Slightly further from home, itís worth mentioning
that weíre now in the last week of campaigning for the by-election in
Aberdeen Donside. This is the MSP seat that was held by the lovely Brian
Adam who finally yielded to illness a couple of months ago. Hoards of
MSPs, staff and supporters Ė including all of Brianís own family Ė have
been busy out on the streets canvassing and campaigning for Mark
McDonald. Leaflets and newspapers have been produced, debates on radio
and television broadcast, so letís all hope that the SNP legacy Mark
brings is as strong as Brianís in terms of the vote of support we
On Tuesday, I held a Memberís Debate in the
Parliament on a subject that regular readers will know is close to my
heart. My Dad died as a result of Motor Neurone Disease (MND) 30 years
ago so Iíve seen the sheer brutality of this disease at first hand. From
diagnosis to death is usually about 14 months. First comes the loss of
the ability to walk and use your arms, then you lose the power of
speech. You canít dress or wash yourself and you become very weak as
your muscles deteriorate. Ultimately, you will need help just to
So you might imagine that in the intervening years
successive Westminster governments would have become a little more
compassionate, a little more caring, about its sufferers. But no. The
current Coalition Governmentís welfare reforms seem to want to further
victimise the victims.
My motion, with the support of MND Scotland (www.mndscotland.org.uk)
seeks to reverse the inhumane treatment these so-called reforms are
delivering to folk with MND. My 55 year old constituent who has the
disease has had his home adapted for his specific needs. He has been
told he must pay the Bedroom Tax or move house. Another constituent, a
man of 40, had to give up work when his motor function deteriorated and
his arms became very weak. He was assessed and deemed fit to work.
The reforms mean that someone with MND will have to
undergo a Work Capability Assessment to access their benefits. A person
who is terminally ill, perhaps barely able to walk never mind work, with
reduced and reducing motor function, will be subjected to the indignity
and stress of a long interview, assessment and form-filling to prove
that he or she is far too ill to work.
It is a waste of taxpayerís money Ė sadly, people
with MND can only get worse; they donít get better Ė and these
assessments will deliver the inevitable results. MND Scotland shouldnít
need to be wasting its time and limited resources to lobbying for change
to the benefit system that Scotland never voted for in the first place.
Deputy First Minister,
Nicola Sturgeon, has just announced the first report from the Expert
Working Group on Welfare Reform (http://tinyurl.com/q5v87ul)
which is very timely. It looks at how an independent Scotland might
initially deliver its welfare system and it sets out the views of key
stakeholders on the immediate priorities for welfare policy change.
Another area that Iíve
been closely identified with across the years is that invidious and
underground one of human trafficking and alongside it, the treatment of
asylum seekers, especially young ones. I spoke to a Motion put forward
by my colleague, Aileen Campbell, MSP, on these two related subjects on
With the UNHCR World Refugee Week (http://tinyurl.com/42szqv9)
coming up (17-23 June), the motion underlined the importance of the
Scottish Guardianship Service (http://tinyurl.com/qb8gtoe)
and the great work that it does.
The UK Border Agency sees
it as fit and proper to treat children as young as 10 or 11 years old in
the same way that it handles adults. They may be asylum seekers or
victims of human trafficking Ė sometimes both. That means
fingerprinting, photographs and lengthy interviews, probably through an
interpreter, plus the preparation of a testimonial that you probably
wonít understand even though upon it will depend your right to stay and
be cared for.
Scotland has a model
system, supported by the Scottish Government, which provides guardians
for each individual; someone to help them understand this confusing and
incomprehensible world of bureaucracy and legal rights.
All of the evidence points
to just how helpful this model is. The Guardians are able to deal with
the enormous complexity of their work because they have the
qualifications and skills to do so. They are thoroughly trained,
supervised and supported and they are committed to the young people they
work with and for.
The Scottish Government has
already pledged to develop the Guardianship programme so that young
people entering Scotland in this way will have someone they can trust
and rely upon to help their case. Not a civil servant, but an advocate
who understands and who cares about that individual childís future.
Itís another example of how
much fairer, more caring and more imaginative Scotland is when able to
make its own decisions. Since immigration policy is a Reserved Matter,
the Scottish Government has no direct control over it. The most we can
hope to do is what we are doing Ė mitigate the impact as far as
How I long for the time
when we will have that control. Bring on independence.