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!