Thursday, 31 December 2009

The end of a momentous year for me

2009 has probably been the most momentous year of my life (apart from the one in which I was born, 1976 I think!). It's certainly been the most surprising, shocking, unpredictable year. One of the best things that's ever happened to me happened this year. And as those who are close to me know, one of the worst things ever to happen to me was hot on the heels of the best! I'm not a fan of cliches but it's been a real rollercoaster with little to no time to take it all in, far less decide how I feel about it all. Thus the reason I'm not doing anything to celebrate Hogmanay.

To be honest I kind of object to being told I have to party whether I want to or not. I'm stubborn that way. If I want to celebrate something I will. But I'm not celebrating NOTHING just because it's 31st December.

What I do like about this time of year is that it is used as a time to reflect on the year gone by and look at where you want your life to take you next.

I've got a lot to think about - mainly how I deal with the best and worst of 2009 - and I'm sitting here in my lovely cosy flat doing just that. It's a funny thing but it's quite hard for friends to accept that you don't want to party but you're not miserable. And I'm not. Like I said I've just had a momentous year and I want to have some time to myself to take stock (which probably means blogging about it!).

I hope you all have a great Hogmanay and I wish everyone the best of all the things that matter in 2010.

Why we don't always get it right with asylum seekers

I've just been to meet someone else who made my Christmas for me. His name is *Fraser but it used to be something else before he came to Scotland and fell in love with the country. I've had some criticism for my support of asylum seekers in this country. It's rarely come directly to me, more often than not it's anonymous comments on a newspaper website. The most frequently used argument against me supporting someone whose claim has been rejected is that if the courts have not upheld their application, they are obviously not in danger.

*Fraser is the perfect answer to that argument. He comes from the Sudan in Darfur where his village (and family) was all but wiped out and he was forced into the army to fight with people he didn't know and he didn't want to fight. He escaped and when he was caught he was tortured for hours, days, weeks on end. There's more to his story including the fact that a psychologist said *Fraser suffers from "the worst case of post traumatic stress disorder that I have ever witnessed".

The point of this tale however is that he had been through all the normal channels. The home office said no, the courts said no, they all said he'd be fine to return. Nobody questioned his story, he was believed but the ruling was basically that he'd be in no danger if he went to the refugee camps and not to the area he came from. So his claim was rejected and he was told by the Angel Group (who house asylum seekers) to leave on 16 July.

There was only one option for Fraser. His lawyer had to submit a Fresh Claim with fresh evidence and once she did that he would be entitled to housing support and the measly few vouchers that he'd been getting until the claim was considered. But there has to be fresh evidence for a fresh claim and no self respecting lawyer will want to risk their professional reputation by putting in a "holding" claim in the hope that something will come up. The evidence they needed could take up to 6 months to come through.

I will never forget being on the phone to his lawyer, then the Scottish Refugee Council, then Positive Action in Housing as he sat in my office. I told him that he must have made a mistake and there must be someone who could help him and not to worry, I'd sort something out. As I listened on the telephone it gradually dawned on me that there was nobody who could help, that Fraser was right, he was homeless, with no income and no entitlement to any food or money.

He was completely destitute and I vividly remember frantically wiping away tears and struggling to speak on the phone but desperately trying to keep the other person on the line so I could put off the moment where I had to tell him he would just have to sleep on the streets. It was one of those "grown up" moments where I knew I couldn't avoid him, nor could I cushion it, I just had to look him in the eye and tell him the truth. And not cry!
Fraser has survived the last few months by sleeping on friends' floors but only for a night or two at a time because asylum seekers are not allowed to have anyone stay overnight and so everyone was scared to help for too long. He has also spent nights literally on the streets. He has had NO income, has not been allowed to work and has survived simply because one or two people have given him money when they could, because thankfully we have soup kitchens and because other asylum seekers surviving on £35 a week have shared their food with him. It must have been hell for him so to choose that above voluntarily going back to the Sudan, tells you how bad it was for him over there.

The week before Christmas his lawyer managed to lodge a fresh claim and he was told he would get a call in a couple of days about re-housing him. I phoned on Christmas Eve to check he'd got that call and of course he hadn't! So I phoned the Scottish Refugee Council to ask their advice. They got his file out and told me that the Home Office had granted him leave to remain but because he had no address for him they'd written to his lawyer who was now on holiday.

Again, I nearly cried, I was so happy for him because I know how terrified he was each time he had to sign at the Border Agency knowing each time he went he knew he could be detained and deported. He was scared witless and now I was able to tell him he was an official refugee and would be entitled to a roof over his head and, most importantly for him, would have the right to work! I let my sister who works for me and has become a friend of Fraser's break the news to him.

The point about this story however is that his case disproves the theory that just because someone has been refused asylum they must not be in danger. The reason he was granted asylum is because a couple of months ago there was a ruling that non Arab men from the Sudan could not be relocated in Darfur, even in the refugee camps, without facing danger. In other words, they realised they had got it wrong about that country.

At any point over the last few months they could have detained and deported Fraser and he would almost certainly have faced a repeat of the torture he'd suffered in his traumatic past, not to mention the possibility he would have been executed. The situation over there has not changed recently, it's simply that we got it wrong.

So please don't think if an asylum seeker has been refused leave to remain that it necessarily means they don't need it. We frequently get it wrong, we've sent people back to countries where they've subsequently been murdered and it will happen again in the future.

It's a much happier future for Fraser however. And if anyone deserves it, he does. He's a lovely guy, everyone in my office is very fond of him. He said he wants to keep us as his family and given that his were murdered or missing and he may never see any of them again, I don't think we'll have a problem with that.

I know I frequently criticise our treatment of asylum seekers but I'm also proud of the fact that the UK takes in people who desperately need our humanitarian assistance. Fraser has had a terrifying past but he has the possibility of a great future, hopefully training to be a nurse and I know he wants to give something back to the country that's given him his life back. It's a new start for him and that's why I've changed his name, to protect his privacy. Let him be known as Fraser, the nurse rather than Fraser the guy who was tortured in the most hideous ways you could think of.

He loves Scotland and wants to BE Scottish and to get into the spirit and to celebrate his new life he was planning to go to George Square tonight for Hogmanay, just to stand outside with one of his friends and try to soak up the atmosphere. However, Jennifer Dunn, his SNP councillor had 2 spare tickets to actually get in and she kindly passed them on so that's why I just met him, to give them to him. He was very happy and knowing that he will be safe now really did make my Christmas for me. As I've said before, sometimes I love my job!

*Fraser not his real name although he did change it to something very Scottish!

Getting the balance right in 2010

The one thing I've really enjoyed about this break is getting away from politics. Don't get me wrong, I love my job but it really does take over your life almost to the exclusion of all else. It's hard work making sure you don't neglect your family and even though I don't have kids, I feel like my juggling skills have been sorely tested in the last year. Next year, I'm going to work even harder to make sure I can also be a friend to my friends, some of whom I've known since I was at school.

I'm determined to also get some time to myself too and really do something about that work / life balance for another reason. I once worked for Jim Mather who is now the SNP Government's Enterprise Minister. He's one of my favourite people in life because in addition to his obvious skill, intellect and success, he manages to be a fundamentally kind and thoughtful person and his enthusiasm for life is very infectious.

Anyway when he was my boss I was all set to cancel a planned week off because I had too much work to do but he refused to let me. He told me he'd learned very early on from one of his bosses that those who take time away from work and set aside time to focus on themselves, will do a far better job in the long run. He had absolutely no time for me playing the martyr and insisting I stay at work. He then MADE me take the week off.

The result was I had a good rest and came back and tackled all the stuff I had previously thought would take me the best part of a week, in a day. I managed to put all those "extremely urgent and incredibly important" tasks into perspective and I seem to remember I even "binned" some of them. It's easy to get caught up in the detail, the minutiae of work when you don't take time off. And when you're caught up, you get bogged down and lose sight of what you really need to do.

On 18 November, I was going home to do something personal but worrying that I just didn't have the time and fretting about all the work I had to get through. On that train journey I got a call to say that my constituent and her ten year old daughter had been taken into detention and were about to be deported. The personal thing never got done and for the next month, my workload (and stress levels) increased dramatically as we fought to stop the deportation and then to bring them home.

If you'd asked me that night was I in a position to take on a major campaign, I'd have said there was not a chance. But we managed it. We didn't drop anyone else. Somehow we managed to keep working for all of our constituents and getting good results for most of them as well as winning a couple of important stages in the battle for the aforementioned pair in detention.

Emergencies are like holidays - brilliant for putting things into perspective and concentrating the mind. And just making sure you have SOME time to yourself not thinking about work means you can approach work with a clearer mind and more energy.

I know all of this - now all I need to do is put the theory into practice. If 2010 is going to be anything like 2009, I'm going to have to learn how to do that pretty quickly.

I know of at least one major battle that will need to be fought and won early on in 2010 and I've got my eye on a few more fights I want to pick (all very reasonable ones). Plus, as I learned on 18 November, you never know when someone is going to need you to drop everything and really fight their fight for them. I accept we can't do it to that extent for everyone and I can't deny there's a personal price to be paid for taking on too much, but how do you turn your back on someone who is desperate and who is being treated unjustly?

Rather than do that, I would prefer to make sure there's some kind of work / life balance that means I've got the energy to tackle my job properly and the reserves to step it up a gear if needs be. That all sounds so good that I can't wait to get back to work to try out my new approach!

Christmas in Greenock

I've had a great Christmas. Saw all my family, even had my youngest sis and her husband and gorgeous 3 year old Toby staying for a few days. My best bit was Christmas Eve. My sister and I had decided to go to the Christmas Eve service at the Mid Kirk in Greenock. We are huge fans of the Reverend Alan Sorensen and he did not disappoint - I particularly liked the bit when he thrust a microphone at me and asked me "what's wrong with the world today?"!

However we were slightly late arriving and the huge wooden doors were shut. Christie, my 17 year old niece said there was "no way" she was going in late "because they'll all turn round and stare at us". I assured her that they would be far too busy listening or singing and that nobody would even notice.

However I'd forgotten how informal Alan Sorensen is and as we stood there at the back looking for a seat, he stopped mid flow and broke off to say "hello you three, glad you could make it, take a seat anywhere" at which point the entire congregation "turned round and stared at us"! Oops. Still her face was a picture and the service was brilliant!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas from H&M

I meant to update earlier about this situation but I had a list of work things to do and when I got to the next thing on the list, the news had me jumping for joy and I forgot to report back on this. To save you reading yesterday's story, I reported that staff in a Glasgow high street fashion store were having to wear hats gloves coats and scarves on the shop floor because the heating was working properly and "the doors kept opening"!

It was baltic and they looked ill. The manager told me they were not allowed to plug in heaters when I complained and that head office would back me up.

So this morning I phoned the head office of H&M in London.

I explained who I was and said I was concerned about constituents of mine having to work in conditions I considered to be intolerable. And their response? There won't be anyone in the building department till 4 January. Fine, I thought, I'll talk to someone else but apparently there was only this one woman on switchboard!

I asked if the staff there could expect any change to their situation before 4 January and was told no. She gave me an email address but nobody is going to see it till 4 January.

I'm thinking that I just wouldn't put up with that but of course, if you need the money (and who doesn't these days?) you don't have much of a choice do you?

So on Monday morning I will be reporting them to the Health and Safety Executive. New regulations brought in by the Labour Government I'm told don't give a minimum temperature that people are expected to work in, just that it has to be "reasonable". Well I don't think those workers are working in tolerable never mind reasonable conditions but we'll see what happens. Meantime they just need to suffer. Happy Christmas from H&M!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Shop workers forced to work in Baltic conditions

Readers of this blog will have gathered by now that I am not a huge fan of injustice. Who is? I thought you'd like to hear about the latest thing to make my blood boil. If I get no satisfaction when I phone to complain tomorrow, I will name and shame.

For the moment I'll just say it's a famous high street store in Glasgow city centre.

I'm buying clothes tonight for Christie (niece, 17, tells me to choose clothes for her, no doubt will be sending me back with them come Boxing Day). Anyway, I digress. So I'm in the queue for about 7 minutes and I'm thinking that it's "absolutely Baltic outside in this" before realising that I'm NOT outside, I'm IN a shop thinking I'm about to freeze to death.

So I look up to see how big the queue is and I notice the four staff who are serving on the tills are all wearing coats, scarves and hats! When it's my turn to be served, I ask why they're dressed like that and remark on the temperature. They tell me the heating's not working properly. So I ask what the management is doing about it and they inform me they've "been trying" to get it fixed.

A customer then pipes up "you were all wearing your coats on Saturday and the Saturday before"! I ask if any of the staff have complained. Not that they should have to because it's bleeding obvious. They say that the management are aware of it. When I ask about the simple (if temporary) solution of plugging in some radiators, they tell me I would need to speak to the management about that. The person serving me could hardly operate the till, so cold were their fingers!

I told them I was an MSP and I would be speaking to their managers in the morning. I assured them that as none of them had said anything negative about their managers and had only answered my questions factually, they had nothing to fear and I would not be giving any indication as to which of them had spoken to me. Isn't it utterly ridiculous that I have to give that assurance.

But who can blame them for being a little nervous when their employers seem to think it's perfectly acceptable for them to work all day in baltic conditions? I am utterly shocked. It is hard enough working on a shop floor. I know this because I've done it - I refer you back to the tales of my demotion from the jewellery counter to the pic'n'mix in Woolies circa 1982!

Working at Christmas is a nightmare. You rarely stop, many customers are stressed out, in a hurry and basically downright bloody rude. You're stressed out yourself but unfortunately YOU don't get to be rude, YOU have to be courteous at all times and YOU have to remember that the customer (even the TRULY rude one) is always right.

Added to that the pay is invariably unimpressive.

So, the staff on the ground floor at X Shop in Glasgow have all of that to contend with PLUS they're expected to freeze to death. It's outrageous.

So I phoned the manager of the store tonight when I got home. I don't find it easy to be this bolshy you know. Laugh if you like but I consider myself to be quite shy. However, the great thing about my job is that when something's quite clearly as wrong as this is, I don't feel I have a choice, I can't ignore it. So I decided not to put it off till morning and I phoned the manager when I got home. He told me that the heating IS working but because the doors keep opening it's not adequate. (Them pesky doors eh?)

He informed me that heating engineers would be coming in overnight to try to fix it but on further questioning it seems they have been in several times but it's made no difference. I said I was pretty sure that under health and safety regulations this was not allowable - never having read them I don't know but you'd think there was something in them about not having to freeze to death in the line of serving customers. I asked if their Head Office was aware and he said yes, they were. I asked about plug in heaters and he said they were not allowed to do that. I asked if Head Office would back up that statement and he confirmed they would.

So I'll be phoning Head Office in the morning and telling them that I am reporting them to whoever it is this gets reported to. I'll also be telling them that they'll be doing themselves a great favour if they act IMMEDIATELY to sort this out. Here are my suggestions in order of preference - plug in heaters; close the tills on the ground floor and ask customers to go upstairs; rota system so nobody works on the ground floor for more than half an hour and they are given additional breaks PLUS (and this is in addition to any one of those options) an apology and significant bonus payments to each and every one of the shop floor workers in recognition of the suffering they've endured!

Call me naive but I am utterly shocked that this situation has been allowed to endure for the whole of today never mind for the last who-knows-how-many weeks.

The Mhangos are on STV tonight

Just a very quick blog update to let you know that if you watch STV at 6pm tonight you will see Florence and Precious Mhango thanking those of you who demanded that they be released from detention for Christmas. They're on the Scottish News at Six and if you don't live in Scotland you can watch it from 7pm on the STV player.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Call me mean but ...

... Scottish Gas have been displaying extremely poor customer service to my mother of late and they make massive profits. So EXACTLY six months after the date on this cheque and on the very last possible day, I made my way to the bank to cash this £2.20 cheque. Mean? Possibly. Pleased with myself? Surprisingly so :-)

Call me ungrateful but ...

What kind of a Christmas card is this? I'm trying to be grown up about this but YUK!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Precious and the Polis!


Before you read this post, here is a comment from Fiona on Facebook after she read it this morning.

"right ...thats me greetin and it only gone 11.10 in the a disclaimer!!!!"

You have been warned ...

I DO write about other things apart from the fight to save Florence and Precious Mhango from deportation. And now that they're home (for the moment) I'm sure I'll be writing about LOTS of other matters. But I really want to share a wee story with you.Last night, as we waited for Florence and Precious to come off the train at half past midnight, we all went through a range of emotions. Seeing Precious' smiling face as she pulled her wee suitcase behind her was, as Esther (who works with me and has put so much energy into this campaign) would say (and, seeing as she was there at Queen St Station, actually DID say) nothing short of AWESOME!

But the thing that had me struggling to hold back the tears was a very simple gesture from a Glasgow polis who was passing the station as we unloaded everyone into the waiting car. He'd obviously read about them and recognised them and he came up to Precious and just said "is that you home then Hen?". She smiled up at him shyly and nodded her head. And he touched her arm and said "well it's great to have you back home, we're not all bad you know".

The photo was taken by Esther Sassaman (thanks Esther) and shows us with Chris Mercer who is probably the best friend they will ever have, but more on that another day!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Precious and her mum have been released

I am shocked, stunned and delighted to tell you that this little girl, ten year old Precious Mhango and her mum Florence are tonight on their way back to Glasgow. Those of you following the story will know that they have spent the last month detained in an Immigration Removal Centre, locked up without having committed a crime. Late this afternoon the staff at Yarlswood told Florence to get her bags packed, she was being released.

She then started to panic and thought they were trying to trick her. Understandable given what's happened to them recently. But the latest text I got from her was "They've let me go, I'm coming back to Glasgow, I am so happy". I spoke to Precious very briefly and she can hardly believe it.

It seems that their judicial review will be heard next year, not expedited as the home office would wish but right now it's unclear if a high court judge made that decision or if the home office dropped their objections. Certainly I've had no reply to my plea to Alan Johnson the Home Secretary to do exactly that - but who knows?

The important thing is they're coming home to Glasgow. The rest we can worry about another day. Sometimes I love my job :-)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Where things stand for Precious and Florence Mhango - who knows?

I said in this post here that my next blog post would be an update on where we are with the campaign to save Florence and Precious Mhango. And I fully intended to but in between times I've gone and got some flu like condition and it was hard to concentrate on it. The dog dirt and X factor type posts don't require a great deal of thought. This does.

However, as always happens with flu, you get windows of being able to sit up straight and function so whilst that window's open (!) I'll hing oot it and shout as loud as I can.

Right now, the bottom line is that we have not got a clue what is happening and if that is stressful for the big team of campaigners, it must be torturous for the Mhangos.

There would be nothing to wait for had the Home Office lawyers not raised objections to them having a judicial review. I don't always get this totally accurate not being from a legal background (although given the circumstances perhaps my drama background is more useful anyway) but I'm learning as I go and I think I've more or less got it right.

Normally the Home Office would have released them pending their review which would take place sometime next year - possibly April, May, June time. On release they would come back to Glasgow. They could be free. They could be with their friends. They would have a chance to gather more evidence for their legal team.

But no, the Home Office lawyers objected and asked for a High Court judge to throw their application out. They have also stated that if the judge agrees to that and they appeal, the impending appeal will not be a barrier to them being put on a flight and deported anyway. And finally, in case the judge agrees to the judicial review being granted, they've asked for it to be expedited ie brought forward. Given how long just making that decision has taken, if it IS expedited, it's not going to be before January and the home office is clearly hoping to keep them in Yarls Wood until then. What a lovely Christmas that will be for ten year old Precious.

OK so I had already written to Phil Woolas, Minister of State for the UK Border Agency. I got a "courtesy" call from his office saying the usual - get lost you're only an msp and I don't speak to msps! (For the avoidance of doubt, I'm paraphrasing.)

He replied to John Mason, he being the Mhangos' MP and basically said get lost I'm not doing anything! Again, I'm paraphrasing.

So on Saturday 5 December I sent an urgent letter to Alan Johnson MP, the Home Secretary. Here's the letter I sent. I think I said in the letter that I believe he came into politics to help vulnerable people and I understood it was his dept's lawyers who had raised these objections so I was not blaming him. I was however, asking him to intervene and drop the objections so that they could go home and have their review next year.


I'm angry now. I'm thinking that perhaps I'm giving him more credit than he deserves. I honestly believed I would hear something within a few days given the urgency of the situation. And I truly believed when I followed it up with an email about Precious' current physical and mental condition he would act immediately.

Bear in mind, I've not gone into detail with anyone but I did with him. He knows exactly how traumatised Precious was and that was ten days ago. So why is she still in there? Why is this child still locked up?

If the judge has not made a decision there is still time for interventions to be made at a political level and for the objections to be dropped. Then we won't have to wait for a judge's decision, they can come home for Christmas and work with their legal team on what they know is likely to be their final chance to prove that they should live in Scotland.

I hear Phil Woolas visited Dungavel today. Well I hope he reflected on what he is allowing this ten year old child (amongst many others) to go through. And I hope he will do something urgently. I also urge Alan Johnson to have a heart and stop what is happening to her. And I had a 15 minute phone appointment with another UK government minister last week who promised to look into it. I hope he shows more compassion than the other two because locking children up is fundamentally WRONG and keeping Precious Mhango and her mother there for 27 days and counting, is an absolute disgrace.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Precious is one of us

In trying to distract Precious (Mhango, aged 10, detained for 27 days now) from her current situation I asked if she was going to watch the X Factor final. She said yes because she loves Stacey. I told her I thought Joe would win but she was having none of it. So I bet her a fiver he would. OK I know gambling is not something you encourage kids to do and I wasn't being serious, it was just a wee joke. But she texted me on Sunday night saying "it's me, Precious" and "you've won and I owe you five pounds".

I told her I'd have to work extra hard to get her out so that I got my money but if we were successful how about I take her to see the X Factor tour. I don't WANT to see it obviously, I'm far too cool, but I don't mind doing it for her :-(

Anyway she said she would be "over the moon" if she got to stay and she would love to see Stacey on the X Factor tour. It's just so hard to hear her talk on the one hand about what she's going through being locked up not knowing if she'll ever see her friends again and on the other hand talking like any other normal wee kid about things like the X factor. She's not the only one who would be over the moon if she got to see the X factor live - and it's got nothing to do with whoever is singing!

Get your dogs toilet trained!

Not all campaigns are as intense as the one we're running against the deportation of the Mhangos but I take them all seriously. And in recent months I've had loads of letters about dog muck in Dennistoun. Not that I needed them. I live there. I know! I have to dodge it all the time.

I'm going to be working with local people to do something about it and I quite like the approach of the person who placed this on the pavement of my old street, Ingleby Drive - thanks to fellow nat David Livey for passing on the pic. The designer of the poster was clearly getting as fed up as the rest of us.

I heard recently of an even more unique way of highlighting the problem on a Scottish island, possibly Orkney. Fed up with having to dodge it, local residents went out and spray painted each smelly specimen with fluorescent pink spray paint. Fantastic!

Although we may laugh at all of these tactics, we have to remember that it's not just irritating and manky, it's also potentially very dangerous and can cause blindness!

So I need to get out there and find out what we can do to sort this out. Since we started complaining all Dennistoun residents have had a letter reminding them what to do if their dog must make a mess on the streets and warning them of what will happen if they don't dispose of it. Can't say I've noticed much difference so I guess it's about enforcing it.

Any ideas are welcome - I don't mind doing copycat stuff if it's effective so I may well get some pink spray paint!

Something you can do for a child this Christmas

There are almost 700 members of the Facebook Group trying to save Florence and Precious Mhango from detention and deportation. So I'm finding if my time is limited, I'm updating the FB members rather than the blog - I have substantially fewer than 700 readers!

However, now that I've got broadband at home I will be able to do both and I wanted to make everyone aware of something you can do to help Precious - if you've been following this you'll know she's a ten year old girl who's been in the UK since she was 3. If you've not, you can read through various posts by searching "Mhango" on this blog.

I became aware at the end of last week that Precious is not doing too well right now. Understandable and you would expect that particularly given recent reports about what detention does to children's physical and mental wellbeing. But Florence hadn't wanted to worry me and had simply told me Precious was fine.

Visitors to Yarls Wood told a different story and when I asked Florence she filled me in. I won't go into detail because I feel very uncomfortable publicising this wee girl's thoughts and feelings. I won't feel the slightest bit uncomfortable if they eventually get deported and I will tell the whole story if that happens.

For now though I will tell you that this wee fragile, waif-like ten year old lost 5.5 kilos in the first 3 weeks of detention. That's around 10lbs. I would think that was pretty serious for any child but she'd not a pick on her to start with. The bit I won't go into detail about for now is that she's really very down and not in a way that any child should be.

So, on the Facebook group we asked people to send cards to Precious to let her know that they are thinking about her. It occurred to me (and I should've thought about this sooner) that she must be feeling very cut off from the outside world. Well she's not now!

They've been receiving cards and wee gifts from a variety of different people. Precious told me she got a book, a teddy, a sketch pad and she was quite excited about that. But the thing that seemed to matter most to her was the cards and the lovely messages inside. When I spoke to her on Saturday her voice was stronger than I've ever heard it. She's got a very sweet voice, a Glasgow accent of course but she's only ever spoken in whispers to me. So to hear her sounding a little more confident and a little less scared was lovely. (So lovely that I could barely speak myself, had to pretend the signal was bad!).

So please, write to them. As I'm about to say in my next blog post we just have not got a clue what's going on. They could be in Glasgow later this week, they could be in Yarls Wood over Christmas, they could even try to deport them before then. Perhaps it makes them feel powerful to keep everyone in the dark, who knows! But whilst we're fighting tooth and nail to get them out of there, please write to them knowing that your words are making a huge difference. If you want to check this blog before posting, I promise the minute I hear they are out of there I will let you know.

Don't get me wrong, it will take more than this to undo the damage but right now, Precious needs just to keep going, keep surviving - and we can help her do that.

If you want to send a present, anything is fine except food and drink.

The address is:

Florence and Precious Mhango
Yarls Wood IRC
Twinwoods Road
MK41 6HL

Thank you!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Family needs your help - spare clothes, toiletries etc

Life is sometimes incredibly tough on people and I heard yesterday about a family whose house burned down destroying everything. There are 9 children in this family and now, just weeks before Christmas, they have nothing.

I'm going to cut and paste the message I saw on Facebook and urge you all to do what you can to help ease the dreadful time they're having. There is a number to call if you have things to donate but if you have any difficulty let me know and I'll do what I can to help you get things to them.

So, the message:

Quarriers Family Centre in Ruchazie, East Glasgow, have an urgent appeal. They are currently working with a family with nine children who were involved in a house fire yesterday (10 December).

All of the family are okay, however the fire has destroyed everything so as well as being homeless they don’t have any clothes, shoes or belongings. First and foremost we are asking people if they can donate clothes and shoes

We appreciate any donations of this nature, however we're specifically looking for the following:

Boy aged 5-7 needs clothes and shoes size kids 9

Boy aged 7-8 needs trousers (size 8-9 years) and shoes size kids 12

Girl age 11 needs a warm coat. Hat, gloves and scarf would also be appreciated. She also needs shoes size 3.

Girl Age 13 needs shoes size 4.

Girl size 10 needs shoes size 6.

Girl size 14 needs shoes size 5.

Teenage boy needs shoes size 8.

Teenage boy needs shoes size 10.

Teenage Boy shoes size 8.

Woman size 16-18 needs shoes size 5.

Man XXL needs shoes size 12.

The family also need towels, pillows, pillow cases and a big pot and pan. If anyone has spare toiletries such as aftershave, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, perfume, make up or hair dryers and hair straighteners the teenage boys and girls would greatly appreciate this.

There's never a good time to lose everything, but having nothing at Christmas time is a reality this family will face unless we can provide as much as possible to help them through this difficult time.

If you can help in any way please contact Emma Wilson or Allison Mathesion on 0141 774 8202.

If you know anybody else who may be able to help, please share this message with them.Thank you very much.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Phone the anti Scotland Yard polis

Quick phone the polis. I was in George Square earlier watching the ice skating when suddenly I witnessed something that I thought had been outlawed. If you're under 18 look away. If you're easily offended look away. If you're a Unionist look away. I saw, right there on the ice rink, a full size bold-as-you-like SALTIRE!!!

I could hardly contain myself. The ice skating is being politicised by Glasgow City Council and these skaters were just carrying on like it was the most natural thing in the world. They clearly don't realise. Not like these people. So hurry up, phone the polis, phone the anti-Scotland Yard before it gets out of hand. And keep your eye out for other saltires, there's clearly an underground politicisation programme going on and we have to smash it, for all our sakes. I'll let you know if I spot any more!

A brilliant place to buy your Christmas tree

Everyone got their Christmas tree? Nope, course you haven't because it's not yet time to put them up - 12 days before people, not a month before. However, that time will be upon us soon and you have only TWO DAYS LEFT to do something that will get you your tree but leave you feeling like you're not one of them what thinks Christmas is all about materialism.

You can buy your tree from It's a needle-last tree which I assume means not much mess, it's REAL which means it will SMELL like Christmas. And the money goes to Impact Arts based in Dennistoun which means you will be spending money helping vulnerable young people.

Go on, you need a tree anyway so what difference does it make to you? It'll make a huge difference to the young people Impact Arts works with. And that's what Christmas is all about surely - being nice to other folk to make us feel better about the money we're wasting on unwanted gifts and the amount of food and drink we knock back or worse, WASTE while others starve.

Cynical? Maybe about some things but definitely not about Impact Arts so go to and help make our communities a bit better for everyone.

Attacks on Osama motivated purely by party political benefit!

Interesting post at a blog called Harry's Place. It seems that Labour's Glasgow Central MP Mohammad Sarwar serves on the board of the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, which readers may recall from Abu Hamza infamy.

After the hook-handed preacher was pushed out, the Metropolitan Police arranged for individuals from the Muslim Brotherhood to take over in 2005. At that point, Sarwar joined the board of trustees too, has been serving alongside them since then and has even defended one of them for links to Hamas.

I'm not suggesting that Mr Sarwar has necessarily done anything wrong here. My point however is to look at how differently this story would have been handled had it been my friend and colleague Osama Saeed in this position. Osama is in with a great chance of being the SNP MP for Glasgow Central after the general election.

If Osama had been in the same situation as Sarwar, it would have been all over the press ages ago and he would have been portrayed as some kind of extremist who was helping the Muslim Brotherhood take over a mosque.

So the fact this this has been the situation since 2005 and hasn't been uncovered till now is curious. Or is it? It is clearer than ever to me now that the attempted smears on Osama are motivated purely by party political concerns. Osama is not even an MP yet, but no one has subjected Sarwar to the same degree of scrutiny. Nor has he been asked to explain his actions or distance himself. Why not?

The accusations against Osama always come from people who don't know him. He's been in the SNP for years and the rubbish that Labour puts out about him couldn't be further from the truth. It's a dangerous game and a dishonourable one when it's only played for party political benefit.

Am I wrong? Let's find out. Let's see what Labour MP, prolific blogger and outspoken critic of just about every move Osama makes Tom Harris has to say about his colleague Mr Sarwar. Sorry? What's that I hear you say Tom? Can't make it out. Ah I see, nothing. Deafened by the silence. I rest my case!

Shhh, don't tell anyone you're Scottish

It's easy to forget how pernicious the Tory Party really can be when they're not in power and are nowhere near getting into power. That's certainly been the case in Scotland for a long time although as we're shackled to the UK for now, if England does as expected and votes Tory next year, we'll be lumbered with them again.

As I say, it's all too easy to forget what they're like and simply see them in the same way that you see your right wing old auntie - lost cause but good for entertainment.

Then they come up with crap like this! For those who can't be bothered reading it (and who can blame you?) Alex Salmond is being attacked because his official Christmas Card has an image of a girl carrying a Saltire.


How dare SCOTLAND'S First Minister send Christmas cards with SCOTLAND'S FLAG on them! He should hang his head in shame, he should hide the fact that he is Scottish, that it's Scotland he's First Minister of. In fact, he should send the cards from "First Minister of Unnamed Country numero 20" (where we tend to hover in the economic league tables thanks to successive Unionist parties)!

The accusation is that our First Minister is POLITICISING Christmas. So even acknowledging that we are Scottish is out of bounds now. They must be preparing the way for taking power next year and how long will it be before they're imposing experimental policies (remember the poll tax) on Scotland and using us as guinea pigs again? Let's not EVER forget who they really are. And lashing out at fellow Scots for daring to use a Saltire is just the start of it.

The Golden Toad is extinct

My commitment to Scotland's Independence is motivated by the belief (I'd say "knowledge" but it's time consuming having to read all the angry comments so i'll stick with "belief") that it not only makes economic sense (actually that bit's "knowledge") but it's absolutely the right thing to do in terms of maintaining and developing our culture and our contribution to the world.

It's not motivated by this idea that Scotland is treated badly by the UK. Scotland is treated how the people of Scotland vote for it to be treated. But .... you can see why some people (inc myself) get irritated by other UK attitudes toward us. The worst is when it's like we don't exist.

This morning for instance. A very interesting guy called Nigel was reporting to GMTV about global warming, the threat to up to a third of the worlds species (the golden frog is now extinct btw!) and why the goings on in Copenhagen are so important to the world.

"We're trying hard here in England" he says and adds "and so is America". So I'm watching BRITISH TV which is supposed to be aimed at a BRITISH audience, not purely England. And whilst I don't object to people talking about Scotland or England, I do think if you're referring to "we" and you're not on "regional" TV, you ought to remember that there are other parts of the UK and it's not just England.

You're broadcasting to the UK countries. You want to say something positive about our attitude to climate change. Given that one of those countries, ie Scotland, has very recently passed the MOST AMBITIOUS CLIMATE CHANGE BILL IN THE WORLD, you might think that was a worthy example. But no. "We're trying hard in England" was all he could manage.

I am sure this guy will know about it but when you believe that the UK IS England, it's very easy to forget that Scotland exists. He reported that the Golden Toad is now extinct but as far as I'm aware, Scotland isn't. Someone ought to tell this guy.

The sooner we get our Independence and start to play a full role in the world, the better.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Florence and Precious need our help again NOW

I've been blogging a little less recently because there's been so little time but for those of you who are following the developments with Florence and Precious Mhango, the latest update is that the Home Office lawyers have seen fit to apply for the Judicial Review to be expedited.

You can help by emailing Alan Johnson the Home Secretary at and asking him to use his discretion to STOP the application for the case to be fast tracked.

As I understand it because there is an ongoing legal review, he cannot intervene in the actual decision about deportation. If the judgement of the eventual review goes against them he may be able to intervene then but not whilst it is ongoing. If any legal eagles out there want to correct me on that please do.

He can, however, use his discretion to call off the legal rottweilers and drop the application for the case to be fast tracked and that is what I'm asking him to do. This is my letter to him below. It explains the main arguments I believe we need to be using right now and will help anyone who wants to send their own email. It also explains exactly what the effect of this decision is and why they need your help URGENTLY.

Believe it or not I am quite hopeful that Alan Johnson will look favourably upon Florence and Precious. Call me naive but I don't think I am particularly. I think we can persuade him on this occasion. So let's try our best.

FAO Alan Johnson MP
Home Secretary

Dear Mr Johnson

Florence and Precious (Tionge) Mhango

I am sure you will be aware of the above named mother and daughter who are constituents of mine in my capacity as a Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow.

I am writing to appeal to you to use your discretion to help them after the latest development in their battle to stay in the UK where they have lived for six and a half of the daughter’s ten years.

I am seriously and genuinely concerned for their welfare on two counts. As there is a ten year old child involved in this I would hope that you would give my request equally serious and genuine consideration.

My first concern is the effect that continuing detention in Yarls Wood is having on them.

And my second, overriding concern, is the danger they will face if they are deported to Malawi as the Home Office seems determined to do.

What I am asking you to do, if you agree, will impact on both of those situations.

In a nutshell I am asking you to intervene to STOP the objections and application (for the case to be expedited) lodged by the Home Office lawyers with the High Court. As I understand it the application for the case to be expedited is due to be heard on Monday by a High Court judge. If granted, I would argue strongly that they are being denied the opportunity for justice.

As things stand, the Mhangos have (with the help of hundreds of members of the public) secured the services of a private advocate, Paul Chen QC. It was his intervention and successful application for a judicial review which resulted in them being taken off the flight to Malawi 51 minutes before it was due to take off on Monday 23rd November 2009.

Paul Chen has fresh evidence and new arguments but it takes time to develop those arguments fully and to gather in more detailed evidence. If the Home Office lawyers were being fair to this vulnerable family, they would have accepted the judicial review and allowed it to happen in the fullness of time – time that would allow that evidence and those arguments to be developed.

I believe it was incredibly unfair of the Home Office lawyers to raise objections to the review and to request the High Court to expedite it.

Mr Johnson, you are a powerful politician, you have it within your gift to help this family. All I am asking is that they are given a fair amount of time to gather in more detailed evidence. If you intervene to drop the application, I assume the next step would be that they would be released and allowed to come home to Glasgow to spend Christmas with their friends and neighbours who love and care for them.

That would at least allow this ten year old girl to be released from detention – I will save my wider arguments about detention of children for another day but you must be aware of the evidence about the damage this does to a child’s mental and physicial well being. If you require any information of how it’s affected this particular child I am more than happy to speak to you. Or speak to Precious herself – you will find that since the first detention in August, she now speaks in whispers but with some gentle encouragement she will eventually be able to tell you about the trauma she has suffered. If you allow the judicial review to happen in the natural course of time and release them back to Glasgow, you will make a huge difference to this little girl and her mother.

Secondly, if you intervene and drop the application, you will give their advocate and their supporters time to gather together the evidence required to give them the best possible chance of justice. Because this case has attracted some publicity, I am now receiving information from people in the UK and Malawi which backs up their arguments but you will understand that gathering in the detail takes time. That is all we are asking for – time.

I suspect an issue for the Home Office lawyers is that if they allow it to run its natural course, by the time the judicial review is heard they may well have hit the significant seven year mark. Can you tell me if this was a factor? If it was, do you think that is fair?

As you can imagine, being a Glasgow MSP, I am contacted by great numbers of asylum seekers. Although I am happy to work with them as constituents, I have never mounted a public campaign for any of them. This is a first for me and it is because I am so extremely concerned about this ten year old child and her mother, that I have taken these steps. I understand the arguments around deportation of asylum seekers are many, varied and complex.

However, please allow me to explain to you the single most significant reason (amongst the many others) why I believe we cannot allow this particular deportation to happen. Please bear in mind, this is not necessarily what the legal arguments will be, it is simply why I believe you should personally intervene and stop the objections.

Precious’ father’s family in Malawi have on several occasions approached Precious’ aunt and grandmother making it clear that they will claim Precious on return and that she will be living with them. They will not allow Precious to see her mother. I am no expert on the legal system in Malawi but the advice I have been given by those who are, is that the legal system will support the father’s family and there is every reason to believe that they could lose each other forever.

Now, regardless of all of the other fears, all of the other evidence and all of the other arguments, I do not believe that someone who came into politics to help vulnerable people and to make the world a better place, would knowingly turn their back on a ten year old child who has a very high chance of losing her mother (not to mention being thrown into a completely different way of life) as a result of their inaction.

So, now that you DO know about it, please do something. I assume because there is an ongoing judicial review, you are unable to use your discretion to grant them leave to remain. If I am wrong about that, I will write to you again to explain in more detail why I believe you should do so. Please advise me.

My understanding however is that the one thing you can do, as Home Secretary, is intervene to drop the objections and the application for the case to be expedited. It’s a simple request and I don’t believe it is asking too much for their advocate to have time to gather the evidence and develop the arguments. We are well aware that this will be their very last opportunity to successfully argue for leave to remain in the UK. Please, at least give them every chance to make those final arguments.

I understand the judge will hear the application for the case to be expedited on Monday. We are running out of time. Please act urgently.

Yours sincerely

Anne McLaughlin MSP

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Letter to Jim Murphy re Precious Mhango

Below is the text of an email sent last Friday at 2.26pm from Euan McColm, Political Editor of the News of the World, to Jim Murphy, Secretary of State for Scotland. He also used it as his column on Sunday. Please read it and pass it on to anyone who wants to know why we believe Precious Mhango should be allowed to stay in Scotland. When I say "we" I mean the campaigners across Scotland who are fighting for her and her mum, including 581 members of the Facebook group!

Dear Secretary of State,

How are you? I hope you and your family are all doing well and looking forward to Christmas.

I think you’ll remember we met this summer, out in Arden, the tough Glasgow scheme where you grew up. I was struck by how you described the way your upbringing had shaped your politics.

You spoke about your desire to make life better for some of society’s most disadvantaged people. And you know what? I believed – and still do - that you were sincere.

You told me how spending your teens in South Africa, where your black playmates were victims of the disgusting Apartheid regime, had further concentrated your mind.

I found your words eloquent and compelling.

And it’s with this in mind that I’m writing to you about Precious Mhango.

You may have heard about this 10-year-old girl. She was born in Malawi, into poverty, and at the age of three was brought to the UK by her parents.

She and her mum, Florence, came to the UK with her dad and Precious soon set about making new pals, first in England.

But life was still tough. Precious and Florence moved to the Cranhill area of Glasgow in December 2006, to get away from her dad, who had started mistreating them.

It was – you can imagine – a very traumatic time for a wee girl. But the great news is that Precious soon started to flourish. She’s a model pupil at St Maria Goretti Primary and a keen churchgoer. And she speaks with a Scottish accent.

But that counted for nothing last week when Precious and Florence were taken from their home in Scotland and sent to the Yarls Wood detention centre near London to await deportation.

The terrified pair were on a plane awaiting the return to Malawi when, at the last minute, QC Paul Chen, took up their case. He’s now fighting for their right to stay.
You may be interested to learn that Precious’s dad has already been given leave to remain in the UK – effectively, by breaking free from him, they have sacrificed their chance of a life here.

Do you know that the Home Office actually told Florence that since her ex-husband lives here, she and Precious would be at no risk of him in Malawi?

That seems terribly wrong to me. Are we really welcoming the right person?
You and I discussed Scottishness when we me last met. You argued that being Scottish was not about politics. You said that both you and First Minister Alex Salmond were equally patriotic Scots and I happily accepted that.

You said that Scottishness was about playing a part in the life of our great country and, again, I found that difficult to disagree with.

Well, Mr Murphy, I want to argue that Precious Mhango is a real Scot. She’s been playing a part in our country. She’s a success at school in a part of Glasgow often written off. She is, I think, the sort of person who good people got into politics to help.

If Precious is sent back to Malawi, her estranged father’s family will have a claim on her. There are genuine fears that, before long, she could fall victim to the barbaric practice of female circumcision. Although this is rare, Precious’s in-laws are said to believe in it.

I know, Secretary of State, that this is a difficult issue. The Government is right to be tightening up immigration procedures. This action must not only prevent bogus asylum claims, it must also make the procedure more efficient and humane for those seeking refuge.

I wonder if you might consider, on behalf of Scotland, raising this issue with your colleague, immigration minister Phil Woolas?

Surely we must know that deporting this little Scottish girl is the right thing to do before we do it?

I’d contend that being sent to Malawi will be as traumatic for Precious as it would for any other 10 year-old-child living in Cranhill.

SNP MSP Anne McLaughlin has been fighting for Precious and Florence. She’s a new MSP, but Anne has already started to build cross party support for this mother and daughter.

And the good people of Cranhill – the same sort of folk as the good people of Arden about whom you spoke so warmly – are rallying round, donating to legal funds and lobbying hard.

These people can only do so much. Your political career has taken you to the top. You know the system – and you have real power. I don’t expect you to abuse that power – but please think about using it.

Jim, this is not about politics. It’s not about policy. It’s about doing the right thing.
From one dad to another, I hope you can help.

With best wishes


PS-I have copied this email to readers of the News of the World.