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Inside you'll find information about my work during June 2021.
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Tommy Sheppard MP Newsletter
So, it appears that summer may finally be upon us with traditional school holiday weather. The end of June marked the passing of the deadline for applications to the EU Settlement Scheme. I truly hope that all our friends and neighbours born elsewhere in Europe but living in Scotland managed to get their applications in on time, but I do think it is shameful that we have been forced into a situation where they have to do it at all – my colleagues and I did all we could to fight it and to raise awareness of the need to apply. You can read the piece I wrote for the Evening News here ([link removed]) .
If you have missed the deadline, you can still apply if you have ‘reasonable grounds’ for a late application. Details of those can be found here ([link removed]) , or you can call Citizens’ Advice on 0800 916 9847.
Three minutes was not nearly enough time, but I got to make a small contribution to the Israel/Palestine debate, which took place in Westminster Hall, following on from the upsurge in violence in Gaza and Israel in May. The real tragedy is that this violence will happen again, and will keep happening, until the root cause is addressed. You simply cannot have a two-state solution without recognising both states. You can hear what I had to say below.
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A lesson in not giving up...
Two years ago, I made a Freedom of Information request to the UK government seeking information on all polling since January 2018 on public perception of the union, including how much public money had been spent on it. The Cabinet Office refused, hiding behind an exemption clause which related to providing a safe space for the development of government policy. I then appealed to the Office of the Information Commissioner, arguing that since the UK government had no stated intention to review or alter policy in respect of the union, the clause should not apply. The ICO sided with the government and so in February 2020 I took the case to Tribunal. Two weeks ago, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights ruled that the information requested “relates to the implementation of existing policy rather than to policy development” and that the Cabinet Office must disclose the information within 28 days. Read more about it** here
Early in the month, I joined with 23 other parliamentarians in writing to President Biden, raising the case of Julian Assange and urging the President to drop the prosecution against him. The case against Mr. Assange weakens the right to publish important information that the government finds uncomfortable. Indeed, this value is central to a free and open society. The case against Mr. Assange also undermines public confidence in our legal systems. Our countries are also increasingly confronted with the contradiction of advocating for press freedom abroad while holding Mr. Assange for years in the UK's most notorious prison at the request of the US government.
As regular readers will know, I’ve been campaigning for the reform of drug laws for some time now. This year marks the 50^th anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act. 50 years on and it is clearer than ever that it is not fit for purpose. On the 17^th June the Act was debated in the Commons and you can hear my contribution below.
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I was pleased that more than a third of my colleagues in the SNP parliamentary group were able to join the meeting with ** Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) ([link removed])
leaders. It shows the high regard in which our party holds Scotland’s trade union movement. The focus of the meeting was on how we are working in parliament to defend and extend workers’ rights, but we also got an update on exciting plans to consult trade union members on how Scotland should be governed in future.
I was one of 76 parliamentarians voicing serious concerns about plans to open a ** detention centre for women at Hassockfield ([link removed])
. Surely this goes against the claim that the Home Office is working to reduce the number of people in detention. Imprisoning vulnerable asylum-seeking women is not the answer.
At the beginning of the month I had the pleasure to meet with Val Innes, Co-ordinator at ** Pregnancy and Parents Centre ([link removed])
. The charity began 35 years ago from someone's living room but is now based at Pleasance. A wonderful not-for-profit resource for parents and parents-to-be, offering both practical and emotional support, including classes such as pregnancy yoga, first aid for babies, breastfeeding and courses for dads too. Many of their services are free and the sessions are run on a donation basis or a sliding scale of fees, so they never turn anyone away due to financial constraint.
I also got the chance to visit the site of the new ** Castlebrae High School ([link removed])
. Together with Head Teacher, Norma Prentice, and a group of her teaching staff, I got a first look at the new building as the main construction phase is completed.
With a budget of £28M, the new school will accommodate 700 students, and has been built so that it can be extended to house 1200 in the future. 160 workers have built this state-of-the-art institution. As well as 16 large airy general classrooms, there's an assembly hall, gym, dance studio, library, CDT workshops, an IT suite, dining rooms and kitchens, offices and staff facilities. There's even a recording studio. Outside at the front there's an open plan square leading to the adjoining library and nearby shops, spacious gardens to the side and two full size pitches at the back.
Everywhere you look you can see this school is built to last. It's energy efficient and makes maximum use of natural light and ventilation. In short, it's going to be wonderful. A place where staff and students have the space and comfort conducive to the serious business of learning.
When I first got elected, ** Castlebrae High School ([link removed])
was on its last legs and facing closure, but the staff and the community refused to lie down and die. They fought for a replacement. Now it'll soon be here. A brilliant addition to the new Craigmillar neighbourhood, it's a school people will fight to get into.
Early in June, I had an online meeting with Suzanne Lofthus, Artistic Director of ** Cutting Edge Theatre ([link removed])
. It was very interesting to hear her ideas about creating a national strategy to ensure inclusive access for people with learning difficulties throughout Scotland to be able to train in theatre skills.
Flora, the Gallery Manager at the ** Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture ([link removed])
kindly showed me round and I was lucky enough to catch the exhibition of new work about the pandemic. Sadly, that exhibition has finished now, but there are plenty of other collections and events coming up, so it’s well worth a visit.
A huge congratulations to Professor Alison Hulme, Dr Jennifer Garden & Dr Stephen Thomas of ** The University of Edinburgh ([link removed])
, who last month became winners of the prestigious ** Royal Society of Chemistry Research & Innovation Prizes ([link removed])
. The Royal Society of Chemistry’s prizes have recognised excellence in the chemical sciences for more than 150 years, and the Research and Innovation Prizes celebrate brilliant individuals across industry and academia. Of those to have won a Royal Society of Chemistry Prize, over 50 have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for their pioneering work. So, no pressure there, guys...
Finally, on a more personal note, after six years at the helm, my Chief of Staff, Roz Currie, is moving on to pastures new. It’ll be a big change for the team, and she will be sorely missed, but we wish her all the best for the future.
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Tommy Sheppard MP . 94 Portobello High Street . Edinburgh, EH15 1AN . United Kingdom
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