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.