Q&A with Drew Hendry
The MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey on unfair delivery charges, commuting and the new political landscape
Drew Hendry - image credit: House of Commons
You have campaigned against unfair delivery charges to Highland addresses. How did that go?
The exorbitant delivery costs levied at Highland consumers by companies while they advertise ‘free delivery’ or ‘delivery to the UK mainland’, quite rightly grates on people in my Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency and across the Highlands.
It remains one of the great Highland mysteries, along with the Loch Ness monster, that folk living in the City of Inverness and across my constituency are classed as island communities. One Nairn resident was charged an additional £80 for posting a mobile phone, and others are often charged delivery costs well in excess of the cost of the item itself. I have a catalogue of examples that I shared when I introduced my ten-minute rule bill on this issue in Parliament, not to mention many personal stories.
There’s an unacceptable disconnect between what should be a basic right to a universal service and equality of choice. Successive UK governments have created the conditions to allow this inequity to develop, rather than take any meaningful action to stop these unfair practices. It just isn’t good enough.
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Having been the first Highland MP to present a bill to Westminster on delivery charges, I’m continuing to campaign for the right for consumers to choose to use the postal service, or to designate their own collections. This, along with new regulation, to stamp out misleading advertising, is what’s needed.
I am also working with colleagues in the Scottish and Westminster parliaments to find solutions to bring about basic fairness for Highland families and businesses.
How difficult is it to raise issues specific to the Highlands at Westminster?
Westminster is frustratingly inflexible – just getting called to speak is a real challenge. Even as a third party, we are often called late in debates and simply raising a question is a matter of luck in getting called through a ballot. Getting an adequate opportunity to raise the many issues facing my constituents is very challenging. Then when the chance comes, there is very little listening going on from the ministers.
Has the new political landscape with a lack of a Conservative majority made it easier or harder for individual MPs to pursue their own hot topics?
For over two years, I have been working to focus their minds on the mishandling of the roll-out of Universal Credit. My own constituency was one of the first to ‘go live’ and the shambles has caused hurt to many people. The issues have been particularly challenging due to the geography of the Highlands, with their processes not able to deal with people living in rural communities. Simple, non-political, operational steps could have been taken to fix some key issues but that has fallen on stubbornly deaf ears. Sometimes it takes much longer than it should to get a common-sense result, but tenacity is the key.
What does the SNP group need to do now to be heard?
We’re determined to make our voice heard more than ever in the new Parliament. The Tories, with their disreputable DUP deal, are very keen to limit scrutiny and debate but we’re not going to let them away with that. As a returning MP, the experience we have gained over the past two years means we’re more effective than ever in forcing issues important to our communities, on to the agenda.
How has the feeling in the Commons changed since the election?
By calling the election, the Tories have weakened themselves further. The SNP has always been committed to working progressively with others and we’re urging Labour and the other parties to get behind common issues.
Have you made any new cross-party pals?
I’m no stranger to working with and getting along with folk from different parties, having led a coalition between the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems on Highland Council throughout the 2014 referendum, so it isn’t hard for me to separate the parts of my day that are political and those that are not. I’ve made many friends in Parliament, who, politically, I am a million miles from, but I enjoy their company, personally. One of the best vehicles for this are the cross-party interest groups, they are a great way of taking the heat out of things and finding common ground.
What’s the funniest or worst thing that’s happened on your commute between Scotland and London?
I’ve experienced an odd delay and the most memorable was coming back from London when our aircraft developed technical problems. No one wants to hear the word ‘problem’ while in the air – thankfully, the aircraft landed safely in Edinburgh where some other passengers and I hired a car to complete our journey home. After various drop-offs on the way, it was nearly 3am before I got home. Needless to say, lots of caffeine was required to get through the following day which started at 5:30am, only a couple of hours later.
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