Wednesday, 30 September 2009

It just gets worse and worse for Labour

Today, faced with someone who had the audacity to ask him a question he didn't like, Gordon Brown did what any grown up would do and STOMPED OFF. I hear he had to stomp right back again because the next journalist was waiting for an interview. Meanwhile elsewhere in the Land of Hope and Glory Peter Mandelsohn apparently brushed off the news that The Sun had dropped its Labour support by apparently referring to Sun readers as LOSERS! Very naughty but not at all surprising to me. Another Labour politician who shall remain nameless referred to some of his constituents last week as NUTTERS. I won't name him but it's on the Official Report of the last Public Audit Committee so it's in the public domain. Again, very naughty, not very nice. However their honesty is improving because Mr Mandelson himself said today that after the election he can see himself working equally well for a Conservative Government as for a Labour Government. Like I said, it gets worse and worse ...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Gordon Ramsay - what a bully

I've been watching Hell's Kitchen for the first time. And I just can't look. That man is a nasty piece of work. It stars Gordon Ramsay - much admired for his fiery no nonsense attitude and that's fine but it's not "no nonsense" it's just nasty bully boy stuff. Workplace bullying can be crucifying for people who have to live with it. It's often quite subtle but not with this guy.

He wasn't happy with one of the chefs so he told him to "f*** off, just get outta here, go on get out, f*** off" and off the poor guy went, completely humiliated in front of everyone.

The next guy to displease him was told to "get in there now" and shoved into a cupboard where he was joined by Ramsay who spat in his face that he was "a dirty pig".

Nasty horrible bully boy tactics that would and should get someone sacked. Why on earth do we create a celebrity out of guys like this? How can we tell kids or anyone for that matter that bullying is wrong when this guy's paid millions for doing just that? It's obscene. HE is obscene. WE are obscene to accept someone like this being held up as some kind of a hero.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

My honest politician of the week ...

... is Ed Milliband, the Labour MP and Energy Secretary, who this week admitted, nay openly declared that there was little difference between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. It was unequivocal. His words were as follows:

"On certain areas, there are no differences between us ... people don't like (politicians) pretending there are big differences when there aren't."

I suspect it was said to try and grab some of the thousands of votes that seem to be moving down South from Labour to Tory. Won't go down particularly well in Scotland and definitely not in Glasgow where some (not many) people have clung onto the hope that the similarities are more superficial than fundamental. Good of Mr Milliband, tipped to lead the Labour Party one day, to clarify the position for us.

I'm looking for a Parliamentary Researcher

As far as I know I have no budget for external recruitment advertising so I've put the word out in other ways. However I didn't mention it here on my blog that's so well read by both of you! So, if you're interested in working for me at the parliament in Edinburgh as a researcher or if you know anyone who is, take a look at the job ad and get your application in by this Thursday. I've had a lot of interest and applications are already in double figures. However I want to ensure I've done everything I can to get the best person for the job. I'm determined our office will make a difference to the people we represent and to the parliament. And I will definitely give full consideration to every single application I receive.

Purcell not V Good at all!

If it weren't for the fact that Stephen Purcell is in charge of the biggest council in Scotland and the city that I represent and live in, I'd be laughing at the events of last week. When he was stomping about moaning that The first Minister Alex Salmond told him to grow up, perhaps he should really just reflect on that piece of advice. I understand that people have political ambitions and most politicians love getting press coverage but I think we each have a responsibility to keep the egos in check and keep reminding ourselves what we are trying to achieve.

The headlines I'm referring to came about after a meeting Stephen Purcell had with Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon - I think it was simply a Commonwealth Games progress meeting. Purcell brought up the refurbishment of Dalmarnock Station where the Games will be held and he wanted the FM to guarantee the £2.3million loan from the EU required to overhaul it. As I understand it, he was given a "steer" that the SNP Government were "very committed" to it but told that "due processes" had to be followed before any confirmation could be given.What that means is there are certain procedures that have to be followed in all things but particularly when you're running a country.

As it happens, the following day, it was confirmed that the loan would be underwritten. Confirmed through the proper channels. Saying "c'mon gonnae just tell me, I'll no' tell anybody" is really not that attitude you're looking for from the Leader of Glasgow City Council. Running to the press afterwards saying "that big boy told me to grow up" is even less impressive.

And what did it achieve really? It didn't influence the outcome one iota. All it did was get headlines for Mr Purcell who, as we all know, is dying to replace Iain Gray as Labour's leader in Scotland. Sadly this time, his headlines just made him look like a diddy - and one who needs to grow up fast.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Visit to my old drama school

I invited myself along to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama when I heard that Michael Russell, the Minister for Culture amongst other things was going to be visiting today. It's my old drama school but it's so much more than that these days. It's such an exciting job being an MSP. Yet again I found myself having to fight the urge to get completely carried away (so unlike me, I know!) and book myself an audition when I heard that they're going to have a musical theatre course - but couldn't help myself from thinking that the hills are alive with the sound of music / as long as he needs me / you must be mistaken, it couldn't have been, you couldn't have seen him yesterday. Sorry, as you can see my "not getting carried away" didn't work too well. Anyway was a great visit. We're pictured here with John Wallace, the Principal at the RSAMD and Prof Maggie Kinloch, Director of Drama.

Facebook therapy

Facebook is very 'helpful' in that it tells you what your friends think of you - so it says. Every so often it sends you an email letting you know where you are in the rankings. Today, I got this.

#4 most useful (lost 2 places)
#5 most outgoing (gained 1 place)
#6 most talkative (gained 1 place)
#10 best mannered (lost 4 places)
#11 hardest worker (lost 9 places)

So I'm becoming useless, rude, lazy (after the week I've just had!!) and more talkative. However none of that has affected my confidence as it tells me I'm more outgoing than normal. Will nothing dent this girl's confidence?! And who on earth is voting in this? I've never been asked!

Monday, 21 September 2009

My Misdiagnosis

There was a radio programme this morning about patients being misdiagnosed alongside calls for the number of wrong diagnoses to be recorded. I haven't formed a view on that yet but I can sympathise with people who go through it, having been there myself. The consequences for my health were manageable but the knock on effect on my life were significant to say the least.

A few years back I decided to do a postgrad in primary teaching and embarked on it with great enthusiasm. One night in December I woke up with the most horrific searing pains shooting through my face. I remember that first time clearly. I was scared. As well as the "boring drill-like" pain it was like having mini electric shocks all over one side of my face. I have a high pain threshold but I'd never experienced anything like this.

Normally it takes me till I'm feeling better to get round to seeing the doctor but this time I went immediately. She didn't even have to think about it and very quickly diagnosed Trigeminal Neuralgia more commonly known as "the suicide disease" because the extremity of it and the difficulty in treating it lead many sufferers to contemplate and even attempt suicide.

Anyway nothing they prescribed worked. I ended up in hospital once after almost collapsing with the pain as I was driving past the Royal Infirmary. I saw neurologists. I had brain scans to rule out a tumour - that in itself was surreal. The neurologist did a few other tests and suddenly said "we'd better get you a scan seeing as you've got a few symptoms that could suggest a tumour"! After being told it would be 2 weeks, I got a letter 2 DAYS later telling me to be at the Southern General 2 hours later. So there I was all on my own going through this scary brain scan.

And all of it turned out to be unnecessary. The vast majority of TN sufferers have several teeth removed before diagnosis because GPs almost always put the pain down to dental problems. I have to be different. My GP said it was TN but a visit to the dentist 6 months later showed up dental decay putting pressure on the trigeminal nerve, giving me exactly the same symptoms but also giving me a solution. A cure. And it was a cure. As soon as the tooth had been treated, the pain disappeared.

Unfortunately by that time my teaching practise had been so interrupted that I'd failed one practice and finally been unable to complete the course. I was invited to return the following year but for a number of reasons, the main one being the debt I had accrued as a student with no income for a year, I just wasn't in a position to do that. So my misdiagnosis ended all hopes of a career in primary teaching for me and left me with a lot of debt with nothing to show for it at the end.

At first I was angry with my GP but my elation at being free of the most mind numbing, disabling pain I had ever felt overshadowed that. And after a time I realised that the GP was probably aware of the plight of TN sufferers who fight for years for a proper diagnosis. At least she was aware of it. You have to move on particularly when there was no malicious intent and she wasn't far off the mark. We can all make mistakes. What is more difficult to move on from is when a patient is crying out to be diagnosed with a significant illness that they're sure they have only to be told it's "all in their head".

I'm pleased to say that the Scottish Government does take patients' safety seriously and has introduced a Patient Safety Programme which I think is the first in the UK. It doesn't include reference to misdiagnosis however and as I said, I would be interested to hear more about why it is important to record that information. It's an interesting topic and one that the BBC were right to highlight.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


It's Eid today. The celebration to mark the end of Ramadhan and celebrated by Muslims the world over. Ramadhan is obviously a time of great self discipline - fasting between sunrise and sunset. And it's not just food they abstain from, it's liquids too, including water. And there's a side to it that encourages spiritual fasting - no gossiping, lying or speaking badly of other people. The reason for all of this is to strip away "worldly pleasures" and pave the way for inner reflection and intense religious introspection.

I was reading up on it and right now apparently, to celebrate the end of Ramadhan, Muslims will be taking the opportunity to have fun, celebrate their faith, and enjoy the company of friends and family. The celebrations can also involve fireworks, present giving and music and dancing.

It made me think about Bashir Ahmad, Scotland's first Muslim MSP who passed away on 6 February this year. I was wondering what Bashir's children's memories of him were at this time of year. I remember my own dad was so funny at Christmas, he got so ridiculously over-excited.

And what I knew of Bashir was that he just seemed to see the good and the joy in everything and everyone. So I imagine he loved Eid. I can picture him making sure everyone had enough to eat and drink and nobody was left on their own. The perfect host. I suspect if there was dancing, you'd be told to dance and you'd dance. "It's good for you" he'd be telling everyone. I remember his daughters telling me that he'd often come home late in the evening after a long day in parliament and without sitting down he'd go straight to the kitchen to cut up fruit for them. He was always giving and always looking out for people so this surely would have been his perfect time of year.

As for refraining from gossip, lies or speaking badly of others during Ramadhan, I honestly never once heard Bashir do that, whatever time of year it was. If you were mad at someone, you didn't talk to Bashir about it because he was too kind. He pointed out their good bits, he found ways to understand why they behaved in the way they did (even the Labour Party!) and he never believed anything bad about anyone. I don't think that made him naive, I think it just made him someone who didn't want that kind of negativity in his life. To live your life like that is amazing. To live your life in politics like that is almost unheard of.

I am not Muslim but we can all learn from other religions and we can all learn from other human beings. And I am using Eid to think about Bashir and what I can learn from him and from his faith.

Labour's mock outrage

It's interesting how the Labour Party and certain news media are working hand in hand to mount a campaign to "save Glasgow" from the SNP. It's almost as if they've had the headlines written, the plan of action ready and all they had to do was keep their fingers crossed that they'd get a reason to launch their attack.

So, there we were on Thursday afternoon, listening to John Swinney deliver his draft budget statement and he'd just announced that despite vicious cuts to the Scottish budget by our masters, the British Labour Government, there would be no cuts to the NHS in Scotland.

In fact, thanks to the SNP government the NHS in Glasgow is to get an additional £50 million in this budget. This on top of the fact that we're still getting the £842million new Southern General Hospital.

Immediately after that announcement, the Cabinet Secretary announced that, regrettably, the Glasgow Airport Rail Link was to be cancelled. With good reason which I'll come onto.

But to listen to Glasgow Labour MSPs shouting "shame" was pathetic. I could understand the use of that word if he'd said he was cancelling health projects as their Labour colleagues are doing in England. If operations were going to be cancelled, if people were going to die, if they were going to have to wait a whole lot longer for treatment, then I could see the word "shame" might be used, albeit hypocritically given what their party is doing down South.

But they were shouting shame for the cancellation of a rail link.

As my 17 year old niece said in the simplistic way you view the world at that age "but you can still get a bus can't you?". Now I appreciate it's about more than that but she's right, it's hardly "shameful".

If they'd shouted "wrong" or "short-sighted" I would have disagreed with them and I'll tell you why in a moment, but it would have been a whole lot more appropriate than the disgraceful sound of them shouting "SHAME"!

The reason why it had to be cancelled is because in 2006 we were told it would cost £160million and which latest estimates show would cost £397.5million. Who knows how much the cost would have spiralled to at a later date. The SNP will not sign blank cheques particularly when the British Labour Government have made an absolute mess of the economy and now leave us having to cut our spending by £500million.

A Glasgow Labour MSP told me it was an "outrage" - again, ridiculously over the top use of the English language if you ask me. She told me I had to speak to the government and tell them to reinstate the project. So I asked her 2 things:

1) Which government? The one that imposed the cuts (British government) or the one that had to deal with the mess they made?
2) What did she suggest we cut instead? We're all agreed the cuts are there and we have to deal with them like grown ups so what should I advise the government to cut?

Her response to (1) was obvious and to (2)? "I don't need to decide that, that isnae ma job".

Precisely! They don't have to do anything, don't have to make any decisions, they simply have to sit and heckle and provide local newspapers with spurious headlines. Nice job if you can get it! Meantime the SNP government will get on with doing what it's promised to do in these tough times and that is to protect frontline services and aid economic recovery in Scotland.

Just as an aside, we have a by-election on, I speak to a lot of people in Glasgow and I've been out campaigning all weekend. Guess how many folk mentioned any of the above? NONE. Not a single one.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

National Catalunya Day

Tonight my FINAL job was to go along to the event to commemorate National Catalonia Day which was held at Our Dynamic Earth. My good friend Xavier who is Head of the Catalan Government delegation to the UK had invited me along and it was great to see him. It was also very interesting to hear from the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation because of course they had a long struggle for some form of autonomy from Spain and over the years since they got their parliament (1980 I think) they've developed and evolved and now they control taxation and immigration - something we can only dream of! I will definitely be volunteering should they ever request a visit from an MSP - mind you, who will turn down Barcelona?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The SNP's Turbulent Years - only 30 of them?

I went along to SNP Headquarters tonight to attend a book launch. It was a book by Gordon Wilson, former MP and former SNP leader. His book is entitled "SNP: The Turbulent Years 1960 to 1990". I don't suppose he really is arguing that we stopped being turbulent in 1990 and he certainly talked about the many ups and downs of the SNP. John Swinney spoke at it and we all just spent a few moments thinking about how far we have come. Anyway I had to dash back after 20 minutes for another meeting so it was very brief but I am looking forward to reading the book.

Australia: this is Scotland calling

Sometimes you get so used to the advances in technology that you take it all for granted. And other times, you just sit and wonder how on earth we got to where we are. Like this morning. There I was, sitting in the Scottish Parliament with some other members of the Public Petitions Committee, having a live meeting with MPs from Australia's House of Representatives. It all felt perfectly normal until I had that "wow" moment when I realised we were sitting in Edinburgh, they were half way round the world in Canberra, it was breakfast time for us and dinner time for them and we were chatting easily to one another via a live video link up. And despite not having a clue who pioneered video conferencing, I even decided we in Scotland could take the credit. After all if it hadn't been for John Logie Baird inventing the TV, we'd have had to have had that meeting by telephone - oh, another Scottish invention! Anyway, it does us no harm sometimes to stop and appreciate advances in technology and to look at how far we've come in such a short space of time.

Monday, 14 September 2009

SuBo does the Stones

I just heard that Susan Boyle is going to be making an appearance at the final of America's Got Talent. I did wonder what had happened to her. Presumably she's well enough which is great news. And apparently she's doing a "sensational" version of The Stones song "Wild Horses" which is one of my all time favourites. I'll reserve judgement till I hear it but good luck to her!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The last week in pictures

This one was taken at 7am after an 8 hour shift with Springburn Ambulance Team - you can see that Peter and Frank were very smiley, once they knew they were getting rid of me!
This was the awful mess outside Pollok Civic Realm where I did my surgery on Monday. What a lovely sight!

Overflowing bins attracted dozens of wasps - and yes, I did run away!

Even the carpark nearby with its lovely greenery was covered in rubbish.
And I'm sure it can't be safe to have drugs lying around - I took them to hand into a chemist.

Left the surgery and headed for Asda Govan where Shelter where holding an event. Should've read the invitation and I might've put some make up on before being filmed!

Nor did I realise I had to draw my ideal home. Got a bit carried away!

Mission Aviation Fellowship had an event hosted by Linda Fabiani MSP in the parliament on Tuesday. This was me on the flight simulator - got a little carried away with this one too I'm afraid. Joie de vivre - nothing wrong with that!

This lady worked as an aircraft engineer for Mission Aviation Fellowship for more than ten years, starting in Chad. She told me she was met with suspicion at first being a woman working as an engineer!

My niece Christie and her dad came in to watch First Minister's Questions and made themselves at home in my office. This is the POD, where you're supposed to sit and contemplate. Seeing as I don't have time for that I use it as a filing system!

Double saltire in the sky on Friday morning when I woke up on the Southside! The ironies less than 48 hours after we crashed out of the world cup!

Saturday and it's by-election time! Here I am with our brilliant candidate David Kerr and my old mate Brendan O'Hara. He's now got his own TV production company but back in the day, Brendan was one of the SNP's best parliamentary candidates. He'll be back!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Let them go home

I heard from a friend of mine in Colombo in Sri Lanka that the Lanka Daily Mirror is reporting that the IDP camps are to be opened and everyone can now go home. I've not been able to verify that yet and this article would suggest that it's not being reported over here.

Last Sunday I met a farmer from The Vanni in Sri Lanka, now living in Glasgow. He knows the land the IDP camps are on well and he told me it will be badly flooded when the monsoons start next month. In fact he fears they will be swamped. There are no ground sheets in the camps and even if there were, they're no protection from monsoon floods.

It is therefore more urgent than ever that people are allowed to go home. The Sri Lankan government MUST let people go home before they're hit by yet another human catastrophe. They've been through enough, let them go home.

*Ye hypocrites are these yer pranks #1

I'm calling it "no 1" because I'm expecting there will be many more. Iain Gray, Labour Leader in Scotland, decided to make the awful news of Diageo job losses into a party political issue when he raised it at First Minister's Questions and accused Alex Salmond of more or less scuppering the chances of saving the jobs by doing what? By making a speech and walking shoulder to shoulder with workers at a rally organised by the cross party working group at the start of the campaign to save the livelihoods of these men and women.

But what do we read in today's edition of the Scotsman? What's that I hear Iain Gray told a reporter last week?

Yes, that's right. He said (and this is a quote):

Iain Gray said:

"I would have gone on the protest march as first minister.

"Labour's take on this has been to work with the trade unions. That's why I probably would have gone on the protest march because the trade unions were a big part of organising that."

*Rabbie Burns

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tuesday's business

9.20pm on Tuesday night. Sitting at my desk in parly thinking I'll go and get my dinner now. But then I remember my resolve to do regular, if short, updates. The blog is supposed to be about the work of an MSP and I think it will give you a better idea (those of you who are not already MSPs!) of what we're up to if I do lots of wee posts. So, not sure how interesting it is to hear this but here's what I've done today.

This morning I wrote up some notes on various meetings I've been at recently. Didn't get it finished but made progress. I often find I have time to go to the meetings and then it's a fortnight before I even get time to think about it again. I did that from home seeing as there's still no room for me in the Glasgow office.

I headed through to parliament for the Petitions Committee meeting at 12. Caught up with some emails although you never ACTUALLY do catch up. One day. One day. Petitions Committee discussed 3 different petitions from Glasgow schools campaigners and some intriguing insights gleaned there but I can't share them with you because there might be some rule about always being nice about fellow committee members. Need to check that one out though. Anyway the petitioners were not invited to give evidence to the committee so they asked Bob Doris to do it for them as MSPs are allowed to do that for any petition.

Must've been another 25 petitions to consider and the one that was invited to give evidence was calling for "Changing Places" toilets to be available in all towns with more than 15,000 people. The petitioner, Linda Burke, described how it was very difficult for her family to go out for more than an hour or two with their 30 year old daughter Jenny. Jenny has real mobility problems and to get her onto a toilet needs lifting equipment. What many people don't realise is that "disabled toilets" or "accessible toilets" as most folk prefer to call them, are not the same thing. Anyway it was interesting and the committee agreed to press on with the petition.

There were loads more and at the end a reminder from the clerk that 4 of us had agreed to do a satellite link up with the parliament in Canberra next Wednesday morning at 8.45am. I was laughing at those who'd been daft enough to agree when he told me I was one of them!

So, the meeting finished at 5, I'd time to return some calls, delete some new emails (just kidding, I mean READ emails), reply to some invitations etc before heading to a brilliant event in Committee Room 5. More on this later but my colleague (and friend) Linda Fabiani was hosting a talk by MAF which is Mission Aviation Fellowship. Basically they get into hard to reach remote areas in developing countries around the world. They work in partnership with lots of other humanitarian organisations. And that's all I'm saying because later in the week I'll do a fuller posting and put up some pics.

Anyway that finished at 8 but you always get chatting to people and it was just before 9 when I got back here. I had a chat with Linda about various things - it was good because you rarely get time to talk to other MSPs and it helps me being the newest one, to hear from others who've been here a bit longer. And then for the last 20 minutes I've been writing what I started off saying was going to be a very short blog posting! So now, I'm off to make my dinner. Staying over thankfully because I need to be in for 8am. Mind you, when I was a researcher here, I often worked this late and often had to be in early and I never had the luxury of staying over and not having to pay for it. So I shall not complain. I shall just go and appreciate my good fortune and my dinner!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Freedom of Speech in Sri Lanka

I really do want to do more than just speak out about what's happening in Sri Lanka. I am fortunate in that I have some good contacts over there who can at least have me speak to the right people. How much good it will do I don't know. However I do know I need to tread carefully. Speaking out is not tolerated well as this article testifies.

When I was in Sri Lanka in August I was told there was a radio advert running that went something like this: "If you hear any foreigner speaking badly of our President, call the hotline on 0800 something or other and we will deport them immediately"! I asked several "foreigners" if they took it seriously and they did. People who've been living and working there for years, often voluntarily, know that if they're not careful, simply speaking out will be enough for them to be thrown out never to return. Therefore I'm restricting what I'm saying for the moment. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Visiting your family behind bars - but they've committed no crime

Followers of this blog will know of my connection to Sri Lanka and that I went back there this year for a holiday. I tried to use my time out there to find out as much as I could about the IDP camps the Tamils are being kept in following the end of the war. I didn't get to visit them although I have reason to believe that I may yet be able to. We shall see.

I have yet to blog on what I did find when I was out there but that's because there's a possibility of getting an article in a national newspaper which will obviously reach a wider audience. Meantime however, because nobody's allowed into the camps, those of us with concerns are left with speculation, stories from those who've managed to leave and, as you're about to hear, tales from people who've tried to make contact with their families living in the camps.

Today I met a family originally from Jaffna in Sri Lanka, now living in the Gorbals in Glasgow. They've been here for 8 years and are British Citizens. Mum, dad and 11 year old *Dharuna, a lovely articulate little girl all told me what happened to them in the summer.

Both mum and dad have relatives in the camps. In all they visited 7 camps and they still have no idea how their families really are. They've seen most of them, they've been within touching distance but they've yet to touch them. Dad's father and brother were killed by the government shelling as they slept. Dad wanted to comfort his family who survived. He wanted them to comfort him. All he needed was to be able to hug them but he couldn't because there were TWO high barbed wire fences a metre apart between him and his loved ones.

The drill is as follows: they arrive at the camp and have to queue for several hours with thousands of others desperate to set eyes on the families they've been separated from for upwards of three months now. Once all the ID cards and passports have been checked, they then have to queue for some hours more. They wait on average 4 hours before they can take their turn. The names of their family members are read out over the camp's loudspeakers and this is a ten minute warning. If they don't arrive within ten minutes, the visitors are sent to the back of the queue and the process begins all over again. Once their loved ones arrive, they have ten minutes to speak to them via the two 1-metre apart fences of barbed wire. They could pass over gifts (thoroughly checked lest you should be handing over mobile phones that can (a) contact the outside world and (b) take photographic evidence) but they have to be able to reach to the top of the fence and throw it so that it scales both fences. If their gifts, normally food, fall in between the fences, all they can do is try again as long as they can reach down to retrieve it without the barbed wire ripping their arm off. Otherwise, it will remain where it fell. They have ten minutes to talk and all the time the army stand on both sides, "staring at you" according to my 11 year old source, and of course with guns at the ready.

Added to that, the family describe how thousands of people are crushed together, herded in like cattle by the army. They describe people crying often hysterically and they tell me how, under the baking hot sun, little Dharuna becomes so ill she starts to vomit. No water is offered but the soldiers do, thankfully, move them forward to the front of the queue at this stage.

Dharuna's mum was getting upset as she talked about how the Tamil people had been through enough and surely now it was time to let them go home. When she got upset Dharuna told me her take on things. This is a little girl who's only really known Glasgow. She has a Glasgow accent. She has a Glasgow turn of phrase. For example, she told me what happened when the ten minutes was up. She said "the soldiers had these mad big wooden stick things and they started shouting at people and beating them with the mad sticks". (For non Glaswegians, all children here overuse the word "mad"!)

Some people had travelled for days and queued for 4 hours to wave across the barbed wire at their parents, children, siblings who, we must remember, have committed no crime and are not supposed to be in prison. Understandably they'd be upset when their ten minutes was up and you can understand them lingering a little. But lingering for a second apparently provoked the ire of the army and the production of the "mad" sticks.

Dharuna said she was very frightened and upset and although she'd always dreamed of her home country of Sri Lanka, she has vowed that she will "never go back there". She's adamant. I tell her we hope things will get better. She tells me it doesn't matter, "never ever" will she return.

I have to be careful what I say. I really want to go back to Sri Lanka. I want to be able to visit the camps. The Tamil people living in Glasgow who've been coming to see me want me to visit the camps. In my next post you will see why I need to be cautious if ever that is to happen - speaking out is not tolerated well in Sri Lanka. So, all I will say is that the above is what I have been told by a family who have been there and I have no reason to disbelieve them. Until the Sri Lankan Government allow independent monitors, journalists and people like myself free and unfettered access to the camps, what else do we have to judge it on?

This week I'm starting my attempt to open up a dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government about the conditions in the camps and particularly about the far too slow release of people back to their homes. Having been there recently, I have some cause for a little optimism and I do believe that all sides want to find lasting peace. Let's not forget Sri Lanka in amongst all the other turmoil in the world because it is a beautiful country with incredibly kind warm hearted people - Sinhalese AND Tamil - who've just lost their way a bit and become polarised in their arguments, in the 30 year war that ravaged their country but is, finally, at an end.

The MSP Factor

Lack of sleep and meeting some desperately worried people today has made it a day where I'm having to actively go find the joy! Just as well then that I have X Factor to lift my spirits. And as I'm watching it a thought has crossed my mind that I thought I'd just run by y'all! I've been spending time with the police and ambulance service amongst other people - I'm doing it for a number of reasons, one being to get an idea of what pressures other people face. That, and my post last night written as I managed to catch a little of X Factor, got me thinking that maybe I should head along to next year's X Factor auditions. Purely to be able to properly empathise with the auditionees obviously. Just a thought ...

Remember all those zombies films?

Well that's what I feel like right now. I guess it's what I look like too but too scared to look in the mirror. I've had 4 hours sleep after the ambulance night shift last night and I'm heading out to a meeting with some constituents who went to visit their family trapped in the IDP camps in Sri Lanka. I am pursuing some issues around the conditions in the camps and the return of people to their homes. Unfortunately the Sri Lankan government doesn't allow journalists or independent monitors to truly see what's going on so I'm speaking to anyone who has had ANY direct contact themselves. Anyway that's where I'm going but I really don't know how these ambulance guys do it - last night was a brilliant experience that I'll blog about later but night shift is definitely NOT for me!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

To hear ourselves as others hear us

Just caught a bit of X Factor before I head out for my ambulance shift and I saw this girl Jade. She's 17 and she sang "And I am Telling You" unaccompanied, a song that's not easy to sing with the music never mind on your owney-o! She was very very good but you can see why you get so many delusional folk on (like the French guy who's just about to get a roasting from Simon). The trouble is you never sound in your own head, like you do in reality. I mean I'm sitting listening to Jade thinking "yeah that's how I sing it". Now either I'm a superstar in the making or I'm just not hearing what everyone else is hearing. So let's not laugh at them too much, they can't help it. And let's not TOTALLY discount the possibility that I am, indeed, a 'superstar in the making'!

Don't worry, you're safe in my hands!

You may remember a few weeks ago myself and David Kerr the SNP candidate in the forthcoming by election went out on a 3 hour shift with Springburn Ambulance Crew. It was a fascinating experience but I felt it wasn't long enough and I felt I wasn't getting to see just how highly pressured the job can become.

So I thought it would be a good idea to go back and do a full night shift the first Saturday after payday. And it IS a good idea. But now that the day has arrived .... I've not even thought about what I might witness, I'm just wondering how I'm going to stay awake from 9pm to 7am! I tried to sleep late today in preparation and I'll maybe have another little sleep at teatime. The last time I worked any kind of nightshift I was an auxiliary in a psychiatric ward and they sent me home when I fell asleep twice before midnight (once standing up)! Hmmmm, wish me luck!

Friday, 4 September 2009

The Cheek

My 17 year old niece is working as an (unpaid) intern 2 days a week for me and today we were working from the constituency office. We had a 2 hour meeting followed by a half hour meeting followed by a 1 hour meeting followed by another 400 million emails followed by a destitute asylum seeker needing urgent help followed by a 2 hour meeting with 5 people which has just finished.

She's dying to go home and I'm just finishing off letters but I can see she's starving so I'm trying to go quickly. She tells me she NEVER wants to be an MSP and I understand (from today's experience) why she's saying that. I tell her I sympathise with her plight and I'm really not sure why she EVER wants to come and stay with me due to the continual neglecting of her most basic needs. She says nothing. I tell her "when you look back you'll be wondering what on earth you were doing coming here" to which she replies "I don't have to look back. I can just look"!

So to punish her I tell her I must update my blog before I can leave. That'll teach her!

Quick roundup

First full week back at parliament and I've remembered why I look like this most of the time! Don't get me wrong, I love it but it's hectic and my two committees haven't even restarted yet! It's like you go in there on a Tuesday morning and don't emerge AT ALL till late on Thursday by which time you come out with that Friday feeling only to realise that it's not quite the weekend yet! Of course you do emerge at some point but I know I was in my office till 10 the other night and I wasn't the last to leave.
It's hard to explain why it's quite so tiring but I think it's down to the intensity and the often highly charged atmosphere. It's not just the MSPs who feel it, it's everyone. Whatever our jobs are we all leave there on a Thursday feeling whacked. On the positive side, you leave feeling ALIVE. It may be tiring but it's also very exciting at times.
I've had some interesting experiences this week. I met Michael Russell, the Minister for External Affairs (amongst other things) to update him on my trip to Sri Lanka. I went to the launch of the Scottish Mental Health Film & Arts Festival, I sat through the debate on Al Megrahi on Wednesday morning and listened to Labour make political capital out of the situation despite news emerging during the debate that Gordon Brown had just said he respected the decision! And I had to spend the afternoon in the Chamber too as I was speaking in the debate on the School Consultation bill. I got my first intervention (!!!) from George Foulkes of all people. But I warned him to be gentle with me and he was!
Thursday saw the government launch its "programme for government" and there was so much to be proud of in the 13 bills that were outlined.
So there was all of that, 400 million emails at least, dozens of constituency cases to catch up on with the team in Glasgow, articles to write and finally, when I left on Thursday I had to race to get the train back in time to chair a meeting of Glasgow SNP!
Now I'm off for a full day of meetings, the last of which ends at 7pm. I'm thinking the most exciting thing I'll have the energy for tonight is watching Corrie!