Sunday, 26 April 2009

Ah ha ha ha stayin' alive, stayin' alive

Allow me, if you will, a moment to talk about something which I know is completely and utterly trivial but which I am just a little over excited about right now.

Guess who I'm meeting tomorrow! Go on, guess. I mean who would you expect a Glasgow MSP might be meeting? Certainly not this guy. Although he was once the brother-in-law of a Glaswegian, a Dennistoun resident in fact. A singing Dennistoun lassie who now has a confusing accent, annoyingly young looking skin and an even more confusing and worrying allegiance to the Tories.

Anyway anyway yes I am talking about Lulu. So if I'm meeting Lulu's ex brother-in-law, what does that mean? It means I'm meeting Andy Frieda! Hah! Just kidding, don't even know if that particular ex had a brother. No, I am meeting a BEE GEE!!! Robin Gibb is a patron of the charity I'm supporting at the parliament tomorrow (I will tell you about that in a separate and far more serious post) and I am meeting him!

"J J J jive talking, you're telling me lies" ... no, I'm not and tomorrow I will publish the pics to prove it. "But I got nothing to be guilty of" because "we're living in a world of fools" and "I'm just the man in the middle of a complicated plan"!

Okay, I apologise, it's just getting silly now I know. I'll stop it. It's just that "life's going nowhere, somebody help me, somebody help me please". A Bee Gee, can you believe that - not that I'm taken in by all this celebrity stuff or anything ...

Playin' it cool, playin' it cool - ah ha ha ha playin' it coo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-l!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Parliamentary Committees - things to remember part one

One part of my job as an MSP is to serve on the parliamentary committees and I have two. I’m on Public Audit and Public Petitions. I love it, really love my committees but for some reason, I’ve actually found it more difficult to get used to being in a committee meeting than speaking in the chamber. I find it a little disconcerting and I think it’s because the TV cameras film the entire meeting and you just never know when they’re on you. Of course I forget from time to time. I will hereby make a confession. I was in committee one day (I’m not telling you which because that would narrow down the field) and one of my fellow members was, I felt, taking a bit longer to speak than necessary. You know how some folk will say the same thing three different ways because they seem to have an aversion to being succinct (men usually). Well this particular MSP was doing exactly that one day.

And you know how sometimes you mentally will somebody to speed up? Well, when I do that, I cannot help but have the facial expressions and the actions to go with it. Must be all that drama training. So I was doing that “get on with it” face and had hand actions to match (obviously not so that he could see me) when I suddenly became aware of a TV camera swinging round to my position!! Now, generally speaking, the camera shows the person speaking but who knows what the camera operators will do if they get bored with the repetition too. I’m sure it didn’t show me but not sure enough to stop being paranoid about it happening. So for now, I’m on my best behaviour lest I get told off again!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Swamped by emails

As an MSP, I have come to realise that Bob (Doris, the last MSP I worked for) was not exaggerating when he talked about getting hundreds of emails - so many of them that it's just not possible to answer them all personally so you have to get your staff to help. Many of them are the same email. For example, recently the World Wildlife Fund had a link on its website for people to email MSPs asking for their views on climate change. I think I had about 50 of them and although I’d love to answer each one with a differently composed email, there just isn’t the time so I wrote one reply and asked Angus who works for me to send it to each person which he did. I was glancing through them some time later when I spotted that I’d written to Margaret Greene, wife of our Glasgow SNP councillor Phil Greene and someone I’ve known for over 20 years. And I’d sent her a friendly but formal “Dear Mrs Greene” and “Yours sincerely” email. Oops. So I called her and explained just so she didn’t think I’d become very aloof all of a sudden. She just laughed of course but I think I’ll do the glancing through in advance in future :-)

Monday, 20 April 2009

A Govanhill Grilling

Recess is over and the first week back to normal working got off to a flying start today. I had been invited by P6/7 of Victoria Primary School in Govanhill to visit them and well, to talk about myself - tough gig but what could I say? The pupils were fantastic. Sixteen of them had written to me teling me why they had chosen me. One said "because you're really into Govanhill" :-) So, today was the day and they each had their questions ready. They ranged from

"why did you join the SNP?" (hmmm, how to keep it apolitical!) and

"why did you want to be an MSP?" to

"what do you think of Glasgow City Council's decision to close our school?" (what, indeed!)

and the surprising (there's always one) "when are you planning to resign?" ~ "er, yes, em, well, who let that kid ask a question?!"

Anyway the children were very good, they clearly have a great teacher and they were incredibly attentive and interested (or good at pretending) and they spoke eloquently about why they wanted their school to stay open.

Esther, who works with me and lives in Govanhill asked them what they felt the big issues were in the area and they started off talking about the amount of dog "excrement" on the streets. Not just the streets either - the grass area they used to muck about in is apparently now frequently covered in the stuff bringing a whole new meaning to the term "muck about"!

This lead to a story of a local dog going into Govanhill Park and dying because he ate rat poison that had been laid unbeknownst to the owners ~ or the dogs!!

Talk of dogs got one wee boy round to telling us about a dog in his street that went into the bushes and ended up cut and bleeding because local thugs had been storing their knives in the bushes.

The kids all became animated at this point sharing tales of what they'd found in the bushes - knives, broken bottles, a hammer and several used syringes. And it made me mad. Here is a class of 10 and 11 year old kids, all lovely, all interested in the world around them and almost all having experienced going out to play with their pals and stumbling upon dangerous weapons and suchlike.

Anyway I told them they are all constituents of mine and if they wanted me to look into this for them, I would. They did and I will. Children need to be able to play freely without fear of picking up an infected needle but they also need to know that they've a right to complain and expect their politicians to represent them. They can't vote for quite some time but I want them to believe there is a point in voting when the time comes ~ and they were so smart these kids that I've no doubt they'll vote the right way!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Pure dead embarrassing

Last week I flew from Prestwick Airport to Spain with my niece Christie who was absolutely horrified by the slogan that adorns the airport. "Pure Dead Brilliant" is how it describes itself and whilst I found it mildly amusing and expected that at 16, she'd LOVE it, she was cringing with embarrassment. And it's not that she's against people speaking in colloquialisms - in fact she's strongly in favour of reviving the Scots language and does not tolerate being told not to speak in "slang".

But according to her "Pure Dead Brilliant" is "pure dead mortifying" and degrades Scotland. Her words were "it's NEDDISH and I can use that word because I'm young"! There you go then. What you think will appeal to young folk doesn't always. I just wonder if it appeals to tourists.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Stuck in Spain

I came out to Spain with my niece on a study trip last week. If you're a regular reader you'll know that I was furious to discover that she'd had no guidance and almost no encouragement as to her future career from her school despite (at that time) being asked to make her choices for her Highers. She really wants to study languages and she's a girl who isn't just keen to speak in a foreign language, she is genuinely fascinated by the nuances of language so she should be encouraged. She was a little unsure of going straight for Higher Spanish (having not done the Standard Grade) but I was confident of her abilities and persuaded her by saying that I'd learn it too and I'd also take her to Spain for a few days before she sat it, in order to practice what she'd learned.

Thus we came out last week. We'd had some horrendous news which I won't go into just now and although my initial thought was to go nowhere, I felt the best way to keep her mind on her exams was to carry on as planned. So, out we came. I thought I'd make it a bit of an adventure for her (no simple routes) so that she could test her Spanish properly. I hadn't bargained on it being quite as much of an adventure mind you ....

Chiclana on the South Coast was great - we went to stay with my old school friend Martin who I've not seen for over 10 years. Martin knows me very well and knew Christie's mum and aunt pretty well too so she enjoyed hearing all the bad (made up) stories about us. However, it's been a bit of a nightmare since leaving - and one that's tested both of us to the limit ~ although I have to say I'm a bit more used to these things than she is.

I decided to come back via Barcelona. Actually there was no other option but it all adds to the confidence building to be able to navigate your way across a foreign country. We got to Barcelona and had 24 hours to spend here. So today, with little time, we thought we'd get on the tour bus and go round the whole city. And we did. In the pouring rain. In fact it wasn't rain, it was hailstones. Giant ones. And so unusual is this in Barcelona that it made the Spanish news tonight! When the hail stopped beating us up it merely poured down. There were no seats downstairs on this bus so we had to sit upstairs but I, seasoned traveller (and girl guide) that I am was prepared and had my brolly at the ready. So it didn't help the fact that I had bare legs, a thin cotton skirt and a sleeveless top on but we had it up all the same - until the tour guide told us to put it down.

"Why?" I asked, lost the will to bother with Spanish at this point and the great idea we'd had to also learn Catalan was just out of the question by now. So I asked her why and she said "in case you drop it in front of a car and cause an accident"! And she wasn't joking. Now I am normally quite hardy and can put up with rain, I am also normally quite obedient in these matters but today, I decided to rebel - big time! I was putting up my brolly and that was that. She said nothing more but I'm sure she was thinking "they're Scottish, surely they're used to it"!

Anyway as soon as we had to leave Barcelona, the sun came back out. Lovely. No use to us right enough but lovely for everyone else. However there was worse awaiting me.

I asked the hotel to get us a taxi to take us to Plaza Catalunya where the airport bus leaves from. She advised it would be cheaper to go to Espana Square. I did the usual enquiries as to whether or not it was the same bus etc and was assured it was. And when we got to the stop I was further reassured. It looked like the same bus, carried the same adverts and the bus driver accepted my return tickets but .... took us to Barcelona Airport when I needed to be at Barcelona Girona Airport. I'd love to say it got better after that but the wifi at the airport stopped working, my phone stopped working, the laptop when I found a working wifi ran out of battery, I could go on but it would get boring.

So here we are, another night in this city that I'm rapidly going off. It's helping Christie's Spanish though as she now knows how to swear in Spanish! And she's learned that the best laid plans of mice and men ... So, you know what they say about silver linings. Seeing as we're on cliches, we are also both keenly aware right now that worse things happen at sea so we'll count our blessings and resolve never to go on holiday ever again. And she better get an "A" in her Spanish!!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Happy Birthday to us :-)

Yes, the SNP is 75 years old today and who better to celebrate than the wonderful Winnie Ewing, onetime MP, MEP and MSP and someone we all owe a huge debt to. Great to see her looking so well and showing that if you work as hard as Winnie has, you can, indeed, have your cake and eat it.

Parents' fight to save their schools

I spent most of Saturday here at St Gregory's and The Wyndford Primary Schools in Maryhill where the parents are staging a peaceful occupation of the school buildings. You can read more about it here and I will be blogging about the whole issue of these closures in more detail when I've time but for now I'll just tell you that I found them to be well organised, well disciplined and in good spirits - without a drop of alcohol in sight (maybe Jimmy Reid's been in touch!). Of course they don't want to spend the Easter holidays in a school sleeping on gym mats with nothing to do but sing karaoke (yes, they have a karaoke machine) but their children's education is important to them and so is their community and the Wyndford is just one of many communities across Glasgow which will be devastated if these proposals go ahead. More later because it's an issue of huge importance and it's about to hot up as we approach the 23 April vote on it!