Whirlwind start to life as an MP for Alister
With what passes for the Scottish summer now over, the country’s MPs returned toWestminster this week.
Parliament resumed on Tuesday with Dumfries and Galloway’s Alister Jack taking his place in the House of Commons.
The Conservative defeated the SNP’s Richard Arkless in June’s snap general election to secure his seat in London, although he was there for little more than a month before the summer recess.
He said: “It’s been very busy, much busier than I thought it would be. It’s been fascinating, tiring and very interesting.
“For the first few weeks you go into Westminster and have induction courses and in the meantime you’re getting a lot of e-mails and a lot of requests for meetings. You very quickly have to learn how to manage your diary and your time.
“After those first few weeks, which were quite tortuous for want of a better expression, there’s no doubt I’ve got into the swing of it and started to work out the causes I think we need to champion in this area and picked up on the casework that’s relevant coming through all the mass of letters and communications you get.
“You’ve got to find the ones that really matter the most, which are the priority for people that need help.
“Picking those ones out has been very important and getting things done for them has been very important.
“A key thing, whether it’s for businesses locating here or tourism, is broadband speeds and telecommunications. If you don’t have that then, in this modern day, you’re not going to have everything else falling into place.
“The next thing we need to work on is the transport infrastructure for the region and improving that so that when people do come they find it easy to get around about Dumfries and Galloway.
“Upgrading the A75 is important as is upgrading the A77 coming down past Cairnryan from Glasgow as that port needs to function really well.”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or suffering from the poor telecommunications systems that Mr Jack mentioned – it’s been impossible to avoid news of the UK leaving the European Union.
And there’s no escape for MPs either as Brexit is set to take up the bulk of their time for the rest of the year.
“It’s important we get that right and it needs a lot of focus and scrutiny,” explained Mr Jack. “I will be pushing to make sure that our farmers and our rural businesses are protected. I think Brexit is about constantly reminding the ministers and civil servants who are handling it of the things that matter to your constituents because they’ll be looking at what’s in front of them and they need to be reminded that there’s lots of other things that have knock-on effects.
“If you think about the timetable for exiting the European Union, the clock’s been ticking since March. We’re coming up to six months in, there’s 18 months to go. To process such a major bill through both parliaments you need all of that time.”
Mr Jack was vice chairman of the Scottish Conservatives from 1997 to 2001 – a time when the party had no MPs north of the border.
Then for many years David Mundell was the sole Tory voice in Scotland but in June’s election the number shot up to 13, among them the new Dumfries and Galloway member.
“I said in my maiden speech I was proud to be one of a baker’s dozen of Scottish Conservatives returned to Westminster and I was also proud that we had turned the tables and imposed a Conservative Government on the English,” he said.
“The Scottish Conservatives return to Westminster was key to Theresa May hanging on as Prime Minister.
“We were accused of running a one dimensional campaign but the reality is it worked very effectively and we stood foursquare against a second independence referendum coming so soon after the first one.
“The division it creates, the uncertainty it creates for the Scottish economy, these things are to be avoided. That message went down well with the electorate. We got a strong response across the whole of Scotland.”
The day before parliament returned, Mr Jack’s new constituency office opened in Academy Street in Dumfries.
He will also be holding monthly surgeries around the region and people can also get in touch through e-mail.
But something he is not so keen on is social media, which has become an increasing part of politics in recent years.
He explained: “I think social media can be a few people making a lot of noise very often and I don’t think we should be too distracted by it. It’s important to carry on communicating with people, particularly in this area, through the newspapers. When we’re having our surgeries we can’t just advertise them through Facebook because Dumfries and Galloway has an older population and the percentage of those people using Facebook is far less than in other parts of the country.
“Yes, social media has a part to play in informing people but you’re not informing everyone. Equally, there are a few people who get very excited about it and do a lot of communicating but if you were to engage in social media the whole time you would never get anything else done.
“It’s important to keep your time free to do the things that matter.
“Rather than talking to a few people you need to work for the many.”
Changeover Alister Jack won the seat from Richard Arkless at the snap election