August is a Wicked
Month wrote the wonderful Irish author, Edna OBrien. Certainly for
me, August, with parliament still in recess, was a wicked month in
both its usual and current hip meaning. Wicked-sad that following
his graduation our Amorin returned home to East Timor to work towards
the rebuilding of his shattered homeland. After six years living with
us in Strathaven, we are all missing him hugely. this must be how
parents feel when their sons/daughters emigrate, although certainly
these days communication is much easier. I remember as a child how we
all waited at the telephone at New Year for the annual phone-call from
Aunty Terri in Canada, Mum allowing us about half-a-minute each to
talk, reminding us all the while about the expense being incurred by
aunty T. Now, Amorin can text us from East Timor and we can reply
within seconds; e-mail too.
Apart from our laddies
departure, August was a thoroughly enjoyable month for me. A couple of
days on Deeside with my pal Roseanna Cunningham, spending time with
friends generally, and yes, even doing the Edinburgh Festival thing. I
love Edinburgh during Festival time, although its a few years since
we actively attended Festival events. When visitors from Derbyshire
came to stay, we got our act together and got organised: the Tattoo
(wonderful in some aspects), great music (Ally Bain and Phil
Cunningham, Dougie McLean, Sing Zimbabwe), drama (the Prime of Miss
Jean Brodie by the Practical Magic Theatre Company, with Seonaid
Ballantyne from Strathaven in a major role), and of course the
obligatory Festival turkey (every year has one or more!) a cabaret
show that was so bad I was convinced for the first half-hour that this
was deliberate and the joke would soon be shared with the audience.
Not so Im afraid, the eejits really were serious! If I could even
remember the name of it I would warn you against potential future
Of course, work goes on
while chamber doesnt sit, but one of the grand things about my job is
that so much of the work I do is thoroughly enjoyable. Recess allows
you to take advantage of this. Attending constituency events,
constituents visiting the Parliament to see what all the fuss is
about, and travelling a bit further afield than usual to check out and
catch up with events and projects that are of interest.
Lots of visitors from
East Kilbride and Falkirk to Parliament this month to see the For
Freedom Alone exhibition display of three remarkable documents
which together mark the time of the Scottish Wars of Independence: The
Declaration of Arbroath, written to the pope in 1320 to support King
Robert Bruce and an independent Scotland; the Lubeck letter issued by
William Wallace and sent to European trade partners in 1297 advising
them that Scottish ports were once again open for trade after
Wallaces defeat of the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge;
and the Ayr Manuscript which contains the second-oldest surviving text
of laws passed in the Scottish Parliament in 1318. Fantastic to see.
One of my visitors was Allan McCallum from Grangemouth who had
actually travelled to Lubeck some years ago and been allowed to hold
and be photographed with the Letter! The thrill of his life, he said.
Log onto the Scottish Parliament website to see more details and view
all of the photographs:
The Declaration of Arbroath
The Declaration of Arbroath was sent to the Pope in 1320, six years
after the battle of Bannockburn. King Edward II had refused to make
peace with Scotland and the Pope had not recognised Robert the Bruce
as King of Scotland.
It is thought eight Scottish earls and 38 barons sealed the
Declaration the sole survivor of three letters written from Scotland
to the Pope at the time
urging the Pope to recognise Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland.
Due to its fragile
state, the Declaration is on display in a purpose-built hermetically
sealed display case to protect it for future generations.
third document to be displayed at Parliament is known as the Ayr
Manuscript, which contains details of some of Scotland's earliest
laws. The Act of Parliament highlighted in the manuscript states the
King's desire that all should have ready access to justice, whether
rich or poor.
I also had a great time
hosting folks from East Ayrshire study days for Community
Councillors and Activists, with the morning spent at the Scottish
Civic Forum and afternoon spent with me at the Parliament. Lots of fun
The Lübeck letter is the only surviving original document issued by
William Wallace. Sent in 1297, it was written to advise European trade
partners that Scottish ports were open for trade.
Parliament Photographer, for sending these to us.
Try taking on this lot,
Mr. First Minister!
I did a bit of travel
myself in August as I said to Aboyne to see how Kincardine Estate
ran its rented housing; to Dundee to check out a fantastic project run
by the Universitys medical faculty - they run distance learning
courses in both Kenya and Eritrea, with hugely successful outcomes; to
New Lanark for the Communities Committee Away Day; to Glasgow to one
of Strathclyde Universitys Summer Academys graduation shows. The
Strathclyde Summer Academy is now in its seventh year and attracts up
to 900 school students annually. Its aim is to promote the benefits of
further and higher education for pupils who may not think that they
have a chance of going to University and need additional support and
motivation to achieve the necessary grades.. Each course runs for two
weeks and the group I visited were from both Lanarkshire and Glasgow.
The graduation show they put on was really first-class. Over 6,000
young people have to date graduated from the Summer Academy at
Strathclyde, the only model of its kind in Europe. We do so much in
Scotland that is good, but were not so good at blowing our own
At home in Strathaven
and East Kilbride there was much going on too the Strathaven
Exposition (Agricultural Show), coffee mornings and events, and of
course the famous Strathaven Balloon Festival. Yes, it is official,
Strathaven is full of balloons! Not, you understand, politicians of
local and national representation, but real balloons ones that fly!
Unfortunately, the weather was not such that the balloons could not be
launched (is that what you do to balloons?), but a grand time was had
and the evening glow was fabulous the balloonists displayed their
crafts/vehicles (I really am struggling here!), lighting up the
evening sky in the John Hastie Memorial Park. Beautiful. I had the
hard bit - picking the winners in the 'decorate the balloon'
competition for the children
Close your eyes and
pick a winner! Really hard.
Lots of Hot Air!
Of course, in amongst
the running around there was general work too, both desk-based and
house-visits. One of my recent constituency cases showed both the good
and the not so good of our system of local government. The good was
the speedy response I had to a couple of complaints from an elderly
lady in her 90's living in a sheltered housing complex. She is having
problems with an overgrown shrub bed and trees at the front of her
home, which because of its overgrown state was preventing use of her
clothes drying area and dislodging slabs from the path running past
the row of houses making it dangerous to walk on. I contacted the
local authority to highlight the problems and they very quickly came
out to inspect the area and have agreed to cut back the shrubs and the
tree with work beginning as I write. Sometimes the simplest things can
enhance the quality of life for someone.
The not so good relates
to a concern from the same lady and involves a potentially greater
problem. This includes 34 residents from the sheltered housing complex
and involves the replacement of kitchens and bathrooms in each of the
houses as part of a programme being run by South Lanarkshire Council.
While the renovations are welcome the timing of them is not! The
intention is to carry out the work in January during some of the worst
of the winter weather. The main concern is that heating in the houses
is supplied via storage heaters, which are far more difficult to
regulate as the heat can not be simply turned up to give an immediate
increase in temperature. The residents are concerned that with workmen
coming and going from the house over a number of days that they will
be left to sit in a cold environment for the duration of the work
being carried out.
Problem one for the
residents seems to have started at the meeting called to inform them
of the work when little or no consideration appears to have been given
to the fact that because of their age some might have difficulty
hearing what was being said, with the result that a number of
residents left the meeting none the wiser to what was happening and
had to catch up from neighbours. Problem two is that having written to
the Customer Liaison Officer with responsibility for dealing with the
residents concerns that neither I nor any of the residents (to my
knowledge) has been contacted to discuss their concerns and seek a
solution. Given the age of the residents, the time of year for the
proposed work and the type of heating inside the houses I had hoped
for a better response from the people concerned. Well keep on keeping
Ive spoken before
about issues relating to specific health services. Again, many
complaints about the orthopaedic service in Lanarkshire. Not generally
about the quality of treatment, but actually being able to access
treatment in the first place. When I probed the issue in parliament it
turns out there has been a 65% rise nationally in the median waiting
time for orthopaedic surgery in Scotland its increased from 80 days
in 2002 (and I complained then!) to a predicted 132 days this year.
The Health Minister is still insisting that waiting times are coming
down and that his targets will be met I hope hes right.
So, add to the above
meeting with Finnish parliamentarians, lecturing to students from the
U.S., attending a cocktail party with the 32nd Signal
Regiment, attending a Trades Council Dinner on the Glasgow Tall Ship
(and having to be evacuated because of a fire in an adjacent
warehouse!), helping out at the Festival of Politics and helping to
launch the Lanarkshire Branch of Young Scots for Independence you can
see that August has indeed been a wicked month. Back to weekly
committees and chamber next week though! Never mind theres no job
where you can choose only to do the best bits.
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