Monday 21 December 2009

Christmas Spirit

Things have been pretty hectic since my last post - Christmas has arrived and, as usual, caught me completely by surprise. I can finally blog now, having gotten all my Christmas cards written and posted out. Instead of sending the standard Council one, I took some pictures of the Christmas lights around my ward, and with some help via the wonders of technology, they turned out quite well. If one pops through your door, I hope you like it!

One of the great treats about being a Councillor is getting to attend all kinds of events at Christmas time.

This year, I had the great pleasure of attending the St Michael's Primary Christmas celebrations, which included each year group putting on a musical event of their own, followed by the Nativity which was acted out and read by the younger children in the school. There's nothing quite like it to put me in the mood for Christmas.

The children were wonderful, and incredibly enthusiastic - not usually a surprise, but the evening performance I attended was their second show of the day!
It's great to see everyone pulling together to create such a special event; the head teacher was quick to use the opportunity of a captive audience of proud parents to praise the achievements of their children over the year. The Parent Council raised a lot of money, which will go towards trips and events next year. The staff had also contributed to a hefty hamper of goodies.

On Saturday, I attended a Christmas Carol Concert in the Winter Gardens of the People's Palace on Glasgow Green.

This was organised by Friends of Glasgow Green, with the entertainment provided
by the Parkhead Salvation Army Band. FoGG are keen to put on events to showcase all that the Green has to offer, and this certainly hit the mark.

People visiting seemed quite taken with the whole thing, and the Band said they'd be willing to come back next year.

The most magical moment came when the glasshouse turned into an inverted snow dome as a blizzard whipped up outside; it was almost as if the band had summoned the weather!

I finally got my tree up on Saturday night - Michael, this picture's for you.

On Sunday night, I went along to the Salvation Army's own Carol Concert in their hall in Parkhead. I was made very welcome, and enjoyed the service and chatting to people afterwards. I'm not in the habit of attending religious services, but I do feel that if you're going to celebrate Christmas, it's important to reflect on the reason for the season.

I'm not sure if I'll have a chance to blog again before Christmas - if not, best wishes to you all for a Merry Christmas. I hope santa's good to you!

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Extending freedom

I'm pleased to see that Bruce Crawford MSP has launched a consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act. Since it was introduced in 2002, members of the public have been able to access a range of information that public bodies may previously have kept under wraps. Interestingly, the Scottish Information Commissioner notes that Bruce's proposals would mean that our Government will go much further than Westminster.

The proposed changes are due in part to the creation of organisations such as Culture and Sport Glasgow; many formerly Council-run services across the country have moved out of direct Council control to arms length external organisations, and technically also moved out of reach of FOI. It's logical and reasonable to repair this anomaly and ensure that these services remain accountable and provide good value for money.

A bone of contention for many people in Glasgow was the GHA's similar exemption from FOI. They receive and spend vast sums of public money, but thus far have not been open to full scrutiny from the public at large. It's true that other social landlords are also exempt, but none are so monolithic as the GHA - the press release makes mention that, for the others, transparency may be dealt with under the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

I'm glad also that PPP/PFI contracts - which I don't even get to see properly as a Councillor - may also be subject to the extended legislation. When colleagues asked to view the Glasgow secondary schools documentation, they were only allowed to view the contract itself and take notes while supervised by Council officers. Commercial confidentiality, apparently. How we're supposed to establish value for money is a bit of a mystery, so I really hope that this can be opened up.

Bruce Crawford MSP:

It is important that organisations who deliver key public services for the people of Scotland operate transparently so the public can be reassured we are getting high quality services and value for money. I am also sympathetic to the view that people should be able to 'follow' the expenditure of public money through their access to information, in particular in relation to PFI/PPP contracts which tend to be high value and long term."

Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion:

"I am pleased that the public's right to information is being protected and in some cases extended by the Scottish Government's proposals to bring bodies like local authority trusts, private prisons and PPP contractors within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

I will use the period of consultation to argue that the right to information is not an unreasonable burden. There is no evidence of any material damage to commercial interests or public procurement from FOI disclosures in Scotland over the past 5 years. It needs to be accepted that where substantial sums of public money are being expended then the public should have right to know. Freedom of information should follow the public pound."

The consultation should be underway in Spring next year.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Reporting from SNP National Council

Yesterday was SNP National Council in Perth. It's like a mini-conference, with some reports, presentations and resolutions for debate. I would have liked to have been at the Wave demo, but it's another of those occasions where I can't be in two places at once!

The presentation given on the Your Scotland, Your Voice by Nicola Sturgeon was interesting, and I particularly liked the video presentation which put the referendum into a historical context, tracing the key moments in Scotland's history. There's a slightly different version of this on the National Conversation website. Nicola opined that, instead of using Labour's recession as an excuse for delaying the referendum, we should use it as another example of why the Union is not working for Scotland. If we want to really change Scotland for the better, for the benefit of our people, we need access to all of the powers to allow us to do this.

Nicola's presentation was followed by a longer-than-scheduled speech by Alex Salmond. His speeches at National Council tend to be less formal than those at Conference - the size and layout of the hall at the venue also means that if you're foutering about with your blackberry, you're more apt to be spotted! The speech touched on quite a few different areas; the historical context of the struggle for Scottish independence, the respect the SNP government is gaining worldwide, the hypocrisy of other parties' positions on referenda, the importance of the Westminster elections next year, and, as covered in some press today, he mentioned bloggers.

The international context was interesting - on Climate Change, there's obviously the controversy about the Scottish Government not being allowed to go to Copenhagen. We have something important to say, but don't have the ability to debate on equal terms with other nations. Alex made the point that while plenty of politicians and governments are prepared to negotiate for dates in twenty, thirty, fifty years time, to legislate for reductions in 2020 (when a good number of our politicians will still be around and with any luck still in office) is pretty brave. Recognition is also there in our wealth of opportunity in renewable energy, but the UK Government's rules on grid transmission charges mean that we are constrained in developing these technoligies. Our stance on nuclear weapons is also internationally recognised, but without independence we are unable to prevent their presence on our shores.

The support Gordon Brown has given for a referendum on the Alternative Vote was noted (well done on picking a system experts such as the Electoral Reform Society don't want!) as well as their support for a referendum in Wales. The Lib Dems have variously called for and rejected referenda on a range of issues, and the tories found they had to change their mind. Given all of this background, it seems odd that these parties would line up in opposition to giving Scotland's people a choice. What always gets me is that these parties claim that no one supports independence - if they truly believed that, then why are they so scared to test it?

As for the Westminster elections... as I've said before, we have a wonderful slate of candidates. I can vouch for the ones I know personally, and know that they are people with strong social conscience, and a belief in helping to make Scotland a better place. When elected, they will represent their constituents with dilligence and compassion. They are working very hard to get known and get elected next year. They want to make a difference and make Scotland's voice heard.

Moving on to being heard, and what didn't get reported from Alex's speech. He expressed a disappointment with Scotland's media, and predicted that the number of publications would reduce by half in the ten years ahead. He noted that the commerical interests of our press at present did not allow them a distinctive Scottish voice; this was resulting in a decline in circulation and influence in society. I often wonder why, when we have an SNP government and the largest number of Councillors in Scotland, we fail to get fair coverage. You would think it would be in the interests of the press to reflect the changes brought about by their readers since 2007...

I suppose this is where responsible bloggers come in. Salmond did comment on bloggers, but the purpose of blogging and it's place in the media of our nation was his main point, not telling us off. SNP-supporting bloggers have a duty to make the positive case for independence, the one our media fails to make, and "leap over" the dead tree press. We must make the case they are failing to print.

Independence is all about positivity and ambition for our country and our people. It's a compelling case, and I will continue to get it out there in every way I can.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

New location for De Wson

I made it through to Lanark last night to celebrate the launch of my friend Fiona's new shop.

This is her third location in as many years - who said starting a business was easy?! - and has moved to the bottom of Lanark's High Street as you come into the town.
Fiona designs and makes outfits from scratch, meaning that you'll never see someone else in your dress!

Fiona was the year above me at school, doing Sixth Year Studies art when I was doing Higher. Since then, she's studied at the textile college in Galashiels and St Martins in London. She's incredibly talented and driven, and recently exhibited at London fashion week. She also made my wedding dress!

I've posted a wee picture of her glowing new shop front - please stop in next time you're in Lanark. You'll be amazed at what Fiona can create!

Monday 30 November 2009

Happy St Andrew's Day

I'd like to wish all readers a happy St Andrew's Day.

Today, I'm excited by the launch of Your Scotland, Your Voice. It looks, from a brief flick through, to be a nice looking piece of work, beginning with good strong quotes from our Cabinet Secretaries giving their perspective on Scotland's future.

I'm glad to see that the difference is noted between the Calman Commission, with it's twelve public meetings, and the National Conversation with one hundred and thirty public events. I attended some of the events, some of which were organised by non-governmental organisations, and was impressed by the debate that occurred and the questions which were posed. Some of these questions are reproduced in the document as the issues they raise are explained.

It's a chunky document, but I will find time to read through it all and I aim to blog further on this. I hope others will do likewise; it's a significant step towards independence.

Sunday 29 November 2009


Great turnout of people on Sunday afternoon to do campaigning work in my ward. The weather may be freezing, but we're still keen to chap doors and speak to the voters! Massive thanks to all who turned out.

Friday 20 November 2009

Happy news from Bo'ness



The SNP has enjoyed an overwhelming victory in the Bo'ness & Blackness
by-election in Falkirk by winning the seat on the first count of votes
with an overwhelming 58% of the vote whilst Labour’s vote fell back from
2007. The victory sees the election of Ann Ritchie as the new SNP
councillor for the seat.

The SNP vote rose by 10% from May 2007 to 58% today whilst Labour fell
back 2% to 30%. The result equals a 6% swing to the SNP.

Commenting on the victory Falkirk West SNP MSP Michael Matheson said:

"This is an outstanding result for the SNP in the Central Scotland region.
For the SNP to win outright on the first preference votes with almost
double the share Labour received is a remarkable result for the SNP in
central Scotland.

“Labour very much thought they were in with a shout and will be very, very
disappointed to have not only been defeated but to see their vote fall.

"Ann Ritchie will make an excellent councillor for Bo'ness & Blackness and
her well-deserved victory reflects on how the SNP is addressing the issues
that matter to people locally and nationally.

"More importantly this is a great tribute to the late Cllr Harry Constable
whose sad death led to this by-election. As a long-serving councillor for
the area his hard work has obviously left a strong and enduring legacy for
the SNP."

Commenting on her victory Cllr Ann Ritchie said;

"It is an honour to have been elected to represent Bo'ness & Blackness on
Falkirk Council.

"I look forward to working with my SNP colleagues on the council, in
Parliament and in the SNP Government to put forward a positive vision for
Falkirk and to fight for the interests of Bo'ness & Blackness.

"The sad passing of respected Councillor Harry Constable was a loss to
Bo'ness & Blackness because he had contributed so much to the community
over many years.

"I will work hard to ensure Harry’s legacy continues to show that it is
the SNP which represents the best interests of ordinary people."



1. The results of the first preference votes were:

SNP (Ann Ritchie): 1,604 votes - 58% (+10%)
Labour: 823 votes - 30% (-2%)
Tory: 283 votes - 10% (-3%)
LibDem: 79 votes - 3% (3%)

A 6% swing from Labour to the SNP.

Since a majority of votes was acquired on the first count Cllr Ann Ritchie
was elected at the first stage of counting.

2. Details on Ann Ritchie:

Anne, a married mother of two has a long record of service to the wider
Bo'ness community and is:

• An Executive member of the Bo'ness Children's Fair Day Committee
• Chair of the Appeals Committee for the Fair Day
• A Church Elder and Sunday School teacher in the Carriden Parish Church
• 12 years a member of the Bo'ness Community Council
• Parent member of the Bo'ness Public School Council
• Coach to local girls youth football team

Thursday 19 November 2009

Labour have nothing to say on organised crime

Press release following today's special meeting of Full Council:

Commenting on the decision by Glasgow City Council's Labour Group to boycott today's Special Council meeting on the issue of Serious and Organised Crime, James Dornan, SNP Leader of the Opposition said:

"Labour's contempt for Glasgow City Council and more importantly the residents of the city knows no bounds.

"Whilst we attempted to debate the important issues of serious crime and also standing united against racism and intolerance Councillor Purcell and his timid band of followers decided to boycott the meeting and have lunch instead.

"This is the third time my colleague Councillor McAllister has tried to raise the issue of serious and organised crime in the council chamber and the third time that Labour have refused to debate it. What exactly are they scared of?"

Councillor Billy McAllister, who tabled a motion on serious crime for the third time today, said:

"The people of Glasgow know that serious crime is a major issue in their city; the fact that Labour don't want to discuss it speaks volumes for their attitude towards the people of Glasgow.

"We have debated many major issues facing our city in the chamber, however the one issue which appears to be out of reach in open debate is the question of serious criminality. This is a bad day for democracy in Glasgow."

Councillor Dornan concluded:

"Labour's childish attempt to derail this important debate once again does nothing to raise people's opinion of politics. Arrogant behaviour such as this suggests that Labour think they can continue to take the people of Glasgow for granted. Glasgow deserves better.

"It's time that Labour realised that trampling on the democratic process hurts everyone - voters, victims of crime and eventually even politicians."


1. The special council meeting has been called by 20 councillors.

2. No Labour members attended today's meeting. The Lord Provost was in attendance to chair proceedings.

3. The special meeting was called after the Lord Provost ruled a motion on serious crime as "not relevant or competent". An earlier motion, in February 2009, fell after Labour Leader Councillor Purcell used standing orders to end the meeting of Full Council early.

4. A copy of today's agenda can be found here.

Bain proves a point - not the one he means to!

I had to laugh when I saw this daft wee article in the Evening Times. To get to Westminster (on what appears to be a day trip) Willie Bain got the bus to airport, thereby proving that a perfectly adequate service already exists and Garl isn't strictly necessary.

I live in Glasgow North East, in Dennistoun near Alexandra Parade Station which is on the Springburn branch line. If Garl existed and I wanted to get to the airport, I'd have to haul my suitcase down the street, down the stairs to the platform, up the stairs or into the lift at Queen Street, wait for the wee connecting bus to wind it's way down to Central, or haul my case down Buchanan Street (probably in the rain, always seems to happen that way!). Makes me feel tired just thinking of it.

By contrast, the award winning airport bus service stops right outside Queen Street Station. Very handy.

It's also an interesting point to note (picked up by a Herald letter writer) that plane travel over short distances is one of most environmentally damaging ways to travel. John Mason travels to London, that first time and since, by train allowing him to get work done on the way and being far more eco-friendly.

P.S. Mr Bain seemed very lonely waiting for the bus with his wee rucksack (a contrast to John's rousing send-off!), but it seems he's found some fine upstanding friends to see him right in London. Sure he'll fit in just like the rest of them...

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Platform performance

When I went to visit my in-laws between Christmas and Hogmanay last year, I was pretty appalled at the state of the trains and the stations. I don't spend a lot of time in English train stations as a rule, but I do spend a fair amount of time in Scottish ones. It seems there's more of a distance between them than I thought!

Anyway, to get to Derby, I had to change at Crewe. The journey hadn't been great up until then; the train turned up several carriages short, leading to fractious disputes about reservations, luggage everywhere, no food, and some badly behaved wean deliberately trying to open the loo while I was in it. And then I arrived at Crewe. It was dilapidated, dirty, the cafe was expensive and the food poor. The chocolate brownie I chose had all the appeal of nibbling on a charcoal briquette. I'm really not surprised to see Crewe up there on the list of dismal stations, and I hope investment comes before I need use its platforms again! What interests me is a remark on the difference in Scotland:
The champions argued that Scotland had avoided the problem of poor stations by organising funding more effectively over a number of decades.
A welcome comment on Scotland's way of doing things. Our major stations are quite nice: Waverley, Central and Queen Street have had a lot of cash spent on them, and they look the piece. Once the Central hotel project is completed, Glasgow Central really will be the jewel in Scotland's railway crown. I don't mind waiting at Stirling, which is pretty, with a proper waiting room and vending machines. Stations along the Perth-Inverness line are very picturesque, and those in the central belt pretty functional.

From recent visits, I feel Perth and Inverness could do better; I've not been in Aberdeen or Dundee for some time, so I can't comment on them. Most stations I use are well kept and clean - there's a guy at Alexandra Parade most mornings ensuring there's no litter. The stations can be a bit glum though. Most don't have waiting rooms or indeed any kind of ticket office (which is fair enough given the number of people who go through them) and they're not much to look at. I think the notion of community involvement where appropriate could be a workable one, particularly when you see the work of groups like
Friends of Walkden Station. This shouldn't be about maintenence on the cheap of course, but stations could be made a bit prettier.

I have four train stations in my ward - High Street, Bellgrove (where the name of the blog originates!), Bridgeton and Dalmarnock. The latter two are the more dilapidated, although there are plans to spend significant sums of money on Dalmarnock as part of the Commonwealth Games regeneration. I believe Clyde Gateway are also hoping to improve Bridgeton station. These are very different stations, and could all do with a bit of investment. I'd be happy to hear from constituents who have any ideas for improving them.


I feel it's important to find out as much as I can about how different services in the Council work, particularly when a paper is coming up in front of a committee I sit on. That might not sound unusual, but trust me, when I notice Labour Councillors chatting, reading newspapers or checking up on the cinema listings during committee, I feel that the opposition on the Council are the only ones doing the leg work. The SNP group often recieve briefings, and do a lot of digging before we go to Committee. It's the responsible thing to do.

We've had a couple of reports in recent months on homelessness. I've been to visit the Women's hostel in the south side, an alcohol hostel in my ward, and saw round Bell Street before it closed. Having attended a recent 'one year on' event, I went out on a "shadow shift" last Tuesday night with members of staff from the Glasgow Street Service.

The Street Service is formed from a partnership between the Simon Community and Barnardo's, who previously ran separate services in the city. The website puts it thus:

GSS provides advice and support to access accommodation and other services such as medical, addiction and mental health services.

They offer practical help and emotional support to those sleeping rough, at risk of sleeping rough or becoming homeless and those having difficulties accessing other services.

There's a great deal of behind the scenes work, advocacy and casework that I didn't get to see last Tuesday; what I did do was accompany KB, an outreach worker, as she went round the city centre. KB pointed out spots where people are likely to be found rough sleeping, and talked about the way in which the team go about their work. Contact with their clients comes through face to face interaction, and a free phone number 0800 027 7466. Arrangements are made to meet with clients at times suitable for them and help offered.

The difficulty comes in finding accommodation to prevent people from sleeping outside; there are just not enough beds, or homes for people to move on to. A gap exists between the closure of old, inadequate large scale hostels, and building more small scale units; this is filled to some extent by expensive B&B accommodation and services purchased from other providers.

The locations of various projects were pointed out to me, and I was quite surprised at the number of places in or near the city centre which I had walked passed not knowing their purpose. We visited a project in Tradeston which helps people recover from alcohol problems, and popped into a soup kitchen near Central Station where people can get advice and a hot meal. I was taken aback at the number of people at the soup kitchen. The scale of homelessness in Glasgow is somewhat hidden from view; there are so many who depend on charitable services to help them to get by.

Times are difficult in the Council; spending cut backs are very real. I wonder though how much more services like this can take. This contrasts hugely with the Commonwealth Games (will at least bring more much-needed housing) and the money Labour politicians are demanding for GARL.

As with any visit I've done, I'll certainly think on what I saw and heard, and hope to work towards a better solution. Thanks to all the staff who supported me.

Monday 16 November 2009

More SNP Government money for Glasgow

News today that the Commonwealth Games is set to receive an additional £39 million from the Scottish Government. Our Government is also putting in place a £20 million contingency fund. Glasgow City Council are putting in £9 million, and the Organising Committee hopes to raise £13 million through commercial activities.

Does this mean that Labour politicians will still be claiming Glasgow's being ripped off? Silence, all around. The blessed organ of impartiality and truth has a uncharacteristically mild quote from the leader of the Council noting his "disappointment" at the cost increase.

Interestingly, it seems that the root of the funding shortfall lies not with Glasgow, or the Scottish Government, but with the BBC. According to The Herald:

"the largest single factor contributing to the budget increase has been the refusal of the BBC to commit to signing up to becoming host broadcaster, creating a potential multimillion-pound deficit."

The BBC is dithering on whether they will show the Games on free to air tv. I don't recall much debate about covering Melbourne or Manchester; indeed, at the time, Manchester was trailled as being the BBC's biggest outside broadcast operation. For the Olympics, they sent more staff to Bejing than Team GB had athletes. I would expect the coverage of Delhi next year to be just as comprehensive.

The BBC's involvement in Glasgow 2014 didn't get off to the best of starts, missing the live announcement of Glasgow winning the bid, but to bargain over the price to the extent where coverage is threatened entirely is bizarre. Given the limited ability of other channels to cover such big events, the BBC is the only game in town. The contract for 2014 coverage should be today's equivalent of the service provided to previous Commonwealth Games.

Most championships in athletics, bowls, and tennis are already covered by the beeb. Coverage of F1 has improved immeasurably since the BBC won back the contract, Euro 2008 and Wimbledon in HD were utterly glorious and Match of the Day continues to be very high quality. The nearest comparison was the utterly woeful ITV coverage of English cup competition, dreadful both in presentation and in punditry.

The BBC has the expertise and the capacity to showcase Glasgow to the world in 2014. To mess the Organising Committee about only adds to complaints of Scotland being marginalised by the BBC.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Glasgow North East

First things first: I'm very disappointed in the result. Not so much that we lost, but that we had all worked so hard for so long for little in return. I didn't forsee such a gap between us, and was pretty shocked to see the votes stacking up so emphatically for Labour at the count.

The low turnout was equally disappointing - so many people clearly felt there was no point in voting.

I had discussions on doorsteps with many people, gave them many good reasons to give the SNP a try in this by-election. The relentless negativity from Labour seemed to seep right into the bones of the electorate, and we were unable to shake this off.

From here, we will as a party do the post mortem, dust ourselves off, and do better next time. Lessons will learned, as they are from every result.

This, too, will pass.


One thing which I forgot to mention - on the stage at the count, there was a shiny slide show of glamorous Glasgow locations, clearly places civic leaders are proud of and want to show to visiting correspondents. These included the Kelvingrove and Royal Exchange Square, but didn't showcase any locations in Glasgow North East. How odd...

Tuesday 10 November 2009


I noticed today that the CIRV initiative got a good write-up in Scotland on Sunday; the article is here. Worth reading to see the hard work going on behind the scenes to change attitudes.

Monday 2 November 2009

Belle's guide to Paris

Following on from the admission in my previous post, I thought I'd share the experiences of our trip to Paris. I bought the Rough Guide to Paris before going, but feel there's something just slightly lacking from it - a value-for-money, cost-benefit analysis of the sites and restaurants.

I suppose a lot of this depends on what you like to do - if you find art galleries a bore, you wouldn't waste money on going. Even within the theme of art galleries, there are plenty whose collections wouldn't inspire me. That said, here follows my day-by-day guide to what we saw and whether it's worth doing.

Thursday: arrival in Paris

We got the Easyjet flight from Glasgow to CDG. Handy on a short trip as you don't need to change in London. We got the RER train (sadly from the furthest point in the terminal building!) into Gare du Nord. It cost 8 euros, which is pretty unavoidable! What is worth checking though is whether it's the fast train, which goes straight through, or the train that stops at every station.

We arrived at Gare du Nord, found our way through this massive station and headed to the nearby Hotel Francais, which Joe had booked on Expedia. It was really nice - the rooms weren't huge or anything, but it was fine for us. Well located for exploring as well, with some wee cafes nearby. We had croque monsieur and a beer for lunch in one, another did a cheap croissant/coffee combo to take away for breakfast. There was also a small supermarket, where we skimped by buying food and wine to have in our room. We used our minibar for storing cheese and chocolate!

Drinking out in Paris costs a fortune - five euros in some places just for a coke - so we ended up mostly staying at night. Since Paris seemed to us mostly upstairs and uphill, we ended up totally knackered each evening anyway!

After buying a carnet of tickets, our first trip was to the Musee d'Orsay, which I love. I'd been before, about ten years ago, and felt I'd like to go back. It's open late until 9.45pm on a Thursday night, and has a reduced fee (7 euros) if you go after 6pm. This was just about enough time to wheech round and see all my favourites - Degas, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Van Gogh, Morisot. I've always loved being able to see the impressionists works close up, to see the brush strokes and the way the paint or pastel has been applied. Seeing paintings like Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe for real is well worth it! There's lots of furniture there as well, incredibly beautiful Art Nouveau pieces. We had a bite to eat in the cafe (chocolate cake for me, soup for Joe), which was about all we could afford! Despite that, the entry fee is pretty good value for Paris, and there's a lot to see here.

Friday: touristy stuff

The "must do" thing for Paris is surely to visit the Eiffel Tower. I'd seen it from below, but hadn't ventured up on my last trip, put off by the queues. We opted for the stairs, as the queues were non-existent, and the fee was 4.50 euros compared to 8 for the lift. For those more daring than me, going all the way to the top costs 13 euros. The climb wasn't as arduous as I'd feared - it must be all the practice leafleting tenements - and information boards on the way up gave you and excuse to pause for a few minutes. There are exhibitions and a cinema on the first floor, as well as a restaurant and a cafe. We stopped for to have an beer, as it was the same price as a soft drink! The information panels were pretty well done and interesting. The second floor was also pretty good, and of course the views were incredible. I could have watched Paris stretching out into the distance for hours!

Once we'd had our fill, it was back down the steps on increasingly shaky legs to find some lunch.

The Ille de Cite and Notre Dame came next. These were quite pretty to look around, although because the police are based there there was a lot of siren noise! Notre Dame was very pretty, with beautiful stained glass. It was free to get in, and you could stay, have a seat and contemplate for as long as you liked.

For dinner, we headed over past the town hall towards the Pompidou Centre. It's a very unusual modern building, as all the gubbins usually hidden inside a building is on the outside. Pipes, ducts, wires, even the escalators can be seen running along the faces of the building. We didn't have time to go in, but it looked worth a visit.

Following the guidebook, we headed to Au Chien Qui Fume for dinner. It was a bit odd, with pastiches of famous paintings where the people were substituted for dogs, but the food was tasty and in generous portions. After, I got an ice cream cone from a stall and we headed back to the hotel.

Saturday: Paris when it drizzles

It's not easy being a tourist when it's raining, but the best thing to do is find indoorsy things quite close together. We chose the Arc de Triomphe (as it has an exhibition) and the Louvre (as it's massive). As a break from the monotony of the metro system, we decided to try the bus from outside our hotel at the Gare de L'Est to Charles de Gaulle Etoile. The bus runs past the Moulin Rouge, among other sights.

The Arc de Triomphe entry fee was 9 euros. The exhibition had changed since I last visited, moving from black and white photos of the history of the monument to three video shows. One of these wasn't working, but the other two were interesting enough, showing the original plans and footage of the monument through history. Up top, it was wet and slippy, so we didn't linger too long. I think it might have been better to come at night to get a different perspective than we had from visiting the Eiffel Tower. For what you get, the entry fee isn't great value and there's not a lot extra to make it worth your while.

We left there and wandered all the way down the Champs Elysees, through Place de la Concorde into the Tuileries Gardens. These were pleasant, if a bit soggy. I can imagine that it would be lovely with a bit more sun! We had lunch at one of the cafes there, although sadly the one recommended in the Rough Guide appeared to have vanished since publication. Bit costly for a hunk of bread and a beer (around the 18 euro mark), but we were ravenous by this stage.

The Louvre was quite impressive, not least for the glass pyramid, which was much bigger than I expected! The admission was 9 euros - the same as the Arc de Triomphe - which gives you access to the whole museum. There's reduced prices for access for the evening, and in common with most in Paris, free entrance for 18-25 year olds.

The 'big hitters' here are of course the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo, but there's plenty more to see. There's a huge collection of Egyptian antiquities, from the largest sarcophagus to the smallest pair of earrings. I'm a wee bit uncomfortable with such significant collections being permanent - perhaps best kept in Egypt for their own people to enjoy - but it certainly is worth seeing. I'm fascinated that despite so much time standing between us, many of the everyday objects of Egyptian life are still so similar and familiar. There are paintings and sculptures, not all to my interest or taste, but interesting nonetheless. The Mona Lisa puzzles me a little - whatever the world's attraction to this small painting is, I'm not sure I share it. I went to have a look, of course, but I much prefer the paintings by artists I mentioned previously. I was slightly amused by the throng of tourists, there to dash round, ignore most of the rest of the museums works and get their picture taken with Leonardo da Vinci's work.

The Louvre overwhelmed us a bit; on our way out we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in an attached underground shopping mall. Eventually, we struggled back to the surface and set about finding refreshment. We had a nice beer in a pub as we checked the guide book and lamented the prices of the food. On our way for dinner, we discovered a pub full of animal rights demonstrators with a happy hour. We toasted this luck and researched further. Eventually, after wandering slightly lost down some pretty arcades, we stumbled across a very cheap Italian restaurant. Smoked salmon, pizza and tiramisu, washed down by a carafe of red wine. Win.

Sunday: war and peace

Joe had decided we'd done quite enough looking at paintings, so we went off to the Army Museum at Les Invalides (entry 8.50 euros). I wasn't optimistic, particularly as I'm not hugely keen on the endless cases of guns, uniforms and medals which the French tend to go in for at these things. The first section we went into didn't assuage my fears, as it was case after case of mementos from Resistance heroes, with small labels typed in French. The other part of the museum was far more modern, and really quite interesting. There was a very detailed walkthrough exhibition for the First and Second World Wars, with artifacts, videos with subtitles, and maps. Particularly useful was a projection of the movement of forces in France during WWI. There was a lot of information on the resistance, and I feel I left a little wiser. Other exhibitions in the museum included one on de Gaulle, a room of models of French forts, and Napoleon's tomb. Rather good value for money this one too.

Following this, we headed off to Monmartre for a bit of exploring. I'd checked out beforehand the location of the cafe in Amelie, and we stopped by for a quick espresso at the bar. I'd expected it to be mobbed, but it was pleasant and the staff worked around the star struck tourists snapping away. It didn't look like they'd particularly inflated their prices either, which is nice.

We found our way up to Sacre Coeur, which really is quite stunning. The view across the city is amazing, and you really see how far up you've walked! Inside, we sat and listened to the end of a service and the choir.

We wandered around a little more, and watched the sun set over the city. Walked down the steps by the funicular, and found that two of the restaurants we fancied were shut on a Sunday. Fortunately, one other was open, and it turned out to be pretty good. I had giant salad - pretty much the size of bowl my mum would put on the table for four of us to share! It was covered in potatoes, sliced like thick crisps. Very filling, but really nice. The place had a great atmosphere, upstairs, downstairs and a back room all full, everyone seated very close together.

Monday: time to go home
Our flight was at lunchtime, so there was no time to do any sightseeing before we left. Negotiated our way through Gare du Nord, slight panic at trains being delayed, but arrived at the airport in plenty of time. We had some cheese still left over and so bought some bread to have ourselves a messy picnic in the airport. The other travellers looked on with bemused jealousy!

It was so nice to get away together and I really enjoyed the break. I've got my head down now and working away til Christmas!


It's terrible I should feel guilty about this, but feel I should confess: I snuck out of the country a week last Thursday for a wee break to Paris. It was five days, and I loved it.

Other than a week at my in-laws in Derby over the summer, and a holiday in Skye in January cut short by Labour's school closure announcement, I've not had the chance to get away, relax, and spend some time with my husband since our honeymoon last August. The summer seemed to run away without me; although Council was in recess, the work kept piling in. There were gala days at the weekends and plenty of campaigining to keep me occupied. Before I knew it, committee papers were arriving on my desk again!

Reading this article this morning has made me reflect on the whole work/life balance thing and, although my job is nowhere near as high pressure, I can identify with a lot of what Gaby Hinsliff says. I visited my grandparents yesterday, and was acutely aware that I hadn't made it out to Lanarkshire for the best part of a month. I went over to visit my parents a few weeks before, and couldn't remember the last time I'd been in Carluke. I've not seen old school or uni friends for eons. It seems impossible to fit everything in, and I'm mostly keeping up with people passively through facebook and blogs. The question is, what do I do to correct this?

Thursday 29 October 2009

Labour refuse to debate serious crime in Glasgow

Dramatic gestures are best used sparingly or they fail to be effective. Today, the SNP group in Glasgow City Council felt the need for such a gesture.

As a group, we left the Chamber with disappointment and heavy hearts as a result of the Labour group’s refusal to debate serious and organised crime in this city.

All groups have the right to submit a motion for debate at the full meeting of the Council. The motion we submitted for today’s meeting, despite being advised by the Council’s lawyer that it was legally sound, was rejected by the Lord Provost. Under article 7(1) of the Council’s Standing Orders, the LP will decide all matters of order, competence and relevance.

This is the motion as it stood – I think most people would agree that it is relevant and competent to the people of Glasgow. Sadly, Labour don’t see it that way.

Council affirms its commitment to tackling serious and organised crime in partnership with Strathclyde Police and other organisations.

Council notes that a triple shooting and murder was carried out at Applerow Motors, 730 Balmore Road, during working hours. A development of luxury flats next to the MOT station, both of which are owned and/or affiliated with the Lyons family, was burned down on two separate occasions, the most recent being in February of this year. The Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police wrote to the Licensing Committee to say that the owner of the MOT station was involved in serious crime including the trafficking and supply of Class A drugs.

Council notes that whilst the Licensing Committee has as a result refused the second hand car dealership licence at the site, the UK Secretary of State for Transport has so far declined to exercise his powers to revoke the MOT authorised examiner licence.

Council resolves to formally request that the UK Secretary of State for Transport exercise his powers to revoke the MOT authorised examiner licence from David Lyons and the premises of Applerow Motors, Lambhill.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Trade Unions and Labour

I was moved to blog after reading Jeff's post about USDAW's generous donation in kind of campaign telephones for Glasgow North East. This is a very useful resource to be offered, so it's unfortunate that Labour will be the only party to benefit from it, despite the offer accidentally going out to all MSPs. Nosiness led me to check out USDAW's website, whereupon I got a bit annoyed.

Of the four news stories featured on their website, three mention Labour very favourably in their first paragraph. Ach, I thought, maybe that's to be expected. However, under Support our Campaigns, the second article reads "Winning with Labour... Join Labour today... It's FREE for USDAW members!". It's beyond me why this is ranked more important than USDAW's campaigns for respect for shop workers and support for the minimum wage. If I was being represented by USDAW, I'd be pretty disappointed.

I've only scratched the surface of their website so I apologise if I'm now speaking out of turn. I'm deeply unimpressed by their watery support for increasing the wages of 16 and 17 year olds and in particular the equalisation of the minimum wage. Their most recent article seems to be a survey, behind that, articles from a few years ago. This is a really important issue for me, and I'm surprised that this particular union falls short of the YSI and SNP's position.

I worked for a high street retailer for six years, from sixth year at school until the year after I left uni. This retailer didn't recognise trade unions, and there were several instances where their input would have been useful (shift changes for the Christmas sales, health and safety, conditions). I see from my work in the Council on the Personnel Appeals Committee the commitment and work of Trade Unions in representing their members, and would have appreciated that during my time in retail.

I don't see from USDAW's website however that they're actually achieving anything very much for their members by paying money and giving positive coverage to Labour; it seems unfair that the hard earned money of their members should be blindly funding Labour. If it's a considered democratic and strategic decision, I could give it some respect; more often than not, unions just seem to pay out over and over again with no guarantee of anything in return.

What frustrates me the most about Trade Unions is their seemingly undying commitment to the Labour Party. This isn't just about loyalty to a cause, it's about money too; from 1st July 2008 to 30th June 2009, Trade Unions donated £9,773,918.25 from their coffers to the Labour Party. Of that, USDAW gave
£1,895,997.41. In that same period, the only other political party who registered donations from a trade union was No2EU:Yes to Democracy, who were backed by the RMT.

I can understand where the trade unions are coming from, and why the bonds with Labour might be hard to break. What I don't get is the tactical significance of continuing to spend the money of their members on a government which doesn't always take their side.

The CWU are considering legal action to prevent Royal Mail bringing in agency staff, and are getting very little time or support from the Goverment. Gordon Brown says "get back round the table", the CWU say it's "vindictive" Mandleson's fault. Funnily enough, the CWU gave the party of government a very generous £663,177.90 in the period mentioned above. What has this achieved? Clearly, in terms of influence over Government policy for the benefit of their members, this has been money down the drain. There are significant gaps between the CWU and the party they fund.

If you're not getting anything much for your money, why continue to fund the Labour Party? Perhaps this is something the world out there might like to explain to me.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Grit bins

I’ve been sent a list of grit bins in my ward, and thought it might be helpful for folk to know where they are for when the colder weather strikes.

Stamford Street at Dalserf Street

Forge Entrance at Duke Street

Canmore Street at the Bus Depot

Canmore Street at the Fire Station

Beside 819 Dalmarnock Road

Reidvale Street at Sword Street

Sword Street opposite No.54

Abercromby Drive at R5

Abercromby Square

Claythorn Street at Millroad Street

Landressy Place opposite No.52

MacKeith Street

Dale Path

Baltic Place at Heron Street Path

Queen Mary St opposite St.Francis in the East Church

Claythorn Avenue at No.23

The one at Claythorn Avenue was the result of a request from a constituent, and I would be happy to take forward any requests for ones in other parts of the ward. Obviously, there are financial limits on what can be done, but I’ll certainly argue the case with Land and Environmental Services if there’s a need!

As you can see from the photo, the one at the Bus Depot had been used as a litter bin, and I requested that this was cleared.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Westminster Candidates

Conference is hearing now from some of our Westminster candidates, all of whom have been introduced to delegates by Bruce Crawford.

Eilidh Whiteford, our candidate in Banff and Buchan told us of the people she's met on the campaign trail so far.

David Kerr also spoke about the campaign in Glasgow North East, and gave the story of the first man he met in the campaign; he'll be voting SNP for the first time.

I'm really enthusiastic about this crop of candidates - I know many of them, and believe they will be fine MPs. They're intelligent, principled, passionate people. They will fight for Scotland, and I would love for them all to be elected. I'm certain many of them will be.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Alex Salmond's speech

Just been listening to Alex Salmond's keynote address to conference; as always, it was perfectly delivered, with humour and passion. I intend to put a couple of the key quotes in a post later on, but for now, I'll just pop down a few thoughts.

I think it was a nice touch to include concrete examples of people who have benefitted from our Government's initiatives. This really demonstrates the value of what our party has done and helps people listening at home to relate to the policies.

I was very pleased to hear the CIRV project and the Violence Reduction Unit be credited for their excellent work; Alex packaged this neatly in the speech with the 1000 extra police we have put on the beat since 2007 and the recent statistics which demonstrate that knife crime in Glasgow has fallen by 18%.

Alex was strong also on our opposition to trident renewal, a UK policy which is looking increasingly crazy in these economic times.

Interestingly, while the hall at Labour's conference looked sparsely populated, the Eden Court theatre was jam-packed full right up to the top balconies. Every seat in the overspill cinema was also taken and some delegates were sadly left standing outside. I keep thinking conference couldn't possibly get busier, but each one is bigger still!

Friday 16 October 2009

Electoral Commission Fringe

John Swinney takes the stage

I've just finished listening just to John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth. Conference loves John, and he got a huge welcoming round of applause before he said a word!

John started by describing the actions taken by the Scottish Government to protect jobs and work for economic recovery.

John remarked that even relatively simple things can make a difference - 95.3% of Government bills are now paid in ten days. This responsible action helps businesses by ensuring they're not kept waiting for what they're due.

John also talked about the importance our Government places on the Third sector in Scotland, and how they sit at the heart of recovery and growth. Under the SNP, resources for the third sector are up 37%, and the SNP are supporting moves by voluntary and charitable organisations towards becoming sustainable social enterprises. In addition, third sector organisations can access a £1.7m resiliance fund. John announced that charitable water rates relief will be extended for a further 5 years.

The recent draft budget announcement gave John the opportunity to talk about how Scotland - in contrast to the highly indebted UK Government - must living within our means, setting and implementing a balanced budget and taking difficult decisions. John got a hefty round of applause when he said that "the SNP Government knows how to manage the peoples money".

John also fired a shot across the bows to the opposition parties, recalling last years political games with the budget and saying that they can't play games with Scotland's public services.

The speech was light on attacks on other parties, about which I was glad; I think it's much better to speak of our achievements and say what else we can do. That said, John was clear that the public are right to beware the cuts the Tories will make, but we should not forget the cuts Labour are making to the Scottish budget now.

Through the speech, a theme ran through of the restrictions placed on the Scottish budget through the limitations of devolution. John spoke movingly about the imagination and inspiration of our founders 75 years ago, who confounded the critics who never believed we would achieve people elected, a Scottish Parliament, or a SNP Goverment. I got a wee excited shiver up my spine as John got to the culmination of his speech; next step independence.

Thursday 15 October 2009

SNP TUG Fringe Meeting

I appreciate that some readers may be unfamiliar with conference lingo, so a wee explanation first - in between the formal plenary sessions (where resolutions are debated), in the morning, at lunch and in the early evening, organisations host hour-long sessions on specific topics with a range of speakers. These are known as Fringe events. There tend to be several on at a time, weighed up by the quality of speakers or the refreshments on offer. There's very little time to sit and eat proper meals at conference, so food gets quite important!

Tonight, I attended the SNP's trade union group's event, which featured stovies, Alex Salmond, and speakers from the FBU, NUJ, RMT and STUC.

A lively Q&A session discussed issues like health and safety, stress, social partnerships, the problems facing public services in the recession, and the opportunities for trade unions in Scotland.

Debates get underway

Two interesting resolutions so far on climate change and concessionary bus travel. It's Stewart Stevenson's birthday today, but he's spending it at conference speaking!

Currently listening to a topical resolution on the SNP's right to participation in televised leaders' debates. Angus Robertson is telling us that in Canada, where we have a equivalent situation with Quebec, debates with all the party leaders are managed just fine by the tv networks.

Welcome to conference

Arrived at conference on the early train from Glasgow this morning. It's great to see so many people I know from around the country. I hope to get the chance to catch with everyone!

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Test post

I'm hoping to blog from SNP Conference later in the week - hopefully remotely rather than lugging a laptop around with me. If this post works, all should be well!

Gagging the press

As a regular reader of Private Eye, I've been really disappointed with moves towards gagging of the press. An article in their most recent edition (Eye 1246) begins

"Last month a certain institution obtained a high court injunction to prevent a certain newspaper from publishing a certain document. More than that we cannot say; to do so is fraught with danger"

It's difficult enough to find really interesting pieces of investigative journalism these days without lawyers preventing us even knowing about why we can't be told something.

Things have now moved a bit further, and the Guardian has been blocked from reporting a question in Parliament on this whole affair. This is clearly ridiculous. Hansard is online, so we the public can read and consider the words of wisdom (or otherwise) spoken by our elected representatives. If we can see it, the press should be able to report it.

Enter the blogosphere and twitter. A number of people are linking now to wikileaks and, since I saw his post first, I'll link also to Guido. Lets get this out there!

Update: I've been pointed in the direction of this:

If they scrape that barrel much more, they'll go through it...

Hat tip to Chris at Leaves on the Line, who has found this gem of a press release on Willie Bain’s website.

“Nationalist blunder as campaign admits it rents a "tiny" office”

Not only is this scraping the barrel for petty attacks on the SNP, this also demonstrates Labour’s misconception of what a campaign office is actually for. It’s not for activists to sit about in, chat and drink tea – it’s for the organisation and distribution of campaign materials. On my visits so far to our rooms, I’ve seen our enthusiastic activists turn up, ready to work, and head out with bundles of materials. We’re not hanging around!

There is a kitchen in our campaign office of course, for distribution of tea, coffee, soup, sandwiches and biccies, but this is to cater mainly for the many activists coming from further afield to lend their support.

In other related guff – why are Labour activists so afraid to show their faces?!