Thursday, 29 March 2007

Never Mind the Polls Folks

Just finished watching Newsnight Scotland, and yet another poll (in tomorrow's Telegraph) shows the SNP on course to be the largest party after the election on 3 May - with 46 seats to Labour's projected 39.

The opinion polls have certainly been consistent so far in terms of an SNP lead.

This is such an exciting, yet frustrating, time to be an SNP activist. We are on the verge of a real breakthrough, and the opportunity to start transforming Scotland.

But, opinion polls are meaningless! And that's the frustrating bit.

There will be no change in Scotland unless people go out and demand change on 3 May, by voting SNP.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Labour's Shame

First of all, apologies to all avid readers of my blog (all 2 of you!), for abandoning you for a week. However, my absence is certainly no reflection of a lack of interest in the world of politics. Rather, I have been out of the country with work, then at my wee brother's 21st birthday party. Then the dog ate my homework...

As it now past midnight, and I risk turning into a pumpkin, I'll keep it brief.

I just want to express my absolute disgust at what I have heard and witnessed today. First of all, it was reported that levels of poverty have increased. That is an absolute scandal. Today, there are almost a million people in Scotland living in poverty. That's one million people who face a daily struggle just to get by. One million people who are being betrayed by a government that claims to believe in 'opportunity for all'. What kind of life chances are open to people living below the breadline?

And for Labour politicians to parade around television studios talking about these people as mere statistics is horrendous. They talk about progress and achievement. As I've asked in previous blogs, just how much longer should people in poverty have to wait for things to change? Labour have been in power for a DECADE. Tinkering around the margins of poverty just isn't good enough. We have a duty to look after all our citizens, especially the most vulnerable people in society like children and older people. We should all be outraged that 'our' government makes excuses for such manifest failure to tackle, what I believe, to be the most pressing problem in Scotland today - the poverty of one fifth of our citizens.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Chancer Chancellor

So, Gordon Brown has promised to cut the basic rate of income tax by 2 pence in the pound. He claims this is to reward hard-working families. Why, in that case, has he simultaneously abolished the 10 pence starting rate of income tax - the measure HE introduced in 1999?

A cynical person might suggest the following:

Gordon Brown is competing with David Cameron for the votes of Middle England. Middle England likes cuts in income tax. If Gordon Brown cuts income tax, then he hopes Middle England will like him and give him a shot as PM. And the 'best bit' is, it won't cost the Treasury a penny because he is offsetting the cost with measures like abolishing the 10 pence starting rate.

So, this is largely a case of moving money around, in a desperate attempt to net votes. It's self-interest.

More worrying is the impact of the abolition of the 10 pence starting rate, which was initially introduced to make the system of income tax more progressive. This move is not good news for people on low incomes, who will pay a higher rate of tax on more of their pay packet.

Gordon Brown also beams with delight when he announces more investment to tackle child poverty. But this is his 11th Budget! As Chancellor, he has presided over disgraceful levels of child poverty. One quarter of children in Scotland are growing up in poverty. Just how many more Budgets do they have to wait for until it is their turn to be 'lifted' out of poverty?

I for one don't want to wait for another London-based Chancellor to do what is best for Scotland, and all our citizens. That's why I want us to control our own affairs as soon as possible - so we can tackle the causes of poverty, not just alleviate the symptoms. One in four of Scotland's children certainly can't wait. It's definitely time for independence.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Committed to Equality

When I first heard that the SNP had received a donation of £500,000 I was ecstatic. For the first time ever, the SNP would have the cash to rival the campaigns of the London-funded parties. When I heard it was from Brian Souter, I admit, the source of the donation initially left me feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Here was a man who personally funded a campaign to retain Section 28 - something which I and the SNP totally opposed. How could the Party accept this donation?

But, I paused and pondered and a few things occurred to me.

First of all, the donation is entirely unconditional and the SNP can spend the money however we like. So, this money will mean no penetration of prejudice into the SNP, and certainly no endorsement of Brian Souter's stated views on homosexuality.

Secondly, the SNP's commitment to equality is one of our core values. Indeed, this is a right we would entrench in a written constitution. Souter knew this when he made his donation. Should we not give him the benefit of the doubt? He may have become more enlightened in recent years.

However, regardless of the views of the donor himself on this issue, his cash will nonetheless be used to campaign FOR EQUALITY.

Like most of my friends in the SNP, my route into the Party started with an initial sense of injustice. We looked at Scotland, at the inequality between our citizens and between our country and other nations. We seek independence as a means of securing not just equality for our nation, but for all of Scotland's citizens.

This is in no way diluted by the SNP's latest donation. Indeed, this donation makes it even easier for the SNP to campaign for the equal rights that we seek.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Presidential Visit!

Jamie and I were out campaigning with SNP President Ian Hudghton and a rather large team of activists in Cumbernauld today. I'm still glowing after the successful SNP campaign conference at the weekend, and today's campaigning has been the icing on the cake of a long weekend (literally) of work on the election campaign. I'm using most of my annual leave entitlement to work on this election campaign, so I will be chained to my desk in the second half of 2007 :o(

But I don't care!

It's so heartening to speak to people who are now converted to the cause of independence for Scotland. People are really warming to the SNP's arguments, and the SNP - you can really feel the change when you speak to people on the streets and doorsteps. And there appears to be many reasons for this. Whether it's disaffection with Labour or frustration at the limitations of devolution that is fuelling desire for change, the SNP's relentlessly positive vision for Scotland is increasingly capturing the imagination of those who have opened their minds to change.

People are no longer buying the smears and scaremongering of those people who have a vested interest in keeping Scotland locked into a Union that holds our country and our people back. Gordon Brown is a classic example. The reason he is so keen on keeping Britain together is because he wants to be the next British Prime Minister, and has absolutely nothing to do with Scotland's best interests.

And the people of Scotland can see this in increasing numbers. I just hope that enough people do so in time for the elections on 3rd May. Just 45 days to go...

Friday, 16 March 2007

Ethical 'Choices'

So, I can feel a theme developing here...

It seems that 'green' is the new 'black', as the environment becomes an increasingly fashionable topic. Environmentally-friendly and ethical living was once the preserve of eco-warrior Swampy and some trendy rock stars. Now the politicians have muscled in, and these issues are fast loosing their street cred, but they are also - more importantly - becoming more prolific among ordinary people like you and I.

I've been vegetarian most of my life, done my best (mostly) to recycle and to buy products that aren't tested on animals. For years I thought that made me an ethical consumer. Over time, I started buying organic fruit and veg, fairtrade tea and sugar, and using energy-saving light bulbs. I walk to work, I read my newspapers online, and do my best to conserve energy at home. But I know all this is not nearly enough.

What has struck me with most of these steps is how much more they have cost me. Now, this is a cost I choose to absorb. I'm prepared to pay more in order to limit my impact on the environment, and support 'ethical products'.

Unfortunately, not everyone is in such a privileged position. Not everyone can afford to pay more for their weekly shop. A fifth of all people in Scotland are living in poverty, and they don't have the 'luxury' of paying more for environmentally-friendly products.

Of course, there are some things we can all do to reduce our impact on the environment that cost nothing or actually save us money - such as walking rather than driving, and not leaving your TV on standby. However, most 'green choices' are more expensive.

The point to this particular ramble of mine, is that we should not forget that there are many people who simply cannot afford to live in a more environmentally-friendly way. Taxing behaviour that is bad for the environment is fine in principle, but it is a form of indirect taxation - which we all know impacts disproportionately on the poorest in society.

The solution to this is simple of course - rid Scotland of poverty! But until we are empowered to do so with independence, we must be balanced in our calls for polluter pays taxation.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Green Skies or True Blue Lies?

So the Tories are pulling out all the stops to convince us that they want to save the planet. Like many politicians attempting to portray themselves as environmentalists, they have picked on the most obvious target - air travel.

Now, of course increased air travel is contributing to our growing carbon emissions - but it's only part of the problem. Yet taxing air travel is presented as some kind of panacea to our environmental problems. Politicians like David Cameron need to stop misleading people and inject a bit of honesty and imagination.

Realistically, in order for society to function we will have to engage in some activity that is bad for the environment. For example, doctors have to travel from their homes to actually perform operations in hospitals, we need to use power to heat our homes, and we need some packaging in order to transfer goods from shops to our homes.

So, if we accept that we have to allow for a certain level (as low as possible of course) of carbon emissions, then the questions are what level is acceptable and how do we use this self-imposed allowance?

My friend Mhairi and I call this the 'Weightwatchers' approach to carbon emissions.

We can use our carbon 'points' for a certain level of air travel, road travel, construction, and so on. And because we have allocated all our points, we must ensure that we are otherwise squeaky 'green'.

If we take this approach, then we become much more focused on reducing the carbon emissions (and other environmental damage) that results from our EVERYDAY LIVES. We broaden our focus to waste minimisation, recycling, renewable energy, green fuels, energy efficiency, public transport. The list goes on. It's all about making our everyday lives more environmentally friendly - not just our holiday or business air travel.

Only with a more honest and realistic approach to our shared environmental challenge will we have any chance of meeting it.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Dr Spin

I was 'privileged' today to hear a speech from the infamous Alastair Campbell at COSLA conference. In an otherwise witty and engaging speech, he still managed to insert what he came to Scotland to do. He made an offensive remark about Alex Salmond, and said that he hopes 'nobody votes SNP' at the Scottish Parliament elections in May. When asked why he thought the SNP were doing so well in the polls, he muttered something about the media looking at the SNP through a 'prism', that polls told us nothing and that focus groups would produce a true reflection on attitudes in Scotland. What!?!

Just who does he think he is? He stood there and admitted that Scottish politics was not something he knew that much about and that it was none of his business really because he doesn't live in Scotland. Yet, he was happy to have a pop at the SNP on behalf of his London pals. How dare he slight the ambition of the people of Scotland, who are increasingly supporting independence and rejecting the spin and lies of those who seek to talk down our country.

Thankfully, we live in a democracy, and the people of Scotland can choose to vote SNP and choose independence. I hope they do.

Model Politicians?

I took a day off work this week - to catch up on sleep and work for the election campaign. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but while sitting on the sofa, stuffing yet more envelopes - this time with youth newsletters for 1st time voters - I watched a bit of 'Loose Women'. I couldn't believe it - they were talking about politics. Or were they...? Well, if you count the state of Gordon Brown's fingernails as politics!

Of course, they rolled out the usual bland statements - lamenting the fact that politics had become obsessed with image. Who was to blame - the media or the politicians' manipulation of the media? But the presenters then went on to reinforce this sorry state of affairs, commenting on David Cameron's and Tony Blair's physical appearance.

Unfortunately, the cult of celebrity and the modern media age has infected politics, to the point where the substance of different values and ideas has been diluted by the media. But what about voters? Do we really vote based on looks and charm? Or can we see through this? Will David Cameron be swept to victory at the next UK elections because he has better groomed fingernails than Gordon Brown?

Thankfully, these trends are not as pronounced in Scotland. Even when political debate centres on individuals - Salmond vs. McConnell for example - this is based on substantive comparisons of the two. It is fair to compare the two on things like their oratory skills, their record in politics and their ability to inspire voters. All politicians should be judged on their actions, not their appearance. After all, I thought politics was supposed to be showbiz for ugly people...*

*Disclaimer: This does not apply to my handsome husband, who has both substance and style!

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Full Circle on Lone Parents

If memory serves me correctly, one of the first acts of the New Labour government was to cut lone parent benefit. Well, it's been 10 ten years since the last attack on lone parents, so perhaps they thought it was about time to have another pop.

Now, I'm not arguing that lone parents, or indeed any group in society, shouldn't be supported into work. Work, it is generally accepted, is a good thing. It's good financially, and good for the soul. And when you have kids, you really should do your best to support them. That said...

There are many problems with this latest discussion about lone parents and work.

As a woman of child-bearing age (as I am constantly reminded by my mother!), I am acutely aware of the lack of childcare - particularly that of the affordable variety.

Granted, the UK Government has introduced relatively progressive flexible working rules - but we all still have to deal with individual employers to request flexible working, and well many employers aren't so progressive. The reality is, when a parent requests flexible working to assist them with their caring responsibilities, employers (and often some fellow employees) can make them feel like a burden.

As I've already said, work is generally good for the bank balance - but not always. We all know about the 'benefits trap', where some people can be worse off in work than on benefits. The reality is that part-time work in this country is generally lower status and lower paid. If the state pressurises lone parents into work, then their most likely option is part-time work to ensure they can be at home when their kids get back from school. I fear that these latest proposals endorsed by Gordon Brown could see many lone parents pushed off benefits and into low paid work.

And what are the likely consequences - for the parents and children? Hasn't this government harped on about the rise in anti-social behaviour among young people? Pushing lone parents into work when their child reaches 12 might look good on paper for those obsessed with figures (N.B. the latest report on lone parents was written by a banker) - but what about the impact on these kids, on the brink of those traumatic teenage years? This is an important formative time for young people, and a time when they need a lot of parental support. It would seem that government is sending parents mixed messages on this one.