Visiting Burma to help democracy
I had the privilege at the end of last month of accompanying House of Commons Speaker John Bercow and two other parliamentary colleagues on a visit to Burma.
We were there at the request of Aung Sang Suu Kyi following her visit to the UK last year when she addressed both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall.
Since Daw Suu returned to Parliament with 40 colleagues following by-elections last year she is anxious to strengthen the Parliament and is looking to the UK and other democracies to provide advice, support and training for MPs of all parties.
In the newly built capital of Nay Pyi Taw we met the President, Speakers of both Houses and MPs of all parties. We also attended a session of parliament where the military hold a very visible uniformed block of 25 per cent of the seats.
The President is elected from the Parliament by the MPs. At the moment Aung Sang Suu Kyi is prevented from being a candidate as a result of a Constitutional amendment, specifically aimed at her, preventing anyone who has married a foreigner from standing. The budding democracy of the country would lack all credibility if the patently most popular reform candidate was denied a chance to stand.
How far Burma will be allowed to progress to real democracy is open question. In the past dissent of any kind has been cruelly crushed by the military.The country is riven with ethnic and religious conflict which threatens peace in several states and prosperity and development everywhere.
Parliament will be looking to ways it can help and the International Development Committee will return later in the year to look at development prospects and the scope for further UK assistance.
31st tour about to start
Later this month between 24 and 29 August I will undertake my 31st summer tour of Gordon. Although I make myself available to constituents throughout the year this ensures I visit many of the smaller places around the constituency I may not have otherwise the opportunity to go to.
When I started this tradition I was one of a handful of MPs, all Liberal I think, who did this. Now most rural MPs do it in some form or another.
The tour is advertised in the media and through posters on local notice boards etc and, although I do not necessarily find someone waiting at every stop, I always have quite a number of issues to deal with by the end of the week.
NE deserves better than local politicians’ spat
The spat between Aberdeen City Council leader, Barney Crockett and First Minister, Alex Salmond is not an edifying spectacle for either of them or any of us. It started with Mr Salmond’s visit to a primary school during the Donside by election.
I don’t see why politicians should necessarily be banned from visiting schools during elections provided the same opportunity is offered to all and schools have a right to refuse.
However, the issue led to Mr Salmond calling the city a “kamikaze” council and Mr Crockett calling Salmond a “despicable bully”. It is probably the case that both epithets are true but the North East needs better from its local politicians.
Mr Salmond and his Holyrood coterie have never shown much respect for North East councils or given them much support. Certainly, when I tried to enlist his support for fairer funding for Aberdeenshire from the last Tory Government Alex Salmond declined to do anything which might give support to the Liberals who led the council. However, the Labour-led city council has made a disastrous impact since it took office, scrapping the city gardens project, turning down the Dons new stadium and trying to block the third Don Crossing. They have created the image of an incompetent and divided council acting as an obstacle to the city’s development.
The Scottish Government had underfunded every aspect of their responsibility to the North East - delivering only 1 per cent of the Scottish Transport budget to our region, underfunding our councils and health service and making life difficult for our education authorities. Yet, they are content to collect our business rates and divert part of the revenue elsewhere while planning the breakup of the UK on the wealth of the North Sea no doubt to divert the proceeds elsewhere, too.