*This column was first published in the Daily Record newspaper on the 11th of September 2018*

WHAT a shower of charlatans, hatemongers and incompetents.

Despite everything we know, the Tories at Westminster still manage to shock us.

At the weekend, Boris Johnson said the Prime Minister had ‘wrapped a suicide vest’ around Britain and ‘handed the detonator’ to Brussels.

What an offensive comment from someone who until a few weeks ago held one of the highest offices in the land.

The fact that Boris is a buffoon is hardly news. But he is also dangerous.

His ambition to seize Number Ten is plain to see, and he won’t stop until he gets his chance. The prospect of a Boris-led government doesn’t bear thinking about.

We’d be pulling up the drawbridge, abandoning the most vulnerable in society, and cosying up to Donald Trump.

Perhaps the only thing worse would be a government led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The Tory backbencher is now openly talking up the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. In the face of every expert analysis available, he is backing ‘research’ published today (TUE) which claims this disastrous scenario could actually help Britain’s economy.

I prefer to deal in hard facts. Our economy is growing at its slowest rate for years, lagging behind other western countries, as we pay the price for Tory austerity and the looming threat of Brexit.

A ‘no deal’ Brexit where we fall back on World Trade Organisation tariffs will hit Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by nearly 9 per cent.
It says a lot about Theresa May’s premiership that her backbenchers hold such sway in her party.

As many as 80 Tory MPs are prepared to vote against the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan, it was reported yesterday.

The Chequers deal was always unworkable, and Mrs May has managed the impressive feat of producing something that satisfies neither Eurosceptics nor Europhiles. It’s dead in the water, despite the claims from a handful of Tory MPs put in front of the media to desperately support the PM.

It’s going to be a very messy Conservative conference next week.

Last year, you couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for Mrs May as she struggled through her speech with a cough, was interrupted by a prankster, and the sign behind her fell apart.
This year, there will be little sympathy. Brexit is less than 200 days away, and the deadline for a deal is approaching fast.

I can already hear the shouts from SNP supporters claiming the way out of this sorry mess is independence, as if tearing up a successful 300-year-old union is the solution to dealing with one incompetent government that we can – and must – remove at the next election.

The solution is to stop a hard Brexit that nobody voted for.

The demands for a People’s Vote are deafening. The trade union movement is now firmly behind the proposal to give voters a say on the final deal.
We have a Prime Minister in office, but not in power. That’s why power should be in the hands of the people.

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The figures published in yesterday’s Daily Record about the state of our health service made for grim reading.

Eleven serious failures regarding performance measured against 19 government-approved standards.

As the Record explained, these are not just dry statistics. Behind the numbers are patients who are being let down.

Among the failings are standards to detect cancer early, and waiting times for both A&E patients and those waiting for routine operations. In several areas, performance has declined since 2017. In my own region , NHS Lothian is in crisis with simply unacceptable waiting times.

There are some signs that the SNP government is finally waking up to the crisis. Nicola Sturgeon removed her friend Shona Robison from the health brief, and last week she promised a waiting times improvement plan in her programme for government.

But the NHS has endured years of mismanagement under the SNP. There has been a complete failure to design a workforce plan to ensure that dedicated staff can deliver the care that they want to.

It was Nicola Sturgeon herself who axed training places for nurses when she was Health Secretary. In the face of government inaction, it has since fallen to the Labour Party to bring together industry experts to develop a workforce plan.

The scale of the challenge facing new Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is clear. She must listen to patients, doctors and nurses and work constructively with opposition parties so that we can fix this mess.

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During the EU referendum, hard-right politicians like Nigel Farage exploited fears around immigration.

He is far from alone on the world stage – just look at Donald Trump’s offensive remarks and his conduct in office.

Now, in Sweden, the country’s anti-immigration nationalist party the Sweden Democrats (SD) has won nearly a fifth of the vote. One of its municipal candidate shared a song on Facebook with the lyrics ‘Swedes are white and the country is ours’, it has been reported.

The two main political blocs have so far refused to work with SD, and we have to hope that remains the case as coalition negotiations get underway.

Sweden’s experience has echoes across Europe: in Italy there is a coalition government run by the anti-establishment Five Star and the far-right League party. The far-right has also recorded double-digit vote shares in Germany and Denmark.

These parties claim that housing, healthcare and welfare services are being put under strain by immigration, even though migrant workers help to deliver public services and contribute to economic growth.

Social democrats and socialists in every country have a duty to shout from the rooftops about the benefits of immigration and point to real causes of austerity.

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A VITAL step towards faster economic growth is to increase workers’ productivity.

The old belief was that that simply involved making workers do longer hours.

In fact, doing that can decrease productivity as staff become too exhausted and demotivated, leading to increased absence rates.

It won’t always be possible, but the Trades Union Congress (TUC) calls for a four-day working week deserve to be listened to.

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First things first: congratulations to Naomi Osaka on her US Open victory.

But the final will be remembered for the penalties handed to Serena Williams.

She has questioned if a man would be treated in the same way, and other players have said the same. There can be no place for sexism in sport.

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