Thursday, 20 December 2007

Graduate Endowment No More!

Great news! MSPs today voted to scrap the Graduate Endowment, albeit narrowly.

I know I should be more charitable, given that Christmas is fast approaching - but I simply cannot believe the twisted logic that was presented as arguments against scrapping this unfair tuition fee.

Yes, universities could always do with more funding. When I was at university (an increasingly long time ago now), they were crying out for cash. They are crying out for more cash today, and I'm sure they will be doing so from now until the end of time.

All of our public services, for example, could do with more cash. The NHS would benefit from more money. Our schools could do with more money too. Scotland has suffered from massive underinvestment in our infrastructure for decades - public transport needs a massive cash injection, and so many of our roads are downright dangerous. We need investment across the board to make Scotland a better place to live - but we only have a certain amount of money to allocate.

So, yes, I get it - universities would like more money. But why does it follow that students should be getting into more debt to pay for it? Students already have to shoulder a huge amount of debt, just to get an education. Tuition fees and a steady erosion of student grants has massively contributed to the culture of debt that is now endemic in our society. This is not a simple matter (as many argue) of ensuring that people who are able to access higher education contribute financially to the cost of that education, in return for the 'benefit' they receive from it. If people earn more because of their education, then they will contribute more back to the state and wider society through higher taxes. If they don't benefit financially from higher education relative to what they might have earned otherwise, then they won't pay higher taxes. The idea is progressive taxation. It's something that the Labour Party once believed in. Why should a social worker pay the same back to the state in the form of a tuition fee than someone who becomes a high-earning lawyer? The Graduate Endowment was a regressive tax.

And for Labour's Rhona Brankin to argue that "abolishing the endowment does not tackle access issues and it does not tackle issues of student poverty" is missing the point entirely. Scrapping the Graduate Endowment does not, on its own, ensure that access to universities is widened or that the issue of student debt will be solved. Indeed not. But it's a start, and it's more than the Labour Party would have done for students had they been returned to government in May!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Lib Dems Cheated?

Yes, I know what you are thinking. Given Nicol Stephen's astonishingly snide attacks on Alex Salmond (when he has patently done nothing wrong), here comes an SNP blogger to throw some mud back...

Not at all.

I am in fact referring to the coverage about the election of the UK Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg today. The media reporting of this so far has been very subdued in tone. Rather than a big 'unveiling of the new leader' style reports, it has been more ' oh yeah, and the Lib Dems elected the latest of a long line in leaders today, and he only won by the skin of his teeth...' They just can't catch a break. :o)

But then, there isn't really a lot of interest in the Lib Dems beyond the political anoraks, and even then the Lib Dems are only of interest to many because of how they will position themselves relative to the other parties.

And this is what I find so depressing about Nicol Stephen at the moment. While he was a Minister in the previous Lib-Lab Executive he was notoriously 'lazy' (in the words of civil servants in his department), and he lacked any zeal for his job. Now, he seems to have sprung to life in his quest to smear Alex Salmond and the SNP. I think this is quite telling about his character. He is clearly more motivated by a desire to damage a political foe than he is about governing Scotland well.

I just can't get over how spiteful he is allowing himself to appear, and I'm afraid that his conduct will only lower the opinion that people have of politics and politicians even further. As I have said before, the worst thing about Labour's donor woes for me was the damage it may do to politics in this country. Labour's donor problems are a legitimate issue of concern, and have to be publicly addressed. But it is wholly irresponsible to stoke up controversy over an issue like the Trump project purely for political point scoring, and perceived party advantage. I cannot understand why people think there has been any wrong doing on the part of Alex Salmond or the Scottish Government, other than because people like Nicol Stephen have been slinging mud.

N.B. I do hope I managed to make my point there without throwing any 'mud' at Nicol Stephen. The 'lazy' comment sails a bit close to the wind, but that is opinion rather than an accusation, so I hope that doesn't count...

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Independent Future

Yes, the flat is still in disarray after our recent ceiling disaster - but this story is worth taking a few minutes to pass comment on.

It certainly is good news that support for independence is growing, and it is interesting to note the even higher levels of support among younger people. It does remind me of a conversation I once had with somebody about this. When I asked them if they supported independence, they replied, 'well, about 20 years ago I would have, but I'm too old now.' [The emphasis is mine of course] I thought that comment was interesting on a couple of levels. Firstly, that the individual associated independence with being younger, and seemed to suggest that they no longer had either the energy to make it work or the capacity to care anymore. Secondly, I thought it was a very bizarre way to look at the world - that just because you are getting older, you don't care about what happens to younger generations.

Having spoken to a lot of pensioners about politics over the years (especially when I was doing research on pensions), I don't think the view above is common among older people. I had many a conversation with people campaigning for higher state pensions, who were very clear that they did not want that increase to come at the expense of childcare, or help for students, for example. As an aside, they were quite happy for higher state pensions to come at the expense of daft plans for ID cards and dangerous nuclear weapons...

Anyway, the point I am trying to make, is that lower support for independence among older people is unlikely to be because they care less about Scotland's future - after all, most have children and grandchildren.

I don't know how to explain it, other than to note that the increased support among younger people would seem to indicate a generational shift in attitude towards the union in which Scotland finds itself in the 21st century. A union that, to many, seems to have outlived any relevance it may have had. But in the context of globalisation, and the development of supranational bodies like the EU, then self-government becomes a must-have. The nation-state is the entity through which we engage with the rest of the world. For people growing up in modern Scotland, the limits of being classed as a 'region' within the wider UK state are becoming clearer - particularly when small nations like Malta have more say in the EU than Scotland.

But just because the benefits of independence seem to be clearer to Scotland's younger generation, this doesn't mean they will be the only ones to benefit from a future in which Scotland is independent. Independence will give us the powers we need to build a better future for our nation and everyone who lives here, and it will take time to build some of the more lasting foundations for success. But there are many things that we will be able to do almost immediately with those powers, such as introduce a Citizen's Pension - a policy that would benefit every pensioner in Scotland.

I do hope that, in the same way that Scotland's older citizens demonstrate their concern for younger people, that those young people who support independence will inspire Scotland's older generations to ensure that they make a positive contribution and leave a lasting legacy for Scotland - and choose independence.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Exclusive: Sky Falls Down Under The SNP!

Well, not quite. It is in fact our living room ceiling that is in the process of falling down at the moment. The plaster has developed a sudden attraction to the carpet for some reason, and this has unleashed a bit of chaos in the Hepburn household, as we have had to clear everything out of the room in preparation for the scaffolding (!).

Still, at this time of year, it is only right to spare a thought for those less fortunate...

Wendy Alexander, Charlie Gordon...

Seriously though, I can't believe this whole saga is still rumbling on. Am I the only one bored of revelation after revelation? It seems that Labour's strategy is to hang on to the main protagonists in this episode until the media, other political parties and everyone else in Scotland is too bored to call for resignations anymore.

After such continued exposure to Labour's sleaze, there is a danger that the natural outrage that people initially feel is diluted over time. Charlie Gordon may eventually have to resign as an MSP once the investigation is complete, but I suspect Wendy and co. may ride this storm.

This is a worrying state of affairs for the Labour Party, which will bear the scar of this debacle for some time. However, it is more worrying for the principle of accountability in politics. As I have stated before, when people makes mistakes, they should be accountable for those mistakes. To hang on, in my opinion, shows the contempt that the current Labour leader in Scotland has for the people of this country.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Wendy Alexander and THAT cheque

Well, I have tried to avoid blogging on the whole donorgate affair - but it now seems that's all anyone is talking about!

I have no aspersions to cast I'm afraid, no insider information from the corridors of the Scottish Parliament and definitely no gossip - sorry :o(

Unlike a lot of people, I am not revelling in the misery of the Labour Party. And despite my immense dislike of Wendy Alexander as a politician (I don't think she is nearly as bright as the hype) and my low opinion of the Labour Party these days, I just can't muster the outrage that others feel.

Instead, I just feel disappointed. I don't understand why people break the rules, especially when they are in trusted positions and put themselves forward as leaders in our society. This whole affair won't just damage the Labour Party, it also damages the image of politics as a whole and all other politicians. It further undermines the faith of our citizens in politics, and ultimately damages our democracy. I can just hear the cries from sofas across the country:

"Well, it's no surprise really - they are all at it."


"Politicians - they are all the same. Liars the lot of them."

I can also imagine that many members of the Labour Party are feeling disillusioned right now. They have a right to expect more from their elected representatives and leaders. I personally couldn't be a member of a party that had become so rotten at its core, and abandoned all its founding principles.

I understand that Wendy Alexander is hanging on to act as a protective dam against the tide of damage that her resignation would cause in London. Given that Tom McCabe has already admitted that Wendy Alexander has broken the law (either intentionally or unintentionally), I think the longer she stays as leader of Labour in Scotland, the more damage she does to Scottish politics as a whole.

Politicians aren't perfect. They are just people. Most of them try their best to do a good job for the people they represent and fight for the ideas they believe in - whatever their party. Sometimes they make mistakes, as human beings do. But when they do, they should take responsibility for these mistakes and do the right thing by their conscience.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Keeping Warm This Winter

Further to my post on 15 November 'A Cold Winter', I made up my mind not just to complain about the issue, but to try and do something about it. So I decided to try and raise awareness, in the constituency I'm a candidate for and online, about the help available.

I've launched a local campaign aimed at helping pensioners to keep warm this winter.

As a candidate, there are limited opportunities to actually help people. You can campaign on issues, but it is difficult to affect real change for people, unless you then become their elected representative. However, by raising awareness of steps that people can take to keep warm this winter, if just a handful of people get extra help because of my campaign, then it is well worth it.

More information can be found on my campaign website:

With the Westminster Government sitting on a pot £4.5 billion of unclaimed benefits for older people, we should be doing all we can to make sure pensioners claim the money they are entitled to. That £4.5 billion would go a long way to helping people stay warm this winter.

I've put together a short list of steps (with telephone numbers and web links) that pensioners can take if they are worried about keeping warm this winter. There is a lot of information out there, but it's not all easily accessible in one place. But it is now on my website, so if you are interested in raising awareness about the help available, please check it out.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Budget of Ambition

I've finally found a few minutes to share a few thoughts on the Scottish Government's Budget. Better late than never...

One thing struck me almost immediately about the whole process, and that is the contrast between the approach of the new SNP Government and the previous Lib-Lab Executive. The previous administration , to be fair, was not incompetent. It was, though, notable for its mediocrity, of ability and ambition. The objective seemed to be that of merely managing devolution, and consequently managing Scotland. The SNP, however, have brought a breath of fresh air to the governance of Scotland, not just in the abilities of Ministers, but also in their ambition.

John Swinney's Budget is one of ambition for Scotland. It doesn't achieve everything that the SNP wants to do in government, and indeed the Budget does not stretch to some of the things that we thought could be delivered in this term. But in the context of such a tight financial settlement from Westminster, and being forced by the opposition parties into paying hundreds of millions for a tram system in Edinburgh, I am amazed at just how much John Swinney has been able to deliver.

It is also quite bizarre to see quite how hysterical the opposition parties are getting about the delivery of SNP policies that they either oppose, or had no intention of delivering themselves. To be fair (and I do try) the Tories are behaving more like a sensible and constructive opposition party - but they have had more practice than the Lib Dems and Labour.

Take tuition fees and student debt for example. Believe me, as someone who graduated the first time round in 2001 and then again in 2004, student debt is an issue close to my heart. So, I was very pleased that the SNP campaigned on policies to scrap tuition fees (thereby reducing the level of debt students would incur in the first place), replace loans with grants and write off existing student loans. It is ludicrous to suggest that the SNP has abandoned these aims. The Government has already guaranteed that tuition fees will be abolished, and the Budget states that they are working towards the phased replacement of loans with grants (starting with part-time students) and in 2008 they will publish proposals to deal with graduate debt.

Had the Lib-Lab Executive been returned to power in May of this year, then this wouldn't be happening. Yet they would not have incurred the wrath that has been unleashed on the SNP for daring to be ambitious, and to aspire and work towards something better for our students. I think that the people of Scotland will be far more supportive of a Government that at least tries to improve our country, even if it can't fulfill all of its ambitions immediately, than a mediocre Executive that didn't even try...

Thursday, 15 November 2007

A Cold Winter

My recent absence from blogging is primarily due to a bad cold, followed by some generic winter bug. Why am I divulging unwanted details of my health? Well, because it got me thinking...

The change of weather always sends a wave of such illnesses through the populous. At this time of year we all find ourselves putting on that extra jumper and turning up the heating a bit. Or do we?

Life, unfortunately, is not as simple as that for many people, who will be facing yet another cold winter without adequate heating in their homes. The appalling consequence for some will be tragic. Each winter, many hundreds of pensioners in Scotland die from cold-related illnesses. The number of 'excess winter deaths' had been falling in recent years, but the latest figures show an alarming increase. During the winter of 2006/07, there were 2,560 additional deaths among our pensioners. See the figures below:

And have a look at this press release from Help the Aged, to give you an idea of just how desperate the situation is:

In this wealthy country - especially a country rich in oil, gas and renewable energy - it is almost unbelievable that so many people cannot afford to heat their homes.

We all feel the pinch at winter as we absorb the extra energy costs, but I can't begin to imagine how people can cope with sky-high fuel bills when they are on the basic state pension.

There are some things that governments can do to address this shocking state of affairs, and to be fair, both the Westminster and Scottish Governments are doing some good work in this area - but it's not enough. We need to increase state pensions, abolish the Council Tax which impacts disproportionately on people with low incomes like state pensions, ensure that our homes are better insulated and energy efficient, and meet the demand for the central heating programme. As individuals too, we should be playing our part by looking out for any elderly neighbours at this time of year.

There are no problems in this country that cannot be fixed. This one is not rocket science. One fifth of our pensioners are living in poverty, and they cannot afford to heat their homes. This is purely a question of money and political will. So why are we letting some of our most vulnerable citizens freeze to death each winter?

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Marriage Material?

It was a beautiful winter's day to be out and about on the campaign trail. I spent the morning going round doors in Condorrat to introduce myself to residents and to hand out our local survey. After lunch, our team of volunteers moved on to Kilsyth to continue the work.

One of the most interesting things about being a political activist is the number of different people you get to meet, and they can often surprise you. For example, I received a marriage proposal today from a young man in Kilsyth! I had to inform him I was already married - but it's still nice to be asked! Not sure my husband would agree though...

Thursday, 1 November 2007

More adventures at SNP conference...

Thanks to a reminder in the above blog, I have just realised the significance of today. It could have been election day! Given that I am sat on the sofa, in big comfy slippers suffering from a cold, I'm really glad that today is not polling day :o) And unlike Marco (see link) I AM looking forward to Eastenders and the big wedding episode. I don't have many vices but soaps are one of them (does it only count as one vice if I group them all together...?).

Anyway, in my previous blog, I promised to post more on events at conference. Don't say I don't deliver!

One of the most interesting events for me at conference was the fringe meeting organised by Save the Children and Scottish Refugee Council on issues faced by asylum seeking children. One of those who spoke to SNP delegates was a teenage boy who told us about being detained in Dungavel with his mum and brother, and how terrible an experience it was. It's such a truly awful thing to do to people who have committed no crime - especially children.

We had a surprise additional guest to the meeting - the First Minister himself. Alex said the SNP was a government that would not only make popular decisions, but also the less popular decisions if they are the right thing to do. He was referring primarily to the Government's decision to give the children of asylum seekers the same access to Higher Education as other children in Scotland. Our new Government's compassionate and positive attitude to people seeking asylum in our country has not gone unnoticed. People do feel more welcome and positive about Scotland as a result - and I am particularly proud that the SNP Government is making a positive difference to the lives of this group of people. They deserve it after all they have been through - fleeing their countries in fear, years of uncertainty as their asylum claims are processes, a hostile media and often hostile attitudes of local communities too.

The meeting also heard from a woman who had sought asylum from persecution in Algeria. Her claim has taken 6 and a half years to process, and has only been resolved now because of the special measures that have been put in place to clear the backlog of cases. At the end of her very moving story, she imparted the good news that her case has been successful and she can now fully participate in life in Scotland. She is a remarkable lady and a great addition to Scotland too.

We still have a long way to go in changing attitudes towards asylum seekers in Scotland, but we are at least moving in the right direction.

Monday, 29 October 2007

SNP Conference

I got back from SNP Conference last night, and I've not yet had a chance to think about how to blog on this topic. There's just so much to choose from!

The conference was so busy. Each year, I vow to attend more fringe meetings, take part in and listen to more debates, and catch up with more of my friends. Inevitably, there just aren't enough hours in the day.

I did, however, speak to the motion on the SNP Government's 'National Conversation' on Scotland's constitutional future. More on that in a future blog...

I also attended a couple of noteworthy fringe meetings. One was organised by Save the Children and Scottish Refugee Council, which concentrated on the experience of asylum seeking children. The other, was organised by the Scottish Social Enterprise coalition. Again, I will endeavour to share my experiences of those with you soon.

I would like to share a couple of observations right now though. Firstly, like many people, I assumed that we would hardly see the Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers at conference given their immense workload. But, on the contrary, those who run our government took part in a range of debates along with other delegates, they mingled with delegates and observers in the canteen and were generally accessible for anyone who wanted to talk to them. Not that I should be surprised really. I have worked for most of the MSPs who now form our government, and I know what value they place, not just on party members, but on really listening to those at the grassroots.

I was also struck by just how the SNP has grown, not just in terms of membership, but in terms of maturity and quality of debate. The quality of contributions from delegates and politicians alike were a joy to behold. Yes, some people did mention the results in May once or twice, but there was no real sense of triumphalism, but one of sober professionalism. For years, I have appealed to people on the doorsteps to give the SNP a chance to show what we can do. And that is very much the focus of the party. We may have won the election, but we still need to prove ourselves in government and make the case for independence.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

David Cairns - What was he thinking?

I have just read the comments of David Cairns in today's Scotland on Sunday...

In response to the Scottish Government's bid to obtain observer status to international talks on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he has said that Alex Salmond:

"seeks to cavort across the world stage with his discredited looney left policies."

Excuse me!?!

Is he suggesting that people who want to rid the world of nuclear weapons - weapons of mass destruction, capable of obliterating millions of lives at a time - are part of some discredited loony left? Does he include members of his own party in that description...?

A majority of Scottish Labour MPs, a majority of MSPs and a majority of Scottish citizens do not want nuclear weapons stored in Scotland. Does David Cairns realise how insulting his comments are to all of these people?

Maybe. Maybe not. He seems much more interested in attacking Alex Salmond for daring to aspire to something better for Scotland, and attempting to represent Scotland's interests in the international arena. The likes of David Cairns actually does his own party a disservice with such vicious and misguided remarks - especially on such an important issue. There are many members of his own party who hold much more progressive views on nuclear weapons.

More importantly, though, he does the people of Scotland a disservice. All Alex Salmond has done is try to ensure our voice is heard in the international community, on an issue that the people of Scotland obviously feel strongly about.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Menzies Campbell Resignation

So, the inevitable has happened and Menzies Campbell has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats, after a series of terrible poll results and endless attacks on his leadership.

He may not have been the most inspiring political leader in history, but the constant references to his age were disgraceful. If some one was to suffer from such blatant ageism in the workplace, we would be condemning such remarks.

Would attacks on a political leader be laughed off if they referred to some one's gender or race?

I know this will be the last thing people are thinking about as the race to succeed Campbell takes off, but I do hope that some lessons will be learned from this. Because, ultimately, ageism did play a part in his downfall.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Inheritance Tax

Am I the only person both outraged and dismayed by the political discourse emanating from Westminster at the moment?

While one fifth of our population languish in poverty, and many hundreds of pensioners in Scotland die of cold-related illnesses each winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes on the miserly state pensions set by Westminster, the Tories and the Labour Party are scrapping over how many hundreds of thousands of pounds will be exempt from inheritance tax. Just how detached from reality are these people? Maybe £600,000 isn't much to some of them - but it's a veritable lottery win for the rest of us!

Frankly, I believe that the tax bill for people who inherit in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds shouldn't be the priority for any government. There are far more pressing financial issues that politicians of all persuasions should be focused on - such as sorting out the fiasco that is the tax credit system, which has left many families in crippling debt, and the disgraceful levels of state pensions, for a start.

Tax cuts for the wealthiest or investment in the most vulnerable people in our society?

I know what my priority would be.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Campaign Launch

Today was spent campaigning in the constituency. Well, I say campaigning, but all political activists know that a more accurate (and far less glamorous) description would be 'chapping doors'.

I spoke to a surprising number of people today - it seemed everyone was at home, and happy to talk, which is always good. I got such a great reception, and was feeling all set for a snap election and then I switched on the news when I got home. Gordon Brown has postponed! Oh well, at least that gives me even more time to speak to as many residents in the constituency as possible. Got many thousands of people to try and contact, so the more time available the better. It also seems that I am the only candidate selected for the constituency so far. The other parties are yet to select their candidates...

Also have my new campaign website up and running (thanks for all your help Euan!) - check it out.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Faith in democracy versus political expediancy

I must admit to being rather concerned about reports of impending ballot chaos in the event of a snap election. Tartan Hero doesn't seem to be concerned. He believes the contingency plans in place should avert disaster. I hope so. I agree that actually producing the ballot papers, polling day arrangements and counting the votes shouldn't be too much of an issue if an election is called quickly. But there are issues about the accuracy of the electoral register, and a snap election would also deny so many the chance to organise a postal vote.

If we were to see any level of disenfranchisement due to a snap election, after the chaos of the Scottish Parliament elections in May, that would be inexcusable. A growing number of people are already cynical about politics, which slowly undermines confidence in the democratic process. Apathy is not just frustrating for political parties trying to motivate people to cast their vote, it is also potentially very dangerous.

Government is the product of a contract between the citizen and the state. The fewer citizen signatories there are to the contract that is the foundation of our society, the poorer and more fragmented our society becomes.

I'm not going to rake over all the apparent reasons for the rise in apathy, or at least apathy with the conventional political processes - many have analysed this trend more coherently than I could here.

I am acutely aware, though, of the responsibility I have as somebody active in politics to help restore faith in political parties and the political process. Now that I am a candidate, I feel even more responsibility in this respect.

I do hope that when Gordon Brown is considering the timing of the Westminster election, he will weigh up any perceived party advantage of a snap 3 or 4 week election against the need to instill confidence in the democratic process. If he does call a November election, when it is so obvious that he is doing so to give the Labour party an advantage over the Tories, he may win the UK election but he may lose so much more in the long run.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

A New Role

Apologies for my absence from blogging for quite so long. But there has been a reason for my absence. I have been selected as the SNP's candidate for the Westminster constituency of Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. Given that we are all at the mercy of Gordon Brown and his decision about when to actually call the next Westminster election, my focus has naturally been on preparing for the eventuality that it could be sooner rather than later.

I'm really delighted to have been chosen as the SNP's candidate for the constituency and I can't wait for the campaign to get into full swing. I'm particularly looking forward to the opportunity to publicly debate the issues with candidates from the other parties.

I think the next Westminster election presents an ideal opportunity to make the case for independence - to explain what powers Scotland is still without, and what independence would mean for the people of Scotland.

I relish the opportunity to explain to the people of Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East that independence would give us the power to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland, to introduce decent state pensions, and to represent ourselves in the EU, UN and wider world stage. And that's just a start.

To me, independence is not only the fair and democratic path for Scotland in itself; it is also the foundation for tackling all the challenges facing our country in the 21st century - from enduring poverty, substance abuse and anti-social behaviour, to our nation's chronic lack of collective self-confidence. Once we achieve equality for our nation through independence, we can then truly start to ensure equality for our citizens.

Until we achieve independence for Scotland, so many important powers that affect our nation will be retained at Westminster and so it is vital that the SNP are represented there. Because without us, Scotland is not represented. That's why I am standing for Westminster.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Curbing Excesses

There has been so much I wanted to blog about over the last week, but I have been hindered by both lack of time and a dodgy internet connection.

And yesterday was our first wedding anniversary! One whole year of being Mrs H - I can't believe it has flown by so quickly!

Anyway, back to the issues. Most of what I wanted to say is no longer that topical, so I will restrict my comments to a story that caught my eye in today's Sunday Herald. The headline was a tad misleading - Swinney warning to public bodies: ‘curb pay deals’

If someone was to read this headline and no further, this would give the impression that the SNP is looking to restrict public sector pay deals. Nice bit of presentational spin from Mr Hutcheon... However, the story is actually about curbing the excessive, in my view, pay deals of the most senior employees in the public sector - the likes that are paid in excess of £100,000. No matter how experienced, how hardworking and talented someone is, I don't think it is right that taxpayers are funding such whopping great salaries. I think John Swinney is right to curb excessive pay deals and perks, and I think this fact is more deserving that been 'hidden' in a small story in a Sunday newspaper.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Scottish Government

I just don't see what all the fuss is about regarding the name change, from Scottish Executive to Scottish Government. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to explain to people on the doorstep the difference between the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. Each time, I have explained that the Scottish Executive was the official name for the Scottish Government and all became clear.

People understand what a government is. The term Executive is so broad, it could mean many things. The name change will bring further clarity to how Scotland is actually governed.

One of the big problems with the term Scottish Executive was the impression it gave of devolution being somehow administrative and engendering the idea that the ruling parties were there to 'manage', which the previous Lib-Lab Executive took literally. Governments don't merely manage. Governments have aspirations, ideas and ambitious plans. So the name change this week is more than just cosmetic. It reflects the change that has happened in Scotland since the election of the SNP. An Executive has indeed been replaced by a party of government.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Outflanked for Independence

Well, well - the unionist parties are going to start their own conversation about Scotland's future, apparently as an attempt to outflank the SNP.

How exactly is talking about how to bring more powers to Scotland going to 'outflank' the SNP?!? Don't they realise that's exactly what we want?

In accepting that Scotland needs additional powers, like power over inheritance tax, they are accepting the premise that Scotland suffers from our lack of taxation powers. If they accept that we need power over inheritance tax, why not National Insurance? These contradictions will highlight how hollow their arguments against independence really are. I, for one, am extremely pleased that the unionist parties will be making the case for more powers in the future. It is refreshing after a long election campaign, during which they were resolute that any change to the status quo was ridiculous, and to talk of constitutional change was somehow a betrayal to all those who used public services in Scotland...

Apparently, they are going to ask the public and leaders of civic society (perhaps 'leading experts' like Arthur Midwinter I wonder...) to contribute to their debate. But they aren't going to consider independence. So, only people that agree with them need apply to contribute. What will they do if people express support for independence? Will they be prevented from contributing? Will their remarks be omitted from reports? How, in a democracy, can you stifle debate in this way - airbrush out a view held by so many? Can't wait to see them try.

As for outflanking the SNP, well I recall that devolution was also supposed to fulfill that aim and kill the desire for independence 'stone dead'. Oh, would that be the devolution that has delivered an SNP Government?

What the Labour Party, Lib Dems and Tories fail to realise is that they will not be able to 'outflank' the legitimate case for Scottish independence indefinitely. They will have to keep moving towards the growing desire for independence, until there are no powers left to devolve to Scotland other than foreign affairs and defence. We will slowly but surely acquire a status of de facto independence, and we will be holding a referendum about whether to formalise our independence and transfer the remaining powers retained by Westminster. This piecemeal approach will, I believe, eventually deliver independence. Why wait? It will be much better for our nation if we take a collective, proactive decision to become independent so that we can take a coherent approach to making independence a success - and sooner rather than later.

The SNP are not interested in translating support for independence into support for the SNP at the ballot box. We are interested in translating support for independence into the transformation of our nation for the benefit of all who live here. That's why the cynical attempts of the unionist parties to undermine support for the SNP by moving towards what we believe in is no threat to the SNP. Their motives may be flawed, and a reaction to the SNP's electoral success, but the results are a progressive step for Scotland.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Quite a Scare

I wasn't sure whether to blog about this, but on the way back from Byres Road this afternoon I was hit by a car crossing Great Western Road. Nothing serious - I imagine that I'll have an almighty bruise on my side tomorrow morning - but scary nonetheless!

I was crossing at a pedestrian crossing, the green man was flashing, and I looked both ways (left, right, and left again) before crossing - and a car that looked like it was slowing down came from the right hand side and ran the red light! It wasn't just me on the road. A man and his young son were also crossing. I'm glad that it didn't hit him. The front of the car hit my shopping bag, while the wing mirror caught my side. If the boy had been in my place, it could have been his head that took the impact.

The driver was obviously shocked, and stopped to check I was OK. A man and his wife who were driving past at the time also stopped to make sure I was OK. The man who was also crossing at the time took the opportunity to hammer home how dangerous crossing the road is to his son! I'm sure he will be looking left, right, left, right, left, right, left... in the future!

That's why I've posted on this. Even when it looks totally safe to cross the road, always keep checking. One driver today lost their concentration for a split second, and the implications could have been a lot more serious. Take care!

The power of advertising

I was at a workshop yesterday, organised by Amnesty International as part of Edinburgh's Book Festival. The workshop was designed to help children understand more about asylum seekers and refugees by asking them to relate to the experience of leaving your home country and trying to get to a safe place.

It was a fascinating event, and a real eye-opener, to listen to the perceptions children have of asylum seekers, refugees and people from other countries generally. And it was interesting to see how their opinions shifted during the course of the role play activities, which asked them to consider things like how it would feel to have to leave your home and friends, to be separated from family members, to live in a new country where you don't know anyone, and to learn a whole new way of life under a cloud of uncertainty because you don't know if you will be allowed to stay.

Something that struck me is how much children actually absorb. They could certainly understand most of the scenarios put to them, and had a basic understanding of world affairs at the moment - particularly the dialogue over terrorism, religion and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although this was interesting, the point of my blog - I must confess - is rather flippant, but I was just so taken aback at the time...

As part of one of the tasks, the children were asked to consider how asylum seekers in the UK will be able to pay their bills and buy the things they need, when they have no money and the government doesn't allow them to work. One 'bright spark' piped up: 'They should call Debt Buster Loans!'

There's always one...

It also says something about the debt-ridden society we now live in, but that's a whole other posting...

Monday, 13 August 2007

Plea for honest debate

Well, it was good while it lasted... Jamie and I arrived back from our holiday in Budapest yesterday. We had a great time in a wonderful city. It was the first break we've had since our honeymoon last year. After our wedding last September we were in full election mode and since the election, Jamie has been busy as a new MSP.

After such a relaxing break it has been a shock to the system to come back and find the party is indeed preparing for a potential election. I think it is unlikely that the Westminster election will be in October, but it is best to be prepared. Plus, with the SNP apparently so popular, according to opinion polling, an autumn election would be no bad thing.

I'm also looking forward to the imminent launch of the independence White Paper. I must say though, I'm looking forward to engaging in discussion with people on the doorsteps and the streets a lot more than listening to the inane whining of certain unionist politicians. They have been popping up on the TV screens all day to insist that they don't want to engage in debate about independence, only devolution. Of course they don't. Because they know that if the arguments for and against independence were fully and publicly debated, the case for independence would be become all too clear to even more people in Scotland.

I also think that many of them are afraid that they won't actually be able to muster any arguments in favour of the status quo. During the election we all heard many scare stories AGAINST independence, but no abundance of arguments FOR the union. In fact, the only argument I heard made for the retention of the union was Jack McConnell's strange assertion that if Scotland were to remain part of the union, we could dump our nuclear waste in England. Charming!

I do genuinely hope that the likes of Jack McConnell, Nicol Stephen and their likely successors Wendy and Tavish can raise their game - for the sake of political debate and Scotland's future.

I usually have a lot of time for Annabel Goldie - she is at least one of the more straightforward politicians. But today, when she referred to "Alex Salmond's pet project of independence", I lost all respect for her as a politician. Even if she doesn't agree with independence for Scotland, to label the genuine and honest desire held by a great many people in Scotland for their country to be independent, sovereign and equal as some one's "pet project" is gutter politics. It demeans Ms Goldie and it is an insult to the people of this country.

Oh, to be back on holiday, for just one more week...

Monday, 6 August 2007

Harrowing Tale

I watched a documentary on BBC 2 last night, which was filmed entirely on the personal video camera of the main protagonist. The man in question was a television presenter in the US in the 1990s. He had a successful career, lovely supportive wife and two adorable children. Yet he was hooked on drugs.

For years, he kept a video diary of his life - over 3,000 hours of footage - which told a harrowing story of his battle to give up drugs.

Here was a man who knew that he was jeopardising his showbiz career, acknowledged that the drugs would most likely kill him and understood the damage they were doing to him and his family. He was a tormented man - he knew exactly what he was doing, but he just couldn't seem to help himself. He went through more than one course of rehabilitation, and managed to stay clean for long periods of time. But then something overcame him, and he was back on drugs.

Ironically, he was introduced to cocaine by the local police, who he shadowed as part of his job as a crime reporter.

It wasn't until he lost his career and his wife divorced him that he eventually managed to get off drugs - and is still clean. He now speaks to young people about his experiences, and warns them of the damage that drugs can do to their lives.

I find tales like this so disturbing. It is an awful thing to say, but it is easier to accept why people from disadvantaged backgrounds turn to drugs. Poverty is so often at the route of our social ills. So, if we can tackle poverty, then drugs will go away. Unfortunately it's not that easy. There are so many complex reasons why people get caught in a cycle of substance abuse. If we are really to tackle such a complex problem, we seriously need to consider if we are doing nearly enough. Tackling poverty, increasing access to rehabilitation, improving drug education, and improving support facilities to help people stay clean in their communities after rehab are all important. But what more can we do? If some one with so many advantages in life can become hooked on a substance that can so easily destroy it, then what other issues do we have to consider?

Friday, 3 August 2007

Says it all really...

I do my best to try and blog on issues, rather than use my blog to attack people or spread gossip - but I'm sure that this doesn't fall into either of those latter categories...

I just have to repeat Andy Kerr's quote in today's Scotsman. When questioned about his potential candidacy for the Labour leadership in Scotland, he responded:

"I'm saying nothing about anything"


To me, this sums up the dire situation in which Labour now find themselves in Scotland, when one of those touted as of sufficient calibre for the leadership expresses himself in this way. From what I can gather, Andy Kerr is actually quite a nice guy. He is certainly more personable than Wendy Alexander - but neither really have the qualities required to lead a political party, never mind a country. Wendy may be brighter than your average Labour MSP, but it's all relative!

Anyway, on a slightly less biased note, it will be interesting to observe the battle for the leadership in what is an interesting watershed for the Labour Party in Scotland. How do the candidates propose to build momentum among their falling activist base? Will they change their approach to policy development and move away from the managerial approach of recent times? Will they evolve their position on constitutional change? Interesting times.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

New Beginnings

I have not abandoned my blog! I have been preoccupied with changing jobs. The last couple of weeks at my last job were frantic trying to tie up loose ends and write a hand over briefing. And then I was preparing for my new job...

It's going to be quite a change - from lobbying on behalf of small businesses to campaigning on human rights!

So, as soon as I get my head around the information overload (and the now-necessary commute), I will be back blogging on a regular basis on the issues - rather than the ins and outs of my life which I'm sure doesn't make for interesting reading.

Thursday, 19 July 2007


On the BBC news earlier there were two particularly shocking stories. The first was a news item about the violence in our communities. Viewers were shown CCTV footage of 3 young men, who randomly attacked 2 other young men, who were sitting minding their own business. One of the victims recovered from his knife wounds. The other died from his injuries. Unfortunately, this shocking attack is just one of many violent incidents that scar our society. I can't understand why people behave in this way. I'm aware of all the explanations that are presented for it - drugs, alcohol, despair, peer pressure, violent films and computer games... But what is going through the minds of the people who engage in such horrendous violence?

I know there are no simple answers. But I am sure about one thing. Anything that legitimises or glorifies violence certainly doesn't help the situation. That's why I found the story about this new cage war phenomenon - especially in the same news bulletin as the above story - so disturbing. I'm not suggesting that the people who go along to watch the fighting in these cage war shows will themselves go out and attack people. However, the audience does stand there and cheer while one human being hurts another human being. That isn't a healthy state of affairs. Frankly, I think it's disgusting that people enjoy watching violence. I know that's a blunt statement to make but that's my opinion.

I am squeamish (I'm vegetarian after all) and that's partly why I find the concept of the cage war so distasteful. But am I far from alone in worrying about the implications of integrating violence into forms of entertainment. If, as a society, we say that violence for entertainment is acceptable, then how can we begin to tackle the violence on our streets? These cage wars should be banned or, in my opinion, the authorities are guilty of severe hypocrisy.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Marriage, Drug Addiction and Tories

What a revelation - the Tories think that marriage is the route through which we will solve all of society's ills!

I could hardly contain my sarcastic comments as I watched the quiet man himself, Iain Duncan Smith, on TV last night parading the streets of Glasgow pronouncing his master plan to rid society of everything from anti-social behaviour to heroin addiction.

Apparently this social justice policy group he has led for his boss David 'just call me Dave' Cameron outlines some 190 measures - but of course marriage is at the heart of the proposals.

Now, I'm not (or at least I try my best not to be) a hypocrite. So, I will state that I am myself a married woman, and I was brought up by married parents who celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year (congrats folks!). I had a happy, secure and supportive upbringing from two great parents and I'm extremely grateful for that. My experience of marriage has been great.

But that doesn't mean that marriage is for everyone, and it's not the only good foundation for bringing up children. Unmarried parents or lone parents should never be made to feel like second rate parents to their children - especially not by their government.

And the idea that couples will be more likely to marry or stay married because of some tax break is very unhealthy. If a marriage isn't working, is it healthy for parents to stay together?

The implications in Iain Duncan Smith's arguments last night, as he sat comforting the mother of a heroin addict who had died, is that a tax break on marriage could have prevented this tragedy. That is insulting, and also a disturbing way to look at the world. Marriage breakdown does not cause the problems we are facing in today's society - poverty is the real evil that pervades our country and we all know the role of the Tories in creating a society of desperation and despair.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

I'm watching this Live Earth concert at the moment. Yes - I am admitting to watching the TV on a Saturday night, in my slippers too :o) And I can't help but think that the whole thing is quite bizarre.

Now, before anyone complains that I am a cynic and/or whinger, I understand the rationale of the concerts around the world to raise awareness about climate change. But...

Firstly, the mind boggles with regard to the size of the collective carbon footprint of all these concerts - the lights, the sound, the performers travelling to the concert venues in their private jets and gas guzzling people carriers, then there is the audience and their car journeys. Maybe one could argue that tonight's carbon footprint is minuscule compared to the potential impact that the concerts could have in reducing our carbon output in the future. Perhaps. But it is a strange dual message to be sending out to the masses on their sofas.

Secondly, I suspect that most people are in fact aware that they should be doing something to reduce their impact on the environment. Awareness is one thing; changing behaviour is another.
Now, this is a topic I've covered in my blog before, but I think it's worth repeating in this context. As citizens, we look to our governments to do more to help us reduce our carbon footprints. People lead busy lives, and don't always have the time to research all the issues or to go out of their way to do things differently. Many people also need additional support. An elderly relative of mine, for example, who is in sheltered housing and sometimes confused, is not really able to sort her waste for recycling.

Among the things I believe our governments need to do are:

  • Make public transport a truly viable alternative to car use.
  • Increase the provision of convenient recycling facilities AND educate people about how to recycle all the various materials we use in our everyday lives. How many people know how to dispose of batteries properly?
  • Make it easier for people to purchase micro-generation, so they can harness the power of renewable energy for their homes.
  • Educate us. For example, until I read a newspaper article on this recently, I wasn't sure about what foods were actually seasonal in Scotland. Now I have that information, I will try to do something about it in order to reduce the food miles accumulated to feed me.
In other words, the easier it becomes to change our behaviour for the better, the more chance we have of actually combating climate change.

Friday, 6 July 2007

New SNP members

I am not surprised that around 100 people a week are deciding to join the SNP. During the election, there was a lot of interest from those people who support us at the ballot box in becoming members of the party. Most of my family members have been generally supportive of the SNP for years - but have been reluctant to take the step to actually join the party. However, recently three of them decided to join - just like that!

Maybe people now feel more confident about joining the SNP since the election. Perhaps because the party won the popular vote, people are happier to be more committed to or public about their own political affiliations because they know they are far from alone in supporting the SNP.

It may also be a sign of just well the SNP is governing Scotland. To be honest, our ministers are doing even better than I had expected. After all, the SNP has never been in government before and could have been forgiven a couple of initial stumbles in my opinion. Thankfully, though, they have been steady on their feet and steadfast in their determination to blow a wind of change through the governance of Scotland. And the polls show that support for the SNP has increased since the election, and - more importantly in my view - the polls also demonstrate that national confidence has grown too.

As time goes on, and people across the country see the great service they get from their SNP government and local councillors, I'm sure our party - Scotland's party - will go from strength to strength.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Des Browne

Des Browne hasn't exactly been excelling as UK Defence Secretary. His department hasn't even been able to ensure that all soldiers are equipped with the body armour so essential to their protection in extremely dangerous circumstances. He has a huge responsibility on his shoulders, particularly with the situation in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hardly a prime candidate to take on more responsibilities one might think.

But not the new PM Gordon Brown. He has decided that Des can slot looking after Scotland into his busy schedule.

As regular readers would expect me to say, Scotland deserves more attention than it will be afforded in the UK government under this arrangement. Given the changes in political circumstances in Scotland lately, perhaps it would have made sense to give the role of Scottish Secretary more prominence and a dedicated UK government minister (or at least a minister to deal with the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

However, there is an aspect to this decision that I find more disturbing, and that is the implications for the armed forces. Given the commitment of the armed forces, and the risks they take on our behalf, they deserve so much better than this new arrangement and Des Browne. Nothing should distract him from serving their interests.

Scotland now has a government that will look after the interests of the people of Scotland. Therefore a full time Scottish Secretary would be desirable, but not essential. A full time Defence Secretary, however, is a must.

Careful with our cash

John Swinney has taken some tough decisions on transport issues, some of which may be unpopular in certain quarters. And he, and the SNP, will no doubt be blamed for the extended deadlines to various projects - despite the fact that the previous administration had set unrealistic completion dates in the first place.

I know, from my parents in the Borders, that people are now complaining that the Waverley line will not extend further than Tweedbank and blaming the new government, even though it was the previous lot that designed the project!

Anyway, John is ultimately right to be cautious with our cash and put the brakes on EARL, as well as strict financial limits on the cost of the Edinburgh tram scheme. It is our money, and he is responsible for ensuring that our taxes are not wasted. The public purse is not a bottomless pit, and the government is already committed to expensive but necessary projects like a new Forth crossing, and other ongoing transport projects that are already set in motion.

I am certainly happy that John has his hands firmly on the purse strings.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Blair's History, But We Have A New Model

Just watching Andrew Marr's History of Britain on BBC Two. This week is the turn of the Blair era.

The footage of 1997 now looks so old (and it's making me feel old too). Upon reflection it becomes clear how massive the changes over the last decade have been. Consider just a few of them...

We have devolution, which is now fast evolving and bringing government closer to the people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London - but those in the rest of England with a relative democratic deficit.

The war in Iraq has devastated a nation far from our shores, cost countless lives and increased public cynicism and fear at home.

We have the 'war on terror', which is supposed to make us feel safer. It doesn't. It breeds hatred and more fear.

The concept of 'spin' now itself seems old, as it is so ingrained in our culture of politics - fuelling our mistrust of politicians.

And now we have the new Tony Blair - David Cameron. And it seems like many people are actually falling for his patter. Style over substance. History repeating itself. How depressing.

Thankfully, in Scotland we have a real alternative to Gordon Brown and David Cameron - an SNP Government and the opportunity to move Scotland forwards to independence.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Graduate Endowment No More!

Great news!

Today in the Scottish Parliament, Fiona Hyslop announced that the SNP Government is scrapping the £2,000 Graduate Endowment. This is a major first step in reducing the burden of debt on Scotland's students and graduates.

The Graduate Endowment was introduced by the previous Labour-Lib Dem Executive, as part of a deal to pull the wool over the eyes of Scotland's students who were told that tuition fees had been scrapped. In reality, they were just re-branded as the Graduate Endowment and the demand for payment was moved from the start of a course to after graduation.

The SNP believes that access to university should be based on your ability to learn, not your ability to pay. Saddling students with mountains of debt is in no one's interests - not the students, their parents, the taxpayer, our economy and our society.

Today, the SNP Government has taken an important first step in reducing the scandal of student debt in this country. It was most unfortunate to see that the Labour Party could only whinge about this in Parliament today. At least the Lib Dems appear to have seen the error of their ways on this issue, and back the SNP's policy to scrap the Graduate Endowment.

I look forward to the Government bringing forward more proposals to help reduce student debt in the future. Taken together, the SNP's manifesto package of proposals for students will restore fairness to the system of higher education funding and reintroduce the concept of free education.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Destination Dungavel

In this week's Big Issue, the Scottish director of the UK government's Immigration and Nationality Directorate is quoted as saying that "Dungavel is the best removals centre we've got". On that basis, he is arguing that more families should be detained in Dungavel, rather than centres in England.

Firstly, if Dungavel is the 'best' of the detention centres in the UK, then I think it says more about the dire conditions in the other centres than the quality of facilities at Dungavel...

Secondly, the assertion that Dungavel is the 'best' detention centre stems from a report by the Chief Inspector of PRISONS. It must be reassuring as a detainee of Dungavel - deprived of your liberty, treated as a criminal and with an uncertain future - to know that you and your family are at least being held in a top notch prison. Some consolation!

Thirdly, and most crucially, these kind of arguments detract from the point of principle here. We should not be imprisoning people who have committed no crime - especially not children.

So to argue that locking people up in Dungavel is OK because it is better than locking them up in an even worse facility elsewhere is appalling.

Click on this link below to register your opposition to detaining more families in Dungavel.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Save an MEP!

I hadn't realised, until a visit to Brussels this week with work, that the number of Scottish MEPs is to be cut (yet again) at the next European elections, to accommodate new EU member states.

Of course, at the last election the number of Scottish MEPs was cut from 8 to 7. The fact that we ONLY have 7 MEPs (out of 785 in the European Parliament) at the moment to represent Scotland's interests in the European Parliament is totally unacceptable. Our current MEPs (from all 4 parties) do an excellent job trying to negate their small number by co-operating and working well together as a Scottish contingent to represent our interests in Brussels. Now they are to lose another of their number.

As far as the EU is concerned (officially) Scotland is a mere region of a member state. And the cut in MEPs that Scotland will have to take is part of a wider UK reduction. But therein lies the problem. If Scotland was an independent country and member state of the EU, we would still have to accept a reduction in MEPs to accommodate the welcome (in my opinion) EU enlargement. BUT, as a member state, we would have more MEPs in the first place - certainly a lot more than 7! And we would also have a direct voice in other EU institutions - the Council of Ministers and the opportunity of representation in the European Commission.

Being a 'region' in the EU massively dilutes Scotland's influence in Europe. As a 'region' and not a full member state, with diminishing representation in the EU, it will be even harder to make Scotland's voice heard.

There may be a chance to retain 7 Scottish MEPs at the next election, but - in my opinion - this looks unlikely. The only and the BEST way to secure Scotland's place in the EU is with independence.

Monday, 4 June 2007

No bucking bronco, but dinner with a Labour MP

The prospect of visiting an establishment with a bucking bronco loomed large on Saturday night... The occasion? My friend Lindsey's hen night.

Thankfully, I was spared the indignity of mounting (and ultimately falling off) a mechanical bull, and the evening turned out to be a most civilised affair.

I must say a quick hello to Rach and Linds - who, I discovered on Saturday night, are both avid readers of this blog AND scathing critics of my ramblings. Rach and Linds are two of my closest friends (we've now known each other a whole decade girls!), but when it comes to politics we are whole planets apart. Friendship can indeed cross the political divide :o)

Although, I must say, Lindsey's interest in politics (and shift in political allegiance?) only really came to the fore when her soon-to-be father-in-law was elected as a Labour MP in a recent by-election.

She also has a twisted sense of humour. At her wedding, Jamie and I are to be seated with another Labour MP and his wife. Well, at least we'll have more to talk about than the usual small talk about the bride's dress and the speeches. Cheers Linds!

Saturday, 2 June 2007

The Only Vegetarian in the Village

Jamie and I were in Cumbernauld Village last night, at a party to celebrate the 90th birthday of a local resident - who is an SNP member and all-round amazing woman. Beatrice Duncan has spent more than 40 years running a community hall in Cumbernauld Village, which serves as a facility for all manner of community groups. Twice a week she cooks a three course dinner for a number of local elderly residents - many of whom are significantly younger than herself.

Representatives of all those groups were present at last night's dinner in Beatrice's honour. I certainly felt privileged to be there. I only met Beatrice just over a year ago and have met her many times since at various SNP events held in the hall, and we've also popped in to a couple of the pensioner lunch clubs. Each time, Beatrice has gone out of her way to provide me with a lovely vegetarian meal. Each time, I have been the only vegetarian, so it is much appreciated.

I would like to say at the point 'I hope I'm as active as Beatrice when I'm 90' - but I doubt I'm as active as she is at the tender age of 27 (soon to be 28)!

Off out again tonight - this time for my friend Lindsey's Hen Night. So I had better go and get ready - it usually take a while :o)

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Take my advice

So, today the special advisers to the SNP administration were announced. Now all the chat about the behind-the-scenes stuff may float the boat of political geeks like me - but it's hardly news in the real world.

I'm sure the newspapers will devote column inches to this tomorrow - but not too much I hope. I am a little concerned that the media may now become too focused on the processes of the Scottish Parliament, rather than the outcomes. The fact we now have a minority government in Scotland, with all the implications for the operation of the Scottish Parliament that flow from this, may actually detract from the real issues this government is trying to tackle - if the media allow it to.

Personally, for example, I am interested in how the role of the Scottish Parliament committees will change as a result of minority government, and of course, scrutiny of our democratic institutions is vital - but we must not be too inward-looking. Our Parliament is only a means to an end - to run the country for the benefit of all our citizens.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Nobody's Talking About A Revolution

So, Alex Salmond met the Queen yesterday. What's all the fuss about? 'He's a nationalist', they say. 'So what?', I say!

SNP policy is to retain the monarch as the Head of State, and give the people of an independent Scotland a say over this state of affairs in a democratic referendum. If they decide that they want the Queen and her successors to remain as Head of State in an independent Scotland, then that is the democratic will of the people. If they don't, then Scotland will have to decide on an alternative.

As a democrat, I believe that is the only fair way to decide this issue.

Personally, however, I hope that the people of Scotland reject this particular status quo. As a democrat, I do not believe that some one should inherit the right to a position of authority - this is something that should be earned. Power should be a privilege and not a right arbitrarily conferred on those with a certain gene pool.

We all know that the Queen's role is now largely symbolic, but that again is a bone of contention. What exactly does her role in the political structure symbolise? Well, it certainly symbolises the inequalities that permeate our society. The idea that somehow some people are better than others and that's the natural state of affairs, is the kind of thinking that leads to the acceptance of poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor.

The SNP approach to the monarchy, which distinguishes between the SNP's quest for political independence for Scotland, and other historic, cultural and societal links between Scotland and England, is the right one. Just because we seek political independence for Scotland does not mean we want to sever other links with our larger neighbour.

In a future referendum on the monarchy, I will campaign to remove the monarchy from any constitutional and political role in Scotland. The SNP will give me that opportunity - the choice.

I was pleased that Alex Salmond confirmed at the 'Swearing In' of the new MSPs that the SNP's loyalty is to the Scottish people. Frankly, after campaigning in the recent elections to serve their constituents in the Scottish Parliament, it seemed absurd to see the elected representatives of Scotland swearing allegiance to the Queen! Their loyalty is to the citizens of Scotland who elected them and to the institution in which they now serve on behalf of those citizens, the Scottish Parliament.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Powers Committee

I like Alex Neil's idea of establishing a constitutional affairs committee in the Scottish Parliament, which would examine what powers should be transferred from Westminster to Holyrood.

All the parties (regardless of their rhetoric and/or protestations on this matter) understand that devolution is a process that has been set in motion, and that the current powers of the Scottish Parliament are not set in stone.

A constitutional affairs committee, like that suggested by the SNP MSP, would therefore allow the parties to build a consensus on the transfer of powers - based on sound public policy, and not just political, grounds.

But, and it's a big but, it is not an alternative to a democratic referendum on independence. It is only one avenue through which we can build the case for independence, and a limited one. Due to the inevitable composition of the membership of this committee, there will be a self-imposed ceiling on what it can achieve for Scotland. At best, it will deliver more powers for the Scottish Parliament. That's welcome of course, but we need them all!

And the most important arena of all, for building consensus on Scotland's future, is the living rooms of Scotland - not the committee rooms of the Scottish Parliament. When Alex Salmond talks about an SNP government having a 'conversation' about independence, this is what he means. We must use every opportunity - within and outwith our Parliament - to advance the case for Scottish independence.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth


News that a tycoon is to share a £26m bonus, of his own money, among staff of the company he has just sold has hit the headlines.

He should get credit for his actions, of course, but lets keep this 'generosity' in perspective. This man has just made a whopping £595m from selling this company. £26m is a huge amount of money, but it's only just over 4% of the profit made by this business tycoon.

It's like me winning £595 in an SNP raffle, and 'generously' giving my friends £26 between them. ;o) I can see the headlines in the branch newsletters the length and breadth of Scotland now - 'Generous SNP activist Shares her Success', 'My Begging Letter Hell', 'Raffle Re-draw Demanded after Spoils are Squandered on Shoes'...

Oh, it's been a long week :o)

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Priorities - war, nuclear weapons or people?

A report published today by a House of Commons committee shows that between £1.5bn and £2.1bn of Pension Credit is not being claimed by those who are entitled to it, across the UK.

So, the Treasury has it's mitts on money that should be in the hands of the poorest pensioners.

And who is the architect of this pension scheme?

A scheme that leaves 1 in 5 pensioners living in poverty...

A scheme that subjects pensioners to the indignity of means-testing...

A scheme that leaves pensioners in need without the money they are entitled to...

Why, it's Gordon Brown of course!

One of the many reasons I support independence is that it would enable Scotland to ensure all of our pensioners have the security of a decent minimum in retirement, as of right. With independence we would have the powers to introduce a Citizen's Pension that would be payable to all pensioners, based on simple residency requirements (like the New Zealand pension).

A Citizen's Pension would tackle pensioner poverty, eliminate the means-test for a decent pension, end discrimination against women in the state pensions system and provide a solid foundation on which to save for retirement. Sounds great, doesn't it? But it also sounds expensive - could we really afford it?

Well, Gordon Brown doesn't think so. He says it would be unaffordable... But hang on a minute, he could 'afford' to spend billions on an illegal war in Iraq and he must think he can afford to spend billions on the new nuclear weapons and useless ID cards he has promised.

The 'affordability' of most things depends on your priorities. I think it's clear what Gordon's are.

Ensuring our pensioners do not have to live in poverty is certainly a priority for me, and for the SNP. The SNP's plans for a Citizen's Pension are not only affordable (even within existing spending on pensions), they are also essential if we, as a society, are to treat our older citizens with the dignity and respect they deserve.

It's time for Scotland to gain its independence, so that we can give pensioners theirs.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Day of Destiny

Having just watched the proceedings in the Scottish Parliament to elect Scotland's First Minister, I am overwhelmed by the sense of occasion. 2007 marks the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, but it also now marks a new dawn in Scotland's history.

Scotland has an SNP First Minister. (Stating the obvious, I know, but I wanted to write it down to help it to sink in!)

I have been a member of the SNP for years, but given my young years (yes, I am claiming to be young) my service to the SNP and to Scotland has been but a mere penny in an ocean of dedication from SNP activists across the country. I know many activists in their seventies and eighties (although you wouldn't know it to look at them) who have campaigned their whole lives for independence, who have waited decades to see this kind of progress. I am privileged to be part of the SNP at this time, a time when Scotland is listening to our party and our ideas and embracing us.

Leading the Scottish Parliament is only a step in our campaign to deliver independence for Scotland and the benefits that will bring, but it is a momentous step and a day I will always remember.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Poised to govern

As part of my job I have to meet civil servants to discuss Scottish Executive policy. For me, over the last 8 years, the term 'Scottish Executive' has become synonymous with the Labour-Liberal coalition.

It's quite surreal therefore to now be sat in meetings discussing the likely actions of an SNP Scottish Executive, with civil servants referring to the SNP manifesto. Surreal, but very exciting!

The general impression I have from speaking to a number of civil servants is that they are also excited at the prospect of both the SNP breathing fresh life into the governance of Scotland and the challenge of a minority administration.

Like most people I have spoken to since the election, they have a real sense of anticipation about the future and also great expectations of the SNP. Every taxi driver I've spoken to over the last week has asked me what I think about Alex Salmond! After declaring my party affiliations, of course, I explain why I believe Alex Salmond as First Minister and an SNP Scottish Executive will deliver real change for our country - but caution against placing too great expectations on their shoulders. After all, there is only so much we can do within the constraints of devolution, which is why we will continue to strive to persuade people in Scotland of the need for independence. As a first step, we will demonstrate our commitment to Scotland by using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to make our country a better place to live.

If, as expected, Alex Salmond is elected as First Minister of Scotland tomorrow we will have taken a gigantic step forward in delivering a positive future for our nation.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Spot the Difference?

So, it's finally farewell to Number 10 Downing Street for Tony Blair.

Good riddance.

However, although the man himself may be leaving, his legacy will unfortunately live on - both in the repercussions of his many mistakes in government and in his successor.

No one should be fooled that Gordon Brown will be any better than Tony Blair.

Blair may have made the mistakes, but Brown wrote the cheques.


The election is over and I'm back at work, with a real sense of limbo - reflecting the mood of Scottish politics at the moment I suppose.

As a member of a political party work is always ongoing, but we have all been in a mode of ever-intensifying overdrive over the last year. And it's hard to let go!

I'm still in campaign mode, and Jamie is totally bemused by the fact that I can't just relax, rather than literally burst with ideas for the next election every five minutes! After all, he's the one that now has to knuckle down and work harder than ever in his new role. I should be getting back to some kind of normality now that the election is over.

As Jamie has now been elected as an MSP, he has a very exciting and challenging time ahead of him over the next few years. I'm looking forward to supporting him in his new role, and exploring even more ways that I can help to campaign for independence.

I've shadowed Jamie throughout the election campaign, and I'm very proud of him. He will make an excellent MSP. And I can't wait to see what he is able to achieve over the next few years for the people he now represents - I'm sure he will make them every bit as proud as I am. :o)

Friday, 4 May 2007

An historic first step

Well, after an amazing election campaign all of the votes have been counted (well, those votes that made it through the disastrous electronic counting system) and we have an SNP victory! Yes, the SNP has won the Scottish Parliament election!

It has been a roller coaster couple of days. I was very disappointed that Cumbernauld and Kilsyth was not among the first past the post victories this time round. We fought a great campaign, and the reception on the doorsteps and the streets of this constituency was overwhelmingly positive towards the SNP. We had people stopping us in the street to wish us well and a real sense of warmth towards us. The result certainly did not reflect our experience on the ground.

We'll get it next time!!!

The most encouraging part of the campaign, for me, was the response of traditional Labour voters. I spoke to countless lifelong Labour voters who were voting SNP for the first time at this election. The misplaced loyalty that so many people have placed in Labour for so long is finally ebbing away, and I am confident that it will erode further in the coming years - as citizens across Scotland benefit from SNP representation in the Scottish Parliament and our local authorities.

This election result is not just a victory for the SNP, but - more importantly - an historic first step in building a more successful Scotland.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Echoes from the past

The Guardian newspaper is currently giving away 'Great speeches of the 20th century' booklets, one of which is a speech made by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1913. Of course, we are in the middle of an election campaign, so I've not yet had the chance to sit down and read it properly. But it has sparked a thought nonetheless.

One of the many arguments thrown at the suffragettes, from those who sought to deny women the right to vote, was that there was no point to female suffrage - because women would vote the way their husbands did anyway!

In Scotland today, similarly ludicrous arguments are being made in an attempt, by those parties that support the retention of the union, to deny the people of Scotland a vote on their future. I have heard many a politician claim that there is no point to holding a referendum on independence because voters in Scotland would say no anyway! They actually believe that they can predict the result of a popular vote on independence, and that this gives them a right to deny this vote in the first place!

Sunday, 29 April 2007

The final countdown - a pause for reflection

As I sit pondering the imminent last few days of the campaign, through my haze of exhaustion, I am still in awe of the SNP's position in the opinion polls, newspaper endorsements and the growing warmth and support for our party.

It appears that Scotland has opened its collective mind to the prospect of an SNP government and independence.

Perhaps it was inevitable that, after a few years of devolution, people in Scotland would increasingly begin to recognise the benefits of self-government and want even more. And it's not surprising that people are turning to the party that has consistently fought for Scotland's interests, and offered a positive future for Scotland with independence. The SNP of course!

But, the result is not a foregone conclusion. Only a fraction of votes have been cast (in the form of postal votes), and this election will be decided on Thursday when the vast majority of the electorate - who choose to use their vote - will make their trips to polling stations across Scotland. We still have a mammoth task ahead of us over the next few days to keep up the momentum of our campaign and persuade as many people as possible to vote SNP!

Whatever the final result of the election, I am proud to be part of the SNP - a party that has fought a positive campaign, based on policies that will benefit the people of Scotland, and a party that will offer the people of this country a say in Scotland's future. All we can do is put forward our vision for Scotland, and hope that people share it.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Walking with Dinosaurs

So, the last few days have been a complete whirlwind of activity - so much so, that all I can manage when we get in after campaigning is to drink a quick cuppa before bed! My blogging rate has suffered as a consequence.

But I just had to find the time to share the following with you...

We were campaigning on Kilsyth Main Street this morning, when the red balloons appeared around the corner, followed by a gaggle of Labour activists. The centrepiece of this ensemble was a retiring Labour councillor, who obviously thought he was auditioning for the part of town cryer. He was walking down the street, bellowing bizarre statements about the SNP and Alex Salmond. He called Alex a few names and shouted that 'the consequences of independence will be unspeakable'. Of course, amused and bemused by this strange tactic, I couldn't help but offer the following retort - 'yes, unspeakable - unspeakably great!'. He didn't like my friendly banter ;o)

He did us all a favour this morning though. Not only did it give us a chuckle, it also reminded the passing members of the public just why they are so keen to kick Labour out of government at this election :o)

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Britain to go bust!

According to the Financial Times, Scotland could afford to be independent...but only for a decade. After that, suggests their analysis, the oil money will run out, and with it Scotland's viability as an independent nation. Or so goes the unionist interpretation of the FT's analysis.

Economic Growth

Firstly, the suggestion that after ten years we could no longer afford to be independent is based on the assumption that during the first decade of our independence, Scotland's government will sit on its hands and do nothing to grow our economy. On the contrary, with independence, any party or parties that govern Scotland will have an array of economic levers that will allow them to boost economic growth. So, when the oil runs out, which of course it will, Scotland's economy will continue to flourish without it.

Double Standards

Secondly, why is the same logic not applied to Britain? Scotland's oil is currently keeping the British economy afloat, with Gordon Brown using it to plug holes in his financial management. If Scotland were to remain in the union, then it would be 'Britain's oil' that will run out. What then for Britain? Surely, given that Britain's independence would no longer be viable, I assume Westminster will be seeking urgent negotiations to form a political union with France, to allow Paris to make decisions on its behalf.

Self-interest reigns supreme

Yes, I am indeed referring to today's advert in a Scottish newspaper in support of the union, signed by 150 business people.

I don't have a problem with anyone publicly stating their support for the union. I don't agree with them, but they have every right to voice their opinions, as do those who have publicly backed the SNP and independence.

However, there are - in my opinion - two distinct differences between public supporters of the SNP and many public backers of the union.


SNP supporters want the people of Scotland to have the opportunity to decide their constitutional future, in a democratic referendum on independence. In contrast, the signatories to today's pro-union advert would seek to deny you and I that simple choice.


Those who have backed the SNP and independence do so because they believe it will be good for Scotland - all of Scotland. I suspect that there are many people among the signatories in today's advert that support the continuation of the union because they believe it is in their best interests, not Scotland's.

For example, I am not in the least surprised to discover that the chairman of TESCO supports the union. Why wouldn't he? HE does rather well out of it! It's a pity the same can't be said for others in Scotland, such as the many thousands of children growing up in poverty - under the union. Or the pensioners who freeze to death in their own homes over winter because they cannot afford to pay rocketing energy bills on their meagre pensions - under the union.

I want independence for Scotland, not for my own sake, but because I want our country to be run for the benefit of all our citizens, and to enable our country to play it's part in solving the challenges faced across the world. I wish others could see past their own self-interest - and what they perceive to be in their best interests - to grasp a more positive future for all of Scotland, with independence as the foundation for our country to flourish.