Well, here I am, Friday evening approaching 10 pm,
looking back over the week; the last week before recess, and after the
Make Poverty History Demonstration in Edinburgh tomorrow I’m heading
off for a week’s break at Loch Awe in Argyll. So, this will be my last
piece for the next couple of weeks.
Monday was my usual pre-holiday type of day –
clearing up, throwing out, driving everyone around me bonkers.
In-between-times sending lots of yellow roses to my friend in
Derbyshire for her 50th Birthday. My close pals all hit 50
years old this year and next (me next year), and it’s very strange to
think that in what seems like no time at all we’ve gone from
20-somethings, through 30 and 40-somethings to the half century! Still
feel the same though.
Standards Committee Tuesday morning, and still
ploughing through the Members’ Interest Order for presenting to the
Parliament later in the year. Sped off at midday to attend one of the
most rewarding events I’ve been at for a long time – I struggle to
find the words to describe the Leaving Assembly at Bothwellpark School
in Motherwell. I spoke about this very special school before, when the
pupils, who have varying degrees of learning difficulty and physical
disability, performed at the North Lanarkshire Schools’ Bands Concert
in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The Leaving Assembly was
marvellous, with Paul, Stacey, Kimberley, Joseph and Colette leaving
to move on with their lives, to college, to work. This school has been
thriving for 25 years and led the way in Lanarkshire and Scotland for
making sure that all children are encouraged and helped to be the best
that they can be. The Head Teacher was also leaving on Tuesday, and
she’d been there right from the start – obviously loved and respected.
I’ve been asked back to lunch after school holidays – lunch prepared
by the pupils, and I am so looking forward to this.
Back to Edinburgh late afternoon for a meeting with
a rep from the Clydesdale Bank which is closing four branches in my
area. I’m assured that no customers will be disadvantaged because a
banking arrangement has been made with local Post Offices to service
the accounts. We’ll see how it works out – the decision has already
been made. We’ve also had recent experience of local Post Offices
closing, so I suppose if this means that the PO service is further
secured then it could be advantageous. It does seem bizarre though
that not that long ago Post Office customers were being forced to open
Bank Accounts to have benefits etc. paid and now, here we are, telling
customers of one of the big banks that they have to go to the Post
Chamber all day on Wednesday – unusual, but lots of
legislation to get through before recess. First stage of the Housing
Bill in the morning – the one that we’ve been working on in the
Communities Committee. Nothing contentious, general principles agreed
so that the Committee can move on to Stage 2 and start looking at
potential Amendments. This was followed by a statement on Planning by
the Minister to launch the Executive's White Paper. Looks a bit
wishy-washy at first reading, but we’ll get into the meat of it next
New Ministers appointed in the afternoon, following
the Liberal Democrat leadership contest, and then Stage 3 of the
Transport Bill – along with other aspects this is the legislation that
heralds the national concessionary travel scheme for senior citizens.
We have heard lots about the system not being ready in time for its
launch – I hope this isn’t the case, because this piece of legislation
is long overdue.
Hurried meetings at lunch-time, because when a
Stage 3 debate is on you have to be in Chamber all the time because of
voting – no skiving. First I had a quick up-date with the Arts Group
about how we now move forward with the Art Strategy for the
Parliament, and then an interesting chat with Mrs. Kesang Kakla, the
Northern European Repesentative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A
fascinating lady, striving constantly to raise and maintain awareness
of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. She was telling me that the main
concern now for Tibet is the dissolution of culture; the transport
infrastructure from Beijing in China to Llasa in Tibet is being
massively upgraded and the transmigration of Chinese residents to
Tibet is still actively pursued by the Chinese Government. So, Chinese
culture is becoming more and more predominant.
One of the greatest experiences of my life so far
was meeting the Dalai Lama when he visited Scotland last year. I am
not particularly knowledgeable about the Tibetan situation or indeed
Tibetan Buddhism, but I found the man fascinating and uplifting in a
way that I cannot quite explain – he’s 70 years old now and has been
in exile from his country for almost all of his life. In Tibet it’s
illegal for anyone to have even a photograph of him – this peaceful,
thoughtful, intelligent and much-loved head of his people.
Out to dinner on Wednesday night – the annual
Scottish Parliament Journalists Association annual bash. This is only
the second time I've ever attended, and had great fun with the chaps
from the BBC – that Brian Taylor’s a nifty dancer you know!
Chamber all day again on Thursday – the Health Bill
– or, as more commonly known, the Smoking Bill because the banning of
smoking in enclosed public spaces is the main part of the legislation.
Another extremely important part of this Bill was about compensation
to victims who suffer Hepatitis as a result of blood transfusion, and
their families. The Skipton Fund was set up to issue compensation, but
time-barred some of the applicants by setting a date after which it
applied. At Stage 2 in Committee the SNP was successful in amending
the proposed legislation so that the time bar was removed. The
Executive was moving during Stage 3 to reverse the position, so we
were all anxious to vote and make sure that justice would prevail for
the victims of this awful disease.
All seemed to be going well – the first part of the
Bill and then First Ministers Question Time at midday as usual. Nicola
Sturgeon was gracious in asking the First Minister to add the
Parliament’s weight to the calls to Make Poverty History when the G8
leaders meet in Gleneagles next week; David McLetchie, the Tory
Leader, was less gracious and rather crass on the same subject and
then a wee while after that chaos broke out. A demonstration in the
Chamber which brought the parliament to a halt; the Presiding Officer
had to adjourn proceedings for over an hour; the VIP Gallery of
visiting Members of the European Parliament had to be cleared; the
public galleries, mainly school-children, had to be cleared; and the
police had to be called when three of the protestors refused to leave
the floor of the Chamber (the fourth left quickly so that he could
call a press conference). No, it wasn’t the international anarchists
that some of the Press have been predicting would descend on Edinburgh
this week, it wasn’t students protesting in the Gallery – it was
elected MSPs from the Scottish Socialist Party claiming to defend
democracy by disrupting the proceedings of Scotland’s democratically
elected Parliament – bizarre.
When we left the Chamber we discovered that the
organised meeting and press event of the Make Poverty History Campaign
which was to be held in the Parliament had to cancelled because,
understandably, the police wouldn’t let anyone into the Building for a
while. Similarly, no other visitors were allowed in either. We learned
later in the afternoon that although the protest was seemingly about
being denied the right to march at Gleneagles while the G8 was
sitting, actually agreement had been reached by all involved whilst
all the nonsense in the Chamber was going on. What a blooming waste of
time it all was!
But the worst thing of all – when it came to the
vote on the Hepatitis C victims, the Executive won by 4 votes; there
were of course 4 MSPs missing because their behaviour in the morning
meant that the Presiding Officer withdrew their right to be in the
Chamber in the afternoon. Had there been a tied vote, the Presiding
Officer would have had to use his casting vote for the status quo,
which was of course the decision taken by the Committee at Stage 2.
Those time-barred families would have been able to make claim from the
Skipton Fund. They are of course now denied that right.
In relation to the four MSPs involved in the
demonstration, the upshot was that the Parliament unanimously agreed
that they will be denied access to the Parliamentary complex and be
denied their salary and allowances for month of September. To
paraphrase the Presiding Officer, you can’t simultaneously be on the
barricades and on the benches of the parliament.
Although I didn’t feel much like it after all the
shenanigans of the day and the disappointment about the Skipton Fund
vote, I did keep my appointment of dinner at the lovely Callendar
House in Falkirk with visiting Euro MEPs from the European Free
Alliance parties, holding their annual conference. Thoroughly
enjoyable company – I have spent time with some of them before so it
was like meeting up with old friends.
And so to today, Friday, most of which was spent in
the company of the Problem Solving Team in South Lanarkshire – a
multi-agency initiative involving the Council, the Police and others.
The idea is that there really should be ‘joined up thinking’ when it
comes to dealing with anti-social behaviour etc., and true
co-operation amongst all those involved in dealing with both the
causes and the effects. The results certainly seem impressive, as
indeed does the philosophy. I intend to learn more about this.
So, back I came to the office in Edinburgh to clear
the desk for my week off, and to march with many others through
Edinburgh tomorrow. The message will be sent to the G8 leaders that it
is possible to make poverty history if the will is there, and that
firm commitment to trade justice, debt relief and aid is a
prerequisite of public support. I’ve printed below a photograph taken
yesterday when we managed to cobble together a quick photocall for the
Campaign after the stramash of the morning.
Click on the picture to see a larger
While I was looking for this photo on my computer I
quickly checked my email for anything that has arrived whilst I’ve
been writing here. Yes, someone has sent me a copy of a notice the
Scottish Socialist Party sent out to their members today. It bewails
the fact that their four MSPs have been financially disadvantaged by
the Parliament’s decision to dock their wages and allowances for the
month of September and suggests that their members use the Make
Poverty History march tomorrow as an opportunity to fundraise for the
Party. AND I ACCUSED DAVID MCLETCHIE OF BEING CRASS!
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