Thursday, 29 April 2010

Is Gillian a bigot?

I’ve said what I have to say about Gordon Brown’s “private” comments about Gillian, the Labour voter he branded “a bigoted woman”. I want to look now at the wider issues that have arisen as a result of those comments.

It’s true, the woman did mention immigration but mentioning it and asking perfectly reasonable questions about the effect she believes it has on her local community does not make her a bigot. The whole argument about immigration and asylum seekers has become largely polarised and the result is that people who DON’T KNOW the answers, are scared to ask the questions for fear of being branded “racist” or “bigoted”.

If they’re scared to ask the questions, how do we hope to dispel the many myths surrounding these issues?

As anyone who’s read this blog knows I’ve recently been involved in a very high profile campaign to save my constituents, a 32 year old Malawian asylum seeker and her 10 year old daughter from deportation. I’ve written about it a fair bit and of course it’s attracted the inevitable criticism from people telling me to “do what we pay you to do and that’s to help your constituents” clearly meaning the ones that aren’t asylum seekers. The most abusive emails are always anonymous of course because I think people know when their views are unpalatable.

I’m pleased to say the overwhelming majority of people who’ve contacted me have done so to say the opposite and those who haven’t, have asked questions they are perfectly entitled to ask.

However the episode yesterday reminded me of a guy I met during the Glasgow North East by election. I chapped on his door and I explained who I was and why I was there. He seemed very nice but didn’t have much time for politicians. (NB I rarely meet anyone with a bad experience of a politician who doesn’t then decide we’re “all the same”!).

When I asked him why, he said he felt we never did anything for “ordinary” people and we really weren’t interested. Obviously I know this not to be true but I hear it so much that I really wanted to understand where he was getting this impression. He then said that he felt politicians were only interested in “minority” groups and if you weren’t black, an asylum seeker, homosexual or a list of other “categories” then we didn’t want to know.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard that from a constituent but for some reason he really struck a chord with me. Possibly because he said all the right things in terms of believing that everyone including the minority groups he’d mentioned, had a right to representation. Perhaps because he reassured me he’d rather die than vote BNP. And it may have had something to do with the fact that he wasn’t attacking me but seemed genuinely sad that he had lost his faith in the political process.

However they manage to get that impression, some people genuinely do believe that the political process is not about them because they don’t happen to be in a “minority” group. And it’s something that we, as politicians, have to look at. We need to figure out how we continue to do the work we’re doing but without alienating anyone. We need to do it for them and for people in those “minority” groups who then, unfairly, become a target for resentment.

Although I say he struck a chord with me, it didn’t happen right away. It would have been easy for me to dismiss him as a bigot and that’s what I was thinking initially. I retorted in my usual way by “reassuring” him that should his government want to execute him for no particular reason, or should he be abused in the street because of who he fell in love with, I would be very happy to fight for him too.

He took my point and thus the mellowing of this particular politician.

And I explained rather more gently this time that the vast majority of constituents for whom I am fighting are not asylum seekers and I wouldn’t have a clue about their sexuality. But you don’t hear about these cases because on the whole, their issues are about someone’s incompetence rather than institutionalised injustice. That neither requires nor attracts publicity whereas the latter often does.

And whilst I fight equally hard for all of my constituents, if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s injustice. I don’t imagine anybody likes it but I really cannot bear to hear about people suffering unnecessarily. And the idea that some people for whatever reason, feel unable to do anything about it for themselves, drives me to distraction.

In doing all of this however, I need to be mindful of the need to connect with and do my best to represent everyone out there, including people like the voter in Glasgow North East who may have different views to me but who, let’s face it, could be your brother or your son. And just because he doesn’t see life the way you or I might see it, doesn’t mean he won’t one day. And if he never does? Well I still believe in equality regardless of someone's sexual orientation, race or inability to see things the way I do!

Everyone deserves to be represented, everyone deserves support when they’ve been treated wrongly. Sometimes people become so worn down with their own lives that they simply don’t have room to care about anyone else. But when people feel that their problems are being listened to, they’re far more likely to care about everyone else’s problems.

So I will carry on fighting against injustice, I will stand up for equality and for compassion and I will be there for anyone who needs my help – even those who have no interest in any of what I’ve just said. Even those who might be classed as “bigots”. After all, if I refuse to fight for the rights of my constituents who have different views to me, does that not make me a bigot too? I think if you check the dictionary you’ll find I’m right.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

SNP Court Battle not over yet!

So we lost the court battle today to get an interdict forcing the BBC to either include the SNP in its final Election Debate or to only show it outwith Scotland. We lost it on a number of counts including the "wholesale disruption" it would cause if the court were to agree to the SNP's request.

It may be over in terms of tomorrow's debate but it's not over in terms of the legal battle and the judicial review moves on.

No court ruling however, can take away from the fact that it is COMPLETELY UNJUST for the SNP to be excluded. After all, these debates are what seem to be having the biggest influence on voting intentions at this election. That was plain to see when suddenly the Lib Dems shot up in popularity simply because Nick Clegg impressed folk at the first debate.

From our point of view, we're competing with the Lib Dems in Scotland. They were not a huge threat to our vote in Scotland until that debate. And now, not because they've suddenly come up with great policies but because their leader came across well in a debate, they are a threat to our vote. People who might have voted SNP will be considering the Lib Dems more seriously.

And how can we have an equal chance? By participating in one of the debates. That's all we were asking for but the BBC denied us that chance. As Nicola said earlier we'll now move on to another court, the court of the people of Scotland. But if we thought we had a fight on our hands before, it just got a whole lot more difficult - free publicity to millions of voters for Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems vs ordinary foot soldiers in the SNP knocking on doors. Ach, it's the way we've always worked, we'll just have to get on with it.


I felt really sorry for Gillian today. Who's Gillian? Don't you follow the election coverage? Gillian is the woman Gordon Brown was caught calling a bigot when he left her, not realising his mike was still on. I felt really sorry for her because you could see she was upset and to my knowledge she didn't say anything bigoted.

If she had done however, there would have been nothing wrong with what he said. This idea that politicians have to be nice to everyone even when that person is being offensive (as happens now and again) is daft, it makes us fake and people don't want us to be fake they want us to be honest. For example, seeing as I've never diddled my expenses, if someone accuses me of doing so (as they have done, total strangers who have never even heard of me) I don't waste time doing the "typical politician" thing, I don't smile through gritted teeth, I stick up for myself in the way anybody would if they were accused of theft!

Just as folk don't want us to be fake, neither do they want us to be perfect super humans. So they'll forgive us the odd faux pas (or fox's paw as my Granny Purdie called it). And that's why today's incident between Gillian and Gordon Brown will blow over - if the press allow it to. Everyone says things they don't really mean when they're under pressure. He was probably feeling awkward and a bit stressed in a situation that he's not naturally comfortable in and was expressing that by doing what most folk do and blaming someone else. It wasn't very nice but we all do and say not very nice things occasionally.

I think I'm ultra sensitive to other people but trust me, I am not blame free and like most folk out there, I've expressed my annoyance with people behind their back. I bet you have too. And I bet, like me, if you thought they were going to hear what you said, you wouldn't DREAM of saying it.

I can understand all the fuss about the Labour candidate whose twitter page CONTINUALLY demonstrated his contempt for ordinary people but this is different. Gordon Brown may well have contempt for ordinary people but what happened today is not necessarily an indication of that.

If you want a reason not to vote for him try the Iraq war, nuclear weapons, the "British jobs for British workers" comment but don't judge his whole suitability as PM on one stupid throwaway comment. I hope Gillian't not too upset by the media frenzy of today.

Not sure how to vote? Try this.


Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Paxman nailed by Plaid Cymru economist

Thank you

Thanks to everyone who donated to the SNP legal fund appeal. Within 31 hours we raised the £50,000 required to take our case for fair representation from the BBC to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Nicola Sturgeon and Bruce Crawford are doing that this morning and we will await the outcome. Well done to them for such a bold move and thank you to everyone who donated - I know many people who are NOT party members who went online and made a donation because they feel SCOTLAND is being ignored in all of this, not just the SNP. I also read on Cllr Alison Thewliss' Facebook that an elderly lady popped into John Mason's campaign HQ to donate £10 towards it. Brilliant stuff and let's hope the court ruling goes in our favour today.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Preserve the Union - a guide for unionists

The Common People - lest we forget

I wonder why they don't want Alex Salmond in the "big boys'" debates?

From the STV online tracking of the Sky News Scotland Debates programme with Alex Salmond and others.

Bold move by SNP but we need your help

We have until midnight on Monday to raise £50,000 for the Scottish National Party to take the bold and risky strategy of challenging the BBC at the Court of Session over its refusal to include the SNP in the final Leaders' Debate.

If we can raise the money by midnight on Monday, the SNP will be at court on Tuesday morning trying to overturn the decision of the public service broadcaster to publicise 3 of the main parties and completely exclude the party which currently governs Scotland.

Stand up for Scotland, let our voices be heard, donate what you can afford here.

Thank you!

Not enough images on this blog - let's put that right

The Scotland Debate - live on Sky News

So, immigration didn't cause high unemployment says Jim Murphy? I agree, obviously. But he better have a wee chat to his mate Ian Davidson, the Labour candidate for Glasgow South West. He put out a newsletter and said he'd be doing all he could to bring unemployment down and at the same time keep an eye on immigration, thus linking the two in the mind of the public. Calls himself a socialist too!

We're poorer than Ireland and Iceland - whatever Labour say

I spoke in the Economy Debate in Parliament on Thursday. Unfortunately I was so angry at the hypocrisy of the Labour motion that I seem to have damaged my throat! Anyway you can read why here if you're interested. During the debate I called on the Labour Party to apologise to countries like Iceland and Ireland for the despicable glee with which they've talked about their recent economic difficulties.

When Ireland and Iceland got into trouble (like the UK did, remember) folk like Jim Murphy and George Foulkes were cock-a-hoop and almost singing it from the rooftops because those two countries are part of the "arc of prosperity" often referred to as examples of small independent nations who, surprise surprise could look after themselves.

So when their economies got into trouble (again, like the UK's did) this lot used it as "evidence" that they couldn't look after themselves and therefore neither could Scotland. Bit of a strange analysis but that's what happens when you clutch at straws.

Now, however, the International Monetary Fund forecasting (generally very accurate) tells us that Ireland and Iceland will both, between 2010 and 2014, be wealthier per head of population than the UK. Norway of course will be a great deal wealthier but they were lucky, they discovered oil and gas. Hmmmm.

Economic recovery is not dependent on the size of the country but how your government tackles the problems and that is the point. We are dependent on a government based in London which will always use economic levers to tackle the economy of the South East of England, our neighbouring country. Ireland and Iceland will use the best economic levers for Ireland and Iceland and they'll either get it right or they'll get it wrong depending on how smart their government is.

The real disgrace here is that politicians representing Scotland, ie representing us, embarrassed Scotland by jumping for joy when the people of Ireland and Iceland were facing such tough times. The Labour opponent of Angus Brendan McNeill MP actually said the words "Iceland's finished, so is Ireland's economy" on Radio Scotland on Friday.

Can you imagine how we would feel if Irish politicians were now to be saying such disrespectful things about our country? I know that desperate times call for desperate measures but I really do think the Labour Party are not fit to be in power if they cannot control themselves and behave respectfully to our friends in other countries.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Don't let them suppress your voice

I always think it suits certain political parties that there are such high numbers of people who don't vote and so many who are not even registered to vote. These tend to be the people who are most disillusioned and it suits some politicians because they know if the most disillusioned voters actually did vote, it wouldn't be for them.

I was shocked recently to read that 100,000 people in Glasgow alone have not registered to vote. That is just crazy, that's giving up and not even trying to make yourself heard. If you're one of those people you can still register. You have until tomorrow, Tuesday 20th April to fill in this simple form here and take it to the registration office in Queen Street. Post it today first class, take it in tomorrow or tell me and I'll get someone to hand it in for you. But whatever you do, don't lose your vote!

And if you live outside Glasgow, go to this website and get your form and address where you should submit it. It will take all of ten minutes and it may seem like a small thing but it isn't - being able to vote is one of the foundations of our democracy and if you're not registered, you are in effect saying you don't mind not being included in the democratic process.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The world's grinding to a halt!

Half the world has been plunged into chaos because of the volcano in Iceland and it's affecting things I hadn't even thought about. Teachers only have certain times they can go on holiday (more than most of course but there's no flexibility) and the result is that many go away at Easter. Now there are many of them stuck abroad. So what happens to the kids, who teaches them?

And there's a plane full of armed forces personnel who've been fighting in Afghanistan, stuck in Cyprus. They were coming home for well deserved (and no doubt desperately needed) family time but they've no chance. And given that members of the armed forces have to take the time travelling home out of their annual leave days (which is outrageous), they're unlikely to get any of that time back. Imagine their kids excitedly waiting to see them and not being able to. My dad was in the army and I remember when he had to go away it was terrible. So the excitement in the house when he was coming home for a visit was almost at fever pitch.

It's all very well being stuck in a nice hot country for an extra few days / week / an indeterminate period of time but if you can't afford it, what are you supposed to do? Expect to hear some dreadful stories over the next few weeks and spare a thought right now for those who want to and need to come home but can't.

Calls for Alex Salmond to run England!

So often when you listen to English arguments about Scotland having its own parliament and whether or not England should, the resentment towards us becomes obvious. Why are they getting free education? How come their council tax is frozen? Why am I paying over £7 for a prescription and they're only paying £3? As I say it's often tainted with resentment towards Scotland and views are expressed that we have no right to be getting something they're not.

However I just caught a bit of the BBC programme "The Big Questions". An English woman in the audience talked about how annoyed it made her when she read about all of these things that we have in Scotland but they can't get in England.

"But" she said "my solution to that is that we get the Scottish Government to run the rest of us". Very good point, very well made and probably the most sensible comment on the whole issue I have ever heard. Because that really is the point isn't it? It's not about Scotland vs England, it's about governments who are good at their job vs governments who are not!

As a footnote I completely agreed with the points about Scotland not having top up fees and yet England had them imposed by a vote that depended on Scottish Labour MPs supporting it. That's clearly not fair.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Suicide is anything but painless

Did anyone see the STV report a couple of weeks ago about suicide intervention training courses aimed at the likes of taxi drivers, hairdressers, publicans etc? It's a great idea because these are the very people who have a set period of time to talk to someone rather than a nod or couple of words in passing. It was a report about the launch of this TV advert.

Anyway I decided to find out about the training with a view to doing it myself. I don't think it's an intensive course and you definitely don't end up qualified to be standing on that roof talking someone out of it. I think it's more about being able to sense when someone is feeling suicidal, knowing what to say and importantly what not to say. And having information on support services available to them.

I wish I had done it because earlier this week I found myself receiving a call from a support worker desperately worried about a constituent of mine. She was right to be, he was clearly contemplating suicide as I discovered when he reluctantly spoke to me. It is absolutely terrifying to be the person on the end of the phone knowing this person wants to die, knowing you could say something to make it worse and knowing too that there are words that could help but you don't know what they are.

Bearing in mind that everyone in my office has taken calls from people who are at least deeply depressed if not suicidal, we've decided we'll all do the training. And I'd encourage anyone who works with members of the public in whatever capacity to consider it. It's no different to doing First Aid training and you could save someone's life. You can contact Choose Life by clicking here and you can watch the TV ad here.

As a footnote, my constituent is hanging on in there but as someone who has SOME experience of the whole question of suicide, I have no doubt he's not out of the woods yet. He's agreed to take the referral we got him although doesn't see the point and we're working with him to resolve the problems that lead him to this state. I don't intend becoming a social worker to all constituents but some need a bit of extra time from you and then it ceases to be about being someone's MSP and is more about being a fellow human being. No doubt when we've done the training I'll be spreading the word and encouraging everyone I know to follow suit. Can't do any harm!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Police to investigate Stephen Purcell

At last! The Labour run council refuse to investigate so thank goodness for Strathclyde's finest because the police have just confirmed that there will be a full criminal investigation into goings on Purcell style. Quite right. You can't be immune to the law just because you're an elected politician. If anything we need to be leading by example. What we need is a full investigation into all the goings on in the Labour group. They have tarnished Glasgow's reputation and that is not what they were elected to do.

More from the murky underworld of Glasgow Labour

I said a while back on this blog that there was much much more to come out of the murky world of Glasgow City Council Labour group and here's just one of those stories. You have to have sympathy with someone with a drug problem but when people are making decisions about my future, I think I'd prefer their judgement not to be impaired by chemicals, especially uncontrolled illegal ones, thanks very much!

She's denying it and who knows what the truth of it is. But I did always wonder why Councillor Ruth Black got herself elected as the only Solidarity councillor and almost immediately showed anything BUT solidarity with her party and defected to Labour of all parties! I mean, Solidarity and the SSP came about as an internal reaction AGAINST the way the Labour Party was going. It was always a puzzle to me.

I've always liked the clarity you get when you find out where that tough piece of the jigsaw goes.

No, it wasn't a dream

I thought I was still sleeping when I switched on the radio this morning to hear that all Scottish airports had been closed down because of a volcano in Iceland. But no, it is true. Apparently there's a volcanic ash cloud sweeping across the country. We can't see it but that's because it's where the aeroplanes would be flying. I'm quite glad they're not seeing as I've just read about a jumbo jet that once flew unknowingly through an ash cloud and all four of its engines shut down!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Back to work?

I've found a great new way to blog, I'll just react to snippets I hear on the news. Like this one - the BBC newsreader just said "with Holyrood back in business, MSPs will be joining the campaign trail for the Westminster elections". Like we've all been on holiday. Like the campaign didn't start 2 years ago. Ah, maybe she's talking about the Labour Party. I'm not saying they take your vote for granted but remember John Prescott talking about constituencies "belonging" to Labour, Glasgow East for instance. Talking of which I was just leaving John Mason's campaign HQ in Shettleston last night when a guy came in to inform me that the Labour Party were out in force IN their campaign rooms, drinking champagne. No idea if it's true or not but maybe that's where the BBC newsreader is getting this idea of holidays and campaigns starting a few weeks before polling day.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Class of 2010

That's another thing. Has anyone else noticed that Labour politicians including Gordon Brown are making big play of being "middle class"? Is it to appeal to natural Tory voters? I think it's not. I think it's more to do with the fact that they're so entrenched in middle England that to them, the term "middle class" refers to "ordinary" people in the way that "working class" used to. I have often heard friends from down South talk about having an ordinary background, "just a normal middle class upbringing". I am not as obsessed with class division as Frere Tommy Sheridan et al but it's depressing to think the Labour Party now identifies as middle class.

The more they do that, the further away they get from people from working class backgrounds and the further they get from them, the bigger the gap and the more marginalised the underclasses become. The underclasses, the new classes created by Thatcher and kept in their place by Labour. Very sad. Very sad indeed.

Are my ears deceiving me ...

... or did I really just hear that Jim Devine, the Labour MP on over 60 grand, is entitled to legal aid to fight the charges of fraud after he was accused of diddling the taxpayer with his expenses? He is entitled to it? How can that be? And worse, he's actually claiming it? I'm stunned. Don't know what else to say, I really don't!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Grand Nationalists get saddled up

Ach what a shame. The Labour Party thought they'd come up with a great poster for the election. How they must hate us pesky nationalists for pipping them at the post on the day they launched it by unveiling ours an hour earlier.

I thought I'd leave it till today when half the country's getting excited about some horse race at Aintree - and the other's half's campaigning against it.

It's all to play for as they say but it's certainly no two horse race. Yes it's true, the SNP cannot win across the whole of the UK (but only because we don't have candidates in other countries) and Angus Robertson will not be Prime Minister of the UK. But what we can do is elect a substantial group of SNP MPs who will speak up for Scotland at every opportunity and who could get substantial concessions for us in a hung parliament situation. That has got to be better than where we are now but oh how it grates on me that we should have to think in terms of "concessions". The sooner our Independence referendum gets under starter's orders, the better.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Bullying is not funny

I was sad to read this story about Frankie Boyle making fun of people with Down's Syndrome during a live show. I would definitely count myself as a fan of his and it's his near the knuckle comments that most people find funniest - he says the things you just wouldn't dare to. But you have to draw the line somewhere and laughing at someone because they have a disability is where I would draw it. I saw Billy Connolly last year in Glasgow and had a similar experience to the woman in this story. Obviously it was more personal for her because her wee girl has Down's Syndrome but I, too, noticed that just about everyone else was laughing when Billy Connolly impersonated the way someone who'd had polio might walk.

It didn't make me feel obliged to laugh but I definitely felt self conscious about the fact that I wasn't laughing although I did wonder how many of the audience were laughing out of obligation.

I felt like standing up and telling him that rather a large section of the audience that night had disabilities and they'd paid bloody good money to get in to see him. I have a feeling Frankie Boyle will reconsider where Billy Connolly would just stick two fingers up to anyone who complained - at least I hope so.

It's not illegal to say these things, nor should it be. And we can agree or disagree as to the rights and wrongs. For me though the most important thing is that it's just not funny. What is funny about someone struggling to get out of work with one leg shorter than the other in case they get crushed in the rush (Billy C talking about guys in the shipyards)? What would make you laugh about someone with Down's Syndrome "talking funny"?

I don't get it. Do you? Are you one of these people who laughs because everyone else does? I understand and it can be hard especially when it's your friends but I honestly think that we all have to be true to ourselves and do what we believe to be right, not what everyone else is doing. It's a slippery slope and for people with disabilities sometimes this attitude of "it's only a laugh" results in serious bullying and we've heard recently about people who've taken their own lives because of it.

If I were Frankie Boyle I'd be apologising, admitting it's not really funny and speaking out against people who bully people with disabilities. We can all make mistakes and people who can own up to them gets loads more respect than people who pick on others because of something outwith their control.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Are all Tories called George?

Just watched David Cameron emerge from Tory Central to a cheering crowd and as he's doing the glad handing thing he says to one guy "how are you George?" and explains to Samantha ("one of our candidates"). Then he shakes the hand of the next guy and says "not far from home eh George?" and then the next guy "good to see you George"! Hilarious. Either they're all called George or he's doing the fake sincerity "you're all my buddies cos I'm such a nice guy" act. Hmmm, I wonder which it could be.

Perhaps one of his lines in his soapbox style speech which he's making right now, provides us with the answer. "We say to young men, yes we will give you training but if you don't take the training or the job we offer you, you can't continue on benefits." Note the singular. Now I don't believe it's healthy for someone to continually knock back work but ONE offer? Take it or leave it? They infuriate me and anyone who claims (as happened recently) that I'd like to see a Tory victory because it will bring Independence around a lot quicker, doesn't know me at all.

I don't see a great deal of difference between Labour and the Tories these days and that is one of the saddest things ever to happen in British politics. However, the fact that the Labour Party has lurched to the right in the way that it has, only gives the Tories the impetus to go even further to the right when / if they get into power. I don't see much chance of it being anything other than a Tory victory and we really need to make sure we have as many SNP MPs elected as possible because in all of this, Scotland will be forgotten. SNP MPs won't let that happen - you can say what you like about the SNP but nobody will deny that they will always put Scotland's interests first.

Adios Christie

Anyone who has read this and my other blogs regularly over the last 4 years will feel that they know my niece Christie (pictured) fairly well. She has long become used to "strangers" asking her how she got on with this or that and now reads my blog herself so that she's not surprised in future.

Anyway, Christie is now 17. In fact she'll be 18 on Sunday. And her plan was to apply for a place at Edinburgh Uni to study Mandarin but to defer until 2011. So she's done that and she'll know in July if she's been successful. The reason for deferring was to give her time in France or Spain to consolidate her understanding of European languages. Very sensible idea but with the global recession it didn't quite work out that way.

However, the great news is that last week a job she'd applied for finally came through and tomorrow morning, she sets off on her own to start a new life in Murcia in the South East of Spain.

It's great news and very exciting for her. But of course, we'll all miss her terribly. In fact she's not even away yet and I'm feeling like there's something missing so who knows how her mum, dad and brother will be feeling. It's all happened so suddenly but it's definitely a good move for her. And thanks to Google Earth I can sit of an evening outside her apartment making sure she gets home safely - stalker aunt!!

So this afternoon is the big farewell and I'm sure everyone will be telling her how proud we are of her for having the courage to go out into the world by herself at such a young age. To feel the fear and do it anyway is the sign of a true warrior. The best bit for me however was shortly after she'd told me she had the job. She sent me a text saying "I can still vote in the General Election can't I? I have to make sure I get my vote."! That's my girl!

Exclusive to Indygal

I can exclusively reveal today - in complete confidence you understand - that Gordon Brown will visit the queen later and then ... wait for it ... he'll call a General Election on .... 6 May! So don't forget that you heard the news here first!!

Always here with breaking news :-)

Monday, 5 April 2010

A tale of two cousins

As promised many months ago, I am going to tell you about my cousin and her battle with alcohol addiction. She's happy for me to do it but she doesn't want me to use her real name which is a shame because it's a nice name and I always wished, as a child, that I could have had that name instead of my one syllable Anne!

Maybe it was just because I looked up to her that I wanted her name. Clarissa was 3 years older than me and very trendy. No, I can't call her Clarissa, she'll kill me and besides, she's way too cool to be a Clarissa. OK so Jemima ... Right! Enough silliness, this is a serious story. We'll call her Susan. Susan was (and is) 3 years older than me. So when I was an impressionable 13 year old she was 16 and the last word in sophistication. She had a fringe like Chrissie Hynde, knew how to apply eyeliner and was far more worldly than me.

I won't tell you the entire story or we'd be here all night but when Susan was 16 she met her boyfriend Clarence (you can guess my opinion of him from the pseudonym!) and some time later discovered she was pregnant. They got married when she was 17 and were happy to do so. Soon were the proud parents of a beautiful baby boy. He had a number of disabilities but despite her age, she just got on with the job of caring for him and did as most mothers do, fell madly in love with her baby boy.

Their joy was to be short lived and at the age of only *four and a half months, their baby son died. They were heartbroken and their lives soon spiralled out of control. Susan tried to cope and did her best to overlook the insensitive comments of the insensitive minority - "you only had him for 4 and a half months so you'll be fine"; "ach you're young, you'll have plenty more"; "it's been 2 months, why are you still crying?" - because most people were trying to help.

Her husband couldn't face up to it, turned to drugs and in no time was addicted to heroin. He'd been violent to her when his baby son was alive but now it escalated. So at the age of 17, she was married to a violent drug addicted husband and had suffered the worst bereavement anyone can suffer. She turned to alcohol. It helped but of course it didn't help. I don't know when Susan became an alcoholic, I can only tell you for sure when she had her last drink and that was nearly 5 years ago.

She's 46 now so she would have been 41 when she last drank alcohol. But that means for at least 25 years, it was a huge part of her life. I listen to the argument against minimum pricing of alcohol that people who are addicted won't care about the cost and to a certain extent, I agree. Susan would have had almost no choice when she was drinking. You could have doubled the price and she would still have had to get it somehow. So although minimum pricing might force an alcoholic to think about their lifestyle and to address their problems a bit sooner, in the way that many people (myself included) finally got round to stopping smoking when it became so difficult to find somewhere to do it, for many who are addicted, it won't make a massive difference.

But surely what we're trying to do is tackle the problems early on. And that's one area where it WILL make a difference. Susan had her first drink at the age of 14. A completely dim-witted aunt used to slip her a vodka any time she was visiting. She never asked for it so the stupidity of that is completely beyond me. The aunt wouldn't have cared much about minimum pricing. But had alcohol not been so readily available and so pocket money cheap, would Susan have bothered going on to drink with her pals at that age when her aunt wasn't there to fund it? I seriously doubt it. When you're that age, you have pocket money and it can only go so far. She spent it on magazines, make up, records and cheap alcohol. If she'd had to give up the make up in order to fund the alcohol, trust me she wouldn't have done it!

And when the baby died and her husband became completely lost to her, had it not been for her already proven easy access to alcohol (for 'easy' read 'CHEAP'), it would never have occurred to her that it might provide an answer. She would have grieved of course she would, I imagine she'll grieve for him all of her life, but she would have gone through a natural grieving process instead of one that chemically masked the necessary stages of grief. And she would have been spared the decades of pain that inevitably accompanied alcohol addiction.

Many times she tried to stop. Sometimes she did but it never lasted. Until now.

I will be honest and I'm sure she knows this although I've never actually said it to her. There were times when I avoided her. I cared about her and I wanted her to be well but I didn't know how to help and when someone's drinking in that way (as she knows because she's also witnessed it first hand) you can love them but hate their behaviour. I rarely felt angry with her. She was always a really good person, that was obvious. I also knew she had never wanted her life to turn out like that. And I was aware that despite not having a problem with alcohol myself, I would find it hard never to drink again so I knew it was an awful lot harder for someone who was addicted. But it really is torture sometimes when you're watching someone do that to themselves.

This blog piece was not actually supposed to be a pitch for minimum pricing although I believe it would have made such a difference to her life. The reason for writing is to try and give hope to anyone out there who is having problems with their drinking or for anyone watching someone they care about seemingly drink themselves to death, that it can all change.

As I say Susan stopped drinking nearly 5 years ago. Maybe she'll write a piece for the blog about that. Since stopping her life has not exactly been stress free but she has faced all of her problems and conquered them - sober! I'm amazed by her strength. It took more than 4 years for her to feel ready to work again and she was so nervous when she started applying for jobs. But she finally had some self confidence and she took the plunge and eventually she was successful.

She started work for the first time in years, full of trepidation but excitement too. I was so angry when she started to tell me about the way she was being treated in her new job. Petty people picking away at her self esteem, not giving her the chance to adjust, behaving, in short, like school bullies! I feared for her then. I was scared she would start drinking again. She didn't. She tried to work round them and when that didn't work, after much thought she handed in her notice. A real shame but she'd worked too hard on getting herself well to risk it all for them. The first major test and although it didn't work out the way she wanted it to, she dealt with it - sober!

Her mum has been very ill for months now and she's the only one who lives near enough to look after her. It's been unbelievably stressful for her - her mum has some physical ailments and is in her 80s but she's also got Alzheimers which is confusing, hurtful and distressing in the extreme. And I know she has been feeling the strain a lot recently. And yet, she's dealt with all of that almost completely single handedly and again, sober.

I could tell you more about the damage that alcohol did to Susan but I'm really hoping she'll do that when she's got a bit more free time on her hands. Incidentally her mum's getting the right help now and Susan is hoping to go to Uni this year so things are moving in the right direction. I just want to emphasise how important it is that we help people who are struggling with alcohol problems. I want to keep campaigning for minimum pricing per unit of alcohol so that pocket money prices disappear and kids can enjoy their childhood and spend their pocket money on other things.

And I want to say how proud I am of my cousin "Susan". As a teenager I looked up to her. Now I am in awe of her strength and determination. Today is a particularly relevant day to be writing this because her cousin who was also an alcoholic, died a year ago today, devastating his family. He didn't die of alcoholism but had he not been an alcoholic he would still be here. He tried to overcome it but in the end, he just couldn't do it. So I stand in admiration of the fact that she's stronger than the lot of us put together. And we are all very thankful for that.

When I think of her these days, the word alcoholic is not the first word to spring to mind. I think of her as the intelligent, funny, caring and competitive (when playing Scrabble or Countdown!) person that she is. And she's still got a modern day Chrissie Hynde fringe so that, alone, makes her well worth a mention on the blog!