Sunday, 27 June 2010

In turmoil over the world cup

Ignore the last post, I can't do this. I have more friends and family in England than Germany, the commentators are not the fault of the England fans PLUS I've just looked again at the photo of my lifelong friend Karen's 2 little boys as they eagerly awaited the game. Oh, and they're being utterly thrashed and I always support the underdog. I like supporting ABE (anyone but England) but only to a point. It's a bit of fun but I have this really strong guilt complex and I don't like seeing people disappointed. Mind you, Germany will be disappointed if THEY lose. Oh I'm all at sixes and sevens over this one! And England have just scored so they're back in with a shout. And they've just had a "goal" disallowed so if they lose they can always claim they was robbed. I think I should stop watching!

Germany vs England today

My mate Dave from Liverpoooool (who runs this World Cup website) lives in Berlin with his lovely partner Kordula from Deutschland. I was telling him I'd love to be a fly on the wall in their house today. He sent me this photo. Apparently this is how the pair will be until 3 o'clock on the dot and then the gloves are off!

So, anyway I've had to think long and hard about who I'm supporting today. No, really, I have! I lived in Germany as a child. But then again I lived in England as a child. My sister was born in Germany but my other sister was born in England. I have a Higher German but of course I have Higher English too. My brother lived in Berlin for a few years. Ah but he lived in London too. What to do? And then a friend reminded me that it was Germany who were good enough to bail out Greece. So, on those grounds and those grounds only, I say to you:

C'mon Deutschland!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tribal Wives

My favourite TV programme right now is Tribal Wives where a woman in this country goes to live with a remote tribe somewhere in the world for around a month. The idea is that she lives and works as they do. What I like about it is the shared understandings that emerge and the constant reminders of how comparatively easy our lives are and how comparatively rich theirs are - spiritually of course.

I watched the one where a Bristol woman goes to a remote hill tribe in Northern Thailand (Huai Bong) and two things came out of it for me. The women work in the rice fields each day which is hard physical labour but to get there they have a 2 hour uphill walk! I could hear my dad's voice telling me "you don't know you're born" and we really don't.

The second significant piece for me was when the Bristol woman decided she didn't want to be at the rice field any longer and asked her host to take her home. Her words were "I felt overwhelmed and I know myself, when I feel overwhelmed it is time to go and I do". I agree that we should all know ourselves and we should do what is right for us (and not enough people do) but what a luxury that is, to be able to feel a certain way and act on it. None of the other women in the rice field can afford that luxury. However they feel, they have families and a community to feed.

Just another reminder that life for some people in this world is so very very different. I think one day, when I'm no longer a politician, I think I know where my efforts will go. We live in an unequal world and we have to fight that because as programmes like this always demonstrate, we are all Jock Tamson's Bairns.

As a footnote my cousin's wife Anne lives in Greenock but is originally from a remote village in Thailand. Her elderly mother left the village for the first time 3 years ago to visit her daughter and was questioned for several hours by border agency staff determined to find out if this wee old lady was really coming here to work!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Winding down on a Friday

Have had a really good day so far. Was able to pass on some good news (actually some brilliant news) to an organisation I've been trying to help but I can't tell you about it - imagine that, a politician not taking the credit for something. But I know and I am very happy with today's little achievement. Also met with SPT to look at the business case for modernisation of the Subway, our very own Clockwork Orange in Glasgow. And shortly I'm off to the Minority Ethnic Awards at the Hilton in Glasgow where I'm a guest of GARA - Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance. This clearly very wicked person will rest tomorrow!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Wednesday in parliament

What a busy day it's been here in Parliament. Started with a meeting of the Public Audit Committee which was not always harmonious but was extremely interesting. We took evidence on the NHS performance report and I have to add myself to the list of fans of Dr Harry Burns, Chief Medical Officer. He spoke with such passion about deprivation and the effect on health and how we must do everything we can to tackle the social problems in society. More on that later but despite the long session I could have listened to him for a whole lot longer.

Went straight from there to my SNP MSP Group meeting followed by twenty minutes in the office to look over my speech. Dashed over to the Debating Chamber to hear John Swinney's statement on the British budget - noted how few of the opposition MSPs bothered to show up, anyone would think they didn't care - and then spoke in the Housing debate. Highlighted the need for people with mental health problems to be given additional support in tenancies.

Had time for a quick visit to the Members' Bar in parliament (which, thankfully, is for all passholders, not just Members), phoned my sister to wish her happy birthday and then headed to the Cross Party Group on Racial Equality in Scotland. Came up here to write my blog and get my bags together and I'm now heading out for a quick drink with the members of the cross party group, grab a bite to eat before heading to the B&B I'm staying in. I definitely think I've earned my crust today and enjoyed every minute of it!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Death by Pothole

When I first got elected I told a fellow member of the SNP that I was thinking of running a big campaign to sort out the potholes in this city. "No" he said "it's not that big an issue". Last time I listen to him because everyone is going on about them all the time and no wonder, they are terrible. I was driving a friend through Battlefield and he hadn't been in Glasgow for a long time. He actually thought that the Southside of Glasgow had been bombed!

They're dangerous too and I didn't realise quite HOW dangerous until yesterday when I nearly came a cropper as they say! I stepped off the pavement to get into my car, twisted my ankle on a pothole, stumbled and almost fell into the path of a fast moving car. I know I'm prone to exaggeration but not this time, I really thought I was going to be run over and so did my cousin who was with me.

The aforementioned friend who thought Battlefield had been bombed always said I would never have a normal death, it would something really obscure and I suppose death by pothole fits that category - except I'm not dead. Yet! Take my advice and don't be looking at the sky when you're walking, keep your eyes firmly fixed on the ground!

River Kelvin tragedy

There can be few people in Glasgow and across Scotland who've not spent some time today thinking about 13 year old Declan Shanley who drowned trying to save his friend in the River Kelvin. How must his family and friends be feeling now? Declan is the same age as my nephew Daniel and now I feel like locking him in a room so he can't go near any rivers. What can you do? I bet you anything Declan's folks told him to be careful. And normally, maybe he was. But his friend was in danger and this brave wee soul obviously didn't think, he just knew he had to help. His courage won't give much comfort to his family because he's gone and they'll never see him again and that must be almost too much to bear. It's one of those stories that make you so thankful for what you've got and right now, I can't even remember what I thought my problems were.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

First Minister calls for review of Florence and Precious case

I was so proud of the SNP government today. And in particular I was proud of our First Minister Alex Salmond who publicly called for the case of Florence and Precious Mhango to be reviewed. I had a question accepted for First Minister's Questions on the detention of children of asylum seekers. You can watch it here if you fast forward to 22 minutes. If you don't have time to watch it, I spoke about the effect of detention on Precious and the First Minister reiterated the SNP government's opposition to before backing Florence and Precious and saying that right across Scottish society there was a huge consensus that their case should be reviewed. I have rarely been more proud of my party leader and I can't tell you hnow emotional Florence was when I told her. I want to be fair to the new UK government. They have barely had time to catch breath never mind make decision like this but I hope that in the very near future, they DO consider the fact that there is indeed a consensus across Scotland and I hope they will show the compassion that was so lacking in the last government.

Nicola Sturgeon supporting the Mhangos

Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister, is backing Precious Mhango and her mum and calling for them to be allowed to stay in Scotland. Nicola texted me in November after reading my piece about visiting Precious in Dungavel. She said it made her cry. I probably shouldn't tell you that because politicians are not supposed to do that. However, I think it's GOOD to know that our government is made up of REAL people with real emotions and the capacity to be compassionate. If Nicola was not in politics, she would be a human rights lawyer right now and I don't think I want to hide the fact that she cares deeply about other people - just to maintain a "professional image". So there you go, I'm outing our Deputy First Minister as someone who really cares about people. Given that she's also Cabinet Secretary for Health, I imagine you'll be very pleased to hear that!

Something happened at the Petitions Committee the other day ...

... something I believe to be newsworthy and that is this. Parkinson's UK have been running a campaign for people who are on medication for the condition to "Get it on Time". It's a very simple request but oh so important if you have Parkinson's. Basically, if someone living with Parkinson's spends time in hospital, they will be given their medication when there is a medicine round. The trouble with that is that they need the tablets at SPECIFIC times and regular intervals. If they don't get it at those times and intervals, their *symptoms return very quickly - unfortunately it takes quite a bit longer to get the symptoms under control again.

Obviously if they're in hospital to be treated for their condition, the staff are aware of this but more often than not, the Parkinson's Disease is not why they're there. And it's not that the nursing staff don't care. The evidence we heard yesterday from campaigners was that they often are simply not aware. That was my experience. My late ex common law mother in law (if you follow me) had Parkinson's, went into hospital for other tests and they took her medication from her because you are not supposed to self medicate in hospital. The effects were quick and dramatic. Another time they agreed to administer the medication but thought we were being overly cautious when we explained that it had to be at certain times. The result was that her symptoms returned with a vengeance.

So when asked if they could achieve one thing what would it be, one of the guys giving evidence said he'd concentrate on the education side of it. The committee agreed to do a number of things and one of them I'm also going to do and that is to write to those providing nursing training to ask them if they DO cover the importance of getting Parkinson's medication on time. If they don't, I'll be backing Parkinson's UK's request that they change that. Any nurse would want to be aware of it and it's such a simple little thing which makes a massive difference to the person with Parkinson's.

*Symptoms include uncontrolled movements, being unable to move, speak, eat or swallow and even some very distressing psychotic symptoms!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Education Secretary backing Scottish schoolgirl

I am delighted to report to you that Michael Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, tonight pledged his support for Florence and Precious Mhango. On behalf of the Scottish Government he was hosting a 25th Anniversary celebration for Scottish Refugee Council at Edinburgh Castle (I'm pictured here at the reception). It is unusual for government ministers to do this but the case for this mother and child is such a compelling and genuine one that we can't tackle it in the usual way.

It was entirely fitting that he should make mention of them on a night when we are celebrating the fantastic work of SRC and in turn the tremendous contribution that immigrants have always made to our country.
So tonight he said that he and the Scottish Government were backing their pleas to be allowed to stay in Scotland where they will be safe and they will be together. I am very very hopeful that the new government in Westminster will feel the same. Meantime I am extremely grateful to Michael Russell who did this without any request from me.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

At long long last - bloody Sunday victims recognised

How powerful were those images from the impromptu rally held in Northern Ireland today after the Bloody Sunday report was published? Family member after family member standing up saying their loved ones name and declaring them proven innocent. The pain those families must have gone through over so many years and now finally they've been vindicated. They never gave up because they knew they were right. It's a lesson for us all, when you have right on your side you have NO right to give up!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

What is so special about Precious Mhango?

The last week, since the High Court decision not to allow Florence and Precious Mhango to stay here, has not been easy for anyone, least of the ten year old girl at the centre of things. I have seen her on several occasions this week. I broke the news to her earlier this week (her mum couldn't do it). She listened carefully and said very little but she took it better than I thought. I heard she wouldn't go to school on Friday so decided she needed some reassurance.

I was shocked when I saw her. I forgot you see. I forgot about the time I saw her in Dungavel when she was a terrified, almost mute little mite who clung to every word I spoke, her eyes never leaving my face for a second as she tried to figure out if I was going to help her or not. I forgot because it was not something I wanted to remember. It was made easier because as they started to make progress, first by getting out of detention and then by winning the appeal in the high court, Precious changed. She was a normal little girl again, playing with her friends, painting her toenails, leaving the nail polish on for weeks and weeks, smiling, even laughing sometimes!

Besides, I didn't think I'd ever have to see that look again. I was certain the court decision would go in her favour. But on Friday afternoon Precious had reverted to the way she was in Dungavel, exactly the same. And it broke my heart. Seeing any child, any human like that would be hard but I'll tell you why this girl is so special.

Her mum and others were also worried and they did everything they could to reassure her so by Saturday afternoon when I saw her she was a lot better. She's obviously still terrified and who can honestly say "it's okay Precious, nothing will happen to you"? Nobody. So although she was relaxed enough to come out with me yesterday for some fresh air, this is a ten year old child with the weight of the world on her shoulders. And yet still she has time to care about others.

We went to the Hobbycraft shop at The Fort to buy knitting needles. You may recall she lost hers in her messy bedroom and had been using paintbrushes! When we were in there she pointed out a girl from her school. She told me the girl was Polish and spoke no English. "She just walks around the playground by herself" she told me "and I keep trying to get her to play with me and my friends but she is shy". I told her to say hello to her in the shop and she did. And the wee girl looked at the floor and walked on with her mum. I told her to try again a minute later and she did. This time the wee girl said "hi" (nudged on by her mum) and smiled shyly.

If you could have seen Precious' face you would've struggled to keep your composure. She was so happy and so excited. And it's not because she needs more friends, she has loads of friends. It was because she worried about this little girl being all by herself. And she's hoping this means she can persuade her to play with them.

The weight of the world on her shoulders and this precious little girl still has room in her heart to care for someone else. Well, I don't know about you reading this but writing it has got me started again! I don't think I really need to say anymore do I?

Here's where your council tax is going in Glasgow

Sometimes I think I have an understanding of people who vote Labour YET AGAIN despite feeling let down by them. Other times I just feel utterly frustrated with them. The latter tends to come when I read articles like this. The Labour Provost of Glasgow City Council is clocking up EIGHT THOUSAND POUNDS A MONTH for a chauffeur driven car. Now I know the system is that he gets a car for official engagements. Fair enough but he used the car at a cost of £300 a day on days where he had NO official engagements.

It's the "justification" that makes me laugh so hard I nearly split my sides. Here's what a spokesperson for him said:

"Public engagements may be the most visible part of the Lord Provost's role, but they represent a relatively small part of his overall workload, which is more likely to see him busy within the city chambers."

Now I know the City Chambers is quite big inside but as far as I'm aware there is no room for a chauffeur driven car so how on earth does he need a car at that cost to the taxpayer if he's inside the city chambers all bloody day?

And one of his councillors who's not well getting a chauffeur to take her to the doctors? Apparently there's a policy of supporting councillors with mobility problems. I accept she's not well but who else in this city gets a chauffeur to take them to the doctor? Are other city council employees treated the same. And if so, can I just say "TWO GRAND A MONTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!"?

Let me assist.

0141 429 7070 - taxis, a damn site cheaper than chauffeurs and just as effective.

Since 2007 when so many of my friends got elected to the council and many others to parliament, I've been shocked to discover that it seems to be the Labour Party of all people who are into all this elitist nonsense. Whether it's Labour MSPs travelling first class back and forth to Edinburgh or Glasgow councillors abusing their car privileges or slapping each other on the back at their many lavish functions which I rarely attend now because it just makes me so angry, the Labour Party has long since lost it's "party of the people" purpose.

One day people will wake up to that. One day maybe even some of THEM will wake up to it but when the electorate give you second, third, fourth, limitless chances to stop abusing their money, what is the incentive? And is it any wonder that the pathetic explanation given above on behalf of the Lord Provost was all they could be bothered coming up with in their defence?

Missing the point about minimum pricing of alcohol

I've just been watching BBC's The Big Questions and they were discussing minimum pricing of alcohol. There were two points I wanted to pick up on.

The first was presenter Kaye Adam's assertion that Scotland had rejected it. Scotland has not rejected minimum pricing. Opposition MSPs in the Scottish Parliament rejected the minimum price aspect of stage one of the bill. They are not Scotland. And the bill still has two further stages to go through. The SNP government will not give up on this one, it is far too important. And right across Scotland all sorts of experts on alcohol abuse are in support of it. If opposition MSPs can be convinced to drop their stupid game playing and actually listen to the evidence from around the world then we can get it through the parliament.

Secondly they interviewed a 37 year old guy who is an alcoholic who no longer drinks alcohol. When they asked him would increasing the price of cheap alcohol have stopped him drinking earlier he said no. But he was missing the point. Or rather, the presenter was missing the point. Nobody starts out life as an alcoholic. Nobody starts out their alcohol drinking life as an alcoholic. It is a process. A better question might have been did he think less access to cheap alcohol when he first started to experience it could have stopped him using it in such a way that lead to him becoming addicted.

I don't believe the minimum pricing argument is about people who are currently addicted to alcohol. I believe it's primarily about 3 sets of people - future alcoholics, future alcohol abusers and current alcohol abusers. When you're addicted to something you'll make "sacrifices" to get it. I used to smoke. I smoked when I was signing on. I wore shoes with holes in the soles because I preferred to spend money on my addiction.

Dealing with actual alcohol addiction is a different matter and whilst minimum pricing will factor into that, it's only one of a number of ways in which it can be tackled.

Where it will make a significant difference is in changing our drinking culture and our attitudes to alcohol and thus reducing the likelihood of people developing problems with alcohol, either through abuse or addiction, in the first place.

Earlier this year I wrote this post called A Tale of Two Cousins - about my cousin and her cousin, both addicted to alcohol, one dead, one surviving and sometimes thriving. The latter is writing a post for this blog about her experiences and I hope to publish it soon.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Fightback for Florence and Precious begins

Excellent article in the Evening Times tonight about Florence and Precious and the incredible decision by the High Court not to allow them to stay. From the emails, phone calls, messages on the Facebook Wall and newspaper articles, I know the whole of Scotland is getting behind them. Who wouldn't want a model mum and daughter like this contributing to their country and their local community? Please buy the Evening Times tonight because I think there is more inside it and I think this could be the start of an even bigger campaign than we've had up until now! I'm going to visit them now to show them the messages of support so please go on Facebook and tell them how much you care - it really helps.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Florence and Precious judgement from High Court

A very quick update because this news has obviously meant I have a lot of people to speak to. The judge ruled against them today. This doesn't mean it's over but it's a huge setback for them. Once the legal team read the full judgement they will know if there are grounds for appeal - you can't appeal on the basis that it's "not right" sadly, there have to be robust legal grounds. There are other things underway to try to protect this vulnerable mother and child but I can't go into that right now. All I can say is that I (and many others) will fight for them until every route has been exhausted because this is wrong, very wrong.

PS A quick note to the small but irritating number of bigots out there who frequently (but anonymously) contact me regarding the Mhangos - don't send me your racist, heartless comments, we're talking about a little girl who has survived more in 10 years than any of you could ever cope with in a lifetime.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

An opportunity to experience political life

If you are aged 16 to 26 and want to get a proper experience of political life, why not apply for the Bashir Ahmad Memorial Scholarship? You'll have to get your skates on because the deadline is Thursday at 4pm. There's a form (a short one) to complete and you can get it by emailing either or

The award in memory of the Late Bashir Ahmad will provide one lucky person with a great opportunity. From 21st June to 16th August this person will work in the Scottish Parliament, an MSP's constituency office, an MP's office and SNP Headquarters. And there is a payment of £1500 to cover costs as there will be some travel involved.

I'm one of the judges so I can promise you we are completely open minded about who it should be and there are no barriers in terms of race, sex, in fact anything apart from age. So please let as many folk know as possible.

On a personal note, I find it a huge privilege to have been elected to "replace" Bashir Ahmad. The first person to receive the Bashir Ahmad Memorial Scholarship will be just as privileged and I'm really looking forward to reading the applications so come on, make them as varied as possible. Good luck.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Glasgow Caring City Awards

Not long in from the awards ceremony for "Give a Kid a Goal" organised by my favourite charity Glasgow the Caring City. What a brilliant night. Wee primary kids from Glasgow, Largs and East Kilbride all getting well deserved awards. My job was to present some medals alongside Cllr James Dornan who was handing over the scrolls. At one point he had to point out to me that the entire night was being held up because I spent too long talking to one of the girls about swapping names - her name was Nadine and I was just telling her how I'd always wanted a special name like that. Anne always seemed so boring. Anyway as I say, I kind of forgot where I was and that there were another 280 kids waiting for their medals.

Oh, and I was really thrilled when the charity made me an Ambassador - they came into parliament to present the certificates to myself and Linda Fabiani and tonight the title was also bestowed on James Dornan. I was really chuffed and happy to do all I can to support them.

Precious moments

So, my mum's just taught me to knit. Only problem is my bedroom is so messy I can't find my knitting needles and I'm using paintbrushes instead!
My first project. Do you like it? Only thing is I'm not quite sure what it is going to be.

You have to admit, it's a very cool hat!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Going underground tonight

I'm leaving the house now to go underground and find out what they do in the subway tunnels at night. I have no idea why I agreed to do this, indeed I am thinking it was a bloody stupid idea. The director of the Subway, David Wallace, assures me he has not seen a rat (of the animal variety at least - my words not his) in 15 years but I don't believe him. And what if some driver has forgotten to go home? What if he sleepwalks to work and starts up the train? What if I get there too late - which is exactly what's going to happen if I don't leave right now. Bob Doris MSP will be there and I'm sure he'll be very reassuring - NOT! Sadly he has a wicked (some say verging on evil) sense of humour but if he winds me up about the rats I'll not be laughing! Wish me luck.

Tesco home delivery - is it just to use up their old stuff?

Apparently Tesco Home Delivery was going to be the answer to my problem getting time to go shopping. So last week I tried it. I'm sure I saw something on their website that promised they would bring only produce with the longest life left in them. So how come I got 2 different types of milk and one had a use by date of 8 June but the other had to be used by 3rd June - the latter being the 2 litres! And this morning I make myself a cup of coffee using the milk that's apparently going to last till Tuesday and it's off. Very frustrating.

Anyway in future I'm going to try Ocado, recommended by my sister. They claim to be environmentally friendly, using low emission delivery vehicles, offering "green van" slots where they tell you when they'll be delivering in your area so you can pick that time and cut down on carbon emissions, and they recruited ecowarriers to go over every inch of their various premises and make sure they were as "eco-friendly" as possible.

Just as importantly for me, going back to the use by dates, they were the first online food retailer anywhere in the world to tell you on the website when you're buying the stuff what the guaranteed life of the product is. So if it says "this milk is only guaranteed for another 4 days" you know not to buy it. Perfect.

If you want to try it click here for Ocado.

How are these kids expected to get fit and stay fit?

The children of P6 Sunnyside Primary in Craigend in the East End of the city asked if I could give them ideas to overcome the delapidation of their school and particularly the restrictions on their sports activities. I decided to go and see for myself and here's what I found.

Pic 1 - the sports pitch is full of weeds and bumps so this was the council's solution, 2 big piles of stones which when I visited had been sitting there for 2 weeks!

Pic 2 - the playground is full of potholes and drain covers jutting up so any running about freely can be forgotten!

Pic 3 - the showers in the changing rooms? No showers, but tables in their place! So even when they have gym class they can't get washed!

Next steps in the campaign - watch this space. These kids are P7 so they're leaving soon but they're determined to get this sorted for the kids they're leaving behind. That kind of selfless community spirit should be rewarded don't you think?