Well, Monday 22nd
November and back to reality after such a fabulous week in Tanzania.
Spent the day writing up my Tanzania notes and ploughing through emails,
and letters, and reports, and agenda of meetings to come, and minutes of
meetings which had been, and phone calls … … … … … and more letters, and
more emails ... … … … good to be back though.
Monday night brought my
annual treat of going along to the West Lanarkshire Guides AGM. I was
delighted to be asked to be a Guiding Ambassador back in 1999 when I
attended the AGM for the first time, especially since I was a Girls
Brigade lass (didn’t last long if the truth be told). Every year I am
fascinated by what the Brownies and Guides in West Lanarkshire have
achieved, the confidence they are imparting to young girls, the links
they’ve made internationally, the absolute commitment of those who give
their time so freely. This year we had a fantastic presentation from one
of the older guides about her trip to Madagascar with other guides from
around the UK to give support to the guiding movement there – what an
experience for her.
Before shooting through
to Edinburgh on Tuesday morning, I had an interesting meeting with a
petrol station proprietor in the constituency about the Rural Petrol
Stations Grant – a grant available to suppliers who service rural areas
to allow them to upgrade/stay in business. I hope we can do something to
help, but some investigation of the criteria of the scheme required.
Busy day in Edinburgh on Tuesday, starting with a briefing meeting with
the Poverty Alliance who wanted us to know their current policy stances
and their general concern that the root causes of poverty are not being
addressed – my own view is that until you really have the levers of
power to influence, for example, the taxation system and the benefits
system, then you are doing no more that treating the symptoms.
Next Thursday we are
having a debate in the Parliament about historic institutional child
abuse, so I met with representatives of INCAS – In Care Abused Support
– the charity which has been leading the campaign for a Public Inquiry.
I have had a dialogue with this Group since my time on the Public
Petitions Committee, and because I have been acting on behalf of a
survivor in my own area. This debate is interesting because it has been
demanded by the Public Petitions Committee, unanimously across the
parties, due to the Executive’s reluctance to act and their tardiness in
even responding to MSPs’ letters and Committee requests for information.
It is still the Executive’s view that a Public Inquiry would be
inappropriate – I, and many colleagues even outwith the Public Petitions
Committee are not convinced of this. As I said, next Thursday’s debate
should be interesting – there won’t be a vote though, because the debate
as called is on a ‘noting motion’ only, but if feelings are strong
enough the Executive may be forced into a rethink.
And so to Wednesday –
delighted that the Communities Committee meeting has been postponed
because I can get on with some clearing up and out. The amount of
paperwork that MSPs receive and then recycle is huge. When I look at my
own piles of annual reports, circular letters and various catalogues
which literally get dumped – with the best will in the world it is
impossible to read everything received, let alone act on them – and
multiply this by 129 it amounts to a veritable weekly mountain. Years
ago I remember all the talk about the computer age rendering paper
obsolete, and everyone working in ‘paperless offices’ – tosh! Things are
easier mass-produced now, and it seems to me that email is in addition
rather than instead of.
I had a meeting with some
local councillors in the afternoon to talk about housing. Again, huge
concern that whilst the Homelessness Act is admirable and everyone wants
to end the use of Bed and Breakfast accommodation for families, without
the resources Local Authorities won’t be able to comply and cope. The
Minister’s order to end the use of B and B comes up before committee
next week for discussion.
Still on a housing theme,
I visited a great Group in Motherwell on Wednesday night – the Access
Group, set up by North Lanarkshire Council, but sadly only funded until
the end of March 2005. Access is a self-help project for young homeless
people and the philosophy is bang-on. When youngsters leave
institutional care, or family homes for various reasons, it is not
enough just to hand over the keys to a property and leave them to cope.
Life skills are more than this, and too often some of our disadvantaged
youngsters are left alone to muddle through. As well as housing advice
and support the Group co-ordinate service activities to give
participants opportunities to gain work-related skills as well as
learning how to live along – decorating, cooking etc. I was well
impressed, by the Group themselves and by the Council employees who
assist. These youngsters tell it exactly like it is – no frills, and
some of them, despite their years, have seen more experience of the hard
side of life than some folk will ever have. It’s awful to think that
this service will close for lack of funding, because there will never
be, unfortunately, a lack of young people who require such help. I’ll
certainly do all I can to see if a way forward can be found.
Drive back to Edinburgh,
because the annoying this is that it takes less than an hour late at
night to get to Edinburgh from Motherwell/Hamilton/East Kilbride, but if
I have to be in Chamber for 9.30 am, then I have to leave the house at
around 7.00 am. In the rush hours it takes as long to get from the
outskirts of Edinburgh to the City Centre as it does to get from
Strathaven to the outskirts.
Thursday morning brought
the Green Party debate about supermarkets and food. I could only catch
part of it as I had a meeting with the Parliament’s Chief Executive to
talk about the way forward for the Parliaments Art Strategy. I’m not the
SNP Member on that Group. The art work in the parliament currently is
superb – the original Arts Group chose well, and some of the gifts we
have received are stunning. That should not be the end of the Strategy
though – art should not be static – and the Parliament’s Corporate Body
will soon be taking a decision about how to move forward. There are so
many possibilities and I’m looking forward to the employment of the Arts
Curator so that ideas can be stimulated.
The Scottish Civic Forum
had asked my office to host another delegation from Falkirk – this time
of community activists who wanted to learn how to interact with their
elected representatives and how to access parliament services and
consultations. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with
them because I had to be in Chamber for the debate at 3.00 pm. I’ll tell
you what though, this Group were perfectly able to suss out what it was
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and
this was the subject of the afternoon’s debate. Interesting
contributions around the floor, my own and that of Cathie Peattie and
Rosie Kane focussing on the international aspects rather than domestic.
Throughout the world,
violence against women is not confined to any particular political or
economic system, but a phenomenon that cuts across boundaries of wealth,
race and culture. It’s recognised by the United Nations that women's
role in the world is based on a fundamental belief in societies of the
non-importance of women compared with men, this confirmed by their
Declaration: "violence against women is a manifestation of historically
unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to
domination over and discrimination against women by men." I spoke
particularly about the use of women as a weapon of war, in either
internal or international struggles. This goes on in every conflict –
from Africa to South East Asia to Eastern Europe.
It was interesting that
when the Tanzanian women MPs visited Scotland and England they were
astounded to learn that the UK still had issues about domestic violence
against women – they see our society as ‘civilised’ and advanced.
However, as a recent study showed, 1 in 5 young men and 1 in 10 young
women in our society think that it is sometimes okay that domestic
violence against women occurs. Until that fundamental belief system is
challenged and turned round, we can’t be credibly held up as a model for
less advanced nations to follow.
Happy Friday in the
constituency – morning in Cleland and afternoon in East Kilbride. In
Cleland I was visiting Mrs. McDonald at her invitation, along with
Energy Action Scotland and North Lanarkshire Council. Last Week was
‘Warm Homes Week’ and Mrs. McDonald was having her house insulated
through the EAS/Council Warm Homes Initiative, funded by the Scottish
Executive. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit, and the hospitality of Mrs.
McDonald, her daughter and grand-daughter.
The Central Heating
Scheme and Warm Home Initiative for older citizens are sincerely
welcomed as a step forward, although I would like to see the schemes
expanded to include houses that have only partial or obsolete/expensive
to run central heating systems in them. For example, in East Kilbride
and Cumbernauld many new forms of heating were tried when the new towns
were being built – electric or gas warm air systems/underfloor heating
(I was even told about ceiling heating in EK although I’ve never come
across it). Likewise under the old standards, partial central heating
was acceptable – radiators downstairs only for example. To be fair, the
Executive has said that once their current programme is complete, they
will look at expansion. Looks like targets won’t be met though as
already there is a back-log I understand and a shortage of gas fitters
East Kilbride fascinates
me sometimes – it’s surrounded by industrial estates and technology
parks, and these are full of some of the most successful and innovative
companies in the land. Thursday afternoon’s visit to Memex Technology
Limited was a revelation, both for me and for Pauline McNeill MSP, Chair
of the Justice I Committee. Memex is a company which produces
‘intelligence management solutions’, their client base, amongst many
others, including the British Transport Police, the Metropolitan Police
Service, the Pennsylvania State police and the New Jersey Office of
Counter Terrorism in the U.S.! So very interesting, and so very
impressive. In this age of ‘cross-over’ working demands and information
sharing, for the Police in particular, it’s good to know that a
Lanarkshire company is at the forefront of progress.
Well, Saturday night in
East Kilbride was a real treat. My friend Patricia and I hoofed it along
to Greenhills to see Christian in cabaret at a local fundraiser. Do you
remember him? I remember watching him on TV when I was a kid – the Chris
McClure Section. Well, I know he’s a good bit older than me, but I was
never able to move like that, and I have never been possessed of such
energy! The man was fab and Greenhills Community Centre was rocking.
Thanks Greenhills and Christian for such a treat – I even bought a CD.
Sunday – last day of the
week, and free to write up some reports, catch up on the newspapers etc.
Through to Edinburgh again on Sunday night though for dinner with the
Italian Consul and his guests. Big conference in Edinburgh this week –
the European RegLeg committee (for regional legislatures – Jack
McConnell’s Convenership coming to an end at this Conference I
understand). So, the Italian delegation was here, headed by Enrico La
Loggia, the Minister with special responsibility for decentralisation in
Italy and co-ordinating the advance towards federalism. Interesting
discussion about Scotland’s devolution and whether it will advance
further – didn’t seem awfully willing to discuss whether Italy’s would
though! Recognition from all that Scotland, being a defined historic
nation with undisputed borders, is a bit different from most of the
other ‘Regions’ within the European Community. Good dinner – Tower
Restaurant in the Museum of Scotland.
Italians always eat late,
and extremely well, so rolled home around midnight to prepare for Monday
again – comes round so quick.