Monday, 26 October 2009

The waiting game

I could be in labour any moment now (that’s the process of giving birth, and not the political party before anyone starts spreading rumours!). I’ve been making the most of this part of my maternity leave, and using it to organise some campaign things and get my filing in order – but it’s very frustrating to have such little energy or flexibility! I keep dropping things on the floor, and have to wait for Jamie to pick them up for me. My mum and dad visited last week and very kindly helped with the housework, gardening and furniture building – while I sat with my feet up. :o)

Anyway, I thought I would quickly reflect on my experience of the NHS during my pregnancy. In short, it has been excellent. I have been prodded and poked by a whole host of healthcare professionals over the last 9 months. In some ways, it has felt like I have totally surrendered control of my pregnancy to the NHS, such has been the level of care. However, it has also been reassuring to know that there is so much support available – from the extra GP and nurse appointments, to the regular midwife appointments and antenatal classes. Every person in the NHS who has looked after us has been so patient, reassuring and professional.

As a first time mum-to-be, pregnancy has been the most daunting period of my life. I suppose I could describe myself as a researcher ‘by trade’, so it is quite scary to be taking on a role I know so little about – parenting! But no amount of reading or research can prepare anyone for being a parent I suppose, and both Jamie and I will have to learn as we go!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

New destiNation article

I have been neglecting my blog over recent months, mainly because I didn't think I would be able to refrain from using it to vent frustration at all my pregnancy-related 'ailments'! Plus, I usually only had time to blog late at night, and I've been heading to bed much earlier than usual. Growing a new little person is hard work!

Anyway, I have still managed to keep destiNation going and this post is just to let any readers this blog still has know that there is a new article up there.

The article is from Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, and is the first in a series of articles that will look at the implications of the current economic crisis.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

New issue of destiNation

The latest issue of destiNation has now been published, with the following articles:

William Henderson discusses the response of the Labour Party to the SNP’s planned independence referendum.

Jamie Hepburn MSP criticises the latest challenge to free university education from Stewart Sutherland.

Patrick Grady discusses a recent UNICEF report into child well-being, which is the subject of a motion to SNP Conference in October.

Bill Ramsay examines the prospects of the new Curriculum for Excellence.

David Livey makes his first contribution to destiNation and makes a strong case for scrapping Trident.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Social Mobility

This report published yesterday got me thinking about my days at Edinburgh University, and about a couple of conversations I witnessed at the time.

The first was outside the library, when I overheard two girls talking about the queues to access university computers.

Girl one: ‘Yes, I had to wait 30 minutes for a computer yesterday’

Girl two: ‘I called my Daddy last night, and he said “don’t worry darling – I’ll put a couple of grand in your account in the morning and you can get yourself a laptop”. What a relief.”

Then, there was another conversation in one of my tutorials when we were discussing poverty.

Student one: ‘Well you do have huge inequalities. For example, I’ve seen students from this university doing their food shopping at Marks and Spencer’

Student two: ‘I’ve seen YOU in Marks and Spencer food department’

Student one: ‘Yes, I WORK there!’

Not that I’m having a go at either the girl who came from a family that could afford to put £2000 in her account, which allowed her to buy a laptop to help with her studies, or the student who could afford to do her weekly food shop in M&S.

However, most of us were not in such a privileged position at university. Most folk I knew got by with a mixture of grants, student loans, bank overdrafts and credit cards, part-time jobs and a modest parental contribution. And we still left university in debt…

Edinburgh University did have a significant proportion of students from wealthy families – for example, there were a couple of blokes in my year driving round in cars that would have paid me through university a couple of times over. And the advantages of that wealth were very apparent at the time. Students from wealthy families had almost always been privately educated and had experience of debating (important in a politics class), and a great deal more confidence than those of us who went to state school. They didn’t have to work while at university, and so had more time to study and/or get unpaid relevant work experience. They also didn’t have the stress of money worries either, and the distraction of working out how to pay the electricity bill rather than thinking about the essay they should be writing. Plus, they could just buy the books on the reading list, and not have to spend hours in the photocopy room at the library.

I’m not complaining about my time at university – I loved it! Plus, I wouldn’t swap my experiences for the world. For one thing, juggling work with my studies was great for my time management skills.

However, it is clear that coming from a wealthy family does give people a huge advantage throughout their years in education and early working life.

How to level the playing field? Well, that’s a question that will take longer to answer than the remaining minutes of my lunch hour permit.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

destiNation - poverty

The latest issue of destiNation is now online, and the theme of this issue is poverty.

Friday, 29 May 2009

A bumpy ride?

As a (relatively) young woman in politics, and one very aware of the gender dimension of politics – having both studied gender politics and also convening the SNP Women’s Forum for a time – I am disappointed that women are under-represented in this vital area of public life.

There was some debate in a number of blogs in recent months over the issue of all women shortlists in the Labour party. I personally disagree with that particular measure, but I don’t know what things are like in the Labour party, and if they feel the need for such measures, then it’s not my place to comment. I don’t intend to tread that ground again either, but rather share a bit of good news.

As regular readers of the blog will be aware, I am a candidate for the next Westminster election. I was selected back in September 2007 for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East. But what many people won’t yet know is that I am expecting a baby in a few months.

Naturally, I was slightly apprehensive about telling people in my local constituency, because I didn’t want them to think that my commitment to the election campaign has lessened any. Don’t get me wrong – I knew people would be happy for me and Jamie on a personal level, but thought that they may have some concerns about my capacity to campaign as the bump grew. I’m also aware that Catherine Stihler was being criticised on the doorsteps for being pregnant - as a deliberate tactic to undermine her candidacy - by a certain political party (not mine!) in the Dunfermline & West Fife by-election. So I was aware of general prejudice out there I suppose, and the possibility of our political opponents locally utilising such tactics.

I shouldn’t have worried. Everyone in the local SNP and wider party is delighted for us, and as far as they are concerned, it isn’t an issue. I also found out that one of our local councillors was pregnant when she stood for the council. She said that canvassing was great, because everybody asked her in for a cup of tea and a sit down! I have been told not to overdo things, to avoid stairwells, and not to feel under pressure to do more than I feel up to just because I’m the candidate.

Interestingly, a handful of people have asked me if I intend to continue as a candidate now that I’m pregnant – but none of those people are involved in politics. Nobody in the SNP has asked me that question. So perhaps some people will look at me out campaigning and disapprove, but I’ve not had any negative reactions on the doorsteps so far.

I just wanted to share my experience and point out that women do not always get a raw deal in politics. I have never experienced any prejudice in the SNP because of my gender (or for any other reason), and I know that the expectation of prejudice is one common reason that women don’t put themselves forward for election. And now, as a pregnant youngish woman standing for parliament, I feel 100% supported by my party – nationally and locally.

And my commitment to the campaign? Well, now that I have my very own little member of the next generation on the way, my resolve to help make Scotland a better place to live is stronger than ever.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The cost of politics

As a political activist, I have had been on the receiving end of many an insult (and even some threats) over the years. Ranging from the drunk man who approached me in Dundee city centre, asking me if I wanted ‘a punch in the face’, to the woman in Perth who shouted at me ‘you people should be shot’. There was the man in Livingston who told me he would like to take me ‘round the corner’ and do some unspeakable things to me... and then the young man in Glasgow who grabbed my leaflets, and then told Jamie (who came to my assistance) that he would leave him ‘in a pool of blood’. Then there is my personal favourite – the man who strode towards me, and informed me: ‘I wouldn’t p*** on Alex Salmond if he was on fire’. I must say, if I saw Alex Salmond in said state, it wouldn’t be my first instinct to relief myself on him either!

So what is the point of this stroll through memory lane? No, it’s not to panic my mum.

The point is, my experience of being involved in politics is a mixed one. On the one hand, I get a huge amount of personal satisfaction by working towards something that I feel passionately about, I have made a number of very good friends through the SNP, I met my husband through the SNP, and through campaigning I get to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t. On the other, I spend pretty much all of what should be my spare time on politics, which means I don’t get to see my family and friends nearly as much as I would like, it costs a pretty penny (all that travel to various by-elections, stamps, envelopes, SNP raffles, etc), I manage to wreck my gloves on rusty gates each winter and politics can be a very frustrating business.

There are times, such as now, that being involved in politics is particularly frustrating. The whole saga regarding MPs’ expenses has left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths – and mine is no exception. There is no excuse for spending taxpayers’ money like water – recession or no recession. While it is clear that not all MPs have abused the system, many have taken advantage and a few have clearly cheated the system. I just can’t comprehend how anyone could square these claims with their conscience.

And it’s not just the money. What also worries me is the mindset of these MPs, and just how detached from reality some of them seem to be. If the rest of us want something, we have to pay for it ourselves. It really must be easier to spend other people’s money...

What will be the legacy of this whole affair? Will it put some people off getting involved in politics and standing for election? Will it turn some people off politics and voting altogether? I think it will.

As a candidate myself, I find it more difficult than I would as an activist to talk to people on the doorsteps about this issue. As somebody standing to become an MP at the next election, I am aware that some people will now be thinking, ‘Is she for real, or is she just in it for the money...’

And what can I say to people? ‘I’m honest. I wouldn’t claim these expenses.’

Why should people believe me? Would I believe me?

I don’t blame people for being cynical at all, and only hope that I am given the opportunity to prove myself.

As for MPs’ expenses, they need to scrap the whole system and only allow for the minimum of expenses. In my current job, I have to travel down to London and I naturally incur additional expenses as a result, for which I am reimbursed. I can claim for my train fare (with a receipt), lunch and dinner (up to £12 with a receipt) and overnight accommodation (with a receipt). Not a bad system.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Presidential Visit Today

I was out on the campaign trail with SNP President (and number 1 on the SNP’s list of candidates for the European Parliament election) Ian Hudghton today in Lennoxtown. Ian was visiting the area as part of the European Parliament election, which takes place on 4th June 2009. Also in the photo is Cllr David Key and my other half, Jamie. It doesn't quite show in the photo, but it was a lovely sunny day!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Back to Blogging!

After a short and unintentional break from blogging, I intend to get back in the swing of things. I've been under the weather recently, and didn't have the energy to put thoughts into words - and I've missed the chance to comment on some juicy stuff.

Some things never change though - Labour politicians are still more interested in their own affairs than what's going on in the real world. Am I the only one fed up of constant reports about who may or may not challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership? I hope I'm not the only one.

My main focus at the moment is on campaigning for the European elections in June. I spent a good chunk of the day delivering leaflets in the rain - don't you just love public holidays! I'm looking forward to work tomorrow, not least because I will be warm and dry and sat down at my desk. My boss is great, and bound to make me a cuppa too :o)

Anyway, I'm about to watch Endgame on Channel 4, so over and out for now.

Friday, 10 April 2009

destiNation April 2009

The latest issue of destiNation has now been published. This month's issue focuses on constitutional change. Fellow blogger Ideas of Civilisation has also contributed to this month's issue - check out his article and more here.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Euro hustings in Cumbernauld

European fever hit Cumbernauld at the weekend, when the SNP's candidates for the European elections rolled into town. OK, perhaps 'fever' is an over-statement. It was a cold, wet Saturday night when the candidates turned up to Cornerstone House to address SNP members. But it was an interesting evening, and the candidates covered a lot of ground - and we all went away more informed than when we arrived. The smiles you see below are not the standard politician smiles. Oh no. Everyone had just had a nice biscuit with their cup of tea!

Anyway, the group you see before you is a mixture of the European candidates, local councillors and of course me and my other half (we never miss a good photo opportunity!).

The European elections don't usually set the heather alight in Scotland, but the EU has more impact than many people think. Sitting listening to the candidates, it really hit home just how much influence EU decisions have on our everyday lives. The EU shapes our laws, and is also a key source of funding for numerous community projects across Scotland. Duncan Ross (European candidate on the left of the photo) urged us to look out for projects in our area that simply wouldn't happen without EU funding, and use that information to explain to people just why the EU elections really do matter to people locally. Ian Hudghton (MEP and SNP President, next to Duncan in the photo) pointed out that the EU provides plenty of opportunities that Scotland is missing out on, because the UK Government (as the member state) doesn't utilise them.

I am personally looking forward to the European Parliament elections in June (well, I say that now, but ask me again when I've been chapping doors in the rain for hours...). These elections give us the opportunity to highlight just how much Scotland is held back by our lack of independence. Having no direct influence in the EU might not seem like a 'bread and butter' issue, especially these days, but constitutional constraints like these affect our ability to tackle the problems that matter most to people.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

destiNation goes nuclear!

The latest issue of destiNation has been published and can be viewed here.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Andy Kerr on your doorstep

Andy Kerr knocks on your door. He is furious, absolutely furious, he tells you.

“It’s outrageous!” says Andy, “the SNP have abandoned their plans to scrap the Council Tax”.

“Why is that outrageous?” you ask.

Andy: Well, because they promised to do it.

You: OK, well why are they not doing it now?

Andy: They can’t get it through parliament at the moment.

You: Why’s that?

Andy: Well... because both Labour and the Tories object to it and they know we won’t support the legislation.

You: But, if you don’t want to scrap the Council Tax, why are you so angry?

Andy: Because they promised they would do it.

You: But it’s not their fault that they can’t do it; surely it’s yours for blocking the policy?

Andy: But it was in their manifesto – so they should deliver it!

You: Aren’t they a minority government? Don’t they need the support of other parties to get legislation through?

Andy: Yes, but they promised!

You: So, let me get this right. You are angry because the minority SNP Government is being prevented from delivering a reform that you object to anyway?

Andy: Yes

You: Goodbye!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Anne McLaughlin

Bashir Ahmad was a lovely man, one passionately committed to the cause of Scottish independence, and he is a huge loss to the SNP and Scottish politics. His presence in the Scottish Parliament was about more than symbolism – he was much more than just his race or religion. He was a great politician in his own right.

His passing inevitably means that a vacancy had to be filled in the Scottish Parliament. That was always going to be a difficult role for anyone to take up, especially given how close people in Glasgow SNP are to each other.

Anne McLaughlin has therefore found herself in the position of Scotland’s newest MSP in the most tragic of circumstances.

Given those circumstances you would expect the media and opposition politicians to show some sensitivity towards Anne, at least for a few days. But that is not the case. Instead, we have seen some ludicrous attacks on her from various quarters.

Anne is a good friend of mine, and I find it hard to see her being unfairly attacked.

A better friend you could not hope to meet. Anne’s only flaw (apart from her love of karaoke) is that she always puts others first, often to the exclusion of her own best interests. In a world where I increasingly despair at how selfish people are, I often find myself urging Anne to be more selfish!

Anne has spent her adult life campaigning for independence, with humour, passion and commitment. She is honest, considered and compassionate. And you would be struggling to find somebody who works harder than she does.

Her personality is irrepressible – in a good way! That certainly comes across in her blog, and it is rather disappointing that people are trying to use some of her comments against her. People always complain that politicians are dull, but when they do show they are human beings with personalities they are often metaphorically slapped down or ridiculed for it.

Anne is far from dull, and she will make a first class elected representative for Glasgow and Scotland. I am proud to call her a friend.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Budget - a more personal reflection

I have found some of the coverage of the Budget process in the Scottish Parliament vaguely interesting, but most of it rather dull and predictable. It’s really easy to come to some of the conclusions that many of the journalists have come to, and to an extent they perpetuate many of the stereotypes of politicians. Winners and losers. Players and wannabes.

I don’t want to engage with the ins and outs of all the analysis, but rather put my tuppence worth in from a more personal point of view.

For me, the most interesting element to this whole Budget situation has been John Swinney (I hope he doesn’t mind being described as an element!). Having worked for John a few years ago, I was privileged to see at close quarters both how he worked and what he was really like.

And I have to say, as I’m sure I have done before on this blog, that John is a thoroughly decent, hard-working, principled, genuine bloke. He also has a very good sense of humour – something that comes in very handy in the rough and tumble world that politics can be!

His skill in navigating the Government’s Budget through parliament is not due, in my opinion, to him being an ‘operator’ or ‘master manipulator’ – skills that many people in politics have to utilise because they are lacking in others… Rather, his strengths have been his intellect and honesty. He is good at what he does because he knows his brief. He was able to pull together broad agreement because he is a straightforward negotiator, with the best of intentions. You can’t catch somebody like that out, because they aren’t hiding anything or playing tricks.

As for the suggestion that Patrick Harvie (or more accurately the Scottish Green Party group – don’t forget Robin Harper!) has been punished for his/their actions last week, I think that is unfair. I’m sure it was the instinctive reaction of many who wanted the Budget to pass last week, but that’s not how John works. I’m sure he will be disappointed that the Greens did not get on board, but I sincerely doubt he will freeze them out as an act of revenge. After all, he just worked with both the Lib Dems and Labour Party to secure a deal, despite their no votes last week (and the motivations of those parties were arguably less defensible than the Green position).

John Swinney – well done that man!

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Busy Day!

Yesterday was a busy day, as we had a campaign workday in Cumbernauld and then both Jamie and I were speaking at a Burns Supper in Falkirk last night.

The Young Scots for Independence (YSI) were meeting in Cumbernauld yesterday, so they hooked up with our Westminster campaign, to help with canvassing. Thanks folks!
Then off to Falkirk, where Jamie gave the Toast to the Lassies and I did the Reply from the Lassies. These kind of speeches are always quite nerve-wracking, much more so than a political speech. But thankfully people laughed, and it was a good day all round.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

BBC & DEC Appeal

The decision by the BBC not to air the DEC appeal to raise funds for the people of Gaza is beyond comprehension.

The 'explanation' from the BBC is absurd in my opinion.

Here's an extract:

"This is because Gaza remains a major ongoing news story, in which humanitarian issues - the suffering and distress of civilians and combatants on both sides of the conflict, the debate about who is responsible for causing it and what should be done about it - are both at the heart of the story and contentious." Mark Thompson, BBC

I have highlighted one phrase, because I think we all know one thing for sure. The thousands of innocent children who are hungry, injured and traumatised because of this attack on Gaza are certainly not responsible for it. They are waiting for the humanitarian aid that will ease some of their suffering.

When it comes to delivering humanitarian aid, the charities involved to do not judge the rights and wrongs of the situation they are presented with. They alleviate suffering wherever they find it, whoever has caused it. They respond humanely to people in the most tragic of circumstances. By refusing to show the DEC appeal, it is the BBC that shows bias - by politicising an appeal which is purely and simply about helping people in desperate need.

On the campaign trail

After a day out campaigning in Cumbernauld today, I am posting a photograph of me campaigning in....Kilsyth!

Last Saturday, we took to the streets of Kilsyth to hand out 'warm winter' leaflets I put together with information on how to get help to pay those ever-increasing fuel bills. It was so COLD. As I stood shivering while talking to a 90 year old lady about what she may be entitled to, the irony was not lost on her. She said I should take my own advice on staying warm!

Also in the picture is my other half, Jamie, and local SNP activist Claire Fyvie (who was also our by-election candidate in the Kilsyth ward last year). It's hard to believe that a whole year has passed since that by-election!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

We went to see Slumdog Millionaire earlier in the week. Don't click here if you are planning to see it.

I personally think the marketing of this film is slightly bizarre, because all the adverts I have seen describe it as a 'feel good' film. Well, it certainly didn't make me feel good. While watching it, I felt ashamed to be part of the human race because of the unspeakable things we do to each other.

It's not like I'm not aware of how bad the world can be - I work for a human rights organisation and spend a part of each day reading about the terrible things that people do to other human beings. But when they are brought to life in such a stark way, it still shocks.

I suspected that the plot of Slumdog Millionaire may be darker than advertised, but I was taken aback at how shocking some scenes were. I don't want to give away anything here, just in case anyone reading plans to go see it.

And despite my description, I think people should absolutely see this film. It was an amazing film. The acting - especially from the young boys - is fantastic. The story is quite clever, with various twists and turns. Plus, it really hits you hard and makes you reflect on your own life, and on the state of the world around you.

Take some tissues for the tears, but go see this film.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

destiNation - Europe!

The latest issue of destiNation has now been published, and this month has a European flavour - with three of the SNP's candidates for the European Parliament elections in June writing articles for the pro-independence website.

Ian Hudghton MEP (SNP President), Anne McLaughlin (AKA Indygal) and Dr Duncan Ross (SNP National Secretary) have all written for this month's destiNation on EU-related topics.

There are also articles from destiNation regulars - Stephen Bowman, Patrick Grady and Jamie Hepburn.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Happy New Year?

It's about time I posted my first message of 2009, and said 'Happy New Year!' to you all.

Although, I have actually been quite hesitant about saying HAPPY New Year to people, mainly because of the economic gloom that is taking hold. The year ahead will no doubt be tough for a lot of people, and there is a lot of unease and uncertainty in the air.

It's all people are talking about - on the news, sitting on the train, in queues in the supermarket...

Anyway, I didn't swing by to be miserable - just to check in and to wish everyone all the best for 2009.

I'll be back soon, hopefully with something more coherent and interesting to say. You never know, it could happen one of these days ;o)