Sunday, 29 November 2009
I'm beginning to wonder if I actually enjoy adversity. At the precise moment the temperatures plummeted the other night, my boiler broke down. It's baltic in here, I am freezing and I mean FREEZING. I do intend to fix it but this happened to me years ago and the guy came out, flicked a switch to relight the pilot and charged me £40. I can think of better things to do with money so I'm faffing about thinking it'll just "right" itself. Meantime, a little voice is telling me that it'll be GREAT when it's fixed and the sado masochist in me is thinking "no pain, no gain" and maybe it does me no harm to suffer because I'll really notice the difference when I get heating and hot water back. No, I don't understand me either.
Thursday, 26 November 2009
It would break your heart. A family of 5 children aged from 3 to 12, taken by suprise after school yesterday. Carted off to Dungavel Prison (for that is how it looks and feels) 2 days before a hugely important religious festival. The family are Muslims from Pakistan and tomorrow is Eid Al Adha, supposed to be a time of great celebration, kind of like Christmas for Christians.
I don't know the details of this case because I've not been working with the family. But I do know how intrinsically wrong it is for little children to be locked up in places like Dungavel. And I am shocked at the crass insensitivity of the timing. Tonight, instead of lying awake because they're so excited about Eid tomorrow, they'll be unable to sleep because they are so dreading the journey to Yarls Wood, a place that little Precious described as "a place of darkness". This wee frightened family are soon to find out for themselves.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Monday, 23 November 2009
And whilst we're waiting and feeling sick with nerves, our thoughts keep turning to Florence and Precious sitting at Heathrow Airport just waiting as the seconds tick away. Precious, who let me tell you is a beautiful little girl inside and out, will be wondering what lies ahead in her life. Florence could tell her because she knows exactly what is in store.
I wonder at what stage does a mother decide it's time to stop pretending she can keep her daughter safe and instead try to equip this wee ten year old to cope with the horrors she could face by telling her the truth?
Paul Chen was described to me as a "deportations specialist" who "can pull rabbits out of hats". He's convinced this is a case worth fighting for exactly the same reason as those of you who have emailed and phoned me in droves. It cannot be right to send a ten year old girl who had her early childhood traumatised by her father's violence toward her mother, back to a country where her father's family have already staked their claim and will certainly take her from her mother on arrival.
It particularly cannot be right when he is apparently entitled to live and work here!
Precious has a right to be with her family. And her family is her mum, Florence.
Thank you for everything you have done so far - when it's all over I'll share with you some of the fantastic support we've received from some surprising quarters.
Don't think we can leave it all to the QC however. If he is successful today, the home office may still deport them. They can do that apparently. So they need you to keep emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. UPDATE 5pm - this email is now bouncing back so please email email@example.com instead.
Florence Mhango asked me (you will recall) that anyone contacting Phil Woolas do so respectfully. (She's a very respectful person and brings her daughter up to be the same.) And she also believes that Phil Woolas has a very difficult job to do. I agree. I mean that sincerely. I accept that sometimes deportations have to happen. I just believe that it would be unspeakably awful if the Mhangos were to be deported.
Anyway, emails still welcome but please keep in mind Florence's request for a respectful approach. And thank you again. There is one more thing that you can do. The QC is a private one and we have to raise money to cover any court action. I'll tell you more when the people in Cranhill have set up their bank account for donations.
Saturday, 21 November 2009
If you're reading this all I would say is that I am sorry you have lost your job and I realise how tough that is for you. I do. I was unemployed for 2 years and it's horrible, it's so much more than just the money, I know that. I also know you didn't mean what you said in your email to me and it's the stress of your personal situation that's caused you to say it. But it's not their fault. It's easy to say what you said because Florence and Precious are anonymous to you but I do not believe for a second if you were to meet them, you could look them in the eye and tell them you were sending them back to Malawi.
I have an uncle who might say the same as you but in reality if he were to meet Precious, he'd want to be her Granda'. She's a living breathing, beautiful, kind, gentle little human being and she deserves an education, she deserves a childhood but most of all she deserves to be with her mum. I don't know what else to say.
I can't sleep. I can't sleep because I know Precious (pictured here) will be lying awake, staring out of the window at the barbed wire fences that surround the detention centre she's being held in, her stomach churning at the thought of being transported to Yarls Wood tomorrow.
She has had many nightmares since being taken there a couple of months ago. Children in Need is on TV right now. I want you to help this child. I want to be able to tell her that hundreds of people are trying to save her. You can do that by emailing the only man who can keep her safe now - Phil Woolas, the Labour MP who is Minister of State for Borders and Immigration. But first, let me share something with you.
Today when I sat with Precious I was trying to convince her that no matter what happens you have to hold onto your dreams and after a while she told me her dream is ('was' is the word she used) to be a writer. She gets a lot out of drawing and writing and after her last detention, she was encouraged to write about it.
Her mum doesn't want me to release the whole 4 page story in case it angers the Border Agency. I can't see how it could, the child does not criticise anyone, she simply talks about how she felt. But I'll just share a few extracts with you to let you know why she's dreading tomorrow and to convince you that emailing Phil Woolas is a good idea.
"Thursday 30th July. We went to sign (at the Borders Agency in Glasgow) and we never came back home. How I wish I couldn't go to sign on that very day. If I knew something was going to happen. After signing we were told to wait because someone wanted to talk to us. My heart started racing. I knew something was going to happen.
"We were taken to a room, when I entered the room I saw 5 or 6 giant men officers in blue jackets, black trousers and white shirts.
"My whole body was numb, that's how I felt. A woman came in reading a pile of papers. 'Your case has been dismissed, today you're being detained' she said.
"I couldn't even listen to her and I felt as if I was lost. I started screaming 'please I don't want to go'. My mum too was screaming.
"I couldn't stop thinking about my best friend ever Maria, I was going to miss her forever. I was so excited to go back to school and start primary 6 as the summer holiday was about to finish. I felt very upset for being disturbed from school because I knew I wouldn't be able to fulfill my dreams.
"How I wish I could go to high school then go to Cambridge or Oxford University. That's what I always dream about. I wished that I could change my mum's life after school.
"I started praying in my heart 'Please God, help me'."Precious said very little today, she mainly just sat beside me and stared up at me, her beautiful big eyes open wide like she was searching my face to figure out if there was any chance I was actually going to be able to help her. In fact, now that I think about it, her eyes didn't leave my face once. I don't think I've ever felt such an overwhelming sense of responsibility and hopelessness at the same time. To have this little mite gaze up at me with that look in her eyes forced me to ask so many questions of myself. I'll save thinking up answers however, till I've exhausted all possibilities for her.
If you believe Precious and her mum should be allowed to stay here please email Phil Woolas and ask him to use his discretion and stop the deportation. Florence's preference is that emails are respectful and I said I'd pass that on. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Their names are Florence and Precious Mhango.
Friday, 20 November 2009
As I say I know they've a job to do but so have I and I don't take my responsibilities including recruitment, lightly. Moan over. Bigger things to worry about.
And think of Margaret (not her real name), the lovely woman who has befriended them, who has campaigned for them, who accompanied them every week to sign on at Brand Street - every week until a couple of weeks ago when she had a heart attack. She's only just recovering and when the news came through she was so upset she was talking to me about giving up her place for Precious, the wee girl Margaret describes as "Precious by name, precious by nature".How is she going to feel?
For everyone's sake we have to try whatever we can to keep Florence and Precious here in Scotland, their home where they are safe and surrounded by people who love them. Keep thinking of them.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Just a very quick update here - spoke to high heid yin at Dungavel this morning who has made an exception and said I can come this morning. Unfortunately the roads are flooded and it's unlikely I'm going to get there and make it back on time to get to work. So I'm going tomorrow morning. Have spoken to Florence this morning and she's pleased I can come tomorrow. Her friends are going this afternoon as is her lawyer. Her friends will be taking her belongings in case she is deported. Precious is seeing the doctor as she's become sick. Not surprising really. Sick with fear no doubt.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
I've been speaking to folk at Dungavel tonight. I want to go and visit Florence and Precious (see previous posts) but I have to be in parliament tomorrow afternoon and apparently it's only lawyers who can visit in the morning. I've asked them to make an exception seeing as I do represent them and have been working with them for some time now. Fingers crossed. The BBC seem interested so hopefully that will help. And I've emailed a high heid yin to see if they can make representation - not sure if it's possible but again, fingers crossed. That seems to be all we can do just now. Spoke to Chris, a disabled lady from Cranhill who is very close to the Mhangos and she's devastated. She is recovering from a heart attack and it's clearly better for her to stay away from stress but all she cares about is getting Precious home and safe. I know we can't say yes to everyone but I really believe we have to do something here.
Update on Precious Mhango and her mum in Dungavel. Have spoken to Florence and she's extremely upset but also exhausted so relatively calm. Precious is complaining of a headache and I can understand that - stress can do that to you as we all know. Ten year olds shouldn't know it though. Florence has told me to do whatever I can to help their case and so I'll be writing to Phil Woolas first thing in the morning and hoping that he'll understand why they simply can't go back. They come from Malawi which is not traditionally thought of as a dangerous country. However there are some dangerous people there as there are everywhere. In Malawi, the child belongs to the father's side of the family and Florence's ex husband's family have made it clear they will be claiming Precious when they find her. Legally Florence won't have a leg to stand on and she will lose her daughter. More importantly this wee girl will lose her mother. There's not much worse can happen but unfortunately, according to Florence, worse does indeed lie in store for her daughter if she is taken away. I will say more later. I need to call some of their friends and update them on things. Keep thinking of them please.
Saturday, 14 November 2009
A message below from my fellow nat Osama Saeed. It's my first day off after the long by-election and instead of relaxing, I'm off to this demo today. I tell you that not to be a martyr but just to demonstrate how important I believe it is that we are there in numbers to show that Scotland just will not tolerate racism and facism. I attended a meeting at the Central Mosque recently and was impressed by the approach the police are taking so I can verify all the reassurances Osama gives below. I hope to see you there - it starts at 12 noon at Nelson's Column in Glasgow Green.
The message from Osama Saeed
"The Scottish Defence League planning a demonstration against Muslims today in Glasgow has given Scotland an excuse to celebrate our diversity, and the different threads that are woven to make up the tartan of our society.We also wanted to show after protests in England that have had some violence, that we could handle the situation peacefully here in Scotland.
"By gathering civil society in the impressive way that has been managed through the Scotland United initiative, we have given ourselves the best chance of that. Defeating fascism is not being left to lone campaign groups and young Muslims. Minorities, including Muslims, are being defended by the great and the good of our country.
"There will be a rally at Glasgow Green from 12pm with prominent speakers and musicians. From there we will march through the city centre, stopping for a minute of silence at the war memorial on George Square and dispersing thereafter.It is Scotland United’s determination that the day pass peacefully as a day of celebration. We have maintained close communication with Strathclyde Police to ensure this goes smoothly, and will be doing so on the day too.
"We have an understanding that we will not be marching down any streets until they are cleared as is the norm with such events. We also have a clear policy of avoiding direct confrontation with the SDL. Police are in agreement with this and the SDL will not be allowed to protest or congregate anywhere near where Scotland United will be.
"There may be rumours and text messages circulating on the day about all manner of other actions or locations where the SDL may or may not be. Please follow directions given from the stage and event organisers only.We look forward to this fantastic occasion."
Friday, 13 November 2009
Thursday, 12 November 2009
I was out from 7am this morning with my niece Christie delivering last minute election material to voters in Glasgow North East. She said it felt like Christmas. I guess she meant the early start and the anticipation. I know what she means but I think my bones must be getting older (even if I'm not) because after a few hours of running around I was starting to get sore. We kept going but I do sometimes wonder what non politicos must make of us. Probably think we're very sad. Christie said she used to wonder what my obsession was all about but she understands now. She's referring to my obsession with campaigning incidentally, not my obsession with independence - she's never had any trouble comprehending that one. Anyway as she told me she could really see what it was all about and how much she was enjoying it, all I could think was "oh dear, another McLaughlin bites the dust"! Lost to the joys of SNP campaigning. Still, it's another pair of hands. Right, back to chapping doors. Fingers crossed for a great result tonight.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Was flagging a bit last night so instead of chapping doors in the freezing cold, I went to St Stephen's Primary in Sighthill to hear from the by election candidates. David was quite clearly the one you could see as your MP and Willie Bain did his usual, told us he disagreed with most of the Labour Party policies and would "do something about it" if he is elected. Let's hope we don't have to contend with that level of dynamism come Friday morning!
Best bit for me though was the independents. Mikey, that guy from Big Brother? What planet is he from? We're talking about how ill equipped many of our soldiers are when they're sent to war and he says "bring the troops home" which is an opinion he's entitled to and one many folk share. But he then argues that if we "equip them with body armour they will just become a sitting duck so there's no point in doing that, just bring them home"! Er ... quite. Bet Gordon Brown wishes he'd thought of that excuse eh?
John Smeaton. Smeato, what are you doing to yourself? Or what is your party doing to you? Oh no, I forgot, he's an "independent" who just happens to have the backing of a party - not sure how that's different but there ye go. Anyway, I liked him, seems like a nice guy but that's all he was. He had nothing to say. I mean, he had WORDS but they didn't amount to much. He just kept saying "I don't understand how these terrible things are happening", "they shouldn't be happening", "and that's what I'm going down there to sort oot"! And his catchphrase? "It's an absolute disgrace". Everything, and I do mean everything, was "an absolute disgrace". I was going to ask what he thought of world peace just to see what he'd say but decided that was a bit unfair and despite my tiredness, I'm trying to be nice!
What I realised that was interesting however, was that Smeato is just a less sophisticated version of Tommy Sheridan. Tommy thought everything was an absolute disgrace too, the difference was he had "solutions". The PROBLEM was that although some of his solutions sounded good, I think that was more to do with Tommy's slightly more sophisticated delivery than what he was actually saying. And that was it in a nutshell, it sounded good but most of it (not all of it) was unworkable. I also think Tommy's losing his appeal a bit. If you want to shout and bawl for effect that's fine but don't make it your fallback position and don't turn into a parody of yourself. You need to save your Mr Angry bit for the moments when you really need people to listen. If you shout ALL the time, people switch off PLUS you get a sore throat. I've really no idea how that man can still talk at all.
Anyway David Kerr was composed, courteous and passionate - he is someone who really cares about Scotland and about Glasgow North East and I hope the voters give him the chance to prove that on Thursday.
Thursday, 5 November 2009
Sunday, 1 November 2009
I know I work hard but no harder than lots of other people and who knows what his story is - what lucky breaks were denied to him. Many folk make the argument that it's got nothing to do with luck and everything to do with making good choices and although Im' a fan of the latter, I don't agree. Eg I consider myself lucky that I was born with enough intelligence to make the right choices and I feel fortunate that my parents encouraged me to make good choices for myself. Both of these are down to luck.
My dad used to joke about it saying to me "I'm a very lucky person hen, it's just that it's all bad luck"! And he had a point. He was one of these people who had more than one truly horrific thing happen in his life and although he retained a sense of humour about it, lots of pretty rotten things happening out of the blue. He didn't always make good choices about how to come to terms with these events but there's none of us perfect and none of us born knowing the solutions to all of life's problems.
I get annoyed when I see folk falling about drunk, I don't like it if someone who's obviously addicted to drugs asks me for money and I did feel like saying to the guy on crutches standing outside the hospital today smoking a cigarette "you should be looking after yourself". And although you can't just be laid back about these things, particularly when you're in a position to influence policy and services, I think it pays not to be judgemental. Whilst I'm not particularly religious, at times like this the saying "there but for the Grace of God" springs to mind. Let's not underestimate how easy it is for any of us to fall upon bad times and let's be grateful for the good fortune that we do have. (And I'll try to remember that next time I'm complaining about how tired I am :-))
Now if you've been following the by-election you'll know that we've been talking a lot about the fact that Labour have been in charge in the area for 74 years, yes SEVENTY FOUR YEARS and let's face it, that's too long for any party.
So, back to the Alive and Kicking Project. Bob Doris MSP and myself were chatting so long to everyone there that Alex Salmond and David Kerr went on ahead to the next visit which was the bingo hall in Possilpark where they were treated to the First Minister calling the bingo.
We arrived just in time for the journalists to emerge from the hall laughing at the irony when Alex called the winning number and it was 74! Could it be an omen? Let's hope so. And let's hope the rapturous response Alex Salmond and David Kerr got at both visits is also an indication that things are changing in Glasgow North East!
However, I was really quite shocked recently to discover that some people don't know that they can get help from their MSP. I was campaigning with David Kerr, the SNP's candidate in the Glasgow North East by election and we were chatting to parents outside a school as they waited for their kids.
As has been happening more and more often these days it turned into a bit of a street surgery and I picked up a few cases to deal with. One woman was telling me about terrible financial problems her children were having with something not of their own making and I, of course, offered to look into it for her. She was delighted but shocked and said she didn't realise MSPs did that kind of thing. But that's our job!
We got it all sorted out within a couple of days (ridiculously and very unfairly, that's what tends to happen when an elected politician intervenes) but it's left me thinking that if she's not alone and there are a significant number of people out there who would not think to ask their Councillor, MSP, MP or MEP for help, then we really do have a big job to do. So, that's something to go on the list for after the by-election. Any ideas, let me know.