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.