(This is very much a rough guide: with so much Hansard to read through, it’s easy to miss or misinterpret things. I endeavour to be as accurate as possible.)
You were off the hook last time, Mr McKenzie, but it’s only fair that I start with my own representative in Inverclyde.
Mr McKenzie has the pleasure of being one of the few New Labour MPs who can now boast that he has a voting record of 100% in favour of further devolution to Scotland – mostly because he’s only had the opportunity to vote on further devolution once, in a motion to devolve the regulation of shale gas extraction in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament. Mr McKenzie’s parliamentary term is almost over, and although there are a few weeks left before the UK parliament is dissolved, we can glean a fair bit of what Mr McKenzie’s future prospects as MP might be from his record.
As of 15th March 2015, Mr McKenzie only voted a different way from the rest of New Labour on two occasions:
Marriage/Same Sex Couples Bill – Second Reading
395 for, 170 against
He was one of 22 New Labour MPs (6 of which were Scottish) who voted against a second reading, along with 137 Conservatives, 4 Liberal Democrats and 1 independent
That Mr McKenzie was one of only a few New Labour MPs to vote against equal marriage is one thing, but it’s even more notable given his predecessor David Cairns was himself a gay man who was in a longterm relationship at the time of his death. Several commentators have noted the discrepancy in Iain McKenzie’s claim that he was voting for his constituencies wishes, given that those same constituents saw fit to return an openly gay man in a longterm relationship to represent them at Westminster not one year beforehand.
Mr McKenzie explained his reasons:
On Second Reading, I was in a minority among Labour Members in voting against the Bill. I voted against it not because I did not want to see equality, but because, as some saw it, people’s faith and beliefs were being challenged. Again, today, I acknowledge the need to respect people’s faiths and beliefs, but I feel that that should extend to humanist beliefs and that humanists should have the option of a humanist marriage ceremony.
Given the volume of correspondence I received in the lead-up to Second Reading, I would say that this Bill is the most controversial I have been involved in since entering the House in 2011. When it was presented on Second Reading, I was made very aware of my constituents’ concerns, and like many Members I was inundated by e-mails, letters and phone calls in which people overwhelmingly expressed their fear that their beliefs, faith and religious freedoms were being challenged. I have not received that level of correspondence over today’s new clauses.
That’s all well and good, Mr McKenzie, but your constituents were not going to be affected by this Bill. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was explicitly in regards to couples in England and Wales. You, and they, may well believe that letting men marry men in Dorset is a challenge to the beliefs, faith and religious freedoms to the churchgoers of Kilmacolm, but this Bill would not have meant mandatory gay weddings at St Fillan’s.
I note both of Inverclyde’s MSPs (Duncan McNeil and Stuart MacMillan) were faced with a similar predicament with the Marriage & Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, one with much greater freedoms and responsibilities, but they voted in favour of it – because they were confident that those people’s faith and beliefs were not in danger. The vast majority of MSPs evidently felt the same.
The second rebellion:
UK Air Strikes in Iraq
523 for, 42 against
He was one of 24 New Labour MPs (5 of which were Scottish) who voted against the airstrikes, along with 6 SNP, 6 Conservatives, 3 SDLP, 2 Plaid Cymru, 1 Liberal Democrat, 1 Green, and 1 Respect
Mr McKenzie was sacked from his job as parliamentary aide to shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker for this vote. I have to give credit where it’s due: Mr McKenzie stuck his neck out and voted against airstrikes in Iraq, against the overwhelming support of not only the government, but his own party. A cynic might think this was an appeal to the electorate – the people of Inverclyde, after all, have a rather sensitive history in regards to aerial bombardment – but regardless of his motivations, this is the way he voted, which is what matters.
Let’s look at a few other votes of interest:
520 for, 23 against
He was one of 202 New Labour MPs (30 of which were Scottish) who voted for a cap on welfare spending, along with 271 Conservative, 41 Liberal Democrats, 6 DUP, 1 Alliance, and 1 Independent
It’s difficult to defend this given Inverclyde’s significant difficulties with deprivation and poverty. Almost as difficult as explaining why he’s having a laugh in the back benches during a debate about food banks.
199 for, 293 against
He was one of 189 New Labour MPs (26 of which were Scottish) who voted for an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill, along with 5 SNP, 2 Plaid Cymru, 1 Green, 1 Alliance, 1 DUP, 1 Independent, and 1 SDLP.
New Labour proposed an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill, which includes several provisions, including “this house declines to give a second reading to the Infrastructure Bill.” The amendment was unsuccessful, yet rather than vote against a second reading, Mr McKenzie – along with every other New Labour MP – abstained from voting on that second reading. Mr McKenzie recalls things rather differently:
Over the past few weeks I have received emails from constituents, detailing their concerns about shale gas extraction or fracking.The House of Commons recently debated the Infrastructure Bill, which covers a whole host of issues including roads, the British Transport Police, planning and shale gas extraction.While we welcomed moves to enable further infrastructure projects across the UK, we thought this bill was wholly inadequate in other areas.That is why I voted with other Labour MPs to refuse a second reading for this Bill.
That this is suspiciously similar to Margaret Curran’s response (i.e. practically identical) is almost besides the point, because it distorts what actually happened. What New Labour did was voted for their amendment, not to refuse a second reading for the bill.
You could argue that this is splitting hairs, but the fact remains that there were two votes here: one for an amendment that includes a second reading, and another to actually pass that second reading. Voting for the first but abstaining for the second is false by omission.
Charter for Budget Responsibility
515 for, 18 against
He was one of 198 New Labour MPs (28 of which were Scottish) who voted for the Autumn Statement to be approved, along with 263 Conservatives, 49 Liberal Democrats, 5 DUP, and 2 UKIP.
Only 5 New Labour MPs voted against a budget which explicitly adheres to the monstrous Austerity cult, regardless of how they bleat it totally isn’t. 5. Remind me why we’re supposed to vote for them to stop the Tories again?
Trident Nuclear Weapons System Renewal
36 for, 364 against
He was one of 102 New Labour MPs (9 of which were Scottish) who voted against the motion “That this House believes that Trident should not be renewed,” along with 254(+2) Conservatives, 1 Liberal Democrat, 5 DUP, 1 independent, and 1 UKIP.
Iain McKenzie was among the many who voted in favour of spending a hundred billion on nukes. But it’s alright: after all, he’s still committed to multilateral approaches to disarmament. It’s just one of those approaches involves wasting more billions for another generation of nuclear weapons.
In addition, Mr McKenzie voted against requiring specified public bodies to publish objectives in relation to their duties to promote equality. He also voted for a fast-track process, involving MPs completing all commons stages in a single day, for consideration of a new law on the retention of, and access to, communications data and on the interception of communications. And, in case he ever attacks the SNP on their Corporation Tax history, just ask him why he voted so strongly against a reduction of the rate of Corporation Tax no less than seven times, as well voted against introducing a general anti-abuse rule to tackle abusive tax avoidance twice.
The Devo Files
“I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to press the Scottish Government to ensure devolution cascades down to local government.
We have the ridiculous situation in Scotland where the SNP Scottish Government constantly demand more powers, but are reluctant to devolve more powers to local authorities.
Labour is the party of devolution, supporting powers for a purpose. More powers to councils means decisions about Inverclyde will be taken in Inverclyde.
The Smith Agreement embraced the spirit of devolution, and it is now time for the SNP to do the same.”
– Mr McKenzie on the aftermath of the Smith “Agreement.”
What we actually have is the ridiculous situation where the supposed Party of Devolution actually fought to have powers taken out of the Smith “Agreement.” It is stupefyingly hypocritical to accuse the SNP of withholding powers to local authorities when New Labour have withheld power from the people of Scotland themselves. After all, if you stop powers being devolved to Holyrood, how can you expect Holyrood to devolve powers further? Also, I’m pretty sure New Labour were in power at Holyrood for eight years. What, exactly, was stopping the Party of Devolution from devolving this power to local authorities then? A cynic might think that since New Labour ruled over local authorities in Holyrood and local authorities, it would be redundant – but now the SNP run Holyrood, they have to get power back any way they can, including bypassing Holyrood altogether. But I’m sure I’m just being paranoid…
One of Mr McKenzie’s most recent posts was on The Vow Plus. Yes, that’s really what they’re calling it.
We are proud that Labour have helped deliver The Vow – but we will go even further.
It’s good Mr McKenzie’s crystal ball told him that the draft legislation will, in fact, be put into law following the General Election – even if control over road signs is a mite underwhelming as definitions of Home Rule go. (Also love the capitalisation, making it into some sort of holy writ even though nobody seems to want to take responsibility for it)
We’ve outlined the steps we’ll take to achieve full employment and social justice in Scotland:
1. Giving the Scottish Parliament a power to top up benefits.
2. Ensuring our Parliament has the power to create new benefits.
3. Bringing employment and welfare policy together in Scotland.
4. Full devolution of housing benefit.
5. Devolving welfare not just to Holyrood but to local communities.
So… why has it taken “The Vow Plus” to devolve these powers? If the Vow really was Home Rule, then how can you add more powers to Home Rule – surely Home Rule is the closest you get to full autonomy before outright independence? Is this Home Rule Plus? Or is it just Devo Super Max?
These powers mean a Bedroom Tax could never again be implemented in Scotland. They also end the centralisation of power in Holyrood, and allow powers to cascade down to places like Inverclyde.
I believe that decisions affecting Inverclyde should be taken in Inverclyde, by the people who know what needs to happen.
But not that decisions affecting Scotland should be taken in Scotland, by the people who know what needs to happen. I’d really love to know exactly why, for instance, the Inverclyde Coastguard should remain in the hands of Westminster instead of Inverclyde – especially since you weren’t very happy about what the Conservatives were doing about it.
We’ll go further than the Tories on devolution, and do better than the SNP on redistribution. Voting Labour will bring the kind of change Inverclyde and Scotland needs, empowering local communities and delivering social justice across the country.
Office Costs: £15,128.12
Connected party: Alison McKenzie, wife, Junior Secretary, between £1,000.00 and £4,999.99
Grand Total: £170,210.50
I post Mr McKenzie’s expenses not to point out anything particularly unusual about his spending habits, suffice to say that an awful lot of money tends to be spent on politicians of all stripes. I’m just listing them for completeness’ sake.
“Time to be Honest”
One of the most high-profile incidents regarding Mr McKenzie took place almost two years ago. I shall summarise it here for posterity’s sake:
In February 2015, Iain McKenzie tabled a debate for the House of Commons entitled “The Royal Mail in a separate Scotland.” The SNP complained about the pejorative language. House of Commons clerks changed the title to the more neutral “The Future of the Royal Mail in Scotland” not due to SNP complaints, but for procedural reasons (“Westminster Hall debates must refer to something which ministers can answer to. Independence is only a hypothetical situation and is not one covered by ministerial responsibility.”). Iain McKenzie then cancelled the debate in protest – and blamed the SNP.
Here’s what he said:
“Last night, Mr McKenzie said he was cancelling the debate, which was due to be held in Westminster Hall not the Commons main chamber, in protest because the decision meant MPs were not free to debate independence properly.
He said: “MPs need to be able to question the government about what Scotland leaving the UK would mean for our constituents. My debate on the Royal Mail was intended to put the question to government about what independence would mean for a service that is vital to people across Scotland.
“We need a fully-informed debate ahead of the referendum in 2014 and these are exactly the kind of questions people need answers to.”
Mr McKenzie at no point explains how changing the name of the debate hinders, stifles, or otherwise impedes anything about being “able to question the government about what Scotland leaving the UK would mean for our constituents.” Apparently complaints from a party with 6 MPs was enough to cause a party of 258 MPs to cancel their own debate out of sheer – what, terror? Oppression? Powerlessness?
If 6 SNP MPs hold such power, imagine what even more could do, eh?
“SNP leaflet claims against closure of Clyde coastguard,yet no SNP spoke against it, in fact welcomed by Nat member for W/Isles.”
– Mr McKenzie was on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee on the matter, so you’d think he’d know that Angus McNeil said nothing of the sort. Coastguard SOS did, why didn’t Mr McKenzie?
“Scotland out of UK lose exemptions VAT zero-rating,meaning VAT on books, food and children’s clothes,heightening the cost of living crisis”
– Mr McKenzie takes to Twitter for his own take on Project Fear
“MPs need to be able to question the government about what Scotland leaving the UK would mean for our constituents. My debate on the Royal Mail was intended to put the question to government about what independence would mean for a service that is vital to people across Scotland. We need a fully-informed debate ahead of the referendum in 2014 and these are exactly the kind of questions people need answers to.”
– after cancelling a debate because he wasn’t allowed to complain about independence
“Will the Secretary of State comment on two points along the same lines as questions already asked? First, with the announcement that the coastguard station on the Clyde in Greenock in my constituency is to close, I must ask the Minister whether he feels that safety has been compromised, especially on the west coast of Scotland, which is a particularly challenging coastline with demanding waters and a big increase in shipping in the area. Is safety on the west coast of Scotland being compromised? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the number of job losses in my constituency that will result from the closure of this station?”
– Iain McKenzie blames the Conservative government for the closure of the Clyde coastguard station – perhaps he should be asking why none of his fellow New Labour MPs did not vote to devolve it to Holyrood, since then he could blame the SNP for everything (as usual)
“It will come as no surprise that I welcome and agree with the Secretary of State’s desire to hold a referendum as soon as possible. Does he agree that the desire of the SNP Government in Scotland to hold a referendum as late as possible is an indication of their inability to answer the many, many questions that have been put to them by the Scottish people on separatism?”
– Iain McKenzie, wanting the most important decision ever put to the people of Scotland from which there is “no going back” to be rushed in as soon as possible
“Unemployment in Scotland is suffering the double whammy of not only the UK Government but the Scottish Government.”
– Iain McKenzie predictably blames the SNP for Scotland’s unemployment woes despite Scotland regularly doing better than the UK average
“Will the Secretary of State again confirm his and the Government’s commitment to a single, non-leading question in the referendum on Scottish separation, and will he further commit to a simple yes or no reply?”
– Clearly Iain McKenzie wasn’t that fussed about a second question
“The Minister has made very clear the position of Scottish shipyards, should separation for Scotland take place. Can he clarify the position for suppliers of fixtures and fittings based in Scotland when applying for contracts, if those contracts are given to English shipyards?”
– Mr McKenzie clearly agreeing – or at least choosing not to disagree – with Nick Harvey’s implication that Scotland is simply too wee to “win against global competition”
“I have always believed that the future of Scotland and of north-east England lie together in one country—the UK.”
– Mr McKenzie makes it clear what his country is – though one wonders why there isn’t a north-east English NHS, education system, legal system, parliament, national trust…
I do not think that it is lost on the Secretary of State, or on any of the hon. Members in this House who took part in the referendum campaign, that there are now deep divisions among the Scottish people. Does he agree that, if those divisions are to be healed to allow people to come together, a good starting point would be for the leadership of the Scottish National party to acknowledge that the question of Scottish independence is now dead for decades?
– Scotland within the UK, Business of the House, 13th October 2014, 4:52 pm
So in other words, the Scottish government, the party whose ultimate goal is independence, should shut up about independence because of a difference of a mere 10%? You are advocating that the Scottish government essentially neglect the wishes of 45% of the voters in the biggest voting turnout these isles have ever seen? The question of Scottish independence cannot be dead when such a substantial minority are still in favour of it. Scotland isn’t Westminster, Iain: we don’t do First Past The Post any more.
This is especially rich coming from the MP whose constituency was decided by 86 votes. Are you, Mr McKenzie, going to tell 27,000 of your constituents that the cause they voted for is now “dead for decades” because a mere 86 of 54,000 more voted for the other option? Remember this, Mr McKenzie: a substantial number of Labour voters voted for independence – it might be as much as 40%. Add to that the people who cut up their New Labour membership cards after the No vote, many of which went on to join the SNP.
Inverclyde SNP, by the way, now have over 1,300 members half a year after the referendum. How many members are in Inverclyde New Labour, might I ask?
Westminster message by Iain McKenzie MP
Published: 19 Sep 2014 12:00
Therefore today, in the wake of the referendum outcome, our real challenge begins.
Regardless of your political view and whether or not you voted Yes or No, it is now the duty of everyone who works, lives and cares about the future of Scotland to come together and help heal the divide which the referendum has sadly brought to our communities.
As the referendum campaign demonstrated, what unites us all, regardless of which campaign you supported, is a determination to create a better society for all.
As a result of the referendum, Scotland has been politically re-energised with families and friends of all ages and backgrounds now regularly engaging in debating the big issues affecting each and every one of us; issues such as funding our public services, social security and how we create a fairer society.
We must harness that political engagement and ensure all Scots play a role in this new chapter of Scotland’s future. As your MP, I assure you, I will continue to work tirelessly for the people of Inverclyde as we begin this new chapter together.
Therefore, as the outcome of this historic referendum sinks in, I hope everyone in Inverclyde will now unite, accept the democratic decision of the Scottish people and work together to create the better society we all want to see.
– Greenock Telegraph
A substantial number of people who had registered to vote were denied entry into the polling stations, despite either having already voted on the European Elections, despite having registered at the Yes Inverclyde shop and being personally delivered to the Electoral Commission office in Paisley, and despite having their polling cards with them. 86 people decided the vote in Inverclyde. Of any place in Scotland, Inverclyde was the one constituency where it truly was almost too close to call.
You talk of “the divide” which the referendum has caused: how does that square with the political engagement and determination to create a better society you cite? Yes voters have been ignored, ridiculed, attacked, assaulted, while No voters have practically the entirety of the mainstream media on their side, exaggerating & inventing the crimes of one type of “Nationalism” while ignoring or misrepresenting the real crimes of another. There is a divide in Scotland, as there is a divide between a mugger and his victim – you expect that division to heal once the mugger has been found not guilty?
You talk of political engagement, Mr McKenzie. Tell me: where were the No rallies in Inverclyde? Where was the great “No Thanks” lit up in the sky? Where was the No march (discounting the Orange Walks)? Where were the open, public meetings from Better Together Inverclyde? Where was the Better Together Inverclyde shop? Where was this “political engagement” from the No campaign? The precious few No campaigners and activists I encountered were a drop in the ocean compared to the Yes campaigners, while those voting No on my canvassing most often refused to engage or discuss politics at all. There is political engagement in Scotland, but the 27,000+ who voted No were curiously absent. They just stayed at home, and voted Labour, like their parents and grandparents before them, because that’s just what you do.
You talk of hoping everyone in Inverclyde to unite and accept the democratic decision of Scots: how dare you make such a demand after everything that’s been said and done by your allies and colleagues, and even yourself? How can you ask us to simply “unite” with the same people who accused us of being blood-and-soil nationalists, racists, fascists, xenophobes, everything under the sun? How can you ask us to “accept” a decision that was based entirely on fears and lies? How can you ask us to work together with the same people who have time and again worked against the society Scots clearly want long before the referendum took place?
A good place to start would’ve been to make good on the promise to deliver more powers, as you said you’d do. Not actively block them, like what actually happened.
You had your chance – multiple chances. But rather than continue to gripe and moan and complain, I think it would be better if you were just removed from office altogether.
Can It Be Done?
Damn right it can be done – but it’s going to be one hell of a fight. The Clyde’s red history is being used against it: a bodysnatcher calling itself Labour, looking and sounding like the party, has beguiled too many people. Despite voting with the Conservatives on irrefutably right-wing policies, the people would rather believe in the lie that Labour is still alive, than face up to the horrific truth. It is a painful and upsetting process – but it is necessary, if we are to win Inverclyde. And with Ronnie Cowan as our representative, we can win Inverclyde: this is the first time where it’s really possible Inverclyde could return an SNP candidate.
It is precisely because that victory is so close, that New Labour will stop at nothing to prevent it.
If all that independence is about is getting away from a Government for whom Scotland did not vote, I would ask Members to join me in seeking independence for Inverclyde. We have never voted for an SNP Government. We have a Labour MP, a Labour MSP and a Labour-controlled council, yet twice we have had to suffer under an SNP Government. The difference is that we understand and accept democracy. I have visited north-east England many times, and I have always believed that the future of Scotland and of north-east England lie together in one country—the UK.
– HC Deb, 4 March 2014, c221WH
Inverclyde has never voted Conservative either, yet look how often we got a Tory government. You seem perfectly happy with that state of affairs, Mr. McKenzie. 27,000+ of your constituents are not. Maybe that’s part of the reason New Labour control over Inverclyde has been plummeting since 2011?
In 2010, 20,993 (56%) voted for New Labour, compared to 6,577 (17.5%) for the SNP. In your own election in July 2011, the Labour vote plummeted to 15,118 (53.8%), while the SNP’s rose to 9,280 (33%) – and that’s on a reduced turnout. That’s not even a Parliamentary term, that’s one year. In one year, New Labour in Inverclyde lost 4,014 votes, while the SNP gained 2,703. That’s a majority of 14,416 in 2010 to 5,838 in 2011. In one year. What happened to those votes, Mr McKenzie?
Your New Labour MSP friend Duncan McNeil doesn’t have it much better. In 2007 the New Labour for Inverclyde vote was 12,753 compared to 8,236 SNP; in 2011, New Labour remained practically static at 12,387, while the SNP rose to 11,976. Duncan McNeil’s been the New Labour MSP for Greenock & Inverclyde since 1999, and has consistently hovered around the 40-45% mark: in contrast, the SNP vote has consistently risen since 2003.
The council? It’s on the tightest rope of all: the last election saw Labour with 10 seats compared with the SNP’s 6, the Liberal Democrats’ 2, the Conservatives’ 1, and the independent Ronnie Ahlfeld. When Vaughn Jones came out in favour of independence and subsequently rescinded her Labour membership, Labour’s overall control of the council was lost. Either they form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, or even the Conservatives – as has been done in Aberdeen and Stirling. So in the same year Mr McKenzie proudly cited his constituency’s Labour-controlled council, New Labour lost overall control – and it wasn’t even an election.
All this, and not even counting the fact that Inverclyde’s SNP has flourished from 150 members to over 1,300 since the referendum.
Mr McKenzie used his 2011 victory speech to try and spin this catastrophic turn of events for New Labour into some sort of victory:
Remember, only weeks ago the SNP came within 511 votes of winning here, but tonight the voters of Inverclyde have rejected them – this time giving myself and the Scottish Labour Party not a 500 majority, but over 5,000 of a majority.
Labour’s fightback has started right here in Inverclyde – my hometown.
So instead of being a majority loss of around 9,000, it was only a majority loss of 4,000. After one year. Sure, the by-election saw the cream of the SNP crop come to Inverclyde to help out – Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, the entire campaign team – but New Labour is a UK-wide party with deep pockets, and they wouldn’t let the SNP take a scalp like this after their defeat in 2010. That won’t change this time around either.
No, Mr McKenzie, Inverclyde has never voted SNP, any more than Inverclyde has ever voted Conservative. For the moment, Inverclyde is still New Labour. But for how much longer will that be the case?
You can contact Mr McKenzie through all the usual channels: he has a website, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page. I note that he has a wordpress site, and comments are open: it would be a good opportunity for a courteous and respectful dialogue. The Inverclyde New Labour campaign hub opened yesterday (Douglas Alexander came by for the grand opening) on 29 West Stewart Street in Greenock, if you want to have a visit.
Alternatively, you could contact Mr Cowan at his website, Twitter account, or Facebook page. The Inverclyde SNP campaign shop (not yet officially opened, though we had a wee open day yesterday) is at 97-99 West Blackhall Street in Greenock, if you want to pop in. A really good place to start would be to donate any spare money to the online fundraiser: we’ll need all the help we can get.
It’s fun to note both campaign shops are within walking distance from each other: it lets us keep an eye on each other. New Labour’s shop was originally the famous Mackenzie Jewellers, a shop that sadly closed down last year after 160 years of business; the SNP shop was Aerobikes, which closed down last year after 25 years. It seems fitting that the two contestants for the future of Inverclyde are built on the foundations of lost businesses in what used to be one of the great industrial centres of Scotland – and can be again.
The SNP are on course to rock the foundations of UK politics: I will strain every sinew to ensure Inverclyde is with them.