Monday 28 April 2008

Calman - what's the point?

I've been wondering what the Calman Commission really hopes to achieve. It's a bit limiting to start off with such a limited position, and not even take the tiniest, slightest, attempt at a consideration that independence might be best for Scotland. When they talk of the future of devolution, I have to think: how long a future does devolution in Scotland actually have?

It's also curious that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories, despite having varying positions (even within their own parties) on devolution and independence have come together in this way.
When the Prime Minister says the review is not a "one-way street", can other parties have confidence in the direction of the Commission? Will they be able to come to an agreement? What kind of outcome will satisfy all of them? Surely it's just a total waste of time if it doesn't actually propose much in the way of change?

Pete Wishart addressed both of these points well in a recent debate in Westminster:

The Liberal party must make it abundantly clear to Labour Members that it is not prepared to go through with the process unless it gets a cast-iron commitment and guarantee that there will be no taking away of powers from the Scottish Parliament to Westminster. We all look forward to hearing that from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), who will be speaking for the Liberal party. No one believes that there is any requirement for a return of powers to Westminster: it exists only in the fevered imagination.

The biggest problem with the commission—there are many—is what I would call the democratic deficit. The only thing that it will not consider is independence. If it is to consider Scotland’s constitutional options, it is absurd and inconceivable that independence should be left out of a review of further powers for the Scottish Parliament. What are Labour Members afraid of?

What indeed. Perhaps losing their lovely Westminster privileges...


The Commission, is made up of the following carefully selected individuals (I would go into details, but I see that Jeff and Calum have beaten me to it):

Sir Kenneth Calman, Chancellor of the University of Glasgow (Chair)
Colin Boyd, former Lord Advocate, member of the House of Lords (Labour)
Rani Dhir, Director Drumchapel Housing Co-operative
James Douglas Hamilton, former Scottish Office Minister, member of the House of Lords (Conservative)
Professor Sir David Edward, retired Judge of the European Court
Lord Elder, member of the House of Lords (Labour)
Audrey Findlay, former Leader of Aberdeenshire Council, now Convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
Jamie Lindsay, former Scottish Office Minister, member of the House of Lords (Conservative), Chairman SAC (Scottish Agricultural College)
John Loughton, President of the Scottish Youth Parliament (serving in a personal capacity-that would be because the SYP doesn't allow for party politics...)
Murdoch MacLennan, Chief Executive, Telegraph Media Group
Shonaig Macpherson, Chair of the National Trust for Scotland and of the SCDI (Scottish Council Development and Industry)
Iain McMillan, Director, CBI Scotland
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Glasgow
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary , UNISON
Jim Wallace, former Deputy First Minister and former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

At least we have the good manners to invite some of their lot over to play...

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Busy busy Friday

If the rest of the week was busy, Friday was manic.

At 10am, I attended the latest announcement of money in the CashBack for Communities at the East End Healthy Living Centre in my ward.

This scheme takes money from the proceeds of crime and returns it, in this case through rugby, to keep young people out of trouble.

This latest phase of the scheme will:

"..use over £1.4 million seized from serious o
rganised criminals to provide free rugby coaching and playing activities for over 32,000 young people throughout the country by 2011.

The Scottish Government has brokered agreement with Scottish Rugby (the SRU) to deliver a comprehensive three year programme across Scotland to encourage participation by young people in rugby."

I'll be asking the SRU what money is heading to Glasgow, and I hope it will be possible for some to come to my ward.

The unexpected surprise from the announcement for me was the presence of several rugby players, and the very beautiful Calcutta Cup. Not sure if it was the real one or the replica, but I felt lucky to get to stand near it - I say stand near, because there was no way I would have been allowed to touch it! The Cup is pretty fragile partly due to age and some shenanigans on Princes Street.

After the brief brush with sporting glamour, it was back to the reality of Council with the fortnightly Executive Committee. My mum and my cousin had come to sit in, and there was certainly plenty to hear, including A response to the Scottish Government consultation on elected health boards and the Scottish Climate Change bill, papers on the future of LES trading operations and Direct and Care Services, and a paper on the funding of Area Committees.

After lunch, we went to finally put down a deposit on the wedding venue and to look at shoes and tiaras. It's been tricky to get a date when we could all get together, so it was nice to finally start looking at putting the wedding together. It's pretty weird to have it going from a far-off concept to realising that (according to my bebo countdown clock) we get married in a hundred and eight days!

I couldn't look round the shops for long, as I had to rush off to Edinburgh to catch the end of the SNP Councillors conference. It seems to have been a very useful event, with lots of workshops. We're all so busy getting on with being Councillors, it's not really been possible to catch up with what's been going on in other groups across the country. It was also good to geek out with a different set of people purely about our different experiences and swap stories and tips. It was a good kick-off for Spring Conference too, more of which later.


On to a more cheerful visit last Thursday, to the Reidvale Adventure Playground Association. This provides a great facility not just for children, but has a drop in for teenagers as well. It takes pupils from SEN schools during the day, hosts football coaching, and a wide range of other activities. It has various funding, but also relies on the dedication and commitment of many local volunteers to staff the programmes RAPA run.

It probably says a lot that when I arrived (a bit early!) for my meeting with the manager there was a queue of boys and girls of various ages waiting to get in. I only wish there could be similar projects right across my ward - and across the city.

In with the new... but the old still remains

I had the pleasure of following up on an earlier visit to the new Fordneuk Street Continuing Drinkers Supported Accommodation Project in Bridgeton for it's opening on the 2nd of April.

It's a modern facility, with care packages and staff on hand to give more focussed attention to the multiple problems the residents face. Health services are built in, along with laundry rooms, a kitchen in some rooms, a dining room and private garden area. I had been to visit before the residents moved from James Duncan House on Bell Street, and was glad to see that they were starting to settle in. These
articles from the Evening Times demonstrate the change that has been felt by a few of the men.

At the opening, a lot of mention was made of previous hostels, like the Great Eastern, and ones which still exist in the city today. I took up the offer of a visit to
see the comparison between Fordneuk Street, James Duncan House and another, smaller, hostel still in operation - it was like night and day. The difference between the huge, 250 bed institution and the new facility on Fordneuk Street couldn't have been more stark. Long corridors stretching into the distance, small cell-like rooms, toilets and showers shared amongst many other people.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to come to stay for the first time, or to live here indefinitely. The only thing near the experience (and I appreciate it's not even that close) was Hillhead halls of residence in Aberdeen, but even there the rooms were larger and had their own sinks. One remaining member of staff described what it was like at capacity, and how hard it was to make sure the residents were safe. The communal areas were, as you'd expect, massive to deal with the numbers, but things like the laundries were far too small (a couple of machines for the whole place). By most accounts, it wasn't an easy place to live or to work.

The other hostel we visited was much smaller. Despite the best efforts of the manager, staff and some of the residents, it still had an oppressive air. There were only a few showers for the entire place, and not many more toilets. It wasn't great.

I hope that the Council will continue to invest in facilities like the one in Fordneuk Street; having seen the alternative there's really no choice. I know building new facilities will take time, but we can't continue to let down some of the most vulnerable in society. I'm not on the Education and Social Work Committee , but I will watch the progress in the Council with interest.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Prescription Charges

Delay in blogging for while, due to a busy week and Joe being sick. The small highlight in his week of sky high temperatures was a visit to the chemist to pick up his prescription. It's always nice to save £1.85 when you don't expect it, and in that particular minute, I felt like dancing round the chemists. Very tragic, I know.

The real kicker was when I was leaving - a guy had just been in Haddows across the road, and was complaining bitterly to his pal about how Gordon Brown had just cost him extra on a bottle of vodka.

What the SNP giveth, London Labour taketh away... no wonder support for independence is on the rise!