Thursday, 9 December 2010

It's fair, it's organic, it's fabulous eco chic for babies

My sister has designed some very cute baby clothes (from 0 to 18 months) some of them especially for the Christmas period and I love them so much I just have to spread the word. They are all 100% organic unbleached soft cotton which is also non sweatshop traded from Tanzania.

The one shown is a baby gro with tartan lettering saying "Bonnie Yule" and I've bought one for a few babies I know. They're only £8 and they are unique. She also has a baby hat with a tartan star and now that I've seen that I'm going to have to buy it to match the baby gro. It's only £5 so I'm sure I'll manage.

For all you vegetarians there's a design with a turkey wishing everyone a "very merry veggie Christmas".

For environmentalists there's an owl on a skateboard saying "flying's for featherbrains".

And for anyone with any sense there's a design with a very cute baby calling for "peace".

You can see all the designs on Ebay and you can order via Ebay or via me as I will hold a small amount which could save you postage! Have look anyway and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

If only I had a helicopter

Well! How was your day? Travel anywhere nice? Travel anywhere at all? Let me tell you about MY day. Actually let me tell you about somebody else's day - yesterday.

Aileen Campbell, our youngest MSP, due to give birth today (excited about that) had to travel from Glasgow to her home in Biggar last night. Normally it would take 50 minutes. Last night it took 13 hours. She sounded quite relaxed when she reported via Facebook that she'd finally got home but she can't possibly have been. I'd have been out of my mind. In fact when I heard about it (after the event) I got really stressed out on her behalf.

Another friend was stuck for ten hours on the M80 with her husband and one year old baby boy. How on earth do you cope with that kind of situation? It's unthinkable.

So I DO know as I tell you my tale, that I got off quite lightly. Nevertheless, this blog and you readers are great therapy so allow me to begin.

I had to be at petitions committee today so I thought I'd get the 11am train in order to get in nice and early. In normal circumstances I would get there 2 hours early using that train. I had a suitcase with me as I'm staying over 2 nights. And I'm female, I NEED everything in that suitcase. So I called a taxi. But not only could I not get one to come out, I couldn't even get through on the phone - to any of them!

So my sister (who was staying with me) and I decided to walk to Bellgrove Station and get a train to Queen St. It was quite hard humphing the suitcase over the packed ice especially as most of it was downhill but I managed and felt a great sense of achievement when I reached Bellgrove. And all would have been well if it hadn't been for the fact that we waited a while and then discovered that the trains were all cancelled. Marvellous!

We decided to walk. It's only half an hour normally but normally I'm not mountaineering with a suitcase. Anyway it was fun but the fun ended when I got to Queen St. I was there on time for the 12.30 train which was cancelled as was the 12.45. I was obviously there on time for the 1pm but couldn't get on it. The queue filled the concourse and went out into Dundas Street, looped round and back into the station. We stood in the freezing cold for ages and then we heard the great news. An extra train was being put on and it would leave at 1.15pm.

Not only did I get on that train, I got a seat! And I sat in that seat for over an hour waiting for the train to move! Points problems, something like that, I was past caring. "Give me a solution" I wanted to yell "not a problem". I wanted to yell but instead I smiled sweetly at my fellow passengers.

It worked! The train decided to get a move on and after quite some time we pulled into a station. It's hard to recognise towns in the snow and I was wondering "are we at Linlithgow or Haymarket?" but NO we were at Croy. I wouldn't have minded if the heating had been on but it was baltic. (Actually that's a lie, I would have minded but I wouldn't have been so cold.)

Eventually we got into Waverly at around 3.30pm. I went to the ladies' loo and put my face in the hand dryer and I'd have stayed there had folk not started giving me funny looks. Ha! I'm kidding about that one. Not the face-in-hand-dryer tale, that bit's true. I finally plucked up the courage to walk to parliament and got there at 3.50pm.

So it was only 5 hrs 20 minutes and to be honest although it was cold and uncomfortable it wasn't that bad. Like I said, I'm pretty sure that had more to do with remembering what my friends had to go through. Anything is better than that. And besides, the clerk to the committee must've been feeling sorry for me and he came up to my office with a wee chocolate muffin for me. The world is full of good people and Fergus is one of the goodest today lol.

I hope people stay indoors if they can. Don't be martyrs. I had to come through but unless you're really needed please don't put yourself through it. Stay safe and warm and remember this could last a while. And on that cheery note ... I'm off!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Margo MacDonald's down but not out

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the then forthcoming End of Life Assistance debate that was coming up. Yesterday I spoke in the debate and I voted in favour of it. It was defeated by 85 votes to 16. Margo MacDonald who brought the bill to the parliament really came under some sustained attacks in the build up to the debate and there was a fair bit of criticism during the debate.

I know she was disappointed by the result of course and bearing in mind that Margo has Parkinson's Disease, she must have been exhausted by the time she got home last night.

I wondered if she'd be in today. I needn't have wondered for she was there and in fine spirits. In reaction to some of the scare mongering that went on about the bill, she was wearing a red diamante encrusted ring in the shape of a large skull. She did it in reaction to those who all but accused her of standing over the beds of dying people planning their deaths.

Whatever you think of Margo's bill, her intentions were good. Her intentions were to support those people now who know the time will come when their pain becomes unbearable to them and they want to end their lives on their own terms. She is a compassionate woman and to demonise her in the way that some did is a disgraceful way to have treated her.

Disagree with her if you will. But don't demonise her. Still, at least she came back fighting today. I might have been tempted to stay in bed and I have nothing but admiration for her that she didn't.

You can watch the debate by clicking here and scrolling down to Ministerial Statement: Scotland Bill - the debate follows the statement. It's about 1 hr 30 minutes in.

AND another thing ...

Still on Question Time.

As always when they talked about tuition fees in England, it got onto talking about how unfair it is that Scotland's students don't have to pay tuition fees. John Sargent was the voice of reason when he pointed out that it shouldn't spark a constitutional debate, it should merely tell us that the governments of Scotland and Wales were managing their money better than the government in charge of education in England.

Sir Christopher Meyer, former UK ambassador to the USA however felt differently.

According to this guy, if Scotland and Wales don't charge tuition fees, England really has to look again at how the cash is divvied up in the UK. We should not be able to "live better" than England, bloody upstarts that we are! (He didn't actually say the last bit btw.)

What he means is that England should cut our pocket money until we learn to behave ourselves and that means that whatever we do, England gets to do better. Like it's our fault the UK government is so appalling!

BBC Blood Pressure Time

A few weeks ago the Deputy First Minister of Scotland was a panelist on BBC Question Time. They were discussing the economy and Nicola Sturgeon began describing what the SNP government in Scotland was doing to boost Scotland's economy. I say "began" because David Dimbleby butted in and told her she was not allowed to talk about Scotland. She had to talk about UK wide issues. "This is going out to a UK wide audience and Scottish issues are not relevant to all of them, you must keep it relevant to the UK as a whole" he told her. (I'm paraphrasing but fairly accurately.)

So how come tonight more than half the programme was taken up with English only issues?

The first was England's failed bid to host the world cup in 2018.

The second was how Lib Dem MPs are going to vote on tuition fees in England.

Am I missing something? If I am please tell me because I'm racking my brains and can't figure out how THAT is any different to Nicola talking about the Scottish Government's approach to Scotland's economy.

Enlighten me please dear readers!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

It's Thursday night and time to raise the blood pressure

Nadine Dorries the Tory MP has just explained on Question Time why she's proud to be a daughter of Thatcher. Apparently it's because she grew up on a council estate in Liverpool and her mum bought her council house then presumably sold it for a large profit so she could move away. Had it not been for Thatcher's right to buy policy (severely curtailed in Scotland now by the SNP government) her mum "would still be living on a council estate". Shock horror! Well thank goodness for that then. Nadine's mum doesn't have to live on a council estate anymore. Because if there's something in life you need to avoid it's living on a council estate.

What a piece of nonsense and if she really believes that then she should be ashamed that anyone still does.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

To be or not to be

There is so much going on this week that the biggie of the week feels like a long time away but I want to mention it now and invite comments because I know it's something that has sparked a big debate. It is of course Margo McDonald's End of Life Assistance Bill. Stage 1 will be debated on Thursday in the parliament. I've put in a bid to speak on it but there are many others who also wish to do so.

I don't know about anyone else but I am genuinely undecided. I came to this debate believing I would support it on the grounds that I believe every human being should have the right to make their own decisions about whether or not they live or die. However, I recognise how important this is and so I've carefully read all the letters I've received and there's one argument that really has me questioning myself. It's not the religious arguments about God giving us life and being the only one who can take it away. I respect that argument and although I choose to believe in God, I don't think I could stand in front of someone dying in pain and tell them with any great conviction that only God had the right to end that pain.

The argument that caused me to rethink is the one about elderly people believing themselves to be a burden and wanting not to be. If assisted suicide is an option legitimised by us, there is a danger that many older people will, feeling that they have nothing left to contribute, consider going down that route.

That idea horrifies me. Then again, we are at Stage One of the bill and you don't actually vote on it to become law until Stage Three so there are options for amendments to combat that. But can you combat that? What do you do? Put a robust psychological assessment in place to ensure the person is doing it for what we believe to be the right reasons?

My instinctive feeling is there are many questions to be asked and I want to allow the debate to carry on so we can explore those questions fully. Then again, if I vote to do that am I opening the door to a law that I will eventually come to the conclusion I should vote against?

I don't know. So I'm asking you. I'm sending out an e newsletter to my constituents on Monday asking them to email me or comment on this blog post and tell me their thoughts. I'm reading over the letters again, I'm going to read the bill and I'll try to speak to Margo. If I can, I'll speak in the debate and listen to everyone else. If I'm not speaking in it I'll still be watching live on TV.

The one thing I won't do is pretend to be listening when I've already made up my mind. You can be assured that whatever decision I come to it will be done with a great deal of thought, a lot of soul searching and a lot of listening. So please, comment on here (my comments are moderated and only abusive ones won't be published) or email me at and tell me what you would do and why. I really want to know.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

UK government showing contempt to Scotland - for a change

What a day! Had a question at First Minister's Questions, a demo to attend and a meeting with asylum seekers from Glasgow afterwards. It all went really well but I wish I wasn't wearing high heels today, my feet are killing me!

Am about to speak in a debate about this ridiculous and contemptuous decision of the UK government to hold the referendum on Alternative Voting on the SAME DAY as OUR NATIONAL ELECTIONS! Am mad as hell about it and can't believe the Lib Dems and Tories think it's perfectly acceptable.

Better go brush my hair, wash my face and struggle on in the heels then! You can watch it live on or you can watch it later. Or not at all.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Proud of John Swinney

I don't have time to go into the detail but I'll try to write about the budget later in the week. For the record, I am extremely proud of John Swinney, I think he's shown himself to be extremely able and has done everything he can to protect jobs and services in the face of the deepest cuts imagineable from Westminster.

I particularly like that he is now compelling the councils to stick to what they agree, IF they agree it. I can't see why they wouldn't. Everywhere else is facing cuts of around 6% but local government can get a cut of only around 2% if they agree to certain things like teacher numbers, freezing the council tax etc. It will mean the difference of around £420 million. But whereas before, councils like Glasgow could simply agree to certain things but not bother to implement them ("we don't think small class sizes make a difference" for example), this time they have to make up the budget that ensures these agreements are met BEFORE they get the extra money.

Good! COSLA have agreed but now we need all 32 local authorities to agree. I think they're being offered a tremendous incentive to do so and at the same time YOU get NO INCREASE IN COUNCIL TAX, CONCESSIONARY FARES stay in place, FREE PERSONAL CARE is guaranteed and a variety of other measures are agreed to.

I am also delighted that he has said if we have a pay freeze for public sector workers earning over £21,000 per annum, we can maintain the pledge for no compulsory redundancies. It's rotten not getting a pay increase, I know that, I have been there often enough myself. But you have to be fair to John and acknowledge that he's proposing that to keep more folk in work and he is freezing the council tax too. He's also chosen not to do what the Greens wanted to do and that is increase income tax. That's because it can only apply to the basic rate and therefore would hit the poorest hardest. Oh and prescriptions - charges will be abolished as planned in April.

Other things of note - public sector workers on under £21k will get an increase of at least £250 a year, the additional 1000 police officers we've put in since coming to power? They're staying put and we're funding it. A living wage for those whose wages the government controls will be at a minimum of £7.15 per hour. Bonuses where the government can control it - suspended until further notice! Distinction awards for NHS - frozen for the foreseeable! I could go on but I did start by saying I don't have time to blog about this.

Having said all of that the SNP government has had to implement cuts of £1.3bn imposed by Westminster so it can't possibly be pain free and no doubt over the coming months it'll become clear who will be worst affected. The Labour Party groan if you dare to mention this in parliament but there's no getting away from the fact that WE HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE AMOUNT OF OUR BUDGET! As Jeremy Kyle would say: "FACT"!

There is only one way to rectify that and that is by becoming Independent. Whilst I was relieved and proud to read John's proposed budget today, I also felt so sad that we can't just do what any other country in the world would do and use full economic powers to suit Scotland's economy, to grow Scotland's economy, to make Scotland a better place for us all to live in. We have to get our heads round doing that and soon. For now, I think John Swinney has done an incredible job and all with one hand tied behind his back. Think what he would do if that hand was untied. You can untie it. You can vote for Scotland's Independence.

Seeking support of the First Minister

I have had a question accepted for First Minister's Questions tomorrow on the matter of the UKBA cancelling their contract with Glasgow City Council to support and house asylum seekers. You can watch it LIVE on BBC2 on Thursday or you can watch it online at I wrote about it earlier in the week and said how shocked I was at the way they were being treated.

It's a matter for the British Government, the UKBA is one of their agencies and the First Minister has no say in the matter, whilst we're still controlled by the UK.

However I am hoping to get his support to put pressure on the British Government to sort it out. And I also think it's important that asylum seekers and refugees in this country hear its First Minister tell them they are welcome here because the UKBA certainly doesn't make them feel like that!

It was just supposed to be a question but as nearly always happens with me, I come up with an idea, then another, then another and before you know it one little question has grown arms and legs and I've created a monster.

On this occasion it's a monster worth creating. What's happening is that a bus load of people are now coming through to Edinburgh, I've managed to get tickets for 15 of them to get into First Minister's Questions and I have a meeting room booked for 25 of them to meet with MSPs afterwards. It will be very informal but it allows them to talk to their elected representatives about what it's like being an asylum seeker in this country and particularly about this recent development.

One woman told me when she got that letter saying she was being moved to an as yet unknown location in Scotland and would be given 3 to 5 days' notice to pack a maximum of 2 suitcases and leave everything (and everyone) else behind, she decided to give up. She said she just felt like lying on the ground and saying "do what you're going to do but do it quick". That's shocking and I know MSPs will want to hear about the effect this move has had on human beings we're supposed to be protecting.

The photo is of a wee girl from Cranhill (I went to their drop in service on Monday night to try to offer some reassurance) and this is the artwork her mum produced - nice home eh?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Protest at half ten this morning

At half past ten this morning I will be attending a demonstration in Glasgow outside the City Chambers protesting against the UKBA decision to cancel its contract with GCC to house and support asylum seekers.

They've done it over a row about the fee they pay the council to carry out this work. The contract was due to expire in less than a year and renegotations would have taken place then. Given that the UKBA may have to pay compensation of up to £5million now for the early cancellation, it doesn't even make financial sense, never mind any other kind of sense!

I'm protesting for a number of reasons. First, as Glasgow has been working with asylum seekers since the year 2000 so has built up a considerable body of expertise. Services have been put in place to deal with the particular needs of asylum seekers. Certain areas eg Springburn, Cranhill have language support teachers in schools and medical practices, there are support workers employed in these areas. It doesn't always work perfectly but Glasgow is placed better than anywhere else in the country to carry out this work.

What this does is WASTE that expertise and experience in Glasgow and it puts a demand on the rest of the country to replicate it. So, say 40 families are moved to Perth. Are the schools there just supposed to cope, are the children just supposed to adjust? And where is the housing coming from? I have contacted Shelter Scotland to get figures on housing availability across the country because what the UKBA are, in effect, saying is "we don't want those 600 houses already being used in Glasgow for asylum seekers, we want to use up housing in other parts of Scotland".

(I am aware some people I've had contact with recently will be jumping for joy thinking this frees up housing in Glasgow for them. Eg the constituent who attacked me for campaigning to keep Florence and Precious Mhango in Cranhill when he couldn't get a flat there. When I went to the housing with him (because I don't, contrary to what he said, just work with asylum seekers) he was quite clear - no multi storeys, no upstairs (he's 27 btw), in fact nothing short of a back and front door. Most of the people who kick up a fuss don't actually want what we give to asylum seekers.)

From the briefings I have received it seems there was no consultation with anyone regarding this move. That astonishes me because the implications for GCC, for the rest of Scotland and of course for these very vulnerable people themselves are immense. It didn't occur to UKBA to speak to anyone who might take over the contract, anyone who might be affected by the move, anyone at all!

I have written to the UKBA and asked them a number of questions. I want to know if Glasgow City Council were aware that this was a possibility, that the contract might suddenly be terminated. If they were then they too are implicated but to be fair, from all I've heard so far, I'm on the council's side on this. Whatever, SOMEONE knew this was a possibility and they should have brought in mediation, they should have consulted, they should have known the consequences for everyone involved would be massive.

The day the council received the note telling them the "deal was off" asylum seekers received a letter basically saying "you're moving, get ready". It didn't say when but promised they would be given 3 to 5 days notice.

3 to 5 days notice??!

Outrageous. I can't even get ready to go on holiday at that short notice and they are expected to leave behind everything they know, not knowing where they are going in 3 to 5 days. Bear in mind many of them have already done that. Many have fled their own countries and they've come here with nothing and nobody. So the friendships they make in Scotland are intensified by the fact that they have no-one else. And they have to leave all that behind with 3 to 5 days notice.

They were told they could take 2 suitcases per person. Outrageous.

Many asylum seekers have been given things by well wishers to make their lives a bit easier. Individuals and the likes of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees will give them toys and books for their children, a TV that would otherwise have gone in the skip, little things to make life more bearable. And they have to leave them all behind. And what if they don't have 2 suitcases per person. It is not the equivalent to suitcases, it is suitcases.

Last week I took calls from worried asylum seekers, their friends and neighbours, church ministers, teachers and headteachers all desperately worried and right to be.

This is shocking and we have to find a way to stop it. Where there's a will there's a way. My fear is that the will is not there on the side of the UKBA. They can not care or they would not have sent such a callous letter. Come to the demo if you can and join our facebook group by clicking here. Be part of the campaign.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The joys of being a politician

I was at an event this afternoon presenting trophies to the winners of a football tournament. It was great, very enjoyable. Most of the time. At the end I was going round folk and letting them know that I was one of their MSPs and encouraging them to get in touch if they'd any problems I might be able to help with. Everyone was receptive and took my contact details but there was one guy who just started having a go at me.

He starts pointing in my face saying "you lot, none of you want to help folk like me" (yes that's right, that's why I'm coming up to you asking if you want my help with anything) "you are all the same" (never heard that one before)!

I think the most patronising and disingenuous thing you can do in those circumstances is take it without standing up for yourself. It would be a bit fake for me to do that so I didn't. I told him I thought there one thing he might need to do himself if he wanted my help and that is ASK ME!!

At this point he admitted that he had never been in touch with me. He went on to tell me about someone he had contacted who couldn't have cared less. I was happy to point out that it wasn't even my party never mind me so hardly fair for him to judge me. I also pointed out the irony of me walking up to him asking could I help with anything and his immediate reaction being that no politician ever wants to help anyone.

It was fine in the end and he's promised to email me with details of a particular difficulty he's having. However it does annoy me the way that one bad experience somehow ends up with us all being the same. I can't imagine me walking up to someone I don't even know and telling them how bad they are but today was not the first time it happened. Ah well, it takes all sorts I guess. Moan over! Thanks for listening ...

Today Matthew, I'm going to be Audrey Roberts!

How many of you have heard of Andrew Watson, the first black player ever to play football for Scotland? A left back, the highlight of his career was guiding the strongest club in Scotland at the time, to 3 consecutive Scottish FA Cup victories in 1880. That club was not Rangers or Celtic, it wasn't Hearts or Hibs, it was Queen's Park FC!

Indeed he wasn't just the first black player to play for Scotland, he was the first black international player in world football at all.

Today there is an Andrew Watson Memorial Football Tournament taking place in the North of Glasgow. Organised by the African & Caribbean Network, the aim of it is to raise awareness of the fact that African and Caribbean people have been part of football in Scotland since time immemorial.

The opening rounds will be at Firhill Sports Complex in Hopehill Road, Maryhill from 12 to 2pm and the semi finals, finals and prizegiving from 3 to 5pm at Maryhill Juniors in Lochburn Road. There will be African food and a bar available at the second venue.

The teams include The Persian Gulf, Glas Vegas and AfroScots United.

Andrew Watson seems to have been a pretty amazing man. Born in Guyana to a Scots plantation owner and a Guyanese mother, he ended up studying engineering at Glasgow University - for a black man to achieve that alone (never mind the footballing success) in the Victorian era is impressive to say the least.

My favourite fact about this man I had never heard of until recently is that in 1881 he captained Scotland to a 6-1 victory over England away from home. If only he were still around!

Anyway I better go, I'm presenting the trophies at the tournament today so I need to look out my Audrey Roberts outfit! Try and make it along if you can.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Well done Ryan!

Sitting here with a huge smile on my face and a big lump in my throat because of this wee guy Ryan McLaughlin. Because of him, his mum Kirsten, dad Alan and wee brother Darren. Last night he won a Pride of Britain Award for his amazing campaign on the importance of Vitamin D to prevent Multiple Sclerosis which his mum was diagnosed with some years ago.

I've met them a few times because their campaign was focused on the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee of which I am a member and I've kept in touch with them. It helps that they're all really nice people and they're all McLaughlins :-)

Have a look at the interview they did on The Hour tonight and you'll see him getting his award. An award you really deserve Ryan. Congratulations, very proud of you!

Sad day for Scottish health

I spoke in the Alcohol Debate on Wednesday. In fact, for the first time I was allowed to lead for the SNP backbenchers. I think the Chief Whip knew how important this debate was to me so I was chuffed to be able to do it. I think I'm also the first MSP to be brandishing a cider bottle in the chamber now!

Anyway I will blog about this later but I didn't want the parliamentary week to end without me saying how sickened and disgusted I am that the Labour Party, the Tories and the Lib Dems voted down the amendment on minimum unit pricing which would have had a significant impact on our drinking culture.

We had a chance to really do something about the almost out of control problem this country has with alcohol but they stopped us. They didn't stop us because of a passionate belief, they stopped us because we are the SNP. It's pathetic and I lost a lot of respect for a lot of people who I disagreed with politically but who I honestly believed had some integrity.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Jack is dead

Oh dear. I haven't caught up with Corrie yet, in fact I'm about a fortnight behind. However I know that Jack Duckworth died last night and I've just seen the clip where he's dreaming that Vera comes for him and they dance together in the living room. Greetin' now. That'll teach me to put the TV on when I'm supposed to be getting ready for work!

Justice for Megrahi petition in parliament Tuesday

As a member of the Petitions Committee in Parliament I am particularly looking forward to tomorrow's meeting. We will hear evidence from Jim Swire, father of Flora who was one of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing. He'll be presenting evidence in support of his petition calling for an enquiry into the conviction of Megrahi. He'll do so alongside Professor Robert Black and Iain McKie, father of Shirley.

I've met Iain McKie a couple of times through previous work and found him to be both charismatic and inspirational. And of course Jim Swire has to be one of the most compassionate people ever. I don't know if they have a point in claiming that Megrahi is innocent. What I do know is that it would be all too easy (and understandable) for Mr Swire to accept Megrahi's guilt and put all of his negativity energy in that direction.

But he didn't accept it. He has been outspoken in his condemnation of the conviction and as you can see is campaigning for an enquiry into it. I guess it's important to him that they get the right person but how tempting must it have been to turn a blind eye and blame the man with the conviction?

The other thing that occurs to me is that tomorrow, as I imagine is always the case, he will give evidence and in the recesses of his mind will be this image of his daughter, his flesh and blood, a young woman with a zest for life who only got to live for 24 years. That pain must never leave him and for that reason I am in awe of him and have nothing but the deepest respect.

You can watch the evidence session at 2pm tomorrow click here and scroll down to Petitions.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Make way for George - the ego has landed

So, why are you thinking of standing for Holyrood next year Mr Galloway?

"There's no doubt Salmond is a star but there are not enough stars in the parliament and that's why I am thinking about it."

Do you think pretending to be a cat on Celebrity Big Brother has undermined you politically?

"Nobody in the Scottish Parliament today would ever be described as a celebrity, certainly none of THEM would be invited onto a celebrity show."

Better expand the landing strip at Glasgow Airport then ...

Co-operatives Customer Dis-Service

I hate to sound like Victor Meldrew here but honestly, what has happened to customer service these days? In May I received a renewal notice from Co-operative Ecoinsurance and it was more than I was expecting it to be. The letter said that unless I told them otherwise they'd be taking £300 out of my account on whatever date. So I looked around, got a quote for £230 from Sheila's Wheels and called the Co-operative. No, they couldn't better it so I said it wouldn't make sense for me to renew with them.

I continued to get letters from them which I never opened assuming they were simply advertising some other service. Meantime my bank account was lower than expected so eventually (and these things take me a long time to get round to) I looked at it and discovered that they had simply renewed my insurance anyway and taken £300 out of my account!

Fast forward to today. I called them to ask why, 3 months after them agreeing to refund the money, they had yet to do so. After going through the whole palaver of postcodes and DOB etc they said I was speaking to the wrong person. So they put me through to the "right" person who asked me all the questions over again and then told me that not only was I not speaking to the "right" person but I was through to the wrong company altogether. The Co-operative guy had (very unco-operatively) put me through to Auto Trader insurance!

And yet none of that is what I really want to have a moan about.

Finally I spoke to the right person (by now I know my DOB and my postcode off by heart!) and she informs me that in August they received my confirmation letter and my certificate of motor insurance. However, she says, there was no proof of insurance from Sheila's Wheels in with it.

Now I can't remember if I sent that or not. I do know that I sent whatever they asked me for and if they asked for that, I sent it. If I didn't, it's because they didn't ask. I was very motivated to get my £300 back you understand. That, however, is not really the point. The point is that they received a letter confirming I wanted (as had been agreed) my money back and what did they do with it? They filed it away! It didn't occur to them to write back or phone me and tell me they needed more information?

Perhaps it did occur to them but perhaps it also occurred to them that people lead such busy lives these days that they rarely have time to deal with that kind of thing. Perhaps they were hoping I'd forget all about it. All they've done however is prompt me to make a formal complaint about their shocking customer service - first, taking money they'd no right to take and then, 6 months later, still no refund. Am not at all impressed.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

"Anne you really suit that moustache" - my mother's always wanted a boy!

The things they make you do in that place! Here's me with Sandra White and Aileen Campbell posing in moustaches!

It's all for a good cause. We're encouraging the men we know to take part in Movember and grow a moustache to raise money for and awareness of men's cancers.

You can read more here. First time I've been in The Sun! Actually, it's not. I once forgot that our committees are televised and started talking about how much I love graveyards. That got in The Sun! First time I've been in it wearing a moustache though!

I showed my mum today and she said what a few others in parly had already said. Apparently, according to my mum et al "that moustache really suits you Anne"! Not entirely sure if she was suggesting I wear it regularly or not! I won't be!

However, as Mo-Sista to the male researchers in parly I'll happily monitor their moustaches! And YOU can help them by donating something as sponsorship for them - they really deserve it because trust me, most of them do NOT suit it lol. You can donate at this page.

Fireworks for 14 minutes

It's not the best photo in the world but what I like about it is that it shows crowds of people enjoying themselves and I particularly love seeing wee kids on their daddies' shoulders trying to catch the fireworks.

This was taken on Friday evening at the Fireworks Display at Glasgow Green. It was great, quite spectacular in fact but I was stunned when it finished after 14 minutes!!!

I guess it's cutbacks which is fair enough but ONLY if the hospitality tent was also cut back. Oor cooncil has a habit of offering lavish hospitality when it's completely unnecessary. And in today's climate, it's completely inappropriate. I couldn't tell you if they had one on Friday night because I'm not a Labour MSP and it seems to be only they who are invited to most events in Glasgow. I think what the council argues is that it's constituency MSPs who are invited, not "list" MSPs. It's just coincidence that most of them are Labour!

Anyway I'm going off the point which is to say that there were thousands of very happy people watching the fireworks on Friday night and for once, it didn't rain. Great night - or should I say "great 14 minutes"?!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Keep helping Haiti

Watching a report on Channel 4 news about Haiti and they've just interviewed a young guy who lost a leg and a mum and dad in the earthquake. He survives now by begging but explained that he has an additional difficulty in that people assume his leg is gone because he's been caught stealing and that was his sentence. How cruel has life been to this young guy? I can't even imagine the loss and the devastation on his life.

It's easy to be put off helping because it all seems insurmountable but it's not as you can see if you read this 6 months on update. Many thousands of people are alive and starting to get their lives back on track because of the help many of you have given. So please don't think your money won't make a difference because it will.

I'm an Ambassador for Glasgow the Caring City and if you click on this link you can find out how you can help them to keep making a difference in Haiti.

Please send messages of support to these guys TONIGHT

I was just thinking how dark and cold it is outside and how I'd really like it if my heating would work properly. In fact I was thinking of bringing the duvet through and settling in for the night and although I can't say I was feeling sorry for myself, I will admit I was a bit grumbly about the cold.

Then I remembered that some friends of mine are sleeping out in George Square tonight and I'm fairly confident that no matter how much difficulty I have heating my ground floor flat, they will be a whole lot colder than me. It's all for a good cause. They all work for Positive Action in Housing which is a Scottish charity supporting asylum seekers who are completely destitute ie without accommodation or income.

They're sleeping out to raise awareness but also to raise money so please, as you cosy up inside, think of what they're doing for the cause that matters so much to them and send a donation. You can do it online here or you can PLEDGE your donation by emailing or by texting 07530690234 telling them how much you will donate. They'll contact you later for your contribution. Let them know if you want to be anonymous because they're listing their supporters on 29th November.

Don't forget you can use that number to send messages of support to Jamie, Robina and Suki on this cold, dark, rainy November night.

The great thing about them is that as I'm remembering how lucky I am compared to them tonight, I know they will stick it out because they know how lucky they are that it's their choice and it's only one night.

As they know only too well, there are so many people out there on our streets, many of whom have fled state sponsored persecution in their home country, some of whom don't yet speak English and so have even more difficulty asking for help, yet they're not entitled to help anyway and instead are forced to sleep on the streets and rely on the kindness of passers by and the likes of PAIH. Even PAIH can't solve all their problems, they can only give limited help from their hardship fund. But the more you give, the more they can help so please do donate.

Right, I'm away to throw more coal on the fire. Good luck guys - you're far better people than I am :-)

Check the small print

I met a friend for a drink on Friday night on our way to see the fireworks at Glasgow Green. I suggested we meet at "the pub at Glasgow Cross but I can't remember what it's called". He said no problem and he'd text me when he got there (he knew I wouldn't be first!) to give me the name of it.

Now bear in mind he is originally from The Sudan and although he's made up for lost time in the last couple of years, he wasn't in the habit of going to pubs out there. Anyway the text duly came through and this is what it said:

"The pub is called Est 1906."

I can't remember the last time I laughed so much. And he will NEVER be allowed to forget it! Oh, and it was the Tolbooth incidentally. I have no idea how he missed the giant lettering and only spotted the "established since" plaque.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

All Jock Tamson's Bairns

We were taking evidence in the Public Audit Committee yesterday and the convener was asking a question of Steve Cardownie, the Leader of the SNP group on Edinburgh Council. Although it's all on the official record, I won't go into detail of the substance of the meeting until it's all over and done with (which may be never at this rate)!

What I had to laugh at was the convener's reaction when Cllr Cardownie mentioned that Alex Salmond called him on his mobile phone. He said he was "astonished" that the First Minister of Scotland with all his officials had chosen to call the councillor himself!

I'm not sure what he was making of it but I'M certainly not astonished. I'm glad to know that our First Minister doesn't think himself so above mere mortals that he has to do a Yes Minister and get his officials to call Cllr Cardownie's officials to call Cllr Cardownie, when he can just phone him himself!

This obsession with status really irks me. Alex Salmond respects his position but he's perfectly capable of phoning someone and I don't think it demeans his position to do so. As the SNP councillor pointed out, when he was in the Labour Party he regularly got calls on his mobile from Frank McAveety the then Culture Minister.

There really is nothing sinister at all about senior politicians not expecting their "minions" to do their work for them. It's simply in keeping with Scotland's long tradition of eglitarianism and us all being Jock Tamson's Bairns. As it happens when Alex Salmond phoned Cllr Cardownie, he (CC) was having a pint in the pub which he didn't get to finish. I reckon he should point that out to the First Minister and whilst I realise the FM is unlikely to have time to be down the pub of an evening much these days, I'm pretty sure he won't think himself too important to buy him one back!


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Housing Bill passed today

It was great to sit in the chamber today and vote through the Housing (Scotland) Bill which amongst other things restricts the Right to Buy council houses. I've said this many times before but I am fundamentally opposed to the practice of selling off housing stock from the public sector. What we've done is not ban the practice but limit it so that, along with our house building programme, we can start to address the crisis that the last government and the Tory policies of the 80s plunged us into. My parents bought their council house and I have no objection to those individuals who wish to take advantage of the policy but it should never have been brought in, in the first place. The whole thing got out of control with people buying their retired parents' and grandparents' houses for them. Apparently that was to "give them security" but having a tenancy with the council or local housing association is, I would say, pretty secure so there was no need. If we're honest most folk who did that were taking advantage of a situation where they could make / inherit a bit of money. Anyway it was great to be part of that today and I'm really looking forward to the next housing bill which will hopefully be done and dusted before the end of the session in April.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Morrisons to support homeless workers

I spent £18 in Morrisons today and I'm glad I did having seen this news story about their commitment to employing people who are homeless or vulnerable in other ways. Hoorah! It's a nightmare for people who don't have a permanent address to get a job and they often need support in other ways that most employers are just not willing to give. Ditto workers with mental health problems. Ditto workers with physical disabilities. So I applaud Morrison's for having the commitment to give a chance to folk who we have no reason to believe will be any better or worse than any other worker but who, more often than not, don't get the chance to prove it. I might shop there again next week!

Not ALL Glaswegians will be miserable tomorrow

Apparently today, Monday 1st November, is the most miserable day of the year and Glaswegians are the most miserable folk in the UK. (I would like to add that they mean "unhappy". I take "miserable" to mean "whingeing" which we most certainly are not.)

So, I've got news to cheer you up. If you live in Castlemilk that is. And you have to be on Jobseekers Allowance. If you do and if you are, I have persuaded FirstGlasgow that as of today you should be able to get half price bus fares to help you get out and about looking for work. I've sent over a thousand letters advertising the month long pilot scheme and there have been posters all over the place. But I'm still very keen to let people know.

If it works, FirstGlasgow will consider rolling it out across Greater Glasgow on a longer term basis and that would just be brilliant news. But if there's no interest, the idea will just fizzle out and that will be a great shame.

So, if you know anyone living in Castlemilk tell them about it please. Basically they get the zonecard from FirstBus for £7 for the week instead of the usual £14 but they have to get it in advance by sending proof of JSA, the money and a letter with contact details to FirstBus on Butterbiggins Road. I hope it will make a real difference to people's ability to get out and put themselves about on the job market.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Pointless checking at airports?

There's been much in the news this week about checks at airports. From British Airways Chairman Martin Broughton slamming the checks the Americans insist on but don't bother implementing at many of their own airports to the news that the bombs found inside printer cartridges at East Midlands Airport had been partly transported on passenger flights and not just cargo flights as first reported.

I think I probably agree with MB mainly because of the number of times I've inadvertently gone through with things I shouldn't have and have gone completely undetected. I once kept my laptop inside my bag (you're supposed to have it checked separately) but nobody noticed. I have taken bottles of water through, a nail file, various liquids in excess of 100ml and once I even took a parliament bottle of whisky through. I should explain that none of this was deliberate, I just (like everyone else) forget what goes in the hold, what goes on with you and what needs to come out the bag for them to check separately.

Once I remembered after I'd been through and went back to confess to a bottle of water!

But the point is that each time my bag has gone into that machine that searches it and each time there have been contraband items (which apparently have the potential to do great harm) and they've never noticed.

And although I was obviously not carrying anything damaging, the same can't be said of those bomb containing printer cartridges. (Good on the person who spotted them at East Midlands.) I didn't realise the USA had insisted on the checks. Nor did I know that they don't carry them out themselves. It begs the question why we are "kowtowing" as Martin Broughton said, in the first place? I'm inclined to agree with Mr B. Why don't we just decide what checks are actually necessary and then do them properly? Simples as they say on some TV ad!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Questioning Question Time

I have a cure for low blood pressure. It's called Question Time and it comes on of a Thursday evening around 10.30pm on BBC1. It's about politics in Britain. Sorry, PARTS of Britain. Apparently, according to the host David Dimbleby last night, the guests on the panel can only talk about things if they are related to the whole of the UK.

That's what he told Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last night when he ruled her answer to be unacceptable on the basis that she was explaining how the Scottish Government was dealing with the economic crisis and that only affected Scotland.

So what exactly was the point in having anyone from the Scottish Government or indeed the Scottish Parliament there then? Was he expecting her to answer on the basis of what she would do were she in power in the UK? How absurd!

If the rule is that panellists can only talk about UK wide issues I have 2 questions.

1) Why did David Dimbleby then, out of the blue, start talking about the Scottish Government decision to release Al Megrahi from a Scottish prison? And why did he ask all of the panellists for their opinion EXCEPT for Nicola Sturgeon, a representative of the government that actually made that decision? She got her point in but she really had to fight for the right to speak. Shocking.

2) Can we expect that all future programmes will stick to this absurd ruling and does this therefore mean I no longer have to sit through the panel talking about education and health like we all have the same education and health services but knowing that NONE of what they say applies in Scotland?

On the second point I'll be watching closely and I'll be emailing the show if they break their new rule. I'm expecting repetitive strain injuries galore!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Milibands win

Ed Miliband has won the Labour leadership contest on just over 50% of the final vote. His brother David got just under 50% of the vote. So some folk are spinning that and saying it shows the Labour Party will be split. What? Talk about havering! How on earth can a close run thing between two individuals who have no fundamental political differences be seen as an indicator of a split? They were both part of the government that took us into the Iraq war, that lead us into the current financial mess and that tried to introduce ID cards. Neither of them spoke out at the time - when it might have made a difference.

The only difference I can see between them is in their campaigning tactics in this leadership contest. Ed talked a good game about regaining the trust of the working classes. He also criticised the decision to go to war with Iraq. David didn't. Apart from that I'm thinking it makes no difference which of the brothers leads the party. And to call it a split in Labour is just a bit daft.

Now if Diane Abbot (of whom I am not a fan but who at least has fundamentally different views and the courage to express them whether she's standing for election or not), had got 49% to Ed's 51%, then we'd have had a bit of excitement and a definite split. As it is we'll have the same old, same old in new Labour.

Join me in celebrating recovery from addicition TODAY

I'm doing the UK Recovery Walk today. I'll be joining hopefully thousands of people from around the UK. The idea is that we walk "in solidarity and create living proof that recovery can and does happen". There's a full day of events starting at Glasgow Green at 2pm but the highlights will be the walk itself at 3pm and releasing the balloons at 6pm. We will release balloons in memory of those who've lost their lives to drug problems and addictions. I know who I'll be thinking of and although I think it will be hard for everyone to be there, it's an important message to get across - that you CAN recover from addiction. Many of the walkers today will be living proof of that.

"Glad to be Gay: MSP Anne McLaughlin on Coming Out"!

Had it not been for the email I got drawing my attention to the end of my article in this month's Scotsgay, I'm quite sure I would have spotted this headline sooner! I wrote a piece about media reporting when people "come out" and how the language is invariably negative. I talk about a male relative saying he'd been "accused" of being gay and how I explained that as there is nothing wrong with it, it's not worthy of accusation. Therefore I can only laugh at the cheekily misleading headline and look forward to being asked over and over again if it's true :-)

Less funny is the reason for the initial email. Actually I got a few emails from people expressing surprise that at the end of the article I say that I can't wait for the day when nobody "gives a f_ _ _" what your sexuality is. Except the article spells it out. No dashes, no asterisks, just the "f" word in all its glory.

Except that is NOT what I wrote. My words were "when nobody gives a ****"! The irony is that I was thinking of the word "damn" but thought it might be a bit offensive to some so I'd asterisk it instead. So how it changed I do not know. I don't want to kick up a big fuss but neither do I want anyone thinking I think it's acceptable to me to swear so casually - and in writing!

Apart from anything else, to me it just looks like MSP trying to kid on she's "down with the kids"! As you all know, I AM down with the kids but it's very uncool to draw attention to that fact! Anyway why not read the article and ignore the "bad word" at the end?

Friday, 24 September 2010

It's the final countdown

Today is the day they count the votes that determine the internal lists for the SNP candidates in next year's Holyrood elections. What it, in effect means is that by Monday we will all have a pretty good idea of our chances of getting elected as MSPs on the regional list next May. I have to say the great thing about the SNP is that none of us will allow our list place to affect our campaigns to win our seats first past the post. If I'm near the top of the list (and I don't expect to be) I'll still be doing everything I can to win in Provan. If I'm near the bottom of the list, the same goes. That said, it's a tense time for a lot of people.

I WASN'T feeling tense and I still wouldn't be if it wasn't for all the other candidates phoning texting and emailing to say "how you feeling?". One laughed when I said "about what?" and he thought I was joking but I wasn't. Now, of course, I'm thinking about it all the flamin time!!

And yet, at the grand old age of whatever age I am these days, I have been through enough changes and highs and lows in my life and I've started out down enough roads only to change direction shortly thereafter, to know that I will adjust to whatever the members of Glasgow SNP decide.

I will still fight to win my seat and, if that doesn't work, well I've still not ticked "soap star", "tap dancer", "international human rights campaigner" and "celebrated writer" off my "to do" list. That said, I started this job of mine in the worst of circumstances with no expectations and a lot of trepidation. I resigned myself to doing it for two and a half years but within weeks I loved it so I would willingly postpone the tap dancing for another four years if necessary.

Anyway good luck to everyone waiting on results and PLEASE stop talking to me about it, I want to think trivial thoughts for now thank you very much!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Equality vs instinct!

I was driving to Nicola Sturgeon's house last week with Nicola in the car when I heard the words "I should know not to get in a car with you" coming from the Deputy First Minister, just as a police car starts flashing me to stop! She's right, there have been a few dramas when Nicola's been in my car eg the time she bought hot soup in a service station and was drinking it when I had to brake suddenly and it ended up all over her face! So she really should know better.

Anyway the police were very nice. They were just stopping me to tell me a brake light was out. THEY were fine, it was MY reaction that astonished both myself and Nicola. As she said it was the way that I instantly and instinctively turned on the "stupid woman" act that was so alarming. The police officer told me the brake light was out and I replied (in a very much higher register than my voice is used to)

"oh, does that mean I will have to take it to the garage officer?".

Yes, I'm ashamed and I know not where it came from! I have fixed my own brake lights before, it's just a light bulb. What on earth was I doing? If the sisterhood out there wants to disown me, I will completely understand!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The very mention of my name ...

I had to smile to myself when a representative of a Glasgow campaigning group mentioned the solution she'd discovered to getting her local Labour MSP to do something for them. Apparently, this very forthright woman has worked out that all she has to do is mention my name to the nameless constituency MSP and it puts "a bullet up his backside". Any time :-)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Getting above our station in life

OK, I just wrote a great blog post about Joan McAlpine's article on Independence. And then blogger deleted it. I am not doing it all again and the point of it all was really just to recommend that you read it so it's published here if you want to do that. You should, particularly the first and last paragraph.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hustings today

It's the Glasgow SNP candidate hustings today! Eek! Yes probably my shortest post ever but that's all I can think of to say - "eek"!

First week back at parliament

What a week it's been. Because I kept working during recess, I forgot how different it is to be in parliament. It's not that you necessarily do more hours, it's just that those hours are more intense. This week I had my two committees which meant reading 20 odd petitions and all the responses from various bodies to them and digesting a number of audit reports. After that of course you have to actually attend the meetings and make your contribution. So this week I have a far greater understanding of things like difficulties imposed on gypsy travellers, and the wide variation in the cost of replacement hips used by different health boards!

And of course the debating chamber was in full throttle this week with Alex Salmond presenting the programme for government and the debate about the bills that will be laid before parliament between now and next May.

I spoke in the next debate (on Thursday) on the Independent Budget Review. I focussed on the cheek of Glasgow City Council who are wasting so much of our money and yet, want Glaswegians to be the only people in the country not to benefit from the council tax freeze. You can read my contribution here but you can't watch it online yet because they've only put half the debate up!

I also set up a Facebook Group which you can join here if you agree with me that Glasgow City Council ought to get their act together and stop wasting our money.

I also had 2 SNP meetings at night and various receptions and discussions so my head is spinning!

So that's it, back in the swing of things. Got today off and then heading over to Arran on Sunday and Monday for a petitions committee meeting. And so it begins again. The start of the week felt like going back to school but it's so busy and so intense that you get used to it again very quickly.

I'm really keen to speed up my blogging and to make it a routine part of my job because I think it's important you know what you're paying me to do. In the meantime if you'd like to receive my fortnightly E newsletter just send me your email address and I'll add you on.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Castlemilk Celebrations

Yesterday was a day to celebrate in Castlemilk and here we are doing it. "We" are myself and board members, staff, volunteers and service users of the Castlemilk Stress Centre. The celebration is because the centre closed in May but yesterday, after a lot of hard work and negotiations, we managed to re-open it. You can read more about it here but I like the words of Cathie, one of the board members who said the centre had "risen like a phoenix from the ashes". So true, such a tremendous victory for them and the people of Castlemilk.

They are looking for new board members so if you've a background in sales, marketing or business and are interested let me know and I'll put you in touch. You don't have to live in Castlemilk or even Glasgow, you just have to be able to commit a little bit of time and expertise. And you will be working with a very determined bunch of people so I guarantee it will be rewarding!

Great news on jobs for Glasgow

Good to have some good news for a change and really pleased to hear that Barclays Bank is creating 600 new jobs in Glasgow. Barclays were helped along in their decision by Scottish Enterprise funding but the good thing about that is there are certain conditions that go along with the funding. Those conditions could lead to the creation of up to 2000 jobs.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Let's reform this nonsensical benefits legislation

A friend of mine moved house last week. She is a single parent with 3 young beautifully brought up children, one boy and two girls. She went from a house in the East End of the city costing her £450 a month to a 4 bedroom house in a much more picturesque area of the East End costing her £700 a month.

She's not long stopped working and is on benefits so her rent will be paid for her. I can just imagine what the Daily Mail would make of this. How dare she? Would she have done that had she been working and paying the rent? What an outrage this woman taking advantage of the benefits system like this.

Except this woman had NO choice. She didn't want to leave. It was the benefits system that forced her into it.

Natalie (not her real name) owns the first house but when she lost her job a while back and ended up on benefits, she discovered that only part of her mortgage (the interest) would be paid for her. So she was having to find £170 a month out of her income support. It doesn't take a mathematician to work out that this was nigh on impossible.

So she's fallen behind with payments and is now set to hand the house over to the bank. (I'm hoping we can help her find another way but that's how it stands right now and one thing is certain, she can't afford to stay there.) She's moved to rented accommodation and has been assured that all of the £700 will be paid in housing benefit.

How utterly ridiculous is this? There is a choice to be made. Either we (I say we because we're taxpayers) pay the £450 a month to cover the mortgage or we pay £700 a month to cover the rent. Er, let me think ... what would make more sense?

What we've actually done is put the bill to the taxpayer up from £280 a month (the amount they paid toward her mortgage) to £700. Clever! Not!

Not forgetting all the knock on effects to her credit rating, her ability to buy again, her ability to get back into work and off of benefits (now that she has to find £700 a month from any wages) and the disruption to her children, not to mention Natalie herself who just does not deserve this!

It just doesn't make sense to me. And I live by the maxim that if something is right, we have a duty to make it happen; if something is wrong, we have a duty to make it stop. So I'll be campaigning to have this ridiculous situation stopped as part of any welfare reforms being looked at by the ConDem Government. Surely even they can see that it is just common sense!

The real tax fraudsters

Another legacy of debt from the last Labour government was revealed last week - the "debt" of around 6 million people who, through no fault of their own, have been paying the wrong income tax. Over a million of those people have been underpaying and will be hit with bills averaging £1500 which they'll have to pay over the next year. For some of those people, this is a horrendous legacy / millstone round their necks. Many people these days are really struggling and budgeting hard to pay their bills and not get into debt. And yet they ARE in debt and it's the fault of HMRC. What I want to know is will these people be allowed to work out a manageable repayment plan? If not and they get into debt because of it, what help will the Westminster government give them? (After all they caused the problems in the first place.)

I also want to know how much effort is going to go into recovering tax from folk who actively avoid / evade paying it. It's always happened and it's much harder to detect than benefit fraud because it tends to be people of wealth who do it. And when you already have wealth, you can buy ways to hide the evidence. When I was at drama school in the 80s, we still had grants. My parents were nurses. I got a half grant. There were several children of millionaires in my class and they ALL seemed to be on the maximum grant. It's just how it is when you can afford to get someone to massage your figures.

But it's now how it should be. So whilst the Westminster government is pursuing folk for unpaid tax that they knew nothing about, how about they put resources and intelligence into tracking down people who are getting wealthier and wealthier by actively and criminally avoiding paying the tax that everyone else has no choice about?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Keep pressing on Nicola

Excellent. Nicola Sturgeon has announced the proposed minimum price per unit of alcohol as 45p per unit. She never was one to be phased by opponents if she believed in what she was doing and she is passionately committed to eradicating Scotland's horrendous relationship with alcohol. The opponents, of course, are primarily opposition politicians with games to play and the Labour alcohol commission that decided it was all too hard for us daft wee Scots so we'd better let the Tory government in Westminster sort it all out. Supporters include most experts in the field.

I keep saying this but it's worth repeating. For me the best thing about minimum pricing is that it will strongly discourage young kids and young adults without an income from buying cheap potent alcohol as they can do right now. It's not about stopping alcoholics from buying it, as many have said if you're addicted you'll do what you have to do to get your hands on drink - that, is a different problem that needs to be tackled differently. What this will do is make it far less likely that folk will start drinking in the first place.

I am working with folk in the East End of Glasgow right now looking at how we can deal with gang violence and they tell me the trigger is almost always young folk hanging about the streeets with nothing to do but drink the easily gotten (because it's so cheap) potent alcohol you can buy with your pocket money. Well no more! Scotland's had enough. The SNP Government's had enough and it's time to get our alcohol problems sorted once and for all.

Jim Murphy talking up Independence - but not for Scotland

It was music to my ears when I was at a dinner last week and Jim Murphy got up to speak. The Labour MP who used to be the Secretary of State for Scotland (for that read full time anti SNP campaigner) was sweet talking the crowd. He spoke of a modern, independent nation taking back its rightful state from Britain and becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

He talked about the pride and joy that went into growing their independent nation. Oh he just waxed lyrical about independence.

For India.

Ha! Did I have you fooled there? Did you honestly think Jim Murphy would EVER have anything good to say about his own country? Course he doesn't.

We were both speaking at a dinner to celebrate Indian Independence Day and I couldn't cope with his hypocrisy so I talked about how much I admired India for doing what I've always wanted my country to do. He did not like it! But I didn't really care because I don't much like his attitude either.

I had a really enjoyable evening and met some lovely people but I'm not going to speak at a dinner and celebrate another country's independence and ignore the fact that my country doesn't have it yet! They invited an SNP MSP so I don't think many of them were surprised. I think he was though and he started heckling me.

Toward the end of my speech he started talking in a very loud voice (so grown up) and I was clearly getting to him. It may have been when I said that it was great to be celebrating the independence of India and that if it took till the day I died to get Independence for Scotland then so be it. I think his ilk feel uncomfortable with genuine passion for a cause and it frightens them that no matter what happens, we will not give up.

He may also have been aware that one or two people were starting to take my point about celebrating the Independence of one nation whilst denying the people of another the right even to vote on it. I know this because a few people approached me at the end to tell me they were going to go away and think about that one. One woman also thanked me for adding a bit of excitement and controversy - apparently it's not the done thing at these events but she reckons I might start a trend!

It's all part of my conscious decision that I will NOT apologise for wishing my country to be independent. I am PROUD of the cause for which I fight and I'm not having anyone tell me I can't talk about it as they frequently do. You see it a lot in the parliament. Should any SNP MSP dare to mention the "I" word in committee or in the debating chamber, they're met with either loud exaggerated yawns, booed at or heckled to "change the record".

Well we won't be changing the record, in fact I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that we'll all be playing that one over and over and turning up the volume as high as necessary in the not too distant future.

We are not the ones with something to apologise for. Those who hypocritically celebrate independence for any nation other than their own are the ones who ought to be sorry - let's make sure at next year's election that they are!