Sunday, 29 November 2009

No pain no gain

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

Eid means celebration - but not for some

I was glad today to be able to ask a supplementary question at First Minister's Questions and again raise my concerns about Florence and Precious Mhango, currently in Yarls Wood having been saved from deportation at the last minute. However half an hour before I was due to ask it I got a call from a social worker in Glasgow to tell me that ANOTHER family have been taken to Dungavel.

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

Don't forget our soldiers at Christmas

My colleague Bob Doris is helping to launch something really interesting at the Parliament tomorrow. It's HART rescue's "Shoebox Appeal". Basically they're looking for people to donate a shoebox filled with little Christmas gifts for forces personnel serving in the various wars we are involved in right now. The priority is for those who don't have families here mainly because they've been brought up in care. Can you imagine being stuck in Afghanistan right now when day after day we're hearing about someone else dying in this war but worse, knowing that there's not a family at home to worry about you. And of course with Christmas coming up, many folk won't have anyone to send them a few home comforts. So that's what HART rescue and Bob are doing tomorrow - collecting them in. I think this is just the LAUNCH of the appeal so if you hear that they're collecting near to you, why not hand something in? Let them know we're thinking about them.

Monday, 23 November 2009

You've given Precious hope

If you could see the size of my smile right now you wouldn't recognise me. I have just received 2 phone calls.

1) Florence Mhango at 6.09pm: "Annie, we are going back to Yarls Wood, they have cancelled our flight."

2) Paul Chen QC: "We now have to advance the arguments but we live to fight another day Anne."

So, they are off the flight and now they have an advocate ready to fight their case. I know a wee girl who has suddenly got some hope tonight. It's only the start of the fight to save her and her mum but in 5 minutes time they could have been leaving forever, on their way to an uncertain and unsafe future.
More later but for now, I just want to thank everyone for all your help so far.

Tick Tock

It's been a flurry of activity throughout the day in my office - all of us working on keeping Florence and Precious here. Now, there's nothing left to do. The QC will call the home office in the next half hour to find out if they're willing to delay the deportation pending his application for a judicial review. Weird feeling in the office. There are bursts of noise when we're all trying to cheer each other up and then it just falls silent again and we sit and wait. Every so often my phone will go and we all jump.

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?

Update on Precious

Just to update everyone on the Florence and Precious Mhango deportation case, in the early hours of this morning Florence phoned me with the news I've been waiting for. Paul Chen QC, an English advocate, has agreed to fight for them. We can't get too carried away but at this very minute they are on their way to the airport and in 5 hrs their flight will take off so we've really nothing left to lose.

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 UPDATE 5pm - this email is now bouncing back so please email 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

News from Yarls Wood

On a brighter note than the one below, Florence phoned me earlier from Yarls Wood. She sounded calm and she is gaining strength from being kept updated about how many emails or calls I've had about her and how many folk have joined the Facebook group.

She told me Precious was outside playing with other children also awaiting deportation. I was so relieved to hear that because I can't tell you how utterly traumatised she was last time she was there. She cried a lot on the journey down south which must have been just dreadful for her mum because what comfort could she offer her? But at least when we spoke Precious was playing and not crying.

And Florence herself had found someone to talk to. She said she cried with relief when she met a Nigerian woman who she knew from Glasgow. They used to sign at the UKBA at the same time. We managed to laugh a little when she said to me "all we are doing is crying all the time but at least we are crying together". Small mercies eh?

Human beings and our ability to tear each other apart

When you feel like you're wading through treacle and at the same time trying to keep a level head, it's harsh to get emails from people attacking you for caring too much. I've had 2 emails from people really angry that I'm trying to help Florence and little Precious. Maybe I should be saying I've "only" had 2. Maybe I should be grateful that it's only 2 and to be honest I don't feel angry at the senders, just incredibly sad. The latest anonymous one received 5 minutes ago said he was "appalled" that I wanted to save them.

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.

Deportation Update

I have just received a text from Florence Mhango to let me know that she and Precious have arrived at Yarls Wood. I told her that many people have joined the campaign to keep them here and she wants me to pass on her thanks. She is exhausted but I know it helps to know so many people care.

A Child in Need - and you can help

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 Their names are Florence and Precious Mhango.

Friday, 20 November 2009

In the scheme of things ...

Sometimes it's hard to remember that everyone has a job to do. I found it particularly hard yesterday when I'm worrying myself sick about Florence and Precious Mhango (see trillions of posts below) and I'm getting calls from journalists about the fact that I employ two members of my family. My sister - 16 hrs a week paid, several hours unpaid, totally reliable and committed to helping people. Good thing? I think so. Niece - voluntary work experience for 2 months. Good niece - no complaints about her doing it for nothing. One full time member of staff leaves for another job so niece employed to provide cover whilst I recruit replacement. Length of contract? Around 2 months. Hours? 16 a week. Pay? Minimum wage (for adults, I don't believe in having two rates). Doing what? Providing basic admin cover so that all other staff can deal with increasing casework, thus ensuring constituents, some with quite serious problems, get help asap. Good thing? Again, I think so. Alternative? Agency staff paid a far higher rate with an amount creamed off for the agency. Or nobody and constituents just have to wait.

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.

It's a (bad) man's world!

This is Dungavel. This is where this beautiful little girl (click on link and scroll down for pic) is being detained. Doesn't she look confident and strong? Not today she didn't. Today she looked exactly as she is - a bewildered little girl who doesn't know where she is going, what will happen when she gets there or, more importantly, why the grown ups are sending her somewhere dangerous for her and her mum.

I guess she's also wondering why her daddy is allowed to stay here if she's not. All she remembers of him is that he used to batter her mummy and they had to run away from him and hide. That and the fact that his family have been bullying her grandmother in Malawi making it clear they will claim Precious if she is returned to Malawi.

So the baddie gets to stay here and the little girl and her battered and bruised mother are deported. Flight leaves 19h00 Monday night. Time's running out but we ain't giving up.

Leaving for Dungavel

Am heading out to Dungavel shortly. It may be the last time I see Florence and Precious. I hope not. The response to my last minute plea to Phil Woolas yesterday was "you're not an MP, we won't talk to you" which is a story for another day. John Mason MP has also made urgent representations and they can't give him that response. And of course Michael Russell the Minister for External Affairs has instructed officials to make formal representations to the British Government. I will speak to Florence's lawyer before I leave - he spent all of yesterday working to find a judicial route for her. So everyone's doing everything they can but I will go in there today knowing as I said that it may be the last time. I am feeling bad enough about that and although I've spoken to Florence numerous times on the phone I've only actually met her 4 or 5 times. Imagine then how it must feel for their friends in Cranhill of which they have many. Think of the ten year olds in Precious' class at St Maria of Goretti Primary School in Cranhill. Suddenly she's gone AGAIN. And where is she going? What does she face in the country of her birth? How do you explain that to these children?

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

How things stand for Florence and Precious Mhango tonight

It's been a flurry of activity today and so much to tell but no time to tell it. You can read more about why the Mhango family should not be returned to Malawi here. Good news is that Michael Russell, the Minister for (lots of things including) External Affairs in the Scottish Government is concerned too and has asked his officials to make formal representations to Phil Woolas at the UKBA regarding this. It's ridiculous that Scotland cannot decide who gets to live here but whilst we have no control over these things, all we can do is appeal to the British Government and that's what he is doing. I am eternally grateful to him for seeing the need for some compassion and humanity here.

I can get into Dungavel

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

Some folk can't get out of Dungavel and some can't get in

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.

Why Precious can't go to Africa

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.

Dungavel claims another child

Shocking news tonight. One of my constituents, Florence Mhango and her daughter Precious have been taken to Dungavel. Precious will be terrified. She's only ten. They were taken in August and transferred to Yarls Wood, even put on a flight but just before it took off they got a stay of execution and were brought back to Glasgow. Precious was so frightened and has had nightmares ever since. Anyway I will update later, I better go and find out what's happening. Please just think about them and for those who think we're too good to asylum seekers, just imagine what that wee girl's going through right now. There but for the Grace of God .... as some would say.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Scotland United today

I'm on the right of the photo, obscured by a yellow jacket and grateful for it because I was not looking too good today :-)

12 noon today - let's all unite against fascism

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

"Never forget that just being is fun" - Katharine Hepburn

I met a wee girl tonight. A very wee girl. 8lb and 10 oz to be precise. And not yet 24 hours old although she will be by the time I finish writing this. Her name is Rebecca Catherine Hepburn and I thought a piece of advice from her famous namesake would not go amiss. Her mummy and daddy are Julie and Jamie Hepburn. Jamie is a Central Scotland MSP and Julie has a good chance of being the Cumbernauld MP at the next election.They are both over the moon and no wonder because she is absolutely adorable. Soft smooth skin apart from her wee hands which are very crinkly and very cute. She has curly ears, lots of dark hair and already she's learned to stick out her bottom lip which I think she gets from her mum who perfected that one very early on too I'd imagine! Anyway she's all snuggly and cute and just a perfect wee baby girl but I've not put a photo up because her mum and dad have an exclusivity deal with "Gaun yerself" Magazine.
I hope she will take the advice from her namesake and remembers that life may have its ups and downs but it's an amazing adventure she's embarking on and just being alive is pretty special. Anyway welcome to the world wee Rebecca, you've a lovely family waiting for you and you're going to make them all very happy! Right, I'm away to greet again :-)

What Jim Murphy thinks of Scotland

Jim Murphy is doing most of the talking at the live by-election press conference for the Labour Party. He's just said in his smugger-than-I-thought-possible fashion that "the SNP got too big for their boots". And that just about sums up his nasty unionist attitude to his own country. They do not want the people of Scotland to get "too big for their boots" and by that they mean they do not want the people of Scotland to have any confidence in their ability to run their own country. It's an outrage, as far as the likes of Murphy is concerned, that we should dare to imagine we might have the skills or the talent or even the right to do what normal countries do and make our own decisions. And for promoting that relentlessly positive message about our faith in the people of Scotland, Murphy's Mob brand us as being "too big for our boots". Shameful.

Bizarre moment at the by-election count

One of the strangest moments last night at the by-election count was when I was chatting to Tommy Sheridan and we both expressed our relief that the Tories had come third! That was a pretty surreal moment and one I don't expect will be repeated. We'd been passing the time and Tommy was saying how sickened and upset he was that the fascists (the real ones, the BNP) were in 3rd place. I told him the Tories had insisted on a recount and it looked like they were, in fact, third. It was quite funny to see the look of relief on Tommy's face as we said "thank goodness" (or words to that effect) in unison. Of course I'm sure we'd all prefer the BNP got no votes but the irony of Tommy and myself (of all people) almost celebrating a 3rd place for the Conservative & Unionist Party was not lost on either of us!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Polling Day

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.

Can't tell you how proud I am of the SNP members who went out and ran a 10k fun run on Saturday morning and then carried on campaigning for the rest of the day! They were lead by David Kerr our by election candidate who was literally "running for Glasgow North East". The route took them from Springburn to Wallace's Well in Robroyston and the team raised money for Ruchazie Community Centre. I really enjoyed waving them off before heading off for my coffee and bacon roll - kidding! Of course I immediately went out leafletting - we've a by election to win this week!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The hypocrisy of Willie Bain

Just been watching the Politics Show on STV. Willie Bain, the Labour candidate in the by-election really bothers me when he sits there with a wee smile on his face, agreeing that the constituency of Glasgow North East has some of the worst health and educational records, in other words, some of the worst luck, in the country. Apparently though, he lives here and cares deeply about all these things and wants to do something about the problems. So why hasn't he? He's Secretary of the Labour Party in the constituency, worked closely with Michael Martin and Paul Martin, the "dynamic" father and son duo who seem pretty satisfied with their track records (even if nobody else is), indeed his party has been in charge there for SEVENTY FOUR YEARS. So why does he SUDDENLY want to do something about it? If he cared that much he'd have spoken out before now. As secretary of Labour, Willie Bain colluded in the complacency that resulted in people here having to put up with higher rates of drug and alcohol addiction and deaths, higher rates of heart disease, lower life expectancy, lower numbers of people leaving school with qualifications etc etc. Where have they been? Where has Willie Bain been? He's been HERE in the constituency, going to his Labour Party meetings, telling folk to keep voting Labour, knowing that Labour was doing next to nothing for the people. Is he even aware of his bare faced cheek or does he actually believe any of the guff he comes out with? And will my fellow voters fall for it? Time will tell. We've a week to go. He has achieved one thing tonight mind you. He's doubled my resolve to get out and work hard to secure the election of David Kerr, the SNP's candidate. It's about time this area had someone who cares as deeply as he does. Here's hoping.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Some folk have all the luck

I often think about how much of the way your life turns out is down to luck. I was pondering it again today when I drove past The Royal Infirmary. There was a guy standing at the bus stop in the torrential rain, trying to hold his bulky frame up on two walking sticks. He was obviously uncomfortable, probably in pain and definitely not having a good day. We all get days like that but if it was me, I'd call a taxi and get home in a bit more comfort. Not everyone can do that and until I became an MSP, I thought twice and thrice before using a taxi. Being able to buy a little convenience, a wee bit more comfort is such a simple little thing that can make all the difference but, as I say, not everyone can do it. I really felt awful driving past and started torturing myself again about how unfair it is that my life is so much easier than his.

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 :-))

By-election signs

Quick update on the Glasgow North East by-election. Had a brilliant day on Friday. Alex Salmond spent the day in the constituency and we went along to Alive and Kicking in Red Road - where we ended up having a sing song with the singing group there. Rather than duplicate, you can read about it here on the by-election blog.

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!

MSPs are here to help - that's our job

A big part of my job as an MSP is to represent constituents. I have a number of surgeries across Glasgow and people can also make an appointment to see me or one of the constituency workers in our office in Glasgow. Generally speaking people only come to you when they're at the end of their tether but I'm looking at how we can get the message across that you don't have to wait until you're desperate.

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.