Thursday, 28 February 2008

Kelso girl caught in London earthquake!

Can I get away with this 'headline' so reminiscent of 'Aberdeen Man Drowns' after the sinking of the Titanic? Why not!

Not sure I can quite claim to be a Kelsonian these days though, having left the town when I was 18, currently a resident of Glasgow and soon to move to Cumbernauld.

I'm even more certain that I can't get away with describing myself as a 'girl' these days either!

Anyway, I was indeed in London the night before last when the earthquake hit. I woke up to my bed shaking slightly, but then fell back asleep. It wasn't until I saw the big fuss being made on the news the next morning that I even remembered the incident!

While in London, I also got the local London BBC news. One report captured my attention. I was in London the day that parents across the city would receive letters telling them if their child has been accepted to their school of 'choice'. Apparently, only half of all children would be going to their school of choice (or more accurately the school of their parents' choice).

This is what I've always found so bizarre about the New Labour 'choice' agenda. By its very nature there are always going to be people who don't get the option they choose. If people feel the need to choose one school over an other, then it is usually because they think one school is superior. Given that parents make these decisions based on things like the attainment levels at various schools, there are always going to be schools that are seen as more desirable than the rest. And it follows that the vast majority of parents will want to send their children to these more desirable schools. It also follows, as places in these desirable schools are not infinite, that not everyone is going to get a place at one of them. So the pupils who get into one of the preferred schools chosen by their parents will feel that choice was a good thing. For the rest, what choice did they really have?

Sunday, 24 February 2008

I survived!

For anyone who may be interested (other than my mum), the speech that I was fretting so much about in an earlier post was last night.

Months of nagging apprehension, a week of being nervous and then a day of being absolutely petrified came to a head at the Burns Supper I spoke at last night. People actually laughed! And this is no thanks to the readers of my blog, because not a single joke was sent to me via the comments section!

I'm actually beginning to enjoy this public speaking lark, especially as each time I have been presented with a gigantic bouquet of flowers as a thank you. Now, I do realise that these gifts are more than a little sexist. As far as I could tell, the poor men that were speaking alongside me received zilch - charming! However, it would be rude not to accept them and they certainly brighten up the living room. Plus, as all my vases were already full of flowers come Valentine's Day, my husband was excused from buying me any. When my folks were visiting last weekend, my mum walked into the living room and said 'Oh, are these your Valentine's flowers? They are lovely!'. Jamie momentarily looked like he was going to take the credit, but thought better of it.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Soaring Energy Costs and Soaring Profits

I'm pleased to hear that Ofgem is to investigate the energy market in response to concerns about soaring costs for consumers.

However, this will be a long process and there is no guarantee that anything will change as a result.

I'm not naive - I know companies like British Gas exist to make profit. Most people don't object to that (depending on how ethically that profit is generated and how excessive it is). But, boy, British Gas have made a substantial profit from us! And when that profit comes at the expense of people who are struggling to pay their rocketing fuel bills, to do basic things like heat their homes and cook their food, that profit does become immoral in my view.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the issue of fuel poverty is one that I feel passionate about. I'm not exaggerating when I say that people are literally dying from the cold in this country because they can't afford to heat their homes. Low incomes, like miserly state pensions, are part of the problem - but high fuel prices form the other part of the equation.

I think it's disgraceful that companies can make such an obscene profit from a product that is a basic requirement. We need energy to heat our homes, to turn on our lights when it's dark and to cook our food. Yes, there are a range of energy suppliers and switching can save some money - but there isn't that much of a price difference really.

The way that energy was privatised has left us in a bit of a mess in my opinion. I can't see any immediate remedy. I just wonder how the British Gas bosses, and their counterparts in the other energy companies, can sleep soundly knowing that their wealth comes at the expense of ordinary people who have very little choice about paying the high charges for the fuel that they need.

Sunday, 17 February 2008


This article caught my eye, but I was originally wary about blogging on this sensitive issue - I suppose I still am...

However, I will try my best to articulate my views on this and do my best to avoid any ambiguous remarks that could be misinterpreted, and sweeping generalisations.

I am sensing a developing theme here, but I will once again return to my childhood. Growing up in the Scottish Borders, and so close to the border with England, brought with it a distinctive experience. As I said in my previous post, our family would make frequent trips up north to England, to visit the relatively larger town of Berwick. Quite a large number of people who I went to school with had one Scottish and one English parent, and liked the fact and would comment on how they would split their allegiances come the inevitable sporting clashes. It was never something that caused animosity. Why would it in an area where it was common to have a parent from both nations? Indeed, some people reveled in the fact that it made them more 'interesting'. That's not to say that friendly rivalry didn't exist - between neighbours, friends and even members of the same family in the run up to a football match or game of rugby. But in the Borders, there was friendly sporting rivalry between towns, so it didn't seem unusual for national games either.

Of course there are individuals in Scotland who hold prejudices about people from other countries; this kind of prejudice exists all over the world and I suspect that we are no better or worse than most places in this regard. As England is Scotland's immediate and larger neighbour, I suspect a large proportion of this kind of prejudice is directed at England. Friendly sporting rivalry is one thing, but such prejudice is unacceptable. We are all human beings, living on the same planet. We have many differences, but we all share one thing - our humanity. To dislike somebody based on the colour of their skin, their nationality, or for their accent is such a strange concept and one that is so damaging the world over.

We cannot deny that anti-Englishness exists in Scotland. It's only natural to try and cover up something that you are ashamed of, and I believe that's why so many people are inclined to assert that it doesn't exist. However, to deny it, in my opinion, is to tolerate the continuation of such prejudice.

Anti-Englishness was not something I was aware of until I went to university in Edinburgh. I was shocked to hear about the experiences of some of my English friends. A good friend of mine from London has Indian parents, and she had experienced racism in London based on the colour of her skin. During her four years in Edinburgh, she didn't experience (to the best of her knowledge) any racism based on the colour of her skin, but she did experience prejudice because of her English accent. It wasn't something she expected at all, but she wasn't alone in that regard. I was incredibly ashamed that people who came to live and study in this country were being made unwelcome by the disgraceful views and behaviour of a vocal minority.

And I do believe it is a minority of people in this county who hold such unpleasant views, and I also believe that such prejudice will lessen over time as our country grows in confidence. Although, this issue is entirely separate to the constitutional debate about Scotland's future, I do think that the prospect of an evolving relationship between Scotland and England is putting the spotlight on these issues more than ever before.

Tackling such prejudice is not easy, and it must NOT be bound up with the constitutional future of the UK. People in Scotland who support independence are not motivated by the idea of separation from England, they are motivated by independence for Scotland. When I have spoken to people in Scotland, England and elsewhere in the world, I have been so proud of the fact that the constitutional debate in Scotland has been driven by peaceful tolerant civic nationalism - a positive belief in equality for our nation and the benefits of independence.

To try and link the two issues would be highly irresponsible. It won't stop some people, like George Foulkes or others with a political interest in painting progress in Scotland as fuel for resentment between Scotland and England, but I do hope they will be widely condemned for it.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Berwick and borders

I have a stat counter on my blog, which allows me to see how many visitors the blog has had, and interestingly, where in the world they have logged on to the computer. I appear to have a regular reader in Toronto for example, and visitors from all corners of the world. I would like to welcome the latest visitor, from Oxford University, to these pages and I hope they make interesting reading ;o)

I now turn to the point of this post...

I grew up in the Scottish Borders, and I have a certain fondness for Berwick-upon-Tweed. As the nearest town with a train station, arguably the best selection of shops that could be accessed without going all the way into Edinburgh, and the seaside - we spent a lot of time there as a family when I was growing up. So, it is very strange to see it hitting the headlines, with all this discussion about Berwick becoming part of Scotland.

Personally, I don't see a problem with it from Scotland's point of view, but it really is for the people of the area to decide. One of the arguments put forward for the move is that people in Scotland are benefiting from better public policies than people living in England. Free personal care for the elderly, free prescriptions, the abolition of tuition fees, the freezing of Council Tax - all desirable and all happening in Scotland.

I don't subscribe to the view that public policy developments in Scotland will necessarily result in increased resentment towards Scotland from people in England, or Wales and Northern Ireland for that matter. Surely improvements in Scotland give people in the other constituent parts of the UK the evidence and leverage for other political institutions to follow suit? In the same way that Scottish politicians were able to point to the experience of Wales when they abolished prescription charges, the Scottish Government's decision now provides English MPs with the evidence they need to push for similar improvements in England. Apparently, improvements in the way that children from asylum seeking families are being treated in Scotland are also informing progress across the UK.

I believe that Scotland will be better off independent, but that doesn't mean that my concern for people ends at the border. Until we achieve independence, and after we achieve independence, I firmly believe that all the nations that make up the UK can learn from each other, and use differences in public policy to improve the governance of each nation. Obviously, the EU provides a wider opportunity to compare polices and raise standards - but there will always be a special relationship between those countries that currently constitute the UK.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Busman's Holiday

Jamie and I were in Pitlochry this weekend, with our friends Gareth Finn and Bill Kidd. We were combining a weekend break in a beautiful part of Scotland, with some campaigning in the council by-election there. The by-election is a result of the untimely death of Eleanor Howie - a much loved SNP councillor. Her sister Kate Howie has been selected as the SNP candidate to contest the Highland Perthshire ward.
This weekend was the first time I met Kate, and I was very impressed with her - she is absolutely lovely and sharp as a razor too. She is obviously dedicated to her community, and already well known and liked. She will make an excellent councillor for the area.
Saturday was spent knocking doors in Pitlochry itself, and it was great to get such a warm reception. We were invited in to so many houses! Our candidate in the recent by-election, Claire Fyvie, was also up to lend a hand - along with Cllr David Key. We all agreed that it was great to be out campaigning, and for it not to be raining - as it did practically every day of the Kilsyth by-election! Anyway, that's me in the picture above, with my canvass pack - on a quick break.
Today was spent distributing leaflets in Kinloch Rannoch and Tummel Bridge - in beautiful surroundings. And we did take the time to enjoy the sites on the campaign trail, courtesy of our local hostess and my friend Elaine Wylie. Jamie is pictured above at Killiecrankie, en route.
I'm looking forward to taking another break in Pitlochry soon. From the B&B we stayed in, to the warm welcome from local shopkeepers and the picturesque town itself, Pitlochry really is a great destination - and only a short train journey away from the central belt. No, I'm not angling for a job with visitscotland!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Labour's Budget 'Strategy'

I am baffled by the Labour Party's response to the vote on the Budget today.

They put forward an amendment, which the SNP Government supported - yet they still didn't vote for the Budget as amended. Well, if the Labour group had more problems beyond the issue of skills academies and Modern Apprenticeships, why didn't they submit an amendment that dealt with those issues?

I'm sure it looked like a super-duper strategy to the Labour Party adviser of the month, whatever that strategy was...

But, yet again, the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament have left themselves open to ridicule. What were they trying to achieve today? A robust and fair Budget for Scotland? To score points against the SNP Government? To get through unscathed? I don't think they have achieved anything for themselves, the issues the claim to care about or the people of Scotland.

Perhaps things will be become clearer tomorrow...

Monday, 4 February 2008

Kilsyth by-election

Well, it has taken me a number of days to get round to blogging about the by-election result. After one of the most hectic months of my life, the first day I had off (from work and campaigning) was yesterday, so I scheduled the task 'do nothing' in my diary!

Anyway, after a long, cold, wet and windy campaign, we didn't manage to win the council seat for Kilsyth ward - despite working hard, and having an excellent candidate in Claire Fyvie.

Lab 1855 - 62.95%
SNP 891 - 30.23%
GRN 66 - 2.24%
CON 50 - 1.7%
SSP 48 - 1.63%
L/D 17 - 0.58%

However, we did get a swing towards us after improving on our share of the vote from the council elections last May, and we have had a surge in membership applications in the area.

There is still massive loyalty to the Labour Party in this ward, so actually winning here was always going to be an uphill struggle. Generations of loyalty to Labour can't be undone during the course of a by-election. And while I find this loyalty to Labour frustrating, I can understand why people are still so attached to Labour and admire them for this loyalty in some ways.

Going round the doors in the area I was struck by just how many people mentioned their absolute hatred (and I'm not exaggerating) of the Tories, and their attachment to the Labour Party - who at the time of the last Conservative Government - positioned themselves as the defender of Scotland against the London Tories.

The Kilsyth ward is an ex-mining community. It suffered under Conservative rule, and it formed even stronger attachments to the Labour Party. I'm sure I've written about this before, but so many Labour voters in Scotland see Labour as part of their identity. They don't look at the different parties in the run up to elections, and weigh up who has the policies that would benefit them, their community, and their country. They ARE Labour, so they VOTE Labour. I had a number of people apologise to me during the Scottish Parliament elections because they were Labour, so they had to vote Labour. It's part of who they are, part of who their parents are and their parents before them. This kind of loyalty is admirable.

I do find it rather contradictory though, that in the age of the so-called consumer voter, that people do continue to vote out of loyalty rather than to put their own interests first. I was speaking to a man in Cumbernauld about 5 years ago, who told me that he was in his eighties, and that he had been a 'Labour man' all his life. He told me he was disgusted with them, particularly because of the miserly 75p increase in the state pension Gordon Brown had set soon after Labour formed the government. He felt absolutely betrayed because he thought that low state pensions and means-testing would be a thing of the past under a Labour Government. I asked him if he would consider supporting the SNP. 'Oh no', he said, 'I'm a Labour man - have been all my life - I'll give them another chance'. He smiled apologetically...

I don't think the Labour Party deserve this kind of loyalty, and I don't believe they can inspire it for too much longer. They have just become so removed from the founding principles of their party, and let people down too many times. People in Scotland deserve better.

I am incredibly proud of the SNP campaign for Kilsyth ward. We all worked extremely hard to get round as many doors as possible to speak to people, and when we did, we found a warm reception from most. I'm sure that with continued hard work, and with an excellent SNP councillor for the area in David Key, even more people will see that the SNP is on their side and fighting hard for their communities.