can be better obtained through an open, fair, and balanced programme that includes the views of all sides rather than through what it sees as enforced silence in what is universally recognised as one of the most important debates in Scotland’s history; believes this to be an act of censorship that will inadvertently politicise the festival and a wasted opportunity for Scotland’s arts community, and, in order to promote an open, healthy and vigorous debate, encourages the organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival to reconsider the decision.

SPEECH: Closing Speech, Trident Debate, 20th March 2013

16:27
Jean Urquhart: We have had a good debate and, again, I repeat my support for the Scottish Government’s bringing this entirely relevant matter to the chamber.

Ruth Davidson’s suggestion that the retention of Trident nuclear missiles showed responsible government led to Alasdair Allan’s brilliant question whether she was also suggesting that every country without a nuclear deterrent was irresponsible. Of course, the answer was that they were when perhaps the answer should have been that countries without nuclear weapons are more responsible with regard to global as well as local security.
Ruth Davidson: My point was that the UK was a responsible signatory to the NPT and that countries such as North Korea and Iran that, since the NPT’s establishment, were seeking to bring on nuclear weapons were indeed irresponsible.
Jean Urquhart: I rest my case. We still have not heard a reasonable answer to Alasdair Allan’s still relevant question.

All sides of the chamber will agree that multilateral disarmament is to be desired, but how do we achieve that? Somebody has to go first and I believe that, with independence, Scotland could do that and be the leader in the world as it has been in so many other areas.

We heard extraordinarily emotive language from Ms Davidson, who talked about us

“walking away from our neighbours”.

In fact, we will be walking towards our neighbours.

Ruth Davidson gave us a terrific list of alternative uses for the money that would be saved by ending the nuclear deterrent, all of which have been suggested by members of the SNP. There is no lack of ideas—it is a shame that she could find nothing to recommend Trident.
Ruth Davidson: The comment about

“walking away from our neighbours”

was a direct quote from Angus Robertson at the SNP conference, which I believe the member attended. My point in listing the huge number of alternatives was to point out the number of times her former colleagues in the SNP have spent the £163 million for Trident. By my reckoning, it is about 20 times per year.
Jean Urquhart: I am well aware of what the member intended, but the point is that those are all worthy areas on which to spend the money and areas where it is needed.

Ken Macintosh stated that the SNP is somehow not serious about getting rid of Trident and that the debate was some kind of jokey waste of time so that a bit of rhetoric about independence could be heard. How dare he? Many people have an ambition to rid the United Kingdom of nuclear weapons, but the difference is that his party has had its shot and failed.
Ken Macintosh: I certainly did not think that the SNP was joking—independence is a deadly serious matter. However, how does the SNP’s desire to get rid of Trident square with its desire to remain as a member of NATO?
Jean Urquhart: The SNP has explained its position on that. I do not agree with it, so why would I try to explain it?

There is a real issue for the Labour Party. We know about the number of people with Labour Party membership cards who believe that the only route now to be rid of Trident on the Clyde is to vote yes in the referendum.

Mr Macintosh suggested that the issue that he again highlighted is shattering the unity of the SNP. I should know about that. The disagreement is not over the outcome of unilateral nuclear disarmament; it is about the route that we take to achieve the goal. The big common factor—and the big difference with the Labour Party, which has failed in its ambition—is self-determination by the Scottish people. I can assure Mr Macintosh that, on that, there is no disunity. Labour needs to understand that inescapable fact. Better together? I do not think so.

What a funny wee speech from Mr McMahon. When someone knows that they are wrong, they often cover it up by poking fun at people who are trying to deal with a serious subject. He is right that the Scots arnae stupit. They have had 60 years of political rhetoric and claims that we will be rid of Trident from the Clyde, but nobody has achieved it. Now, it is within the grasp of the Scottish people to achieve self-determination and unilateral nuclear disarmament, and to head towards multilateralism. I urge them to do that.

Those members who are not in the SNP or the Independent and Green group need to think on this: if they believe, as most of us seem to do, that the only option that is open is the one that everybody has, come October 2014, will we be closer to being free of Trident if we vote yes to better together, or if we vote to be able to make the decision for ourselves? I ask members to support my amendment.

16:33

 

SPEECH: Opening Speech, Trident Debate (20th March 2013)

15:04
Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I am sure that it has not escaped the notice of those members in the chamber that I am the only member of the independent and Green group to speak in the debate. It is unfortunate that business has been scheduled during the PCS strike, and that it has kept my fellow group members away from the debate. Members of all parties had to cross picket lines today but the topic of Trident is so central to my support for independence that I decided to come in to speak to my amendment.

At the outset, I make it clear that I support every element of the Government’s motion and applaud its decision to bring the subject to the chamber for debate. Our amendment is designed to add strength to the motion and not to replace, denigrate or contradict it. I also express my sadness, but not my surprise, at the better together campaign for issuing a briefing in advance of today’s debate on what they think is the positive case for Trident and attempting to score points against the Government over the issues raised in my amendment. I thought that, at least on the issue of squandering billions of pounds on unnecessary, unworkable and immoral weapons of indiscriminate slaughter, there would be some sort of consensus and serious debate, regardless of constitutional preference. However, it seems that the better together campaign is now a cold house for anti-Trident campaigners. It has alienated churches, unions, peace groups, and the majority of the people in Scotland.

It will not come as news to many in the chamber that the issue of an independent Scotland’s NATO membership led me to become an independent member. I cannot support Scotland’s membership of a nuclear alliance, particularly when it pressurises its members to spend a minimum of 2 per cent of their gross domestic product on defence, regardless of the geopolitical circumstances of the time. Not surprisingly, NATO expects a contribution to its military common fund from each member state. In 2011-12, that amounted to £106.7 million from the United Kingdom. That means that, even if we could secure an opt-out from any collective military efforts, we would still be contributing financially to drone attacks on civilians and other aggressive military action.

I doubt that those who rail against NATO actions in Afghanistan will make allowances for Scotland because we were not the country that pushed the button. The UK should have been outraged when two innocent young Afghanis were killed recently by NATO troops because they thought that they were terrorists. There was hardly a whisper from the UK Government.

Nuclear weapons are a stain on humanity, whether they are in Scottish waters, American bases or Russian silos. The argument of those who wish to keep Trident essentially boils down to, “After you, I insist,”; in the Labour Party’s case, if it is cheap enough, it does not seem to mind. However, a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament report entitled “Nowhere to Go” highlights the fact that there are no viable alternative bases for Trident in the UK. If we get rid of Trident from Scottish waters, it is gone for good. My concern is that the disarmament of the UK would not be in NATO’s interests and that barriers will be erected against such a step.

Although Canada and Greece have removed nuclear weapons from their soil as members of NATO, I believe that those weapons had reached their sell-by date and those countries had the strategic cover of close neighbours who host nuclear weapons. The imposition of nuclear missiles on German, Belgian and Dutch soil, against the wishes of their Parliaments and citizens, should be a warning to us all about the co-operative nature of NATO.

Norway’s experience with NATO should also be a lesson. Although Norway has successfully resisted the imposition of nuclear weapons on Norwegian soil, it has not succeeded in changing NATO’s nuclear policy, which was reaffirmed last year at its Chicago conference. Every member of NATO is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but no significant efforts have been made to reduce the number of weapons that the alliance holds and shares. The treaty has therefore failed.
Bob Doris (Glasgow) (SNP): I have a lot of sympathy with much of Jean Urquhart’s amendment but will she also acknowledge that the Scottish Government has made it clear that if it comes to a choice between NATO and a nuclear-free Scotland, a nuclear-free Scotland will win every time?
Jean Urquhart: I accept the member’s statement—of course I do. However, there is a positive alternative to NATO membership that allows Scotland to act as a responsible global citizen. There are many examples of other nations that operate outside NATO and yet are more than adequately prepared to defend themselves. Those countries are not pariahs on the world stage and are not subject to threats from abroad. Given the recent St Patrick’s day celebrations in America, one would have to be very brave to claim that Ireland’s non-membership of NATO has somehow resulted in its isolation or affected its ties with the world’s remaining superpower. Ireland, along with a number of other non-NATO countries such as Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and much of central and eastern Europe, is a member of partnership for peace, which promotes bilateral co-operation between NATO and the partnership for peace countries on a case-by-case basis.
The Presiding Officer: The member needs to start winding up.
Jean Urquhart: Although some of those countries plan to accede to NATO, others view partnership for peace as an opportunity to co-operate internationally without compromise and without signing up to a military alliance that is predicated on a nuclear first-strike policy.
The Presiding Officer: You must bring your remarks to a close, Ms Urquhart.
Jean Urquhart: As the SNP campaign for nuclear disarmament briefing in advance of the NATO debate stated, an independent Scotland

“should not sneak timidly onto the world stage, afraid of our own shadow.”

Getting rid of Trident would herald the beginning of real nuclear disarmament, as would a distinctly different Scottish defence policy.

I move amendment S4M-05988.1, to leave out from “and further” to end and insert:

“; considers membership of NATO to be a barrier to the removal of Trident, whether as part of the UK or as an independent Scotland; believes that membership of an alliance predicated on a nuclear first strike policy is as harmful to Scotland’s international reputation, and poses the same threat from external agents, as the presence of a nuclear deterrent in Scottish waters; notes that European countries such as Ireland, Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO and are still considered to be full, cooperative members of the international community; further calls on the UK Government to disarm Trident and not to replace it with any other nuclear weapons system, and commits to ensuring that, in the event of independence, Trident will not be permitted to operate from Scottish waters.”

15:11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLOG: You Can’t Spell Constitutional Change Without A Constitution

Amid the bluster and fireworks of the current debate on independence, many seem to have forgotten the body of work that lies ahead in the event of a Yes vote in 2014. As my fellow MSP Patrick Harvie noted in the Sunday Herald, the time between the referendum and the first prospective elections to an independent Scottish Parliament in 2016 does not leave much room for manoeuvre.

For myself and many others, one of the most vital elements of an independent Scottish state that must be addressed is how it sets in place its social, political and cultural ethos. For them, and for me, the answer is through the conception of a written constitution.

Last weekend, I hosted a small gathering in the Scottish Parliament on behalf of the Scottish Democratic Alliance (SDA). Although my own views don’t necessarily tally with the SDA on every issue, I was keen to hear their thoughts on the need for a written constitution and how this could be taken forward.

The arguments in favour of a written constitution are myriad, particularly in the case of a newly independent state seeking to define how it will be governed, by whom and through what means. I can’t recall any democratic country that has gained its independence in the 20th century and has not established and enacted a written constitution. Iceland even seized the opportunity following the 2008 crisis that struck its banks to ‘crowd-source’ a new constitution, engaging the people in an open, innovative and participative approach to re-imagine the governance of their country that in turn captured the imagination of people the world over.

The arguments for a written constitution are only enhanced by Scotland’s experiences as part of the UK, whose placing of sovereignty with Parliament lies in direct conflict to the sovereignty of the Scottish people as asserted in the Claim of Right.

Indeed, only this week, the idiosyncrasies of Westminster were on show as the unelected Lord Forsyth questioned Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance as part of a House of Lords Committee investigation into the economic implications of Scottish independence.

The next step, therefore, is not for Scotland to determine whether it will have a written constitution, but what will be included in that constitution and, just as importantly, how and when that constitution will be drawn up. For a document of such massive legal, political, moral and social importance, we cannot dither and we must not delay.

Already, there have been a number of meetings held by the Constitutional Commission on this topic; the constitutional scholar W. Elliot Bulmer has written his own draft constitution, as have the SDA, and the Scottish Government has stated in its 2009 paper “Your Scotland, Your Voice”that an independent Scotland could formulate and agree a fully codified and written constitution.

From my own experiences of hosting ‘Changin’ Scotland’ along with Gerry Hassan over the last 10 years, I know that there are so many other organisations and individuals who have dedicated time and effort to thinking and writing about what could and should be included in a constitution for Scotland. We don’t need to wait for permission from above to begin this process- civic Scotland absolutely has the capacity and, I am convinced, the will for this task, just as it did before with the Scottish Covenant and the Claim of Right.

It is absolutely vital that this bubbling groundswell continues to rise, and that the people of Scotland are encouraged to think about what independence could and should mean. In my opinion, a gathering to share ideas between interested groups in the New Year could then lead to an event which would concentrate on the process of developing a written constitution. This could help to encourage engagement with the referendum and, more importantly, empower Scotland’s people to take charge of their own democracy. I would be interested in speaking to others who share these ideas on how best we might take this forward.

Regardless of our position on independence itself, we cannot be complacent about how it will work, or arrogant enough to not plan for the possibility. Time is of the essence, and we must step up to the plate now.

Let’s make sure that when Independence Day comes, we’re ready. 

Blog: The Real Threat to EU Membership

Scotland’s future within (or outside) the European Union (EU) has once again hit the headlines, with the Scotsman reporting that “the European Commission has written to a House of Lords committee stating that if Scots voters back independence, existing treaties which cover the UK’s EU membership willcease to apply’”. The Scotland Office is quoted in the article as saying that Scots have the right to know the full implications for Scotland if it were to “leave the UK family”.

Before we reach the meat of this topic, it’s rather disingenuous to claim that standing on your own two feet is akin to leaving a family. When our sons and daughters grow up and make decisions for themselves, it’s the mark of a developing, mature relationship, not of abandonment. An internationalist, co-operative Scotland would seek the same relationship, as is already shared with the other nations on the British Isles through the British-Irish Council.

Anyway, pedantry aside, we must remember that the Scotland Office’s argument should cut both ways. It looks likely that, regardless of who wins the next Westminster election, there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.  David Cameron, under fire from the right wing of his party and the growing prominence of UKIP, has all but promised one should the Conservatives emerge victorious; senior Labour MPs have suggested holding one and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats promised one in their 2010 manifesto.

Opinion polls consistently show that, although the small number of Scots in each survey are more evenly divided on EU membership, a strong plurality of UK voters would vote to leave the EU in a referendum.  For example, in the latest YouGov poll, this antipathy towards the EU translates into outright majorities in favour of withdrawal in the North of England and the South of England and 48% in the Midlands and Wales. This ‘cold house’ is hardly surprising, given that the UK press, whose attitudes towards Europe range from critically supportive to spluttering outrage, can hardly be described as being well-disposed towards Europe.

So, given that both major parties at Westminster would hold a referendum on EU membership after the next election and that there’s a consistent public and media majority in the UK in favour of leaving the EU, why do the No campaign continue to show their concern over Scottish EU membership? Surely it’s more at threat as part of the UK than as an independent country?

Of course, an independent Scotland would need to negotiate new terms of membership, as the Scottish Government itself says. However, it would do so from within the UK (and the EU) in the 2 years between the referendum result and the planned first elections for an independent Scottish Parliament in May 2016.

To suggest that the EU would be willing to perform an expensive and elaborate hokey-cokey, where Scotland was in, out and then in again, is ludicrous. Given the human, financial and natural resources that Scotland contributes to the EU at a time of uncertainty and financial instability across Europe, does anybody honestly expect the EU to wilfully eject a long-standing partner of almost 40 years?

Over the next 2 years, there will be attempts to obfuscate the debate by attempting to boil down 50 years of complex European treaties into doom-laden, doubt-ridden claims about Scottish membership of the EU while ignoring the very real threat posed by Westminster sabre-rattling. I hope, and believe, that the people of Scotland can see through the scaremongering and apply the common sense logic that has served us well in the past.