Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Heading south...

No, don't worry folks - I'm not emigrating! However, I am heading down to London tomorrow for work, which should be rather interesting given the local elections in England and the fight to become London Mayor.

I have often thought about who I would vote for if I lived in England - especially in conversation with friends in England who would quite like to have another party to vote for. I remember years ago when I worked at SNP HQ, a guy from London called to ask if there was any chance that Alex Salmond might consider standing in his constituency. He said they were crying out for a decent social democratic party down there and that it was a shame the SNP didn't contest seats in England!

He was obviously attracted by our progressive policies, and who can blame him?

So, who would I vote for if I lived in England? Well, if I lived in England then I would make sure I was still registered to vote here in Scotland. ;o) But if I had grown up in England and planned to settle in England, then I'm not sure what I would do.

Definitely not the Tories. New Labour have become the Tories. And the Lib Dems are the 'mid-point' party; their purpose is to sit somewhere in the middle between the Tories and Labour, which must be a very uncomfortable place to be.

Yet, I would have to vote. I believe very strongly that we all have a duty to vote to protect our democracy. What a dilemma - thank goodness it's not a choice I have to make tomorrow!

Must go, up at 4am...

Monday, 28 April 2008

Adoption Night

In the SNP we have a great tradition - adoption nights! They are essentially a social event and fundraiser - held to celebrate the selection of our candidates and raise funds for our campaigns. I say it's an SNP tradition, because the other parties don't seem to hold them (but I could be wrong on this...).

Anyway, Saturday 26th April was the date of my 'adoption'. It was held in Cumbernauld New Town Hall, to mark my selection as the Westminster candidate for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East. I've done a bit of a report on the evening on my campaign website (link below), but I wanted to use my blog for more of a personal reflection.

The picture above (left to right) is of Jamie Hepburn MSP (AKA my lovely husband), John Swinney MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth), me, Cllr Derek Mackay (Leader of Renfrewshire Council) and Neil McCallum (my election agent and constituency convener).
The night itself was fantastic. We were entertained by two young musicians from the constituency - Colin Masterton and Jill Smithson. Amazing talent. In fact, they were so good, I'm sure some folk were wondering if we needed to bother with the speeches ;o)
But we did. Derek Mackay addressed the assembled SNP members and supporters, followed by John Swinney and then myself. Both Derek and John were far too kind about me, but I really appreciate their support and I only hope I can emulate some of what they have been able to achieve in their time as SNP representatives.
After the speeches, we were then lured on to the dance floor when the disco started!
So, that's an adoption night. Speeches, entertainment, fundraising.
I was especially pleased that my family came up from the Borders for the occasion. It was really interesting speaking to one of my brother's girlfriends afterwards. She told me on the way home that she had never voted before in her life. She said she thought politicians were all 'in it for themselves' and that politics was only for 'folk with money'. But, that shouldn't surprise me. After all, there are a number of people in Scotland who feel that way about politics unfortunately.
However, what did pleasantly surprise me is what she then said. She told me we had really opened her eyes that night. Because it was an internal SNP event, she heard us talking to ourselves and about what mattered to SNP members and activists. She realised how genuine our motives are, and was impressed by the passion and commitment we have for independence and using our independence to make Scotland a better place to live. She was surprised to meet such a diverse range of people from all walks of life and realised that politics did indeed matter to her. Maybe she was caught in the moment, but she also stated that she'd be voting in the future and casting her vote for the SNP!
I am so pleased that somebody from outwith the SNP was able to come along to an event like that, and go home impressed by our party and by our aspirations for her and everyone else in Scotland.
I feel so privileged to be representing the SNP as a candidate, and excited at the prospect of being able to represent this constituency. As an MP there is so much I could do to contribute to this area, and the opportunity to do so would be amazing. It may be a while yet before that Westminster election rolls round, but that just gives me more time to meet as many people in the constituency as possible.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

SNP spring conference

Yes, here I am 'in action' at SNP conference at the weekend. Worryingly (for me anyway), this is the most flattering shot! You can imagine how bad the others were...

Anyway, I'm finding it quite difficult to report on conference - it all went by in a bit of a blur! I had to get there early each day because I'm on the Standing Orders and Agenda Committee of the SNP. This rather dull sounding committee is elected by SNP delegates each year at our autumn conference and is charged with selecting the motions for debate at National Council and Conference which have been submitted by SNP branches, constituencies, organisations and elected members. We meet early each morning of these national meetings to discuss topical and emergency motions to be debated that day.

The picture above was taken while I was speaking to delegates on a topical motion, which condemned the Westminster Labour Government for abolishing the 10 pence starting rate of tax. This is an issue I previously blogged on, and feel very strongly about.

I addressed conference again that day, because I moved the motion on first aid training submitted by my branch, Cumbernauld North East. I'm glad that didn't make it on to the BBC webcast though - as I said my Dad was embarrassing! There is some context to that. You see my Dad is an ambulance technician and I was telling delegates about the first aid training I was lucky enough to receive growing up, and my embarrassment when my Dad came along to do the first aid training at the Brownies, etc. Sorry Dad!

I also attended the launch of the new Equalities Forum of the SNP. More on that at a later date, but this is a really positive step - aimed at providing an umbrella organisation to support a number of groups in the SNP.

Other than that, I spent time catching up with folk, posing for a photoshoot of Westminster candidates, listening to debates, drinking tea, and voting to select a list of candidates to put forward for the forthcoming European elections (special congrats to my friend Anne McLaughlin AKA Indygal who made the list - she would make an excellent MEP!).

One final thought... Alex Salmond has set the SNP a target of winning at least 20 seats at the next Westminster election. I'm doing all I can to make sure that Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East is one of those successes. So, I'd better get back to my campaign 'to do' list....

Monday, 21 April 2008


Well, it has been one hectic weekend, because I was attending SNP Conference in Edinburgh. More on that later...

On the Friday night before conference, a new website that I've been working on went live. It's called destiNation, and it's basically an online magazine/forum for articles and essays from a pro-independence perspective.

A huge thank you to Euan, who has been very patient with me over the last few weeks. You see, he's the technical whizz who has put the website together.

The idea of destiNation is to provide an online forum for commentary and debate about Scottish politics and public policy, from pro-independence contributors. Blogging has been a valuable vehicle for people - of all political persuasions and none - to air their views and stimulate debate. However, I felt that we were lacking a space that pulled together in a coherent fashion the ideas and contributions of those people who support independence. Most of the contributors to the first issue of destiNation are in fact bloggers - and you will find links to their blogs down the right hand side of this blog and on the destiNation website.

Please check it out, email a comment to me via the website or email if you would like to discuss an idea for submitting an article of your own.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Labour in denial - Scotland won't wait for you

The latest poll has put independence ahead of the status quo. Great news. But even better, is the feedback I'm getting on the doorsteps when I'm out campaigning, which I'm sure is replicated across the country. Polls are one thing - opinions from people face to face are even better.

And people are increasingly telling me that they support independence - either when I speak to them in their community or in the surveys they return to our campaign team. It's wonderful to see so many people coming to the realisation that independence is not only normal, it's also desirable. They've seen what it's like to have a government looking after the best interests of Scotland in the devolved areas, and fancy a bit of good governance in the reserved areas too. If we can run our own health service and education system, why can't we run our own tax and benefits systems too? Well, of course, we can!

I am now beginning to cringe when I hear the response of Labour politicians to support for independence. Before, the lies they told and the fears they spread used to really annoy me - especially as people seemed to believe them without question. Now, those same arguments that the Labour Party and other pro-union parties have regurgitated for years are starting to look increasingly ridiculous. Poor Jackie Ballie is always wheeled out to deliver them too. Does everyone else refuse to do it because they know how daft they would look?

Just what will the Labour Party do when Scotland has voted for independence in a referendum? Will they still stand there and claim that most people don't want it? That independence is irrelevant? Surely not. At some point, they will get with the programme and tune in to the aspirations of the people of Scotland - and those aspirations are growing. The SNP is ready for the challenge to meet those aspirations. The Labour Party seem intent on limiting the ambitions of the people of Scotland. Denial can only last for so long, and the people of this country won't wait for Labour to catch up.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Lib Demery

To mark the departure today of one of the volunteers from my office, I thought I would share something from one of our earliest conversations.

Miss X (I will protect her identity and spare her blushes) was talking to me about how she would like to get involved in politics, but didn't know which party to join. I advised her that she should join the party that best reflected her views on all the issues, to which she replied:

"Well, I have been thinking about the Lib Dems, but I just don't know... I'm not sure what I think about some issues - I kind of sit on the fence about a lot of things".

"Perfect!", I responded - "it's definitely the Lib Dems for you".

But apart from her Lib Demery, it has been a pleasure working with you L... eh, Miss X.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Gordon and his 10p tax band

When being pressed by John Humphrys in March 1997, on why New Labour's 'progressive' taxation policy did not include the removal of the ceiling on National Insurance, Gordon Brown was keen to deflect and highlight his position on another tax matter.

A transcript of the interview from 'On the Record' on 23 March 1997 clearly demonstrates Gordon Brown's commitment to a 10 pence starting rate of income tax and his reasons for that commitment.

"What I would like to do is introduce a lower starting rate of tax at 10 or 15 pence in the pound and you see the reason for that is to encourage the unemployed back into work, to give the low paid a better incentive, to ensure that you have a break from the high marginal tax rates at the very bottom and that's where the difference of principle arises between us and the Conservative Party." Gordon Brown (then Shadow Chancellor) 23 March 1997

So where's the 'difference of principle' between New Labour and the Tories now then Gordon?

Why have you scrapped the 10 pence starting rate? Are there no unemployed people to 'encourage' back into work in 2008? Is everyone now earning a decent living? I take it there are no high marginal rates of taxation for people on low incomes these days?

Well, of course all of these remain a problem today.

And it's not good enough to say that the people the 10 pence starting rate was designed to help are now being helped by the National Minimum Wage and tax credits.

The National Minimum Wage has increased the incomes of many people over the years, but the cost of living has also risen. People are having to fork out a lot more for basic necessities like fuel for example. Plus, is that really the level of aspiration that Gordon Brown has for people? Working 40 hours a week for less than £12,000 a year? There you go folks, here's your minimum wage - but that's it, we can't have your incomes rise any higher. According to research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the abolition of the 10 pence rate will harm the incomes of those earning between £5,435 and £18,500. That's Gordon Brown's 'socialism' for you. No wonder Wendy Alexander has discovered a new fondness for it!

And consider the tax credit system for a moment. Yes, the payments have been a welcome boost to many families. But what about those who received over-payments ranging up to thousands of pounds, through no fault of their own, who have been plunged into debt by this overly complex system? I think most people will now know somebody who owes the Inland Revenue money because of this outrageous situation. People who would be eligible for tax credits have been put off from applying for this means-tested support as a result of this fiasco. We need a much simpler and more transparent system to support people than this discredited system.

So, this week, more than 300,000 people in Scotland face higher tax bills - many of whom will already be struggling. All courtesy of 'Brown's Britain'.