Saturday, 27 February 2010

A Day in the Life ...

Wednesdays are generally the busiest in an MSP's diary because you're in parliament, probably have a committee meeting and will, at some stage be in the debating chamber. Then at night it's usual to attend one of the parliamentary receptions organised on behalf of charities, voluntary organisations and the like. Wednesday evenings are the most popular for these receptions because if MSPs are staying over in Edinburgh that's the night they tend to do it.

So it's always busy on a Wednesday but today topped the league of busy Wednesdays. I barely had time to catch my breath. Here's how it went:

* 7am left the house for the 7.30 train on which I read over my committee papers again.
* 8.45am went through paperwork and emails for an hour.
* 9.45am audit committee pre meeting followed by actual meeting at 10am.
* 12.45pm audit committee ends.
* 12.50pm meeting Earth Hour campaigners outside parliament.
* 1.05pm meeting Electric Scooter company outside parliament.
* 1.30pm SNP Group meeting till 2pm.
* 2.15pm to 5.10pm in debating chamber.
* 5.30pm to 7pm meeting at SNP HQ.
* 7.30pm to 11pm dinner briefing.

So, if sometimes it takes a while for me to answer your email or phone call, now you know why. I'll get there eventually but we do get days and even weeks when there is literally no time to do anything but run from meeting to meeting!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Save Castlemilk Stress Centre

This lady here is Cathie Crawford from Simshill in the South East of Glasgow. I met Cathie today when I went along to find out about Castlemilk Stress Centre which has just had its funding withdrawn by the council. Myself and local SNP councillor Dave Ritchie were invited along with SNP group leader Cllr James Dornan (to the right of the pic if you look closely!).

I'm going to be helping them with their campaign to keep it open so expect to be hearing more from me on this one.

In brief, they provide a brilliant service for people with stress related conditions - that can be depression or anxiety or it can be mental illness or addiction problems - throughout a huge chunk of the Southside of Glasgow. They provide the right kind of services that really tackle the problems and I'll talk some more about this in another post.

At the end of January they were told out of the blue that their £80,000 funding from the Community Health & Care Partnership would end at the end of March. No consultation, nothing. Fifteen people out of jobs but more importantly (even to the dedicated staff) all those volunteers who got their lives back on track thanks to the CSC and all the current service users, dumped!

Cathie Crawford is one of them. She was outside collecting signatures on a petition when I left. Cathie is a former Barras worker so she has no problem in approaching people and she and the other service users will be fighting to the end to keep this service.

Cathie isn't doing it for herself. She used the service when her husband died a number of years back and when she no longer needed the centre, she asked to train as a therapist. She now works voluntarily for them and so, more than most, she knows the value of this crucial community service.

Expect to read more about it over the coming weeks and if you want to help in anyway get in touch with me and I'll put you in touch with them. They've only got 5 weeks left and over the next few days I'll give you many reasons why it just doesn't make sense for them to close.

Hola mis amigas y mis amigos

Si, I am back! I got back from Lanzarote last night and if I felt a little cheated by the weather over there, I felt like stowing away on the return flight as soon as I landed at Prestwick. It's not right that it should be so cold. We've got to invent some laws against this. One minute I'm strolling barefoot (nearly) along the promenade en las Canarias, next I'm donning thermal vests and 3 layers on top as I shiver me timbers in my ground floor flat!

Anyway, I won't complain. It was great to get away. I just have to stop letting my imagination run away with me. I pictured deep blue skies, brilliant sunshine and sparkling turquoise waters. And I'm sure that's what they've got this week but most of last week it was gale force winds and torrential rain. However, on the plus side, there were 3 days with long periods of warm and dry weather and one day of brilliant sunshine and we should NEVER underestimate the benefits of just being able to sit outside and watch the world go by. So the sun wasn't quite as brilliant as I'd imagined it but it was warm and I was by the ocean and therefore, I was happy.

Just before I left my "good" mate Mhairi (she brings reality to my overactive imagination) wished me a good holiday with the words "but remember you're a jinx on holiday"! She's referring to a few wee problems I've encountered in the past - missing TWO flights back from Barcelona because nobody told me there was more than one airport! / missing the flight back from Marseille (because of her incidentally) and having a 24 hour hike across France to get home (and a £200 bill) / missing the flight back from Paris because I didn't know you could get more than one terminal at an airport (it was LONG time ago) / excitedly joining in a "potato game" in Spain and finding myself £50 out of pocket in what I realised later was a SCAM not a game / finding a dead body as I swam in Gran Canaria - er, no silver lining with that one!

So, with those words ringing in my ears and the memories of the "adventures" (all character building I feel) off I went. My Spanish teacher (la profesora) said to me one day "I don't understand, this rain, this wind, I have lived here 22 years and NEVER have I seen anything like it" and I looked away guiltily, like it was MY fault!

Anyway, not being one to sit about doing nothing, when I realised there was to be not a lot of sunshine, I decided to enrol in the Academia de Espanol - a language school. It was great. I'd tried to learn last year but then I went and got elected and had time for nothing! So it was brilliant to take it up again and I'm determined I'm going to carry on this time.

For all the Spanish speakers out there I do know that the title of this post should be "mis amigos" rather than "amigas" but I'm rebelling. "Amigo" is the word for a male friend and "amiga" for female. However if you are addressing a group of people and just ONE of them is male, doesn't matter if 99 are female, you have to use the masculine. Well I'm not having it, I will have a different version of the Spanish language!

Anyway that's me, back to work this morning and although not tanned, I do feel the benefit of time away which is just as well because there are battles coming up that need to be won! Adios!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Don't take your foot off the pedal - send this letter PLEASE!

I'm off on holiday for a few days so won't be blogging till I'm back. I just wanted to give a quick update on the situation with Florence and Precious Mhango. I'm a little bit worried that all the headlines from last week about them winning their High Court hearing (which means they can no go forward to a judicial review of their case) might make people think they're safe and / or there's nothing more ordinary members of the public can do. That's NOT the case - now is when we really can do something significant to help them.

I went round on Thursday evening to visit. Precious answered the door to me and gave me the biggest smile. She giggled when I remarked that it was the first time I'd seen her teeth but it's true, she's never smiled that broadly before. It was lovely to see. I would love to show you some photographs but they must be sick of being photographed. They are of course grateful for all the press coverage that's been so supportive of them but it's draining for them. So I was glad to be able to just pop by and NOT be clicking away on the camera.

Anyway it's good news for the moment and although it's highly significant, their fight is far from over. They have to win the judicial review and as the time grows closer the pressure will again start to build for both of them. Precious will be afraid to go to school again, they may have to raise the money for the review and before you know it they'll be suffering sleepless nights or nightmares again.

So, I've written to Alan Johnson the Home Secretary asking him to drop the legal objections and just grant them leave to remain. I think they've been through enough and let's face it, they've been here nearly 7 years, it seems a bit ridiculous to be sending them home now.

Anyway PLEASE, if you support their fight, don't see last week's victory as a reason to take your foot off the pedal. Below is a sample letter. Please either send it or something similar to Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary. It is not unknown at this stage for this to happen but the more we can help that decision along, the better. The sooner it happens the sooner they can get on with their lives.

Thanks for your support.

Your Name and Address

Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP
Home Secretary
Home Office
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street


Dear Mr Johnson

Florence and Precious Mhango, Cranhill, Glasgow

You will be aware that the Mhango family have won full permission in the High Court to proceed to a full hearing regarding their claim for asylum.

I am writing to ask you to now consider dropping all the legal objections to their claim. I know you have to the power to use your discretion and I do not believe it would be asking too much, nor setting any precedents for you to drop the need for a judicial review and simply grant them indefinite leave to remain.

I believe Precious in particular has been through enough and the continuing pressure on her from never knowing how long she has got to be with her friends, how long it will be before she is locked up again and whether or not she will spend the rest of her life in Malawi or her home in Scotland.

There are a number of reasons why I believe Precious and her mum should be allowed to stay:

1) She has lived here for almost 7 of her 10 years and is fully integrated. She loves living in Glasgow and her friends and neighbours love her and see her as one of them.
2) There is no doubt that if returned to Malawi, Precious’ father’s family will claim her as is their legal right, and she will be parted from her mother.
3) In addition to the trauma of being parted from her mother, Precious will have to adjust to African life – the language barrier, the possibility of her education being ended in less that 2 years and the danger of being forced to go through female genital mutilation.

Yours sincerely


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

They won!

The news came through late this afternoon that the High Court in London has found in favour of Precious and Florence Mhango.
The correct terminology is that full permission has been granted to proceed to a full hearing.
Basically they're one more step along the way to winning the right to remain in the UK. This is fantastic news and I will post later with my idea of how YOU can help them to do that.
For now let me tell you they are very very happy. Precious wasn't doing her usual whispering when I spoke to her a couple of hours ago - her voice was strong, she sounded excited, she sounded like a normal wee girl.
Thank you everyone who helped. There's more to be done. Now is the time to STEP UP the campaign but tonight, let's just enjoy the good news.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Decision Day for Precious and her Mum

I think I've said all I can about Florence and Precious Mhango for the moment. I'm all talked out. All I will do is tell you that their appeal for a judicial review of the decision to deport them to Malawi, will be heard in the High Court in London tomorrow, Wednesday.
And all I will ask for tomorrow, is that you think of them.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Why do we obsess over borders? What about PEOPLE?


I have just caught a bit of The Politics Show where there is a panel including Phil Woolas the Minister of State for the UK Border Agency, debating asylum and immigration and it made me want to weep.

Some of the audience are having that effect on me but hearing a Labour MP trying to outdo the Tory is just so depressing. What hope have we got when the only two parties who can win in England (and thus the UK) are competing to see who can get to the far right the quickest?

I believe in nations. I believe in national identity and culture. Of course I do. I believe in having borders between countries in the same way I am quite happy for Glasgow to have its own council distinct from, say, East Renfrewshire. But I believe in all of that for positive reasons one of which is bringing democracy closer to the people. I don't believe in having separate borders as a way of forgetting our responsibility as global citizens.

I would love to hear this audience talking about the British Empire of old. What are their thoughts on the countries that we invaded, took over, milked dry and then left, not forgetting to throw a few crumbs their way? Was THAT movement of people okay?

Is it only okay if WE are moving between countries?

One thing Phil Woolas did point out (he said it proudly but I'm just using it to illustrate a point) was that the UK is 13th on the list of European countries in terms of intake of asylum seekers.

The feeling I got from much of the audience and the Labour and Tory MPs when they were talking about a new Borders Police Force amongst other measures was that they were giving no thought at all to the actual people involved.

I accept we have to have limits but seeing as we're 13th amongst European nations, I hardly think we're bursting at the seams. Phil Woolas ought to spend a little bit of time with some of the people I've met who've fled situations so horrific and so violent that your worst nightmare wouldn't come close! Perhaps then he'd have the guts to stand up and say that we OWE a duty of care to fellow human beings fleeing to the UK often from countries we've stuck our noses into in the past.

Phase 2 of the campaign and how YOU CAN HELP

This is Precious Mhango and her mum Florence. Yesterday I joined loads of Cranhill supporters in the City Centre of Glasgow as we gave out Valentine's Cards asking shoppers to think about the strongest love of all - that between a parent and child - and to do something to preserve the love between Florence and her little girl.

It would have been far too stressful for them to be there themselves given that their appeal hearing is this Wednesday in the high court so it was better that they just carry on as normal.

But I went round to visit and to accompany a photographer from the Scotland on Sunday. Obviously I asked their permission and I make it easy for them to say no, which they have done. But I know and they know that getting coverage in newspapers can only help so they agreed to do it. It didn't stop me feeling uncomfortable about the whole thing and I cannot wait for the day when they never need to do anything like that again.

They wanted to thank everyone for helping so far and so I took a few photos myself. As you can see, Florence is doing her best to smile but Precious has gone back to how she looked when I visited her in Dungavel last November - she's just completely bewildered and terrified by it all. I can't even imagine what it's like to be that little girl right now.

Please keep helping. Last week we launched phase 2 of the letter writing campaign. If you wrote to the Home Office asking for their release, thank you - it worked! They need you to write again, this time simply asking for the Home Secretary to use his discretion and grant them indefinite leave to remain. He can call off the Home Office lawyers before the appeal on Wednesday or after it regardless of the outcome. He can do that and you only have to do a quick search of "Precious" on my blog to find reasons why he should.

Please write URGENTLY to:

Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP
Home Secretary
Home Office
Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street

Thank you!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Remembering Bashir Ahmad MSP

I am feeling very quiet tonight. Different to BEING quiet. Inside I feel quiet. I'm remembering Friday night this time last year. It's funny but I was in the office in Glasgow till about 7 tonight, achieving nothing much but feeling out of sorts - you know the way it is when you're faffing about and you don't know why you don't just go home.

My friend Mhairi reminded me that I was in the office at 7 on Friday night this time last year when I heard that Bashir Ahmad had died. I was working for Bob Doris MSP at the time and our office was in the same unit as Bashir's. I was working late because I was due to go to Dublin for 4 days the following morning.

Bashir's light was still on and I made a note to go in and tell him it was hometime and to go home and rest. As I was about to do that, I got a text saying "Bashir is dead". I really didn't think it was real partly because it was a text message and partly because his light was on! So I went in to make sure it wasn't true. And there was Humza who worked for Bashir and it was obvious from the state he was in that it was true.

I didn't realise it at the time but my life was about to change dramatically as a result. At that moment though, all I could do was try to get my head round the fact that this lovely kind man with the most amazing generosity of spirit had gone. You often hear people talking about how someone's death has left a gap that can't be filled. It's true of Bashir. There is not a single day I don't think about him and when I do I have a little smile to myself. Tonight, remembering that Friday night a year ago, I'm not smiling, I'm just remembering and wishing.

I know I won't be the only one. He made a huge impact on so many people and I know they'll all be thinking of him on the actual anniversary which is tomorrow, 6th February.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Look! I met Shirley and Gina!!!

Oh dear! Poor Libby McArthur and Barbara Rafferty from River City amongst other things! They had the misfortune to be sat at my table at the Scotswoman of the Year Award! I really was the wrong person to be at that table. I've always felt I've never really put my 3 years at drama school to proper use so I am doing my best to change all that by trying to get myself an audition for RC! They claimed that they didn't deal with that side of things. But I could tell they were weakening by the end of the night. Probably just losing the will to live :-) Still, it'll be worth it in the end. And if that doesn't work out maybe Barbara could get me an audition for Rab C!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Wear RED this Friday

I was contacted last week by a fantastic charity called Glasgow the Caring City. They'd heard that I'd hosted a meeting of MSPs with members of the Disasters and Emergency Committee about the work they are doing following the horrific earthquake in Haiti.

They (along with their branches in Dundee and Inverclyde and their partner charity World Emergency Relief) have organised a RedDay4Haiti which is an awareness and fund raising day this Friday in which members of the public wear red - presumably to signify the emergency and the need for us to be on alert for Haiti for a very long time.

Anyway my role is to convince the 129 MSPs to wear red in the parliamentary chamber tomorrow and I'm delighted to say there seems to be much agreement that we should do it. Fiona Hyslop, as the External Affairs Minister has been very supportive and I suppose it helps that she suits red! But across the chamber MSPs seem to like the idea so we shall see how it goes tomorrow.

A number of schools across the country are taking part on Friday so I would appeal to everyone out there to speak to your colleagues, neighbours, student friends, schoolfriends and members of whatever club you belong to, to wear red on Friday and I'll apologise in advance to all the gingers out there who tell me it clashes!

It's for a good cause - to make sure we don't forget Haiti. Already more than 50% of Scots have donated to the Haiti appeal so I have a feeling we won't be forgetting them. The image above is from Glasgow Caring City's appeal for the work they are doing in Haiti so please do send that text. Thank you.
Glasgow the Caring City is a Registered Charity in Scotland Number SC029090

Monday, 1 February 2010

Labour "easy" re councillor's expenses claims

What to make of this story today.

Perhaps best not to comment and simply to highlight a few extracts.

"South Lanarkshire councillor John McNamee has quit the party which had initiated disciplinary procedures against him over concerns over his expense claims and were investigating him over alleged “inappropriate behaviour” at a social function."

Councillor McNamee on Labour's reaction to those concerns?

“I have spoken to the Labour Party nationally and at local level about what is essentially an internal SNP group matter with no other ramifications and they are easy with that.”

Say no more!

Cheice is Nice

My friend Mik has invented a game called Cheice. It's chess with dice. As you can see from the photo the dice don't have numbers but chess pieces on them. Your pieces can make the same moves as in chess but which piece you move with is determined by the throw of the dice.
It's genius, it really is. It's great for folk who like chess but don't like waiting half an hour for the person opposite to deliberate! And it's a great way to get kids interested and gradually learn to play chess.
It's at quite an advanced stage of development for the board game and he's in talks with mobile phone providers for a mobile version of the game. I always knew that Mik would be a stunning success one day and I predict it won't be long till we see Cheice all over the place.
Tonight the guy on the right in the picture won the 2nd annual Cheice Championships at the Laurieston Bar in Glasgow. It was a tense final, nearly as bad as watching the tennis this morning!