During his first term in the House of Commons as MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, Ian Blackford was rated as ‘Well above average’ in performance by watchdog website www.theyworkforyou.com .
The website compares the activities of all members, based on how often they have spoken and how many questions they have tabled. Ian Blackford gained their rating as in the ‘top fifth’ of the 650 members, having spoken in 91 debates and received answers to 52 written questions.
As SNP spokeperson on pensions he has taken up the national issue of women who are being treated unfairly as their pensions are harmonised with men – some having to wait for more than two years longer than others to reach retirement due simply to date of birth.
He has also spoken in the House on the case of pensioners who live abroad, who depending on their choice of country are not entitled to any upgrades of their pensions from the day they left Britain. All have paid National Insurance contributions during their working lives in the UK but as an example, due to legislation a pensioner living in the United States, will receive full upgrades as they are made, while another living in neighbouring Canada, will have received no increase from the date they took up residency.
These are just two examples of the important national and international issues in which he has played a pivotal role in bringing to the attention of the House.
THE BRAIN FAMILY
On issues of concern in his own constituency he has fought a long and hard campaign on the plight of the Brain family, who have been under threat of deportation for many months.
The family of Kathryn, Gregg and their son, Lachlan (now seven years old) moved to the Highlands from Australia under a Government work study agreement on the understanding that they would be allowed to make Scotland their home.
Kathryn completed her degree course in Scottish History at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and Gregg had a job in his field of Health and Safety. Lachlan started and continues in Gaelic Medium Education, with Gaelic as his first language.
Towards the end of March 2016, the family approached the office of Ian Blackford for advice as they had been informed by the UK Government that they did not qualify under the scheme, which had since be rescinded and would have to return to the other side of the world. They would then be allowed to apply to return at the discretion of the UK Government.
Ian Backford found this situation to be totally unacceptable and made immediate representations to the relevant UK Government departments on their behalf.
Thanks to his intervention in highlighting the case on the floor of the House, he has gained cross party support, with the family being allowed extensions to their Visa three times. The latter extension, which was granted the day before they were due to leave in May, gives them until August 1st to meet the laid down conditions, including finding work suitable to their qualifications, and meeting a financial barrier with an income of at least £35,000 per annum.
However, a condition imposed by the UK Government is that during this period they are not allowed to work, which may be regarded as a ‘Catch 22’ type situation.
Ian Blackford is currently fighting this, so they can take up positive job offers which have since been made.
CALEDONIAN MACBRAYNE – WITHDRAWAL OF THE MV CORUISK
Ian Blackford has been particularly vociferous in his calls on Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) to re-instate the Motor Vessel (MV) Coruisk to the service ‘over the sea to Skye’ linking Mallaig with Armadale.
Without warning or consultation, the board of CalMac withdrew the MV Coruisk, a relatively new vessel, purpose built for this service to use as a back-up ship on routes from Oban. It was replaced by three smaller vessels, which due to a number of factors, such as being unable to cope with tides and weather as well as being unable to berth on the dedicated link spans on either side have proved to be very unreliable and detrimental to the smooth operation of the ferry service.
Ian has been inundated with complaints not only from businesses on the island and mainland but also individuals who have been suffering greatly by not knowing when the service will be operating or, as has happened on a number of occasions, not operating at all with no advance warning.
They have expressed their disgust at the decision being taken in such a cavalier manner and at what they perceive as the total lack of thought, or even understanding of just how important the service is on many levels. Anger was further inflamed by the refusal of CalMac management to meet in person with local communities and hear their concerns.
Ian has met with communities but has engaged in talks on their behalf, directly with CalMac Managing Director, Martin Dorchester and members of the board on several occasions.
He has strongly outlined the problems being faced by his constituents and his own view the MV Coruisk should be returned to the route for which it was commissioned.
An outcome is expected shortly.