Daytime Monday - 1st November
already - Motherwell Constituency Office to catch up with Davie
who's based there, and see where we're at with all the current
constituency cases. One of the very first things that the Lib/Lab
coalition did back in 1999 was to shaft the list members by only
allowing us one office per party per region (except in exceptional
circumstances where you have to make the case). So, three of us share
the Motherwell office and whilst it's quite a good space, when you're
covering ten constituencies it isn't somewhere that folk will visit - a
long way from Kilmarnock or Falkirk to Motherwell! As a result I tend to
do house visits, and the office is used for admin. The big issue at the
moment, apart from the general health service cases, seems to be road
repairs and road closures where the Council doesn't have the funds to
keep in a good state of repair.
A great event in Motherwell on Monday
night - arranged by North Lanarkshire Council as part of their Community
Planning strategy - brought together 50 delegates under 25 years old and
50 delegates over 25 years old (most of whom seemed well over, I must
say! I include myself in that). The event was for joint discussion of
issues affecting young and old, and trying to reach common ground. Very
successful and appreciated by all present. The main discussions focussed
round crime/fear of crime in communities and how this could be tackled,
as well as homelessness and drug addiction. It takes more than one
evening to find the answers, but at least folk are having their say and
realising that they can influence Council policy.
Tuesday similar to Monday - clearing the
decks - and Tuesday night brought the first of the 'Italian Community'
events of the week for me. Archbishop Conti held a mass for Italians -
first/second/third, and probably even fourth and fifth by now,
generation in St. Andrews Cathedral in Glasgow. Packed out and
followed by a reception in Glasgow City Chambers hosted by Glasgow's
Provost, Liz Cameron. It was a smashing night and I hope it will be
repeated annually as planned.
Italians were once Scotland's 'new
people' and like immigrant communities everywhere suffered difficulties
in settling in - I remember my grandmother talking about the horror
during WW2 when my grandfather was interned in the Isle of Man. So,
after being with so many 'hyphenated-Scots' on Tuesday night, it was
ironic to attend the Immigration Court on Wednesday morning, with many
others, in support of an Algerian asylum seeker who believes his life is
in danger if he is refused asylum. It was a strange feeling to sit there
in the realisation that this man's whole future depended upon this
hearing - result awaited.
Back to Edinburgh on Wednesday
afternoon for an Education debate in Chamber and for the Cross-Party
Group on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in the evening - one bit of good
news though in that the Ay Family who were removed from Scotland amidst
much publicity, have now been granted leave to remain in Germany.
Interesting that one of the reasons given by the German authorities for
their change of heart was due to the trauma suffered by the children in
being locked up in detention in Scotland. Shaming that just up the road
from where I live we lock up people who have committed no crime, and
children have to pass through locked doors to get out to play.
Normal Thursday - running around daft to
Chamber - Pensions in the morning - Nicola Sturgeon calling for the
removal of means testing for pensions, a Citizens Pension increasing in
line with earnings. As usual many calls from the opposition of wasting
parliament time on a 'reserved matter', rather than facing the issue.
It wasn't that when Westminster MPs summoned Malcolm Chisholm, Health
Minister down there to explain himself about hospital closures! A
A visit arranged by the Civic Forum on
Thursday afternoon during the Domestic Violence debate - Community
Workers from Falkirk Council who want to understand the workings of the
Parliament so that their own community members know how to access the
parliament and who to lobby. I really enjoy doing these events for the
Civic Forum - it's a really important element of democracy, the ability
of civic organisations and individuals to participate/get involved in
what's going on.
Friday in Kilmarnock along with
MSPs and MPs covering Ayrshire at a meeting called by the National
Farmers Union to discuss issues facing the farming community - Common
Agricultural Policy reforms, beef exports, Rural Development
Regulations. The discussion which took most of the meeting was about how
the farmer is being squeezed by the retailers though - the big
supermarkets in the main. Milk is a good example - retailers sell a
litre of milk at around 45-50 pence a litre, farmers receive a price of
around 17-19 pence a litre, but the cost of production is between 19-20
pence a litre. Although there is a Supermarket Code of Practice in
operation, it's got no teeth and quite clearly needs revision. The milk
situation is just the tip of the iceberg - these guys are being squeezed
in all their products - five years ago there were more than 2,200 dairy
producers in Scotland, now there's only around 1500.
George Foulkes MP made for me the most
interesting point of the day - he told the assembled farmers that he'd
been attending such meetings for 25 years, with a sense of deja vu,
nothing much having changed. EXACTLY George! What have you been doing
for 25 years? 7 of these years in power! I wonder if the Spanish
fishermen sit and tell their members of parliament how nothing has
changed, how their livelihoods are being sold down the river - I doubt
it, they're too busy fishing in Scottish waters. Their MPs seem to have
got them a good deal in Europe.
So, in high dudgeon I stomped off to the
evening's event - the Consular Corps dinner, hosted by the Czech Consul.
I was a guest of the Italian Consul General - Andrea Macchioni arrived
in Scotland as Consul about a year ago, at the age of 29! I used
to think that policemen were beginning to look young, now its diplomats.
Anyway, great time was had, George Reid as Guest of Honour gave a
smashing speech about Scotland's place in the world and our
international links. He's awfy good at it!
Saturday teatime at Murrayfield for the
first rugby match I've ever seen in my life. Very confusing. Anyway, it
was a friendly match between us and Australia to celebrate the
opening of the Parliament back in October. Scottish Rugby Union invited
MSPs to attend, but more important than that they also asked each of us
to nominate ten people from our respective constituencies, and sent them
free tickets. That was a great idea, but it was really hard to decide on
just ten - I invited youth volunteers, ambulance-men, charity
fundraisers and anti-school closure activists, but there could have been
so many more. Well done to SRU for their forethought, and to the
players, Ozzies and Scots, who made it a great evening.
Sunday - free day - getting ready to go
off to Tanzania next Saturday - amazing how quickly it's come
around. Next week will be hectic - always is when you know you're not
going to be around for a week, but then when you come back you realise
that everyone manages without you perfectly well!