Health and Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Amy Callaghan Amy Callaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Pensions and Inter-Generational) 3:50 pm, 16th January 2020

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my first speech in this place on such an important topic. It is my honour to stand before you all as the new SNP representative for East Dunbartonshire. I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am to all those who have put their faith in me. To my family who are here today, to my outstanding campaign team, and to every single person who showed up at the ballot box on 12 December and entrusted me with their vote—and those who did not—together we have made history.

It is my promise that I shall fight tooth and nail at every turn to ensure that the people of East Dunbartonshire, and indeed the people of Scotland, never feel left behind or ignored by their representative again. I can only hope that by the time my tenure in this seat draws to a close—sooner rather than later in a progressive, independent Scotland—I will have repaid the faith that voters showed in me.

I also stand here with the unenviable task of following the maiden speeches of my predecessors, not least my good friend and now colleague, my hon. Friend John Nicolson. I am sure he remembers fondly the eloquent and articulate way in which the history and beauty of my constituency has been described in this House. Not only is East Dunbartonshire one of the most prosperous places to live in the country, given its array of excellent state schools and the unshakeable community spirit in areas like Bishopbriggs, Kirkintilloch, Bearsden and Milngavie, but it is a constituency that is steeped in history in more ways than one.

First, if people visited today, they would find the remains of the Antonine wall— the northernmost point of the Roman empire—still running through the area. As any history buff would tell them—I am sure there are many in this House—it is thought that this UNESCO world heritage site was built by the Romans to defend their mighty armies from the tenacity of the locals. Others say the case could equally be made that the Romans became so enamoured of the sheer beauty of the countryside and the Campsies that they simply decided to stop and take in the view. They certainly would not have been the last. Regardless of the reason for the wall’s construction, I find it rather fitting, given the political climate we find ourselves in, that such a vast and seemingly unstoppable empire was halted in my Scottish constituency after said empire had conquered Europe. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there about ignoring the will of the people of East Dunbartonshire, let alone the people of Scotland.

As per tradition, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Jo Swinson, both as the former MP for East Dunbartonshire and the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. In her time as the MP for East Dunbartonshire, Jo achieved a great deal in encouraging young women into politics and indeed to reach their potential in all walks of life. I think what both Jo and I can bring to the table is showing young women right across the United Kingdom that although there are still barriers in place, we can smash them. We should show people that there are no limitations to our worth.

That brings me nicely to my next point about the unique history of my constituency—one that Jo Swinson rightfully highlighted in her maiden speech in 2005. East Dunbartonshire has a history of electing strong and ambitious women in their 20s. In particular, I would like to pay homage to the late but inspirational Margaret Ewing. She won this “unwinnable” seat in 1974 at the age of 29 with a majority of just 22 votes. Ms Ewing entered the Commons under the name of Margaret Bain with a tenacious desire to get the very best for the people of Scotland and to defend the rights of those less fortunate than ourselves. It is a damning indictment of the state of this Parliament that that is exactly what I plan to do with the platform I have been given. Nevertheless, these women have paved the way for young female politicians like me, and it is my hope that I too can serve as an example to young women in East Dunbartonshire, and indeed across the country, and show them that they can make a difference, and that no door is—or should be—closed to them regardless of their circumstances.

I am delighted to be making my maiden speech on the topic of health and social care. I was not shy during my campaign in highlighting the profound impact the NHS has had on my life. I certainly would not be standing here as the newly elected MP for East Dunbartonshire, just shy of being six years cancer free, had it not been for our NHS in Scotland. To the surgeon, Mr John Scott, who saved my life not just once, but twice, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. To organisations such as the Teenage Cancer Trust, which guided me throughout my cancer journey and are an immeasurable support to young people facing a cancer diagnosis across the UK, I thank them for the unparalleled support that they gave to me and to so many other young people.

The issue that I should like to highlight most in respect of teenage and young adult cancer is its mental health impact—an area on which I have done considerable personal work. As a society, there is an ingrained assumption that once someone has the all clear from a cancer diagnosis, they should return to normal. I could not be clearer that normal does not exist after a cancer diagnosis—much less for a young person whose world has been turned upside down. They have had the harsh realisation that they are not invincible and they could also be facing fertility issues and the loss of a family that they never yet knew they wanted to have.

I considered myself unlucky for a long time for having to face this diagnosis so young, but I am now at the point in my journey where I can put this behind me and use the platform that I have to achieve great things for young cancer patients across the United Kingdom. My journey resonated with the good people of East Dunbartonshire who put their trust in me to come down to this place and best represent them. I can tell them that that is exactly what I will do. My clear message to those on the Government Benches is to keep their hands off Scotland’s NHS.

I have watched many of my colleagues’ maiden speeches and have noticed that they like to quote Rabbie Burns. In the same spirit, I thought it only fitting to quote a newer generation of Scots poet whose writing could not be more apt to the situation in which the people of Scotland find themselves. Gerry Cinnamon wrote:

“Are you happy that nuclear weapons are dumped on the Clyde?

Fighting wars for the wealth of the few, how many have died?

You can bury my bones but the truth of it can’t be denied.

Will you stand and be counted coz I’ll be there stood by your side.

Hope over fear;
don't be afraid.

Tell Westminster Tories that Scotland’s no longer your slave.”

That brings me to why I am here and why my colleagues were elected and re-elected as SNP MPs by voters across Scotland. After 60 years of not voting for the UK Governments that we end up with, it is hardly a surprise that support for independence is at an all-time high. It has nothing to do with the so-called wave of nationalism that those outwith my party claim is sweeping Scotland, and instead everything to do with the fact that we offer hope. Hope in the face of adversity. Hope in the face of soaring food bank use. Hope in the face of nuclear weapons on our waters. And hope for the people of Scotland that this is not the best that is out there.