Middle East needs hope in the face of fear
I recently returned from a 10-day visit which I led to the Middle East looking at UK support for Syrian and Palestinian refugees. The stories that many people told were distressing in a desperate situation that appears to have no end in sight.
However, what I saw and heard made me proud of the British contribution to alleviating hardship and helping people cope. The UK’s support was widely praised not just for its volume but for the focus and quality of where it goes.
£600 million - about 30 per cent of the entire EU contribution - has been provided through DFID.
It has been critical to getting food and medical supplies into Syria. We met representatives of the World Health Organisation, International Red Cross/Red Crescent and the World Food Programme who are all doing vital life saving work.
We met recently arrived refugees in Lebanon who were receiving cash cards to support them as they stay in host communities with need, to pay rent and buy food. Many had fled, with their children, bringing nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
The pressure on the host communities is intense. The tradition of hospitality becomes strained when a short stay extends into months and years. Some people take advantage of the situation but the pressure on health and education services means we run the risk of a lost generation denied proper education and care.
It is also putting pressure on the delicate political balance within Lebanon between Shia, Sunni and Christians. Lebanon’s very survival is threatened.
Conference calls on Scottish Government to deliver for North East
I attended the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Aberdeen in three different roles - as a local MP, as President of the Scottish Party and as the party’s deputy leader.
This involved useful exchanges with businesses at our corporate day, introducing Nick Clegg to address the conference and presenting various awards at the end of the conference.
I also participated with North East activities in our campaign to highlight the way the Scottish Government has short changed the North East.
After seven years of the SNP in Government we are still waiting for definitive action on our infrastructure while central belt projects forge ahead. Less than 1 per cent of the Scottish transportbudget has been spent in our region and our local authorities are among the lowest funded in Scotland in spite of the pressure on services and the shortage of affordable housing.
Even upgrading our rail services is low priority with the announcement that funding for the development of the Aberdeen to Inverness railway line has been reduced from £200 million to £170 million and the long awaited Kintore station pushed further into the future. There is as yet no commitment to upgrade the line to the south with the doubling of the track south of Montrose a priority.
Transport infrastructure for the North East is a low priority for the SNP. It is the top priority for the people of the North East and for the Liberal Democrats who have campaigned and delivered for decades.
Margo a force to be missed
I share the view that Margo MacDonald was a colourful character who enriched Scottish politics. I didn’t share her views but I liked the feisty way she expressed them.
I did have one spat with her when she was a presenter on STV. She dismissed my views on the grounds that I and my party only represented the periphery of Scotland. I was incensed at the suggestion that the North East, the Borders and the Highlands and Islands were not every bit as important to Scotland as the Central Belt, if not more so, as we are the wealth generators.
I retorted that she wouldn’t dare say that if she wasn’t working for a provincial television station (which of course, at the time, did not transmit to the areas she was denigrating). I think she was suitably chastened.
However, I respected her independent views and her unwillingness simply to toe the party line. Jim Sillars, her husband, is a robust socialist but he presents a much more intellectually coherent case for independence than Alex Salmond - not least in asserting the case that an independent Scotland would need an independent currency.