Saturday, 26 March 2011

Indygal LEAVES Holyrood - dignified to the end

Of course I wasn't! As most folk know Parliament dissolved on Tuesday at midnight and us former MSPs had till midnight this Sunday to pack everything and clear out our offices. Obviously those of us standing hope to be returning but there are no guarantees and them's the rules. So tonight I went through to finish up in the office and I knew this would possibly be my last time in parliament. I got everything done and at 8pm one of the parly staff put his head round the door to let me know that Earth Hour was starting at 8.30pm and all the lights were going out. "No problem" says I, "I'm just about done and I'll be out of here by quarter past". I felt quite calm, all my boxes were packed, the dusting was done and I was ready to say goodbye to my wee office and the lovely building I've had the privilege to work in for many years. I put the boxes on the trolley, switched off the light and headed to the lift doing my usual ie fiddling about looking for my car key. Only this time I couldn't find it. So I went back to the office and emptied my pockets and my handbag. Not there. Time was running out. I had 9 minutes to get out of the building before all the bloomin lights went out. I decided I could faff about in the office, go and find a security guard to save me from the inevitable mad axemen that always come out in the dark, or I could go to the carpark and look at my car in the complete darkness. Given that mad axemen tend to lurk in underground carparks I went for the middle option. So there I was at the security desk, emptying my handbag (again), emptying my pockets (again) and making the two guards promise not to leave me when the lights went out. Like I say, dignified! One of them asked could I have left the key in the car. Daft idea, as if I'd do that but to make him feel better I let him accompany me downstairs to check. And sure enough ... Four mins left to get back up to the security desk, grab my stuff, race back down to the carpark, get all the boxes and lock myself in the car before the lights went out and the axemen appeared. I nearly skidded across the floor in my haste when someone shouts "aye, we're not doing Earth Hour anymore, too many feart folk working in the building tonight". You know that way when you've started to run, then someone makes you stop and you twist bits of you you were never aware of before? Still, I mustered up the modicum of decorum I had left, shoulders back, head held high and limped out of parliament, trailing my trolley behind me. Like I said, dignified to the end ...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

How it all started ...


12 Feb 2009 - 09:29
By Scott Macnab, Political Reporter, Press Association Scotland
(ScotFile:News special)

Page 1

Scotland's newest MSP was today formally sworn in at a Holyrood ceremony.

Anne McLaughlin, 42, took her oath of office in Parliament.

She said before the ceremony: "As someone who is passionate aboutScotland and passionate about Glasgow it will be an honour to serve asMSP for the people of this city.

"Having lived in Glasgow for over 20 years I know what a vibrant placethe city can be but I also know the challenges we face in Glasgow and in Scotland and I will work with my colleagues at all levels to meet those challenges."

Ms McLaughlin, the highest-ranking SNP Glasgow list candidate not to get elected in 2007, replaces Bashir Ahmad, 68, who died last Friday, as an MSP.

First Minister Alex Salmond and other party leaders paid tribute to the country's first Asian MSP in Holyrood yesterday. A book of condolence in his memory has also been opened in the main hall.

Ms McLaughlin paid tribute to Mr Ahmad as a "great colleague and an excellent MSP" earlier this week.

As well as being a list candidate, Ms McLaughlin stood for Glasgow Springburn in the 2007 election. She has been a party member for more than 20 years and previously worked as a parliamentary researcher for SNP MSP Bob Doris. ends

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Annie Lennox in parliament today

Yes I did ask if I could be a backing singer for her. Well, you knew I wouldn't be able to resist. She was doing a photocall with women MSPs and gave us all T shirts so I suggested we could be her backing singers. She said she'd have to audition us so I take that as an invitation. Just waiting to hear when!

Anyway Annie (she's my pal now you see, first name terms!) is the Special Envoy for the Scotland branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and she was here to show us a film about her visit to Malawi. It looks like an absolutely stunning country but there are huge problems. Annie Lennox was there to see how much of a difference support from Scotland is making.

You can read more about it here.

I told her someone I knew who visited Malawi twice a year reported to me a big increase in the number of times he was offered sex with someone's daughter, some as young as ten years old. I asked if she was aware of problems with child sex abuse which, before I get half of Malawi emailing me and demonising me, I KNOW exist in lots of other countries and we're not exactly blemish free here either. But today we were talking about Malawi.

She said she hadn't witnessed anything like that but she told me that HIV Aids is a significant problem amongst young male teachers. And the reason is that they go into schools in a position of power and "have sex with" ie RAPE their young pupils, many of whom are HIV Positive. That shocked me and I really had to struggle to keep my composure. Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog will understand why.

Malawi is just one of 54 African countries. I'm very proud of the work Scotland does in Malawi and in particular the work of Mary's Meals, not least because they employ local people rather than go in and play the visiting white missionary role. We DO have a special relationship with Malawi but let's not forget the other 53 countries, many of whom could do with our help.

The last Wednesday

So this is my last Wednesday as an MSP. I'm trying to get maudlin but I'm too busy! I remember Kenneth Gibson advising me to slow down, work less and give myself time to actually enjoy being an MSP. And I remember thinking that was very good advice and I'd take the time to sit in my think pod pondering, I'd stop for lunch in the Member's Restaurant from time to time, I'd not be working late into the night every night. I don't know what is wrong with me but here I am, less than a week to go and have I done ANY of those things? No. I haven't. I remember repeating that advice to Nicola Sturgeon who told me it wouldn't work for me because I'm happiest when I'm on the go all the time. I wanted her to say "yes, good advice" but sometimes I wonder if Nicola doesn't know me better than I know myself because I have control over this and I'm choosing to work like this so maybe she's right. Anyway no point in attempting the slowing down bit now, I may as well give into it and accept that I am not a 9 to 5 kinda gal.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Unemployment is a scourge

The text of a speech I made at SNP Conference yesterday welcoming jobs to Glasgow.

Conference the cause of Independence brought me into the SNP but it wasn’t independence that first stoked my interest in politics, it was employment or rather unemployment.

I grew up in Greenock, a town heavily dependent on heavy industries. When I was in first year at High School, Thatcher had just come to power – as if adolescence wasn’t bad enough, mine had to coincide with the reign of Thatcher the milk snatcher.

But it wasn’t just milk she was snatching from Greenockians and Portonians, it was jobs. Every Monday morning at High School in 1979 someone else would come into class to tell us their dad had been made redundant from his job in the shipyards. Every Monday someone else, some other family looking to the future and not knowing what it held for them.

We became used to it and our parents became worn down by it. Because unemployment is a scourge, not just on the individual but on entire communities and on society as a whole.

Seeing what unemployment did to people’s self esteem, to their sense of who they were in the world, to their mental wellbeing and eventually their physical health, seeing that close up, experiencing it, feeling it, made me realise that there just HAD to be a better way and that I had a duty to help bring it about.

And that’s what eventually led to my joining the SNP. I always believed that with Independence we had a far better chance of protecting people’s jobs and that we’d treat people more humanely. And we will get there and I know I’m right.

The early indications are good because here we are coming to the end of the SNP’s first EVER term of office, we don’t yet have Independence so we’re operating with one hand tied behind our backs, we have a minority government, we have to contend with the most savage cuts to our budget imagineable and yet look at just some of the jobs announcements since the start of the year under the SNP government .
950 jobs at Amazon in locations in Fife and Inverclyde, 200 jobs with Ryan Air in Prestwick, 130 jobs at Gamesa Offshore Wind Technology centre in Glasgow,
and the announcement yesterday of 700 jobs for Glasgow which I’ll come onto,

A record 25,000 apprenticeships over the next year,

50,000 job placements for young people every year for the next four.

Our government ministers are working flat out to secure as many jobs as possible for our people because they care and because they know what it’s like to live through tough times, many will, like me, have grown up in towns and cities that were ravaged by Thatcher’s cuts and ignored by Labour’s complacency.

The SNP government is anything but complacent. It is creative and it is forward thinking. Take the Glasgow announcement yesterday. We’re not talking about unskilled low paid jobs here, we’re talking about 700 people to be recruited to a centre for Technology and Innovation. We all know that Scottish innovation helped to drive the industrial revolution and shape the world as we know it today. And Scottish innovation will continue to flourish because of this investment. Of course we should be proud of what Scotland has achieved in the past. But we should also be looking to the future and to what we have yet to invent, develop, improve. And that’s what the creation of this centre will ensure we do.

Conference we cannot underestimate the importance of work. It’s not just about the wages, it’s about who you are. It’s about having a reason to get up in the morning, it’s about having someone acknowledge that you’ve done something well, it’s about making that journey into work where you head into town with hundreds of others knowing that together, you’re all in some way helping to keep Scotland running.

Without it, what have you got? Who are you and what difference do you make to Scotland? That’s not me saying that because I know that everyone, job or no job, makes their contribution whether as a family member (just think of the army of unpaid carers saving us an absolute fortune) , as a volunteer or simply as a friend.

But that, unfortunately, is what every person who’s unemployed asks themselves whether consciously or not. I know because I’ve been there, perhaps I’m about to be there again. We all need to be able to stand up and say “this is my name and this is what I do”.

As children we are rarely asked “what do you want to DO when you grow up?”. Rather the question we hear over and over is “what do you want to BE when you grow up?”.

So it’s little wonder that most people define themselves by their jobs. The SNP government recognises this, that employment is not just about growing our economy, it’s about people, it’s about workers. And if this is what we can do for those workers with one hand tied behind our back, just think what we’ll do when we’re Independent.

Glasgow City Council owes these workers

This is the text of the speech I made yesterday to SNP Conference about the way in which Glasgow City Council employees are being treated over the cancellation of the UKBA contract to house asylum seekers.

Last October more than 600 asylum seeking families were sent letters out of the blue from the UK Border Agency telling them the contract with Glasgow City Council (GCC) to house and support them had ended and they would be moved “elsewhere in the Scotland region” with 3 to 5 days notice.

There was much more about that letter and the way in which those asylum seekers were treated that was shameful and the SNP has utterly condemned it. But today conference I want to look not at the effect on asylum seekers but the effect on the 34 members of the Glasgow Asylum Support Services project team. Because right now these men and women are struggling and they need and deserve our support.

These workers aleady work in highly pressurised jobs as it is. They are the main point of contact for some very vulnerable and frightened people. Conference so many people ask me what I’ll do after parliament and they assume I’ll work with asylum seekers but I’m as certain as I can be that I won’t. It is heartbreaking enough representing them as an MSP. I honestly do not think I could do the job that these men and women do day in day out.

So after 5 November not only did they have to deal with panic amongst asylum seekers, they knew that they faced an uncertain future themselves.

However, despite the uncertainty, the one thing they did know was that Glasgow City Council had a no compulsory redundancy policy and that wherever they ended up working, they would, as employees of GCC, at least still have jobs.

But they were wrong. Traditionally in Glasgow housing of asylum seekers has been provided by 3 main providers – GCC which held the bulk of the contract, Y People formerly the YMCA and the most inappropriately named company I’ve ever come across in my life, The Angel Group.

The contract ended up being awarded to Y People and the remaining 34 GCC staff were to be transferred over under TUPE.

TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment) I had always thought was about protecting the terms and conditions of the workers being transferred. And it is. But I have now been told 3 different stories about what TUPE actually means and some say it only has to protect their terms and conditions on the DAY of transfer. If the company they transfer to subsequently restructures, they can be issued with new terms and conditions and they can wave goodbye to the old ones.

And that is precisely what is happening. Y People have said they will not need all 34 project workers. So as soon as they all transfer, a restructuring will take place and Y People staff will compete with GCC staff for the new jobs. There are many other issues about pensions and hours of work, but this is the most crucial point. These 34 workers are expected to accept the transfer – remember their current employer has a no compulsory redundancy policy - accept the transfer and immediately enter a situation where some of them will definitely be made redundant and the remainder will face redundancy next year if Y People do not get the next 5 year contract.

Conference, how many lambs do you know who, given the choice, would willingly amble to the slaughter house?

Well I think these workers SHOULD be given the choice. GCC may not have a legal obligation to redeploy them but they certainly have a moral obligation. You heard me talk about the strain they work under but I haven’t told you how this team has been praised throughout the UK for the high standard of the work they do, the best in the UK I have been told. And I haven’t told you that for many years this team was the only team in social work to be producing a financial surplus. So they’ve gained an enviable reputation for GCC and they’ve brought in money. Some of them have been with the council for more than 25 years? Wouldn’t you say that GCC now owes them?

Yesterday I met with the council, they said it was not possible to redeploy 34 members of staff. And yet when I met with the 34 project workers yesterday they told me of the many jobs they are qualified to do that are currently being carried out by expensive agency staff. They told me about GCC staff who took voluntary severance packages, LEFT but are now BACK performing the SAME role but as agency staff! They told me (and Y People backed them up) that some of the roles they perform are not transferring over to Y People and will still have to be carried out by GCC staff. So why can’t they get some of those jobs?

Another interesting point. The UKBA contract was going to be up for renegotiation this October and there was no guarantee they would get it. So what was Glasgow City council proposing to do with the project staff then given their no compulsory redundancy policy?

And how can the UK’s third largest local authority seriously argue that they can’t redeploy a mere 34 workers?

They may be a mere 34 workers right now but what’s to stop this happening with other teams if work is outsourced or contracts are lost?

Yesterday they told me it made such a difference to them that I met with them and that the SNP council group are supporting them. Let’s give them the backing of the whole of the Scottish National Party and let’s show them one of the reasons we fight for Independence is so that we can create a more just society where workers’ rights truly are protected and people are not discarded in the way that they have been.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Well done Christie!

Have I mentioned my niece Christie before? I'm not sure if I have! Well, I suppose I might have mentioned her and her brother Daniel once or twice.

Anyway I do recall writing about how she more or less had to take responsibility for her own education and how I thought it would pay off.

Here's an extract from another blog piece.

"the news from my amazing niece Christie is that she got her Higher results and she got A for French, A for Spanish, B for English and B for psychology. It's all the more amazing if I tell you that just over a year ago, she was only planning to sit 2 Highers because she didn't know you needed more than that to get into Uni. She had a vague plan of what she wanted to do (languages degree) but her school had no idea at all and were quite happily letting her just do 2 Highers.

"Anyway fast forward, she left school, went to the James Watt college in Greenock, TAUGHT HERSELF the basics of Spanish (because her school refused to let her do Standard Grade), focussed herself completely on the task in hand, and now it's paid off. She has impressed me so much with her determination and I am so happy for her. Her aim is to live and work in Spain or France for the next year in order to become fluent in one of those languages and then study Mandarin at Edinburgh University the following year. It's a tough course to get into but I have a funny feeling she'll get there. "

So .... she did! She's been in Spain since April last year and last night when I spoke to her she was reading Twilight in Spanish. And also last night ... she received an UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE to study Chinese and Linguistics at Edinburgh University. That wee smiley face you can do just doesn't cover it right now.

I asked if she was excited and in her usual manner she informed me that it was "one of the things" she was feeling right then! She did admit to feeling a wee bit proud of herself because she doesn't actually know anybody else who's been to or is planning to go to uni apart from me and my sister. That is a subject for another day. So, right now I'm in a good mood and will banish all negative thoughts from my mind.

Me and her mum are considering taking out a billboard advert right outside her school announcing it to the world and her former teachers. Then again, her brother Daniel still has to attend that school so might run it by him first. I think Christie thought I was joking about the billboard. Silly girl doesn't know me at all really!

PS I must be excited if I'm prepared to show that photo of me! And PPS the denim thing is a handbag not my clothing.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

There are some vicious people in the world

Some of you may have read my post last week about "M" an asylum seeker friend of mine who is at his very lowest ebb right now, despairing as he has to choose between being murdered in his home country or starving to death here. You may also have read my post about this sad hate filled individual who was (anonymously) having a go at me.

I didn't answer his last abusive message so he's sent another one and I've decided to post it in its entirety. I won't be doing this again but I feel it's important to let you see the attitude and the hate that asylum seekers have to face from some people. Anyway I'll stop talking now and let "Angus" speak for himself ...

Your “friend”, as your Mhango friends, is a lying con-merchant - he and his companion gained illegal entry on a forged document. And why all the way to Glasgow - Glasgow the soft touch - that’s why.

Your “friend”, as your Mhango friends, had his spurious claim for asylum turned down. He should, but will not, be making arrangements to leave Britain.

If he claimed he had no money, how did he pay for the “flat they'd been living in”? - answer, he didn’t have to pay, the furnished flat was free - you bampot / liar. So were his utility bills - the British taxpayer paid for those .... From my area MP ....
/ The level of support is intended to reflect the fact that supported asylum seekers do not have to meet the cost of accommodation, furnishings and utility bills. /

And the temporary accommodation you’ve got them? Would that be the same accommodation you hid the illegal Mhangos in prior to assisting them in their illegal run to .... where? How much is the taxpayer doling out to the lying Florence and how much is it costing us to educate the lying, schooled by her mother, Tionge?

Just think, (are you capable) instead of doling out finance to your lying, scrounging, illegals, we could use that finance, for instance, on providing better cancer treatment to Britain’s sufferers.

And instead of squandering finance on an absolute incompetent (you) and your pointless family members signed up by yourself to siphon off a share of the pot, we could ditch you and yours. Praise the Lord - we will be getting rid of you and yours shortly. Although you will probably unload yourself on to some money-wasting asylum support ‘charity’ and carry on living out of our wage packets.

Aye, "you don't know you're born Hen" ....

Have you ever seen children undergoing treatment in a cancer ward? Their time for operations are kept secret for as long as possible from the child patient - the kids know what faces them, during and after.

Have you ever seen sick kids hooked up to and dragging their mobile ‘trolleys’ behind them - feeds them their drips.

Naw, you’re more interested in ‘seeing Precious' smiling face as she pulled her wee suitcase behind her‘ - aw whit a shame.

I could go on, but I will desist, your bleeding heart is reserved for your poor (lol) wee lying, money-grabbing “asylum seekers”.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Clutching at straws on trams fiasco

Had evidence session for Public Audit committee today on the fiasco that is the Trams!! The brass neck of the Labour and Tory parties was breathtaking. They voted FOR it. The SNP voted AGAINST it at both council and parliament level. But we lost and it went ahead albeit with a cap on spending of £500 million.

Today, instead of admitting they were wrong and should never have voted this complex expensive project through, some of them tried to blame the SNP councillors in Edinburgh and others tried to blame the SNP government. Apparently the fact that the 12 SNP councillors on a council of 58 in total, are opposed to the trams, has somehow led to the dispute between TIE and the private contractors?! Not according to our witnesses who said it made "no material difference".

And the Scottish Government who voted AGAINST it in the first place? Well, it may be an Edinburgh City Council owned event and we know that normally that would mean that the council would manage it but the opposition have decided that Transport Scotland should have broken with common practice and run it for them. And because they (a Scottish Govt agency) didn't, it ended up like this.

Except, I asked the witnesses if Transport Scotland had an open door or a shut door policy and guess what they said? Yes, TS very helpful and always there when advice needed.

Must be terrible having no-one to blame, particularly when it's your default position!

Sunday, 20 February 2011


I will turn you inside out!!!

That was the charming "threat" from some pathetic moron who sent me a comment after I published this post about a couple of guys I had the misfortune to be sharing a bus with.

However I'd rather be on the same bus as them and their misguidedness than "Angus the Anonymous" with his heartless and cynical attitude toward fellow human beings although he seems to have missed that last bit.

The post was long and full of nasty stuff about how wicked all asylum seekers are etc. Usual crap you get from BNP types but here's how it ended.

"However, the truth is, you made that wee story up by all by yourself. There were no “ two guys in their 20s eating kebabs, drunk as skunks and only just staying upright”.

Wee bit like the asylum supporters who chose to compare asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants with our own unemployed as against the millions of hard-working people who work to provide for themselves - and your asylum seekers.

You should have spent more of the time, we pay for it, getting rid of the illegals, including your failed absconding illegal Mhangos.

Please post this on your blog - I will debate asylum with you - I will turn you inside out."

Turn me inside out? I don't think I can be bothered to be honest. And no, I won't be publishing any more of your lies. If you want to peddle those myths, go ahead but do it on your own blog.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Demon drink, "asylum seekers", kebabs and the 38 bus

I was on a bus a while back and standing at the front were two guys in their 20s eating kebabs. I say "standing" but they were drunk as skunks and only just staying upright. I say "eating" kebabs, more like wearing them - and the sauce! Suffice to say they were in a right state and I was listening in to their chat which was quite entertaining in some ways.

However then a guy with two carrier bags of food got up to get off the bus. He looked like he might have been Sri Lankan but anyway he wasn't white - this becomes relevant later. He was very courteous as he tried to get past them. They were not aggressive but they were put out. They were doing that "who do you think you are?" thing without actually saying it out loud.

They waited till he was actually OFF the bus before they did that. And the conversation went along these lines:

"Did you see him wi his f****ing shopping bags?"

"Aye man, who does he think he is?" (Told you!)

"How can a f***ing asylum seeker afford a' they messages and I cannae?"

"I know man. These asylum seekers pure get everythin don't they?"

"That's not right but man is it? I'm fae this country and I cannae get a job so how come he can?"

"Aye. You cannae get a job and nane of us can afford two big bags of messages. Something no right man. Tellin ye."

OK so quick factfile for anyone who doesn't get why I was compelled to join in the conversation from the comfort of my seat on the bus.

Fact 1 - if he's an asylum seeker, he can't get a job, he's not allowed one;

Fact 2 - these two on the other hand ARE allowed to work but it tends to be harder to get one if you are in the habit of getting so drunk you can barely stand;

Fact 3 - it was Farmfoods carrier bags he was carrying. Farmfoods is dirt cheap. If mums go to Iceland, skint mums go to Farmfoods;

Fact 4 - although you can buy strong alcohol far too cheaply thanks to the opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament, they probably spent more on drink and the kebabs they were dripping down their fronts than he did on his week's shopping;

Fact 5 - HOW ON EARTH DID THEY KNOW HE WAS AN ASYLUM SEEKER? The UKBA have not (yet) introduced branding to the forehead so why were they so sure?

They had no answer to that question. In fact, I was surprised that they got quite sheepish when I continued to question them. I thought they'd get aggressive but no, in fact they looked slightly nervous of me. Oops. All I was trying to do was educate them too!

This guy could've been a doctor, a social worker, maybe he even signed on at the same Jobcentre as them. All of this formed part of the lesson which sadly had to endeth when we got halfway along Ally Parade although I was mighty tempted to stay on till their stop.

They looked to me like they still stayed at home and let their mammies do everything for them so why they were fussing about the prices in Farmfoods I'll never know. Oh dear, is that me judging a book by it's cover ... :-)

The despair of people claiming asylum

A friend of mine who started out as a constituent has just been given bad news by the UKBA. He and his wife are asylum seekers from Iran. They were being hunted down in their own country and their lives were in danger. So they paid someone who said he could smuggle them out of the country and get them to Glasgow, Canada for a sum of money. It would involve travelling on fake Russian passports.

That kind of thing goes against you when you seek asylum but what else could he have done? What would you do? Stay and wait for the police to return and shoot you as they had already done to so many of your friends? Or hand over the money?

When they arrived here they didn't know they were in Scotland, they still thought they were in Canada, where they have family. They didn't speak English but as soon as they got to the arrival airport they admitted they were running away and that the passports were fake. They had been dumped (and duped) along the way by the guy with all the solutions who had promised to accompany them to their new life, new job, new home and safety.

I met my friend when he was at his lowest ebb. He was very affected by the three Russian asylum seekers who'd jumped to their deaths at the Red Road flats. (Chillingly, that tragedy reminded many asylum seekers that they had another option and one that I believe many would use rather than go home.)

Everyone in my office has become a friend and although we DO feel sorry for him, the relationships are not based on pity. Everyone really likes him and his wife (who we see less often) and he has become a friend to each of us as we have to him.

You only have to read articles like this one and this one with the incredible line from pro government lawyers who called for Iranian opposition leaders:

"to be tried and put to death"

Not sure what the point of the trial is if they're to be put to death anyway! But that is just an indication of the type of thing that goes on in Iran. It is an extremely dangerous country to be a citizen of.

So for that reason, it is highly unlikely that the British UKBA will deport my friend and his wife - I understand very few are sent to Iran. But if it's that dangerous why not grant them refugee status? Without it they are perpetually living in limbo.

Unfortunately for my friend and his wife, it's worse than that. For they have no outstanding claim and if you don't have a claim waiting to be considered, you are not entitled to any of the "largesse" the likes of the Daily Mail or this eejit would claim we dole out to asylum seekers. Thus, last August they stopped being paid the below poverty level benefits they'd been getting. And thus last week they were finally evicted from the flat they'd been living in.

You might wonder how on earth they've managed until now. Five months with no income and I do mean NO INCOME sounds like hell on earth to me. Once or twice the local church has given them payments of around £50. I know some friends who have given them money every so often but it can't amount to any more than £150 from all of them.

And the wonderful Positive Action in Housing, themselves facing funding cuts, gave them £70 at Christmas as well as inviting them to their pre Christmas "shop" where destitute asylum seekers can shop for food free of charge. Even then, we got there and my friend started helping everyone else but was uncomfortable taking anything for himself. We had to "force" him.

I think we often forget in all of this that no matter how poor, how desperate and how utterly helpless people end up in this life, they still have their pride. Can you imagine being starving and living in a rich country where you have no choice but to wait for and to accept the occasional offer of charity? I know all of that slowly eats away at my friend and I can't tell him I'd feel any different because I wouldn't.

Except I can't even imagine it happening to me. Lucky me eh? (At least I appreciate it, unlike this dimwit who seems to think it's the divine right of people in rich countries.)

So anyway, I estimate the MAXIMUM income they've had in 5 months is £270! That's about £10 a week. And it's never been guaranteed, it's just been there if they've been lucky!

And of course last week it got worse when they were evicted. It just so happens that I knew somewhere they could go but even that is very temporary and they just never know when they'll have to leave. We won't allow them to end up on the street but lots of people do.

Do you feel comfortable knowing that we do that to people and they have no legal right to be housed? I know I don't. I feel ashamed.

I know they don't feel right about living where they are. They feel people are doing them too big a favour and they don't want to take advantage. So it's uncomfortable for them but it was only going to be until his fresh claim was accepted by the UKBA and then, with an eligible claim, they would be entitled to housing and financial support again.

Last night I couldn't contact them. This morning was the same. This afternoon, still no answer. And then he texted me. The UKBA have rejected his claim. He couldn't face the world.

I don't blame you M. I don't know how much more of this hopeless situation you can take.

I am writing about this now because he once, at his lowest, asked me if I would make him a promise. He asked if anything ever "happened" to him, would I make sure the world knew that he was genuine, knew that he never wanted his life to turn out like this, knew how dehumanising our system is in the UK. Well I don't really want to wait for something to happen, I want to tell part of his story now. (It IS only part of it.)

It is often impossible, by the very nature of the regimes that people have fled, for them to prove their stories. And often, unless the UKBA has proof, they will reject your claim. M can't get proof, he's given them everything he can, he's told them the truth. There is nothing more he can do.

He's unlikely to be deported as I said, because it's too dangerous (and getting worse if you read the latest reports). So what is the solution? Do they want him to lie down and slowly starve to death? I don't know what to say to him anymore. He looks to me for answers and I am fast running out. It's my job to have the answers, to find the solutions and I cannot describe how it feels to have run out of reassuring words and new ideas. It's ironic to think that M is one of the luckier ones. He has us. But we could all lose our jobs in a few weeks time and although we'll still be there for him, it limits what we can do. Before he had us he told me he felt like a non person and like he wasn't part of society at all.

I think the point in writing this is to ask everyone reading just to be aware (if you weren't already) of how many asylum seekers might be feeling inside. Even better, if you know someone is an asylum seeker, maybe stop to have a chat and just show them that you care, let them know that they are part of YOUR society. If you have the time to befriend someone so much the better and there are ways in which you can offer your friendship, just get in touch with me and I'll let you know how.

My dad used to say to me "you don't know you're born Hen" meaning that I didn't realise how lucky I was. It's a phrase that springs to my mind every time I look at my friend who has done nothing to deserve being where life has landed him.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Poll results sensational or only to be expected?

I'm not sure why people are so surprised that the SNP has shot ahead in the latest opinion polls. In case you don't know, latest polls show that we have come from being 10 points behind Labour to being 1 point ahead in the constituency poll and 3 points ahead in the list poll.

I had no doubt that this would happen although before you think I am getting overly confident I am sure this is just the start of the see sawing of opinion polls - we'll go up, we'll go down but it does put paid to the nonsense that any party has already won the election when there are nearly months to go.

As I said, I'm not surprised the voters are swinging back to the SNP. You see, the thing that the polls don't tell us is how passionately people feel. And whilst I appreciate most people I speak to know that I'm in the SNP, I only ever pick up passion and enthusiasm from SNP supporters. I know many Labour voters, in fact Labour members who are apologetic about voting Labour. The last time I heard anyone express any embarrassment about voting SNP was around 1985 and it wasn't because of our policies, it was just that we weren't that "cool".

I knock on doors and I have people THANKING ME and asking me to THANK THE SNP GOVERNMENT. I swear this happens with some regularity. I feel like crying when it happens and it makes me really proud to be part of it. I even speak to folk who intend voting Labour (often apologetic) but who will volunteer their views that "the SNP government's doing a great job".

Now they might also tell me things they haven't agreed with but their overall impression of the SNP is a positive one and even amongst some Labour voters, their overall impression is that it's something they'll probably have to stop doing one day because it is embarrassing. I don't give people a hard time, that's not why I'm on their doorstep but if they seem happy to engage in conversation I will ask them what it is about the Labour Party that they are so keen on. And 9 times out of 10 they can't tell me. There are vague mutterings about their parents being Labour voters and what the Labour Party "used to" stand for but that link is now pretty tenuous.

It's always been the way in huge swathes of the Central Belt that voters who go to the polls undecided or considering voting for a party other than Labour, find when they get there they can't quite bring themselves to do it. Their conscience won't allow them. I have heard this so many time over the last two decades. "I just couldn't Hen, I wanted to but my mammy would've turned in her grave", that kind of thing.

But gradually, bit by bit that's been breaking down as Labour has shown itself to be very far from the party it was in the days of that voter's mammy. The biggest breaking down of that attitude and that connection has come in the last four years and the difference is that they don't have to choose to believe what the SNP says or what the Unionists say about how we'd be in power. They have experienced it and seen it with their own eyes. That's why that emotional connection with Labour that has seeped into people's psyche is now starting to come away.

And what the SNP has to do is tap into people's consciences in the way that Labour had done, so that when they get to the polling station thinking they're voting Labour, they find they can't bring themselves to do it because they think "the SNP government is doing a great job", they don't remember ever thinking that of Labour / they, like the majority of Scots don't want Iain Gray as FM, they want Alex Salmond, they feel SAFER with him in charge / they know that voting Labour would be voting against the council tax freeze, voting for prescription charges again, voting against 25,000 apprenticeship for our young people.

And suddenly they discover that their conscience just won't allow them to go back, to undo all the good the SNP government has done. They'll still be voting with their hearts but whereas in the past all the Unionist scaremongering stopped them from opening their hearts to the idea of the SNP, now they've experienced 4 years of the SNP in charge and running a government, not an executive, 4 years of policies that make a difference to people's lives. And now they know it's not "dangerous" and the country hasn't ground to a halt, their hearts and minds are open to us

I also have no doubt there will be more polls between now and 5 May that show Labour ahead of us. That's just the electorate making up its mind, reacting to recent events, keeping us on our toes. Underlying trends are far more important than single polls. What this tells us, or rather reminds us, is that it ain't over till it's over and the SNP is in with a shout! The outcome will depend largely on how many consciences we can tap into between now and then. Speaking of which, that's what I'm off to do ...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Nothing worse than an unfinished cup of coffee

This blog "Indygal goes to Holyrood" started because of something that happened 2 years ago today. On 12 February 2009 I was sworn into the Scottish Parliament and became an SNP MSP for Glasgow. I don't think I'll ever be able to adequately describe what that did to me. Even just typing those words made me want to squeal out loud with excitement and, I guess, disbelief.

Of course at the time I was anything but excited. I was grieving as so many of us were, for Bashir Ahmed who had died only 6 days earlier. I was terrified. And I was completely freaked out by the press attention. From the previous Sunday the papers had all sorts of stories about me. I couldn't get over how they would write about the dullest of things. I had called a Labour MSP "daft" in my blog. And THAT was a story!

The phone never stopped ringing with friends and family wanting to read out something else they'd read about me. Most of them were tickled pink by it all especially my friend Anne who went into Tesco in Inverness to see rows and rows of Daily Records with my face splashed across the front page. And later, much later I was able to giggle at it all. At that time, however, I just felt completely exposed. I'm someone who will always sit in a pub or restaurant with my back against the wall. I'm not someone who was ever going to enjoy that kind of attention.

After being sworn in, something that took all of 60 seconds, I sat down in the chamber and I vividly remember looking round me at everyone and feeling like an imposter. I remember waving up to my friend Thea in the gallery and her stifling her giggles because I suppose it's not really the done thing. (I'll let you into a secret, I still do it!) I remember my lovely wee nephew Toby who was 2 at the time, sticking his face over the gallery edging and calling out. I remember George Foulkes laughing at him.

I remember seeing all these people I'd only ever seen on the TV before. They were sitting in chamber seats too and I remember feeling like I was on some giant game of Celebrity Squares - and again, I was an imposter.

I remember just about every department in the parliament sending people to meet me and tell me things that I just couldn't take in. Asking me questions that I couldn't find answers to. 'Where in your office would you prefer your desk to be?' 'I don't know, does it matter?' I remember my head spinning. I remember missing Kenny Dalglish. My youngest sister, who'd come up from Manchester for the night just to watch me being sworn in, came running over to me at one point telling me she was "so excited, so excited"! I expressed surprise that my election should matter that much to her (we're not that kind of family) and that was when she informed me the cause of her excitement was having just met Kenny Dalglish!

'Where?' 'When?'

I remember her pointing to the lift, the doors of which were just closing. (Have you ever started to sprint and then stopped before you've even put your foot on the ground? It's sore!)

Getting elected like that, long after everyone else has, totally unexpectedly and having been on the inside for so long but not at the core, gave me a unique perspective and I was always aware of how lucky I was to be given this opportunity.

I was also aware that this job is very temporary in nature. And here I am exactly two years later with another unusual perspective that comes of knowing I won't be going back. I found out in October that I finished low down the Glasgow SNP list. It's still possible - either I have to overturn the second least winnable seat for the SNP in Scotland or the SNP must get around 83% on the list in Glasgow.

On the latter, there's a difference between positive thinking and positive delusion. And on the former ie winning my constituency first past the post, it's not impossible but I think it'll take a sustained effort over a number of years before I do that. One or two people have told me that I'll definitely not win if I think like that. I resist the temptation to point out that it takes more than positive thinking and if, at any point, they would care to come out and campaign with me, we will have a far better chance. Is the world always divided between the do-ers and them that tell the do-ers how to do it better but don't actually do it themselves?

I've never believed in pretending to the electorate that you are going to win when you're clearly not. I think people get sick of that. And I think your own voters feel a bit robbed when they've come out and voted because you've told them it's neck and neck only to get beaten by several thousand votes.

What I'll be saying to people is that I intend to build up our vote in Provan over the next couple of years and I'll be asking them at this election to help me to start doing that.

So, the upshot is that certainly for the next four years I will not be in parliament. People have asked why I've not written about that and I think perhaps I will do in the not too distant future. You know what it's like, it's easier to talk about things when they stop mattering to you so much.

Since I found out I was going to be out of a job last October I've really just thrown myself into work and not thought about it much. But since last week, I've not been able to shake it. I walk down the Royal Mile to work and I know it's one of the last times. I have started noticing things I've not had time for until now. I'm worrying about constituents and wondering how I'll be able to stop myself phoning whoever their new MSP is to make sure they're "doing it right". I'm savouring every minute I have left but I can't shake the negative feelings. And I do try. I am very aware that I was given a brilliant opportunity that so few people get. And I am grateful for it, I really am.

But it's a weird situation and I'm never sure how I should feel about it. One of my friends said it was like being sacked but without the letter explaining why. I suppose I can see the similarities. I can't call it redundancy because the post isn't redundant. I know that financially I'll be ok for a while and in that respect I'm a lot luckier than most folk who are losing their jobs right now.

But having lost my job before (that time it was redundancy) I'm keenly aware that it's about more than money and that's the harsh side of politics. You can throw yourself into the job, give it everything you've got, get great results, be absolutely passionate about it, know you couldn't have tried any harder but still lose it in the end.

I'm not feeling sorry for myself, I always said I was grateful for two years and anything beyond that was a bonus. I have never NEEDED this job. As I tell kids when I do school visits who ask me "why did you want to be a politican?", I never did. I just wanted Scotland to be Independent, I just didn't want nuclear weapons in Scotland, I just want our people to be treated fairly. I've never been one for being dependent on anything and I know there is a big wide world out there.

I suppose I'm just thinking today, two years on, that I love my job, absolutely love it and I wanted to keep doing it. Not forever, just until I felt I'd made all the difference I could and I hope I'd have walked away and let someone else come in once I'd reached that stage. But alas it was not to be and I think the next few weeks will be tougher than I expected.

Do you ever make a cup of coffee in the morning and then after a few mouthfuls realise you don't have time to finish it? For the rest of the day you're vaguely aware of something being not quite right, something not quite finished. That's how I feel about my time as an MSP coming to an end. I didn't get to finish what I started. Then again, I suppose it's better to have half a cup than none at all.

And you know what they say about every cloud having a silver lining? Again, I have a different perspective now than most MSPs so hopefully as I savour every last minute, I'll be able to get that across as I write the final month of my blog.

Then after the election, when I get to the other side, I'll see things from a different perspective again. I might throw myself into getting re-elected in 4 years time, I might see if I can become a soap star (dunno why everyone thinks I'm kidding when I say that), maybe I'll go to Egypt and soak up the atmosphere, join one of their new political parties. Perhaps I'll give up caffeine altogether ...

I don't have a clue what I'll do or how I'll feel but despite everything I've said, there's something exciting about not knowing what lies ahead. I've always said life is a big adventure and you never know what roads you'll go down. I will NEVER regret the last two years and I'll always be grateful for having had this brilliant opportunity.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Egypt gives hope to displaced people the world over

It is, of course, wonderful news that Mubarak has stepped down and Egypt now has the chance to become a democracy. And even better news that it was all done so peacefully. The people of Egypt are a shining example to the world.

I was with a woman I know when the news came through. She is from Iran and she sought asylum here a number of years ago but the UKBA don't believe she is in danger and want to return her. If the UKBA could have seen the delight in her face when I told her the news and heard the excitement in her voice as she told me how this gave her hope that one day Iran would follow suit and her country would be free, they would know that she is not here because this is where she wants to be. She is here because she is terrified to go back to Iran.

She told me how much she loves her friends here "but" she said "all my family is in Iran, my culture, my language, everything I've known for all my life". Well today she got a glimmer of hope that maybe one day she'll be able to see her family again. I'm sure there are many thousands the world over for whom this has ignited that faint glimmer of hope again.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Why there are criminals more worthy of our sympathy than Jim Devine

Am watching Politics Now and just heard commentator Lorraine Davidson say that Jim Devine (ex Labour MP just found guilty of fraudulently claiming expenses at Westminster) shouldn't go to jail. The argument seems to be that he cuts a sad figure these days. How many folk who get found out and are facing jail don't cut sad figures? It's a sad thing, not something many folk would choose.

She also said his defence was reminiscent of playground excuses and paraphrased him: "a big boy did it and ran away". That makes it sound quite harmless but am I not right in thinking that it wasn't a "big boy" he tried to put the blame onto but his secretary? Someone he had a duty to as her employer and he told the court it was her when it was quite clearly NOT her? The only similarity to the playground here is the big bully scenario.

I'm sorry that he's come to this. But we cannot feel sorrier for someone who ends up where he is after a very successful professional life than we do for someone who commits crime after a life of poverty and hardship?

How about we save our tears and soothing words for the women who end up in jail through non payment of fines because they are already living in dire poverty? Or those mothers who our judicial system sees fit to imprison when they can't do their community service because they have nobody to look after their children? That is a major problem that needs to be addressed.

As I said I am sorry for Jim Devine but no more so than I am for anyone whose life goes wrong like this.

And I'm far more sorry for the men and women who start out with nothing, have no expectation of anything more than they started out with and who are absolutely right about that because they ultimately end up with precisely nothing.

He might be sitting in a jail cell one day contemplating how tough it is to fall from such a great height but at least he had the opportunity to climb up there. At least he got to see the view from the top. Many folk can't seem to get on the first rung no matter how hard they try. For so many living in poverty life is one step forward, two steps back. He can sit in his cell dreaming about better days and eventually he'll look forward to better days on his release.

The people I'm talking about will be in their cells worrying about their children, resolving never to resort to crime again and resigning themselves to learning to manage on their benefits or minimum wage jobs if they're "lucky" enough to get one now that they have a criminal record. That's who we should be talking about. These are the prisoners we should be worrying about. Not someone who had so many privileges but fuelled by greed, wanted more and when he got caught breaking the law, tried to blame his secretary who was no doubt loyal to him and probably worked her socks off.

I hope he learns from this but I hope we all learn too that jail MAY be harder (may not be but it may) for someone who's used to a nice lifestyle. But LIFE is not harder for them. It IS far far harder for the people I've been talking about and they still have to cope with it when the prison term is over.

Labour weans

Today I made the mistake of sitting near the Labour end of the SNP section in the parliament chamber for First Minister's Questions. Every time I do that I remember why it's a bad idea. Watching alleged grown ups behaving like out of control tantrum throwing children is unedifying to say the least!

As we get closer to the election of course it gets worse and yesterday when they voted AGAINST FREEZING THE COUNCIL TAX, and they voted AGAINST FREE PRESCRIPTIONS and they voted AGAINST 25,000 NEW APPRENTICESHIPS just because it was the SNP who were proposing it in the budget, was a sad example of how it's going to be from now till parliament dissolves on 22 March.

At First Minister's Questions however I really was incensed when I heard the rubbish coming from some of the backbenchers, in particular Michael McMahon and Karen Gillen. The issue of the Labour controlled North Ayrshire Council's ridiculous idea to have a 4 day week for schools came up and Iain Gray said in response this:

"What the First Minister fails to mention is that this idea came about because the SNP group on the council asked for radical proposals."

So what? They didn't ask for utterly stupid proposals and it was the Labour group who came up with it.

That, however, didn't stop the two aforementioned Labour MSPs amongst others in their group heckling the FM with cries of "it was an SNP plan", "it was your party's idea".

Lies, lies, lies. The question is do they not understand or are they deliberately lying? I promise I will NEVER stoop that low no matter how long I remain in politics. I will concede that it's probably easier for me because the Labour Party give us so much material, there really is no need to make it up. However, genuine material or not, if I can't do it without lying I won't do it at all.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The budget today

Here's my e-newsletter sent out after the budget today - I've slightly amended it for blog purposes but it's more or less the same.

A Budget for Scotland

As I’m sure many of you are aware, today saw the passing of the Scottish budget. We heard some fantastic news for Glasgow and for Scotland as a whole and I was absolutely delighted to support today’s budget. This really is, in every sense, a budget for all of Scotland. Bear in mind the Scottish Government is having to manage all of this in the face of unprecedented cuts from Westminster.

So below I’ve detailed some further announcements that the Scottish Government have committed to in today’s budget.

A further £11.5 million to create 25, 000 modern apprenticeship places

This absolutely has to be the biggest and best announcement for me. At a time when people across Scotland, particularly young people, are facing real challenges to secure employment, action like this is vital for them. It demonstrates to me that the Scottish Government take unemployment seriously and have put their money where their mouth is. I’ll be fighting to ensure that Glasgow sees as many of these new apprenticeship places as possible. Right now we’re doing all we can, but with the powers of independence we can do so much more.

Yet again we are funding a council tax freeze

I have always believed in freezing the council tax and fully support the Government in their efforts to do so, but it is important that they match this with the funding to councils so that services are not affected. So not only do I welcome the freeze and the relief that it will provide for households across Glasgow, but I also welcome the funding that ensures councils aren’t short changed because of this measure.

Funding to continue and uplift the small business bonus scheme

Despite Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Tories voting to stop large retailers paying a tiny amount more in business rates, a proposal that would’ve given us an extra £30 million, I’m extremely happy to see the Government continue rates relief for our small businesses. There are some fantastic businesses around Glasgow that have really benefited from this scheme, and I’m delighted to hear that 64, 000 small businesses will be removed from paying business rates – saving them an average of £4, 100 per year. In turn this will increase employment opportunities and support our local economies.

Prescriptions to be free for all

Prescription charges are a tax on the sick – nothing more and nothing less. I’ve been happy to see them significantly reduced, but will be overjoyed to see the complete abolition of prescription charges all together. This, for me, shows that the Scottish Government has got its priorities right.

£15 million in funding for college bursaries

Back in the early days of the Scottish Government, they took the decision to abolish the graduate endowment. I thought that was the right decision for Scotland’s students and believe it demonstrated their commitment to students across Scotland. Today, in the last budget of this Parliament, the Scottish Government announced an additional £15 million for Scotland’s students to fund college bursaries. I’m proud of the work that this government has done for Scotland’s students and believe that this announcement today further demonstrates their commitment to higher and further education.

I congratulate the hundreds of you who’ve emailed me on this issue. It is also well worth noting that this is £1 million more than the amount NUS Scotland asked for.

Teacher training

A huge issue, particularly in Glasgow, is the issue of teacher numbers. I’m delighted at the announcement to guarantee a probation place for every newly-qualified teacher and provide enough teaching jobs for every post-probationer in 2011/12.

£10 million support for SME employment creation

Focused on new starts, sole traders and small firms to take on new employees by assisting with employment and recruitment costs and assist with exports. This is an important measure that will help combat unemployment in our communities. Scotland needs a budget that helps create jobs and it’s clear to see from measures like this one, that that is what the Government have delivered.

£16 million further investment in housing

I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear John Swinney announce this in Parliament today. Housing is probably the number one issue that people come to see me about and is something that we badly need more of. Just like with the apprenticeship places, I’ll be fighting to bring as much of this investment to Glasgow as possible. The great thing about this announcement is that it doesn’t just create new housing, but also creates new construction jobs to go with them, and combined with the 25,000 apprenticeships, we are definitely moving in the right direction. It’s measures like this that enable me to call this budget, a budget for all of Scotland.

In conclusion …

I’m sure that you will agree that these measures are good news for Scotland. Despite Scotland’s budget being cut by £1.3 billion from Westminster, I believe that John Swinney has done a fantastic job in balancing the books and getting his priorities right – that’s why I was delighted to support the budget.

The announcements above are only the headline announcements and are in addition to previous commitments made at stage 1 back in October.

I’m deeply disappointed that Labour voted against all of these measures and didn’t bring forward a simply amendment or any alternatives whatsoever. That is up to them, but I’m not clear who it helps. I guess they think it helps them in terms of getting votes and it's sad that they have become too cynical to put petty politics behind them but as I said, that's up to them. For now I'm just delighted that Scotland has a budget.

Friday, 4 February 2011

I'll huff and I'll puff ...

I don't know if it's windy where you are but it's blowing a gale here in Glasgow. It's bad enough when you're tucked up safe and warm but imagine you lived next to this close. Look at the window frames hanging out and does that chimney look like it's supported in any way?
No! And that's because it isn't. But for some reason the GHA thought it was okay to leave this close like this after it was burned down more than 3 months ago. It would be bad enough if it was on waste land but it's not.
It's the close right next door to a woman I met the other day. She and ten friends were waiting to greet me when I turned up. They wanted to tell me about a number of things but the most pressing issue was that they have to live next to this and they were scared because at the bottom of the close is a pile of bricks and tiles that came off during the last high winds. Who's to say that chimney won't be next and who can tell if someone will be walking by at the time.
There were many other issues and I'm planning to show you the full extent in the not too distant future but let's just say this place is the land that everyone forgot. It seemed like nobody cared what happened to the families living here, so extensive were the problems. But I care and I got right onto the various agencies including the GHA. Apparently the next morning the GHA were out rectifying some of the problems.
And that's good. But why does it have to wait until an MSP asks them to sort it out? What was wrong with doing it last week or last year when the problems first arose? And would they have done it at all had I not got involved? I really hope I'm wrong about that and I am very glad work has been started. I'll be meeting the GHA onsite tomorrow and I hope to be able to publish a photo which shows this building has been secured and cordoned off if not demolished.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Unionists - all in it together

Arch opposer of the teensy weensy additional tax on giant retail units, and thus opposer of an extra £30 million for the people of Scotland, Richard Baker LABOUR MSP has just proven that Labour really has moved so far to the right it's hard to see the difference between them and the Tories.

Stewart McDonald who works as my researcher was in the queue in the canteen today just after FMQs. It was an FMQs that saw the Labour benches enthusiastically slapping their desks (too much effort to clap) in support of Annabel Goldie Leader of the Tories.

Anyway she was in the queue in the canteen when Stewart saw Richard Baker (LABOUR) go up to her, slap her on the back and tell her "good lines Annabel, good lines". You wouldn't catch me congratulating a Tory but like the headline says they're all in it together!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

That Friday feeling

It's Tuesday and already it feels like it must surely be the weekend! However, hard as I've been working, it's been the kind of work I love doing so I will refrain from complaining. Yesterday, Monday I visited Barlanark Community Health Shop and we had a chat about their funding challenges. It would be such a huge problem for the area if they were to lose their funding but my prediction is that over the next few years there will be more and more vital services disappearing. It would be short sighted however because organisations like this do so much to prevent further (and more expensive) problems down the line. We agreed some things I'm going to look into and I'm really looking forward to doing all I can to support them.

Next I went to see The Pavilion in Easterhouse, a community hall that provides learning support and youth groups. Wait till you hear this. They just happened to mention in passing that the football pitches next to them are not theirs but somehow they've been paying the electricity for ten years! It's all to do with the switch being in their building. So what? They're not their pitches, why on earth should they have to use their very small grants to pay for something that's nothing to do with them? That's what I'll be asking Glasgow Life when I speak to them later in the week!

Quick meeting with David who works for me one day a week after that. I only had 20 minutes and couldn't find a parking space so we ended up having the meeting in the car and moving every time we spotted a traffic warden!

I then handed in my tax returns, patted myself on the back for getting them in "early" ie before 5pm on the deadline) and nipped down to my mum's in Gourock for 2 hours to go over some of the basics of a laptop. I had promised to do it on Sunday but had to work so this was me making up for it.

The day finished off with a campaign worknight delivering supporter letters. I got home about 9.30pm with just enough time to do the dishes, eat my tea and set the alarm for 6am.

Tuesday 6am ...

No of course I didn't get up. I woke up. Forgot why I wanted to get up early and lay there pondering it on and off for the next 90 minutes!

Today I had a brilliant meeting with a group of women in the East End of Glasgow. I won't go into detail just now because I wouldn't be able to do it justice. But it let me see that sometimes people and communities really are just completely forgotten about. Myself and Michael who works with me were horrified by what we learned this morning.

So we spent the next few hours on the phone and firing off letters demanding action. I NEVER demand, I always (politely and sometimes firmly) ask but I never DEMAND. Today however I was so angry with the way these families were being treated that I just had to stand up for them.

The rest of the day was spent going over mail in the office, writing more letters, speaking to the other guys in the office about what they're working on.

At 5.30pm I went to the demo in George Square to support the people of Egypt. It was a really good demo, great speakers and felt good to be a tiny little part of something exciting happening in the world. I hope the people of Egypt get what they want and that is democracy, something we all take for granted.

Anyway I got home frozen to the marrow about 7pm only to discover that I'd left my house keys in the office. Problem was, the house keys are on the same bunch as the office keys so I couldn't get in. I had to drive over to one of my colleagues, borrow his keys, anyway you get the picture. I got home at 8.30pm, wrote a speech for the Forced Marriages debate tomorrow, watched Eastenders, did more dishes and now I'm blogging before going to bed.

You can see why i'm thinking it's weekend time shortly!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Ach it's just oor GENERAL ELECTION - it can wait!

This is outrageous. The result of Scotland's general election in May this year is to be delayed for around TWO DAYS. Scotland will be left in limbo from 5 to 7 May not knowing who their MSPs are and, more importantly, not knowing who will be governing Scotland. And all this at a time of great financial uncertainty.

And why? Because the British Government plucked a date out of thin air for their AV referendum - the referendum that was a sop to their Lib Dem coalition partners but that's so weakened from the Lib Dem position that even THEY don't want it - and what date did they come up with? Yes that's right 5 May, the date of OUR general election.

And now it seems that it's not possible for local authorities to count both votes on time so what do they do? Delay our national result. I am shocked but not surprised. I just wonder how long it will be till the people of Scotland WAKE UP to the fact that the reason this country is disrespected is because WE ALLOW IT TO HAPPEN. In fact, I feel like we positively INVITE it!

And when you're telling someone to beat up on you because you don't really mind, it's often very tempting to do just that. The British government (whatever the party colours) gives into temptation every time. Wake up Scotland!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Happy Burns Night

This is the brilliant Parsonage Choir performing Rabbie Burns' The Slaves Lament. They were performing at an event I was speaking at last week organised by the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in Gambia. As I said on my youtube description, I practically had to staple my hands to the chair to stop me getting up on stage and singing with them. I thought they were fantastic and I'd be selfish not to share with you. I've not been well today and this is the only thing that's cheered me up. Hope it works for you too!

Rabbie goes to Haiti

Glasgow Caring City the brilliant charity that does so much work at home and overseas, chose today the birthday of Burns to launch something very special. And I was very pleased as one of their Ambassadors to set it up for them. The charity was working in Haiti long before the earthquake just over a year ago. In the last year they have done much but their biggest achievement is in completely rebuilding the Good Samaritan School in Cite Soleil.

One of the rooms will be known as The Caledonian Room and it's where children will learn about and long distance friendships will be built with people in Scotland.

To kick off the latest appeal Alex Salmond the First Minister was the first to donate a book and he chose "A Biography of Robert Burns". I got the other party leaders and a Glasgow MSP from each party together and we each donated a book that we thought said something about Scotland. You can read about the choices here.

I donated a book of beautiful photographs of Glasgow by Colin Baxter. As the children are French speaking (but learning English) I have a feeling mine might just be the most popular book initially!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sheila's Wheels grind very very slowly and don't mention ScottishPower!

Not sure how to introduce this other than to say I feel the need to rant.

Scottish Power are the first to be driving me up the wall. (Not the last as you'll hear.) I get my gas and electricity through Eon. No particular reason other than that's what was here when I moved in and I've not looked at other options. Last September however Eon wrote to me and said "please don't go, stay with us" etc. "What can you mean?" I asked "I wasn't going anywhere". Apparently I was. Apparently I had told ScottishPower I wanted to move to them.

No I didn't.

I wasn't asked. I've never had a phone call from Scottish Power, never had a letter, never had anyone at the door so I'm quite sure I didn't ask to switch to them.

I've had this before. My ex flatmate found he'd switched supplier (funnily enough to Scottish Power) and it turned out some sales person had not got him home so decided that meant he was a switcher (no doubt earning him a nice commission).

So I told Eon no I don't want to switch and that was that. I was quite pleased that my fuel bill over winter wasn't too high - not that I've paid it yet but I'll "get round to it".

And now I know WHY it wasn't too high. Because I have indeed switched to ScottishPower. So not only are they stealing me as a customer, Eon are letting them despite me being quite explicit in my instructions. (Sounding quite school marmish now aren't I?!)

Worse though, I opened two letters yesterday without looking to see that they weren't for me. One was for the woman who sold me this flat over a year ago and it was a ScottishPower electricity bill. The other was for someone I've never heard of but she has my address and it, too, was an electricity bill.

Is it me?

Onto Sheila's Wheels

"Why" I enquired of them "are you taking two direct debits from me, one of which you've been taking for two years when I've only been with you a year"?

Reasonable enough question. Here's the answer:

"One is for your Hyundai Amica" (don't ask, 5 year warranty) "and the other is for the Peugeot 306, Reg R262 FSU". Ah, the one I got rid of in January 2009. Or should I say the one that abandoned me in Jan 2009.

That'll be the one that used to be insured by Sheila's Wheels until I wrote to notify them of its death. Now I know it's daft of me not to have checked my bank statements until now but you know, things happened shortly after that and I got quite busy. Besides, if you tell them you don't need their insurance, you surely can expect them to stop taking your money!

And I'm thinking it must be pretty easy for folk to give a cheaper insurance address to save money because they clearly don't check given that I had two cars insured with them at two different addresses. That's the other thing, the two flats are a street apart. If I was going to have a second home it wouldn't be round the corner!

And that brings me onto my final point. They must have written regarding renewal of insurance. To the old address. Because why would I give them the NEW address if I was no longer with them? These days however, insurance companies don't wait for you to say yes or no, they just tell you if they don't hear from you they'll renew you anyway. I don't like that and this is the reason why.

Anyway I replied to the "you have two cars and two homes" letter on 1st December and what do you think they said? Nothing! My calculations tell me I've paid £400 for nothing and I want it back. No doubt if they EVER reply they'll need me to jump through time consuming hoops and make it as difficult as possible for me to comply. Guess who I won't be renewing with next year!