Monday 31 August 2009


My colleague David Turner has persuaded me that hurtling to near-death on a 1000ft zip slide across a river for charity is a great idea, so we will be doing the Clydeslide on the 3rd of October for Action for Children.

I'm not particularly scared of heights, but the Clyde is a) cold and b) deep! Anyway, we both hope to survive without need for a by election.

If you'd like to sponsor me, I've set up a link on justgiving. Thanks!

Reconviction rates

I use Google Reader to manage news and blog feeds, and noticed today a lot of news on re-offending figures from the 2005-2007 cohort of offenders. Kenny MacAskill is quite clear that short term sentences are ineffective, and I would tend to agree.

The figures show that of those who have served a sentence of six months or less, 70% are likely to be re-convicted of another crime within two years. Somewhat shockingly, this cycle applies disproportionately young people.

Labour and the Tories are very keen on locking people up, but it seems to me that six months will achieve very little by way of rehabilitation. I have heard that many schemes in prison to help give offenders a better chance in life are oversubscribed, and by the time comes for release, the offender will not have had a chance to access them. It's expensive to keep people locked up for six months, and gives little meaningful benefit to the community.

Locking people up for six months gives communities a bit of respite, but as my constituents have told me, when
someone comes back after serving a short 3-6 month sentence it's like a slap in the face. They will come back to the same place and often start to wreak havoc all over again. If there is no change in behaviour or attitude, what has been achieved?

Judges must have the right to decide on appropriate sentences, but they should really take the community impact into account as well. The police tell me that they often recommend longer sentences for offenders, because they know the impact short sentences have on communities.

Interestingly, For those sentenced to a Community Service Order, the reconviction rate fell from 47 per cent for the 1996-97 cohort to 42 per cent for the 2005-06 cohort. I don't believe that this is appropriate for every offender, but at least this means that there can be some benefit, and a sense of 'working off' the sentence.
This should be balanced of course with public safety concerns and be closely supervised. If it allows for a better route back into employment or training, picking up some practical skills on the way and getting into a routine, than this surely must be more effective.

It's clear that prison has become a revolving door for many offenders, and that does society no justice at all.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Kenny was right

I've been following the Lockerbie coverage, and have had discussions with a few people over the past weeks, political and non-political about Kenny MacAskill's decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds. The consensus is that a) he was right to do so and b) it was an incredibly difficult decision given the intense pressure and scrutiny placed on him.

Like Anne, I wasn't sure what members of my own family would think. This wasn't because of their political views, but because they're a different generation. They had seen war, they had seen terrorism, they knew of capital punishment. They welcomed the decision and accepted that compassion was important and the dignity of a dying man could over-ride a sense of vengeance.

I was disappointed but not surprised by the way the opposition MSPs (Malcolm Chisholm aside) conducted themselves. They asked the same tired questions again and again, all eager to get a piece of the action. As Ian Gray himself admitted on Newsnight last night, they came out of the session with no further information than when it began. What purpose did that serve? Calling on the Justice Secretary to change his mind was hardly likely to be successful either. It was a bit of show; Ian Gray, Tavish Scott and Annabel Goldie trying to show that they had opinions and would have acted differently, when in reality, it was impossible to have done so. I have spoken to some Labour people, and they do support the position Kenny took; their party loyalty of course prevents them from saying so.

I hope that now everyone can move on - I hear that there's likely to be another debate in Parliament next week, and I hope that those involved yesterday will think hard about what they wish to achieve. The decison is made; Megrahi will die, and it's time for the opposition in Scotland to put away childish things.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Gala days

It's been a busy summer, not least because there have been so many local events! As any politician worth their salt will tell you, Gala Days are a great chance to meet local people. I really enjoy them!

I've already blogged on the Calton Fun Day and the East End 5K; these were swiftly followed by a PEEK barbie, Gala Days in Dalmarnock, Bridgeton and Lilybank, a Friends of Glasgow Green event, and the extravaganza that is the Glasgow Show.

I've eaten candy floss, rowed a boat, danced, chatted to firemen, helped a wee girl who had bitten her lip, listened to pipers, had a massage, watched football, and drawn raffle tickets. I also fear there may be a picture in the Glasgow East News of me with Cllr Redmond and Frank McAveety sliding down a bouncy castle! It's all great fun, and everyone involved made great efforts to ensure the success of every event.
The pictures are of the Bridgeton Gala Day balloon race, the Humane Society Boathouse from the river, and Margaret Hattie, Chair of Friends of Glasgow Green, who arranged for the St Francis Gorbals Pipe Band to play in the ampitheatre next to the People's Palace. It was a great success, and well recieved by tourists and locals alike.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Surgical operations

It’s been nearly two years since I first started my Councillor’s surgeries, so I’ve taken some time over recess to think about times and venues.

If you’ve never been to a surgery, it’s all pretty simple*. I book a room in a hall, a school or library at a set time every month, and you can come and see me to talk about your problems or ideas for the local area. I’ve stuck some photos up from a couple of the venues – there’s always a chair and a listening ear waiting for you!

A lot people tend to get in touch with me directly, by phone or email, and I pick up a lot of cases while I’m out and about. I still think surgeries are important to do though – unlike MPs and MSPs, Councillors expenses don’t run to providing a local office, so surgeries are the best alternative to ensuring the public can find us when they need us. If no-one arrives, I get some quiet time to work on committee papers or chat to the janitor or staff (great sources of news!).

Some locations are better attended than others, yet there’s no rhyme or reason to when they’re busy. People have come to see me in the pouring rain, and stayed away on sunny evenings. Some I’ve promoted quite a lot, but still seem quite quiet. I think I’ve managed to achieve a good geographical spread within the constituency, in walking distance for most people.

I do eight surgeries a month, which is more than the average. Details of all the surgeries held by Councillors in Glasgow can be found on the Council website or in the back pages of the Glasgow Magazine. I don’t see it as a big time commitment though – eight hours in a month is pretty reasonable.

The main reason for reviewing surgery times and places has been my Calton surgery, which was previously held in St James’ Primary, which Labour voted to close. There are no other public buildings in the Calton – which was of course part of the problem with this particular closure. I have arranged to use a room in St Luke’s and St Andrew’s church on Bain Street, which I hope will be convenient for most people in the area.

I’m also moving three of my morning surgeries at Reidvale, Dalmarnock and Helenslea to Thursday rather than Tuesday. Bridgeton Library will continue to be on a Tuesday, as the Library opens later on a Thursday. Some of my colleagues have surgeries on Mondays and Fridays, but I was concerned that these are often subject to cancellation due to the closure of buildings on bank holidays.

The full list has been updated on the side bar and the Council

website. I’m always up for trying out new venues or ideas to communicate with my constituents – if you have suggestions please let me know!

* These kind of surgeries don’t involve any medical procedures – a friend of mine was quite concerned when I said I was going out for my surgery!

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Pipe Band Championships

I'm annoyed and disappointed by the news that the UK Border Agency has made a mess of the visa applications of the Lahore Pipe Band, who were aiming to compete in the World Pipe Band Championships on Saturday. A trade delegation from Lahore have also had their applications refused.

The Worlds are an amazing international event, bringing bands from around the world to Glasgow Green. We are extremely
privileged to have such an event in Glasgow.

I saw the band compete in 2007, and they added a splash of colour to proceedings otherwise marked by torrential downpours. It was great to see, among the sea of black overcoats, the green, red and gold headdresses of the Pakistani pipers. It's a real shame if they're not going to make it over in time for the Championships.

I find it really difficult to understand why this type of misunderstanding happens time and time again. When Motherwell played Flamurtari from Albania a few weeks ago, there was a very real possiblity several of their team being refused entry into the country due to visa problems with the UK Embassy.

This kind of problem seems fairly regular in football, particuarly for some players. Jason Scotland (who famously featured in an Irn Bru ad!) has recently had difficulties in completing his signing for Wigan due to visa delays. This wasn't the first time he had faced the problem though, having had difficulties when playing for Dundee United and St Johnstone.

If you're coming as part of a delegation, and there are no reasonable barriers (criminal records, previous issues when visiting) to coming to visit for a few days, why do these problems keep cropping up? Is it because the UK Border Agency have no knowledge or interest in events in Scotland? Are they genuinely unaware or unsympathetic to the needs of large groups travelling for work or leisure?

Whatever the reason, it seems crazy in this year of Homecoming that tourists keen to visit Scotland find the UKBA slamming the door in their face.

SNP Government Funding for Bridgeton

I was delighted on Friday to hear the news that the Scottish Government has awarded Bridgeton £1.95 million to go towards redeveloping the town centre.

When the SNP Government introduced this scheme, I really hoped Bridgeton could benefit from it. Our Glasgow MSPs lobbied hard to make sure that the definition of "town centres" allowed those in cities to be included. As much as town centres in rural areas need assistance, urban town centres are often neglected for investment in the city centre. The Merchant City, International Financial Services District and the "golden z" are nice, but it's as important to invest in the places where people actually live.

Bridgeton Town Centre was chosen as one of the forty-eight town centres across Scotland to receive this funding, and has received the highest sum of money in Glasgow. This is a massive boost for the area, and shows the SNP Government’s commitment to regeneration in the East End.

I know that staff at Clyde Gateway are working hard to develop plans for the area alongside the wishes of local people, and this money will really add to what they can do. I fully support funds going towards the redevelopment of the former Olympia Cinema, which could become a huge asset for the East End.

There is £20 million in the town centre regeneration fund pot to be awarded later this year, and I am sure that Parkhead Cross, which missed out this time, will have a very good chance of getting selected next time. Parkhead has had some investment through the Townscape Heritage Initiative, but like so many of Glasgow's neglected town centres, it needs a bit extra to really make the difference for local people.


I went swimming last week for the first time in at least a year. It's not because I saw this report, or was particularly influenced by any health campaigns - instead, it's more that the suits I bought when I got elected are starting to get a bit tight.

I reckoned it was time to face facts, and instead of going to a "panic session" of Body Combat whenever I feel a bit flabby, I really need to find time for regular exercise. I've done gym inductions, but have never really been back since. I have no excuse! From where I live in Dennistoun there are great facilities for getting fit - Alexandra Park, Haghill, Whitehill Pool, and the East End Healthy Living Centre.

Although it sounds like it, I'm not actually any kind of exercise-phobe. At school, I played hockey every Saturday and trained during the week. I played all the inter-house sports, and ran the school cross country. I opted to do a session of PE in fifth and sixth year (very few girls did likewise). When I went to Uni, I tried a bit of netball in first year and occasionally played badminton with folk from work. Since then, I've really fallen out of the habit. I loved team sports, and feel a bit shy about joining anywhere on my own. I'm worried too that I wouldn't be able to give the time necessary to stay involved. If there's any teams out there that would have me, I'd be glad if someone let me know!

I went back to the pool this morning for the 7.45am session and it wasn't as hard as I expected. I had an early night last night, and was weirdly very awake this morning. I had plenty of time to fit in a forty-five minute swim, and got back home in time to get changed and catch the train into town with my husband. Now I have proof that it can be done, it's just a small matter of keeping the routine going.