Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Milibands win

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

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

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

Join me in celebrating recovery from addicition TODAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 24 September 2010

It's the final countdown

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Equality vs instinct!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The very mention of my name ...

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

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Getting above our station in life

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

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hustings today

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

First week back at parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Castlemilk Celebrations

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

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

Great news on jobs for Glasgow

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

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Let's reform this nonsensical benefits legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real tax fraudsters

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Keep pressing on Nicola

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

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

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

Jim Murphy talking up Independence - but not for Scotland

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

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

For India.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Powerful personal statement from William Hague

I was quite taken aback by this statement from William Hague in response to speculation about the state of his marriage. All I can say is if this doesn't kill the stories stone dead nothing will. It's a powerful and moving but succinct statement that he should never have had to make. You can't help but wonder how the journalists who tittle tattled over his private life felt when they read that.

Not how they reacted in front of their colleagues, but how they really felt inside.

The statement ends with the words "I will not be making any further comment on these matters". Once those journalists have apologised I think they should follow suit!