Thursday, 24 January 2008

Hain, Hain, Go Away

...Come again some other day?

So Peter Hain has resigned as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, due to the police investigation into donations to his campaign for Labour's deputy leadership.

As only one of a string of donation issues of late, this must surely point the way to state funding of political parties? Yes, I do see the irony that at a time when public opinion of political parties is so low, one long-term solution to this issue is to ask taxpayers to fund said parties.

But what else can be done?

Whether these donation scandals prove to be intentional or the result of incompetence, the rules governing funding of political parties that have been put in place are not being adhered to. Maybe that's because those flouting the rules have little respect for them, or they are more complicated or time-consuming than they need to be? I don't have the answers to those questions.

Either way, surely it makes sense to cut this problem off at source and introduce state funding for political parties, with stringent caps on what can be spent, limitations on how additional finance can be raised and indeed how much can be raised in addition to state funding. Lets cap what political parties can spend on elections, and try to ensure more of a level playing field.

Democracy costs. And, the reality is, political parties are the foundation of the democratic process. We all have an interest in supporting the function of these political parties, and ensuring they have the resources to tell people what their vision and policies are, so that electors can make an informed decision about who to vote for. Believe me, I don't want my taxes spent on running Tory HQ! But I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to fund our democracy.

I don't want people in politics to be distracted from the business at hand - that of trying to make their communities, country and wider world a better place. Nobody gets involved in politics to become a fundraiser for their own campaigns or those of their political party.

Why on earth was Peter Hain spending such an extortionate amount on an internal personal campaign anyway? Why did Wendy Alexander spend thousands to become the Labour leader in Scotland - when she was the sole candidate!?! Yes, campaigns cost some money - but it's a stretch to suggest that it's justifiable to spend that kind of money.

I think we need to drive out this spending culture from politics in general, otherwise we will end up emulating the US system where money buys political muscle and does all the talking. It costs nothing to knock on a door and speak to people about your policies and ideas, and leaflets won't break the bank. Politics should be a battle of ideas, not a cash war. But if one party has lots of money from big donations, then it puts the others at a disadvantage, so they need to raise funds to level the playing field more. It's a vicious circle, but it can be stopped.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

My kind of politics

As I may have mentioned before, a council by-election takes place in the Kilsyth ward of North Lanarkshire Council on 31st January. This by-election follows the very sudden death of a Labour councillor for the ward, and the local Labour Party has selected his 22 year old son to contest the by-election.

A Cumbernauld and Kilsyth branch of the Young Scots for Independence (YSI) was established a few months ago. The convener of this branch, Stephen Bowman, issued a press release about the by-election to the local newspaper, which received the following coverage.

In this story, Stephen has broken the 'golden rule' of politics by naming the candidate of another party, and indeed he has gone further and offered words of personal (not political) support for this candidate - who has recently lost his father. And I must say, I am very impressed by Stephen's words and his approach to politics.

Politics is a battle of ideas, not people. It is of constant concern to me that so many people view politics and people involved in it with disdain and even contempt. It is all too easy for the reporting of politics (and political campaigns themselves) to become a war of soundbites, with candidates criticising each other rather than promoting what it is they and their party have to offer.

I am heartened that our party and politics generally has people like Stephen involved - somebody who thinks like a human being first and foremost, and who is not consumed with landing political blows. If only more people thought and acted in this way, then politics would be a lot healthier for it.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Farewell Anne

I spent most of today campaigning in Kilsyth for the forthcoming council by-election at the end of the month, but I had time this evening to attend a farewell gathering for my good friend Anne McLaughlin.

For those readers unfortunate enough not to know Anne, she is one of the loveliest people you will ever meet. She is only going to Sri Lanka for 3 months, but I will miss her a lot. Anne is one of those magnetic people that everyone likes to have around. She is very entertaining (often inadvertently) and utterly engaging. I used to work with Anne at SNP HQ, and not a day went by when she didn't have a hilarious story to tell.

Anne is fun, but she is also a sincere and true friend. I'm always telling her that she is sometimes too good a friend to other people and that she should look out for herself more.

Jamie and I also have a special reason to be fond of Anne, as she was our very own cupid. She knew we both liked each other from afar, and made sure we both knew about it. Thanks Anne :o)

Anne is off to Sri Lanka to work as a volunteer for a very deserving cause. I can't wait for her to return with a huge back catalogue of stories about all her adventures out there.

Good luck Anne!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Isn't it funny?

Well, I hope so...

Avid readers of my blog will have observed that humorous commentary is not my strong point. People that know me in 'real life' will testify that I do have a sense of humour (I hope) and that I don't take myself too seriously at all. But when it comes to blogging, I usually write about the political issue that has preoccupied my thoughts that day. And said issue has normally dominated my thoughts because it's something I feel strongly about. The tone of my posts, it therefore follows, is ordinarily serious. Personally, I not one of those people who enjoys politics for its own sake. I'm interested in politics because it is the way we change the world around us for the better. So it follows that I'm quite serious when I discuss political issues.

Anyway, the point to this preamble is to share my nerves about a forthcoming engagement. When I was thinking about putting myself forward as a candidate, the aspect I was most apprehensive about was the public speaking role. Don't get me wrong - I have no problem getting up and speaking in front of people, even big audiences. However, in the past I have always been speaking about a topic I know - either in a work context or on an issue I am concerned about at events like SNP conference.

But now I've been asked to do something quite different. I have been asked to speak at a Burns Supper, and to a non-SNP audience! I wasn't too nervous about this until one of our constituency activists said: 'don't worry - you don't need to be political, just funny'. JUST funny!

So I now face one of the most daunting things I have ever had to do. I am terrible at remembering jokes and even worse at delivering them! And I have been invited along to entertain people with wit and humour - and I don't want to disappoint. So if you know any good jokes, please let me know. The comments section is moderated (not because anyone was making nasty comments, but because links to viagra sites kept appearing), so you wouldn't be posting publicly. Even if you like the thought of me suffering as I struggle to elicit even a pity giggle from people who have very kindly invited me along to their evening, then do it for them. :o)

Friday, 11 January 2008


After being deprived of internet access for a couple of days, I feel like there is so much to write about - but I will pick just one topic.

I would like to make an observation about a TV programme that I caught the end of the other night on BBC2 (presented by the Snow father and son combo). The programme was looking at the incomes of people across the UK and the jobs that they do. Two quite shocking statistics used in the programme really stood out for me. The first related to pay in the armed forces. A young soldier was featured, who had worked out that while he is on active service, the hours are so long and the pay is so low that he paid far less than the minimum wage. I think that is disgusting.

The second statistic was that the top 4,500 earners in the UK collectively earn the same as the lowest 2.5 MILLION earners (in the £0-10,000 bracket). That is shocking evidence of the huge gap between rich and poor. There were people in the programme trying to justify the multi-million salaries some are paid - by saying that they deserve that money for their exceptional talent and hard work. To a point, I agree. If people work hard and are good at what they do, then there should be some reward for this. But what about the talented and hard-working nurses? Do they get whopping bonuses? What about the young soldier risking his life in combat? Why should he be on less than the minimum wage, while somebody who can kick a ball about a field with style can command millions?

Well, it's because what we all earn is not based on what is fair, or on what people deserve - but on what the 'market' decides we are all worth. We now live in an era of increasingly mobile capital and labour. So we are all at the mercy of the market to a varying extent.

If we are to tackle inequality, then the world will have to change - not just Scotland. However, there are things that we can do within our nations to address inequalities and begin to seriously tackle poverty.

I am a firm believer that a Citizen's Income would be a strong foundation for tackling poverty, making work pay, breaking people out of poverty and unemployment traps, ridding us of dependency culture, instilling confidence in people and redefining the relationship between citizens and the state.

If we are to tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland, then there must first be a consensus that we should tackle inequality. While most people agree that we should try to eradicate poverty, there is not the same agreement about inequality. Some people think it is acceptable to have such huge gaps in income, so long as people at the lowest end of the income scale are not living in poverty. I am not one of them. I believe in society, and also I think that huge inequalities have an incredibly corrosive effect on our society. What does it do to a person, struggling to get by financially to have the wealth of others paraded in front of them daily? Just turn on your TV, open your newspapers and magazines, walk along the high street, pass the adverts on the bus shelters. We are relentlessly bombarded with images of rich people, and all their belongings - and celebrity culture compounds this. This is all fuel for our consumer society, where people aspire to acquire more and 'better' possessions - and an increasing number (as evidenced by the rising number of bankruptcies) are getting themselves into debt to pay for it all.

This posting offers no conclusions on these matters at present. I started to write and if I don't stop soon I may run out of space! I will most likely return to this issue, and would welcome comments.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

The things we do for our political beliefs...

I was out campaigning today in Kilsyth, in advance of the council by-election at the end of January. The weather was awful! Within 5 minutes I could no longer feel my feet, which were drenched and I also - rather strangely - lost the feeling in just one set of fingers. I have a circulation condition that means I really suffer from the cold. The blood drains from my hands and feet when I spend any length of time out in the cold, and it can cause an odd mix of shooting pains and numbness. The GP told me to get ski gloves, and try to stay indoors as much as possible in winter. Not great news for a political activist like me! And not a very practical way to live my life either.

So there I was, out and about today, shivering in the wind and the rain as I knocked on doors. I must admit, I was feeling really sorry for myself :o(

But no matter what the weather, like many political activists, what drives me to do it is my absolute passion for politics. Not politics for its own sake, but the power of politics to change things for the better.

That's why I believe so strongly in independence. But for me independence is only the start for Scotland. Independence is the foundation for building a fairer society, and a more prosperous nation. So, even after Scotland becomes independent, I'm sure I'll still be involved in politics and pounding the streets.

I know that knocking on the front doors of strangers at the weekend is, on the face of it, a very bizarre way to spend your time. As an activist - particularly a drenched and shivering one - you do sometimes get people looking at you with a combination of bemusement and pity...

Anyway, after contemplating what drives me to suffer in the cold for my cause, I returned home to switch on the TV and view more news about the political situation in Kenya. I may have been dodging the rain in Kilsyth today for my political beliefs, but over there activists are dodging bullets and machetes. So I am very privileged to be able to campaign without fear for my physical safety, and without fear of arrest or intimidation.

It may or may not rain tomorrow (it probably will), but I will still count myself very fortunate indeed.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Happy New Year!

It feels like an eternity since I wrote my last blog entry...

For those who know me personally, you will know that I find it very difficult to 'switch off' and relax. I'm not really one for sitting about and taking it easy. However, that's exactly what I did manage to do over the festive period. Jamie and I spent Christmas down in the Borders with my parents, and we had a great and very relaxing time.

Now that we are back home though, I am back to writing the 'to do' lists that people have so frequently teased me about over the years. And boy, there is a lot to do! But my New Year's Resolution is to be far less stressed about everything that I have to do, and to take more time to reflect and to appreciate my family and friends.

Taking a break gave me a lot of time to think about why it is I work so hard, and what I hope to achieve. I'm not really an ambitious person career-wise. It's much more important to me to enjoy my job and to know that I am doing something worthwhile, than it is to earn loads of money and climb the status ladder. I am extremely privileged to be doing my current job, because protecting human rights is one of the biggest challenges facing this planet (as well as protecting the planet itself from threats like global warming). In my job I encounter so many horrific stories about how people have been treated by other human beings. I find it so difficult to comprehend what makes one person harm another. How can a human being torture another human being? How can they inflict such horrendous pain? How can they have such a capacity to hate? How can people get away with it? Why is it that we turn on our TV screens and open our newspapers every day to be bombarded with images and tales of intolerable suffering?

Apparently, the sheer volume of misery that we are faced with makes us more immune to images of suffering. Not me. It seems that the older I get, the more the turmoil and injustice of this world affects me, and I feel more powerless with it. The problems of this world are so huge and so complex, that trying to solve them seems impossible. Perhaps that's why so many people don't even try.

Anyway, before I descend into a blackhole of depression and take you with me, I do want to end on a note of optimism. As individuals we can only play a small part in making the world a better place. In my job, I am playing my part in defending human rights - here at home, and around the world. I am also politically active, and working hard to help achieve independence for Scotland - both to make my country a better place to live, but also so that Scotland can play a part in helping to make the world a better place too. On my own, I can play a small part. But I'm not on my own. I am a member of a growing political party that believes in equality for Scotland with independence. I am also a member of a human rights organisation with millions of supporters worldwide, campaigning and taking action to defend human rights.

Rather than making resolutions to eat more healthily and exercise more (which most of us should probably do anyway), just imagine what a difference it would make if we all pledged to do a little more to help others and make the world just that little bit better...