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?