Tuesday 30 March 2010

Cheapside Street memorial

I was privileged to attend the memorial events on Sunday for the 50th anniversary of the Cheapside Street fire.

The event began with a wreath-laying ceremony at Necropolis, followed by a service at Glasgow Cathedral, and the unveiling of a plaque at a ceremony in George Square.

The whole day was very moving, and it made me reflect not only on the devastating loss of life back in 1960, but of the very real risks fire crews face every day.

A book to mark the anniversary has been launched, and I hope to get myself a copy soon.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Campaign Saturday

I'm just about to head for bed, absolutely knackered after a satisfying day's campaigning.

Before heading out canvassing for
Chris Stephens in Glasgow South West this morning, I baked two dozen fairy cakes. I canvassed from 11 'til 1.30, grabbed some lunch, and joined the Glasgow East team leafleting for John Mason. We worked through until nearly 5pm, then I came back home, made some Easter nests and iced the fairy cakes (with suitably elegant yellow icing and wee SNP symbols), had a shower and took the cakes to Billy McAllister's Glasgow North East adoption meeting in Sighthill.

I feel I should commend the
One Stop Shop on a wonderful spread of food - delicious curry as well as pizza slices and salad. Perfect after such a long day! I did manage a Canadian barndance at the ceilidh; sadly, the dashing white sergeant is a bit much for me in this condition!

In the SNP, we all work incredibly hard to get our message out, and support all our candidates. Most people there tonight were also out campaigning during the day, and will be out again tomorrow.

I'm telling you all this because I want to let you know how hard we're all working - right across the city and across Scotland - because we're a party that takes nothing for granted.

The sad thing is, Labour still do, and have clearly learnt nothing from their defeats in Crewe and Glasgow East. Between all my various tasks today I read that, speaking at the Labour Conference in Glasgow today, John Prescott said:

"I was in Crewe the other week, we're going to win that back, it's a Labour seat. We let it go and we shouldn't because we didn't fight hard enough.

"And that's the same as I want that fight in Glasgow East, getting those seats back for Labour because they belong to us and we've got to convince the electorate a bit more."

The arrogance of Prescott, saying that they 'own' these seats, and presumably the voters within them, is just breathtaking.

In this General Election, moreso perhaps than previous elections, this kind of arrogance just won't do. Why should people continue to slavishly, unquestioningly, vote for a party who has been in power for so long? People I speak to on the doorsteps certainly don't see why they should. The majority of people I spoke to today used to vote Labour, but were giving serious thought to switching. I hear from colleagues that this is happening all round Scotland.

John Mason, the SNP MP for Glasgow East, said:

"It is this arrogance that loses Labour elections. No seat in Glasgow 'belongs' to any party.

"Seats are not Labour seats or Lib Dem seats. They are not even SNP seats. They are the people's seats.

"The SNP will never forget that and we will make sure that the people of Glasgow East know how Labour still take their votes for granted with this arrogant blunder."

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Jim Murphy - running scared?

I'm a fan of Question Time (geeky, it's true), and was looking forward to seeing Jim Murphy get grilled this Thursday when the show comes to Glasgow. Sadly, it seems he has pulled out.

I would have thought, with the 'Scottish' Labour Conference coming up this weekend, he would have wanted to make a bit of a splash, promote whatever policies they're keeping under their well-worn hat, and do a bit of fighting for his own political life in East Renfrewshire. However, the SecStatSco's most recent big party event was the Labour party fundraising dinner held immediately prior to Steven Purcell's resignation. I wonder if he's worried about a Glasgow audience posing the questions that the local media were too nervy to ask.

The lineup for Question Time is a bit disappointing - I see the shows located in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland as a wee window for the rest of the UK to peer in and see who our politicians are and what devolution means in practice. There's so little
reporting of devolved issues in the mainstream media as it is - I really don't see what's gained by putting up Liam Byrne (Lab, Birmingham Hodge Hill), Baroness Warsi (Cons, from Dewsbury), Julia Goldsworthy (Lib Dem, Falmouth and Camborne) and Sir Martin Sorrell. Since the show's coming to Glasgow, surely it's worth putting up a majority of Scottish politicians and commentators?

Of the last 37 episodes, the following five have been outside of England - Cardiff (26.02.10), Belfast (11.02.10), Edinburgh (26.11.09), Llandudno (01.11.09), and Dunfermline (07.05.09). Most of these have featured what I would consider to be prominent and appropriate politicians.

I've heard that there is hope for some relevant debate tomorrow night in the form of our First Minister, Alex Salmond. Fingers crossed! As Alex Neil joked at conference, give people in England the choice, and they'd probably vote SNP!

Labour in Epic Fail

Just got this amusing press release through in my google reader feed, and couldn't help but chuckle. Labour representing the facebook generation? Not in my experience! You only need look around the City Chambers to see that the younger generation are poorly represented in the Labour party.

According to analysis from the Electoral Reform Society, pre-2007 in Scotland

"average age of a councillor was 55 and there was only one councillor under the age of 30"

Just one! The 2007 elections had a significant impact on this:

"the number of councillors aged below 30 has risen to 28, of whom three were 18–21-year-olds taking advantage of the reduction in the age of candidature for these elections (in Aberdeen, Inverclyde and Moray)"

A substantial majority of these young people are SNP. There's a reason of course why the SNP did better out of this - the establishment Labour party Councillors weren't going to give up their cushy seats for some upstart young people. It's simply harder to get your foot in the door in these circumstances. A lot of the Labour MPs who are retiring or being deselected are older, so it makes it a wee bit easier for younger people to get selected; despite this, the party remains pretty old, male and white.

The SNP put their faith in younger candidates - David McDonald, Jennifer Dunn and me in Glasgow, David Beckett in Edinburgh, John and Kirsty West and Mark McDonald in Aberdeen, Gary Coull in Moray, and others right across the country (I'm sure I had a list at some point!) .We've repaid that trust and learned fast, but by and large most people are still surprised to find out that you're a Councillor and not an older, white man!

The SNP's younger representatives in the Scottish Parliament, Aileen Campbell and Jamie Hepburn have also proved great examples of youth, enthusiasm, and hard work.

The SNP have always done well in mock elections, so it's no surprise that we won so many in Aberdeenshire. I believe young people 'get' independence: you don't want to be able to earn your own money, make your way in the world, and be taken seriously. Responsibility and experience come with taking control of your life and making decisions, rightly or wrongly. That applies readily to national self-determination. The SNP's progressive policies and support for the anti-nuclear movement are also attractive to people starting out in the world.

Labour offer a vision (if indeed you can call it that) of dependence, doing things the way they have always been done. They are partly to blame for the cynicsm and disenfranchisement of young people today, through policies which demonise and segregate.

The SNP, and the independence cause, is gathering bright, enthusiastic, talented young Scots. There are more and more young people about in the party, and I'm always glad to see so many new faces at every conference. Young people in the SNP are listened to and respected for their hard work and what they can bring to the party. I'm incredibly proud of the work the YSI does in going out campaigning and encouraging more young people to think about Scotland's future.

Young Scots for Independence mocked Jim Murphy’s attempts to get hip and down with it:-

“Since when did the Facebook generation support the illegal war in Iraq? or ID cards? or Trident? Labour are out of touch with Scotland and in particular, Scotland’s youth. If anything, Labour are running scared of the Facebook generation, scared that they may have enough belief in Scotland to support independence.

“Labour’s attempts to court young people in Scotland have been an epic fail. It is under the SNP that we are seeing record apprenticeships, more college places and more investment in youth-services. It is the SNP who care about young people, and it is only with SNP MPs that we can block cuts to the services young people cherish.

“While Jim Murphy feuters away time faffing about on Facebook and Twitter, the SNP Government is working hard for young Scots. While Jim Murphy is busy tweeting, the Scottish Government has increased collage places by 4,000. While Jim Murphy updates his Facebook status, the SNP has created tens of thousands of apprenticeships, investing in the future of our Facebook generation. All the Scotland Office is done is talk Scotland down and acted as a Labour campaign office - I'm sure the taxpayer would rather the best part of £10 million a year be spent on supporting Scotland’s economy.

“Young people don’t need pandering, they need action, and Jim Murphy is taking none of that. It’s time to seriously look at the usefulness of his office, and ask if the money spent on Murphy’s tweeting and facebooking can be better invested in frontline services.”

Electoral registration

A small update on my earlier post on electoral registration - I've just recieved an answer to the I asked at the Finance and Audit Scrutiny Committee, and I can confirm that the election team in the Council have gone out to canvass 44,500 properties in the last year to chase people to register to vote. That's no mean feat, and despite the registration rate, they are trying their best.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

SNP campaign conference review - Saturday

Campaign conference was a bit different for me this year - I usually enjoy the socialising part of conference as much as the debates, but having to keep off the booze made me wonder whether I'd have much fun! I needn't have worried - it was great to catch up with friends from around the country, and the karaoke in the evening provided a good deal of entertainment. I had been hoping to blog from conference itself, but the lack of signal in the hall stymied that effort. I did manage a wee bit of Tweeting!

The debates were mainly focused around Westminster issues as you might expect from such an event, and an assertion that only the SNP can guarantee that they will put Scotland first. The reality is that all the UK parties, as much as they might spin, have competing interests from all the constituencies, all the nations and regions; we can put Scotland at the heart of what we do.

The resolution kicked off with an inspiring speech from the YSI's Ben Macpherson (which may be on the iPlayer), saying why he believed in independence and explaining that the purpose behind our belief as a party was for the betterment of our people. Richard Laird of the FSN backed that up, saying that the "union dividend" that people believed was of benefit to Scotland could not be found in "the deprivation and the destitution, the alienation and the apathy, the poverty pockets and the poverty of ambition". Alyn Smith MEP told conference that our job was to inspire, community by community and sector by sector, to talk about the better Scotland we will be with Independence.

This debate was followed by a cast iron example of what we could take action on if independent - pensioner poverty. John Mason MP called on the SNP to

"condemn proposals by the Labour Party to scrap Disability Living Allowance for the over 65s and Attendance Allowance across the UK to pay for a new care service in England. Conference warns that the Labour Government proposal could see 58,000 vulnerable Scots plunged into poverty, that 145,000 elderly people in Scotland will be affected by the removal of Attendance Allowance and notes independent assessments suggest 40% of those receiving Attendance Allowance will be pushed into poverty by its removal."

The impact on carers and their families was also raised in the debate, and the sense of frustration over the lack of control over this scenario was clear. With more SNP MPs committed to putting the well being of Scotland's vulnerable at the centre of the debate, concessions could be made. With independence, we could make the benefits system work more effectively.

Further frustrations were vented by Mike Weir MP on renewable energy and access to the grid for remote power generation. At present, OFGEM have a locational charging regime, where those generating power closest to the population centres of the UK receive a subsidy for producing, but those in remote areas (primarily in the renewables sector) are charged to connect to the grid. Mike pointed out that the national grid is not fit for the renewables age, and is still beholden to a centralised, power station driven regime. Rob Gibson MSP pointed out that system of charging, coupled with Crown Estate fees for use of the sea bed, combine as a disincentive to developing the renewable technologies which could drive our economy for years to come. John Mowat, our candidate in Orkney and Shetland, gave the perfect illustration of the power of renewables by relating his ferry trip over to conference - he could confirm that the big waves, strong winds and tides are there: we just need to harness them!

During the debate on kinship carers, Adam Ingram MSP spoke about how Labour's actions belied their rhetoric of fairness: the Scottish Government's move to provide kinship carers with a much-deserved allowance had resulted in the DWP reducing carers' benefit entitlement. Despite the best efforts of our Government to iron out this issue, UK ministers continue to stall and obfuscate.

During the course of the weekend, there were presentations by our Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers, updating conference on their work. Michael Russell spoke about what he believed were the guiding principles for Scottish education - access and excellence. He noted that education was a long game: our actions now may not bear fruit for a generation or more. He had found also on his recent visit to Finland that the party political is put aside to build a political consensus on education. I gathered that Mike hoped Labour and the others might see the value of such an approach, and he reflected that Curriculum for Excellence had that cross-party backing through the life of the Scottish Parliament. One area where there was difference was PFI/PPP contracts, which the SNP opposed back in 2000. Mike relayed the shocking figures that PFI/PPP payments increased by £62m in the last 12 twelve months, to £244m per year. Some local authorities are now shelling out around 10% of their education budgets on repayments.

Richard Lochhead spoke about what devolution and the SNP in Government had done from the rural sector, but warned of the implications of CAP and CFP reform for Scotland. Richard described how fishing has never been a priority for Labour, and how it had been one of the first sacrifices made by the Tories on joining the EC. It's another example of how our industries can be seen as 'expendable' when viewed from London, but essential from Edinburgh.

I attended the Victim Support Scotland fringe event, which heard from Kenny MacAskill about policing, violence reduction, Barrowfield, minimum pricing (backed also by Victim Support!) and the criminal justice system. Fringe events are a really good opportunity to ask questions of our ministers, and give feedback on experiences across the country. I shared a bit about CIRV and the work done by the community police in my ward, and learnt about what was going on elsewhere.

Saturday afternoon saw a debate on the Calman Commission (or, as
Patrick Grady put it, the Calman Omission), a typically energetic and amusing financial appeal by Alex Neil (if Alex Salmond was allowed to participate in the Leaders Debate, we might win in England too!), topical resolutions on Fuel Duty, the Renfrew Ferry and the Leaders Debates.

On the subject of Leaders Debates, Angus Robertson railed against the BBC for the lack of inclusion, participation and fairness for Scotland - ninety minutes of prime time coverage with nothing to restore the balance. Such was the attack, I began to get a fear that the BBC would take the hump, pull the plug and the OB van would be making swift tracks down the A9, but thankfully the coverage is still on the iPlayer! I particularly liked Angus' play on the BBC motto: Let Nation Speak Unto Nation - not Let One Nation Dominate...

Alex Salmond's keynote address to conference followed. The text of the speech is available >here<, as well as being on the iPlayer for the next few days. There was a fair on the people being at the centre of what we do, about championing Scotland and our communities, and about the wastefulness and wantonness of Westminster priorities. The closing lines are pretty powerful, so here they are:

"...after 18 dismal years of the Tories, and 13 dismal years of Labour – Thatcher or Major, Major or Blair it’s always been a case of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

"Friends, we remember Labour’s feeble fifty who stood by while the Tories imposed the Poll tax on Scotland.

"We remember Labour’s lobby fodder who voted shamefully for war in Iraq.

"Labour MPs who went to London to settle down.

"Who remained silent as the gap grew between rich and poor. As inequality in this nation reached levels not seen since the end of the Second World War.

"13 years to make a difference – an unlucky 13 for too many Scots.

"Let down by the Westminster machine.

"And yes, people are raging.

"But friends, it doesn't have to be like this.

"With MPs who are champions for the people of Scotland

"SNP MPs who will be at Westminster, to stand up for Scotland, not stand up for the system.

"To protect the people, not the perks.

"Not to settle down in London but to settle up for Scotland.

"Scottish MPs who will put our nation first.

"National champions, local champions.

"MPs worthy of the peoples trust."

I'll post up my thoughts on Sunday later on - think this post is quite long enough!

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Why should I vote for x?

Iain Dale's blog today links to a series of wee books by Biteback, of which the Lib Dem book is apparently selling best.

I hear they're interesting wee books, chock-full of arguments for the doorstep. Good for voters and activists alike!

I'd of course like to plug the SNP version - although oddly it's slightly dearer than the UK parties! I've had it suggested that's because it's just of greater value...

For the more cynical among you, there's a Why Vote? book to get you started.

I'll do a review once mine arrives!

Monday 15 March 2010

On the beat

I'm very grateful to Inspector Gormlie and the officers of the Calton Community Policing team, who allowed me to accompany them on shift for four hours on Saturday night.

I'd asked to go along to get an insight into the issues they face, and how they deal with the problems reported to them by constituents. The team is sizable, and there are always community police officers out on patrol; as I found out though, the team use their resources wisely to ensure that the area is well-covered and they can react to changing circumstances.

I joined the team at their briefing before they headed out. Six officers were to head out in the police minibus to add to those already out on patrol. The
Sergeant ran through the impact earlier incidents that day could have on the evening's shift, relayed information on individuals who were known to be in the area with the potential to cause trouble, and officers in return shared intelligence which they felt the team should be aware of. They knew their localities well, and knew who they should be looking out for.

We headed out to the minibus, and started by going round areas where people were known to congregate to drink and cause trouble. Checks were done to see if people had been there already, and any discarded bottles removed. We went to the Calton burial ground on Abercromby Street, Tullis Street memorial gardens, and went through Glasgow Green.

On heading up the Saltmarket, the sharp-eyed
Sergeant spotted a group of teenagers hanging about a shop doorway - the van drew up, and almost instantly the officers were fining them for urinating (despite protests, the puddle around one guy's feet and the action of doing up his fly as we stopped gave him away!) and drinking in the street. A nearly empty bottle of MD 20/20 was confiscated, and the group was asked to split up and head home.

The six officers briefly split into twos to deal with a couple of other issues - a noisy group heading back into a close with a carry-out were asked to respect their neighbours, and a fight which looked like kicking off between smokers outside a pub was calmed. Two officers popped into another pub to gauge the mood and make their presence felt. Then it was back in the bus, and off to support officers in another part of the ward.

Calls came in on the radio steadily - groups of people drinking and sitting on parked cars, possible sighting of drug dealers, vandalism in closes, and a missing person spotted. Some of these were picked up locally, some the team went along to support. It makes quite an impact, especially when dealing with groups.

I'm a bit concerned by the notion that police are seen to be cracking down on groups of young people - but I also see the point of view of residents, who don't want groups of a dozen teenagers mucking about under their window or making them feel intimidated walking along the street. It's a difficult balance, and as far as I could see, the intentions of the officers I was out with were good. They wanted to keep the young people from getting into trouble; they knew from experience that fights could break out, and that some of them were likely to be putting themselves at risk. Most of the group seemed to accept the police advice, and looked to be heading home, although the police were keeping a close eye on the ringleaders.

More worrying was the group of girls who we picked up at around nine o'clock. They were under sixteen, and had been arrested many times for vandalism and violence; they had absolutely no notion of the consequences of their actions, and were instantly verbally abusive to the officers. The benefit of the doubt was quickly expended, and the police were certain that if the girls were allowed to go on their way,
malevolence would ensue. As I was dropped off at the end of my time, the girls were attempting to bite the officers supervising them on their way to the cells.

I'm still struggling to disentangle the implications of what I saw, and I'm really not sure how as a society we deal with people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

I do, however, feel quite reassured that if a constituent calls the police on a Saturday night, the team will do their utmost to respond.
The Community officers knew their areas well; the risks, the people, the hidey-holes. The numbers of police available meant that they were on top of the calls, and the support of the officers in the minibus added extra flexibility.

I hope to be able to join the team again at some point in the future; it was very interesting, and I can't thank them enough for letting me tag along.

Cut Trident, Not Jobs

Despite desperately clinging to the idea of staying in bed, I got the train through to Edinburgh on Saturday morning to join the Cut Trident, Not Jobs march organised by Scotland's for Peace.

It was a lovely day for a march, up the hill from the Parliament, along the Royal Mile, then down into the Grassmarket for speeches.

The timing was also appropriate, as the town was busy with rugby fans and tourists. I was particularly struck by the numbers of fans clad in red and white heading into the Parliament for a visit; I hope they found it interesting. The day and location meant that the rally was heard not only by the usual, very committed peace activists, but by those taking in the atmosphere in the pubs in the Grassmarket, and locals hanging out their flat windows. It's these casual observers that must be reached to get across how wrong-headed trident renewal is. Right now is the perfect moment to get that message across, with trident replacement sucking vast sums of money out of Government coffers.

Scotland's distinctly anti-nuclear stance is, as Hythlodæus points out, a strong reason for voting SNP and supporting independence. For me, these issues go hand in hand. Trident-armed submarines parked on our shores against our will represents everything that we cannot do under devolution, and how our nation will always be held back from achieving our potential in the world by the dead weight of the baggage we carry within the union. We can be a force for peace and international cooperation, but only when we remove our own weapons of mass destruction.

Alex Salmond got the privilege of speaking first, and gave what I felt was a particularly rousing address. He made the point that there exists a majority in the Scottish Parliament to be rid of nuclear weapons, but no power to make it so. I think that's a point that can't be made often enough. Representatives from the Greens, Labour, Lib Dems, churches, trades unions and others all gave their perspectives on why nuclear weapons should be an election issue; morally and financially, there's no justification for spending money on weapons we don't need and can't use.

Addressing the crowd, Mr Salmond said that Trident would be a central issue in the General Election campaign, and that the decision to waste £100,000 million on new nuclear missiles while public services are under threat was "indefensible and obscene".

Mr Salmond said:

"There is massive opposition to dumping a new generation of weapons of mass destruction in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has voted against the 'son of Trident', a majority of Scottish MPs reject it, and it is going to be a central issue in the General Election campaign.

"At a time when Westminster is imposing cuts in public services to deal with Labour's recession, with much deeper cuts planned in the future, and the Scottish Government's budget is falling in real terms for the first time since devolution, to waste £100 billion on weapons of mass destruction is indefensible and obscene.

"Any way you look at it - on moral, financial, or defence grounds - renewal of Trident is completely untenable, and I believe that position can prevail in the General Election.

"The tide has well and truly turned on Trident - and the General Election offers the opportunity to ensure that weapons of mass destruction are banished from Scotland forever."

Thursday 11 March 2010

Off the register

The news in the Herald and on Tom Harris' blog that more than 100,000 people in Glasgow aren't registered to vote didn't come as a great surprise to me. I know from canvassing various areas of Glasgow that you can go past as many doors as you knock on, as so many people are not on the electoral register. When you knock on the doors, you often find that the name you have on the canvass sheet doesn't match the person living there - sometimes the previous tenant has moved away some years ago.

We get regular reports at the Finance and Audit Scrutiny Committee on voter registration, and the details make glum reading. Despite all households being issued with a voter registration enquiry form, and being able to register by phone or online, many still choose not to do bother.

According to their records, the Council got the following returns:

300,002 Enquiry Forms issued on 1 August 2009
130,309 forms returned 43% return

169,693 First Reminders issued on 7 September 2009
46,152 forms returned 59% return

130,633 Second Reminders issued on 5 October 2009
42,540 returned 73% return

After the last tranche, the Council tries to visit or phone as many of the remaining people as possible. They run matches against asylum seekers, school pupils, death certificates, students, properties due for demolition, Housing Benefit Claimants, Council Tax, Registers of Scotland and seek help from the Glasgow City Council Black & Minority Ethnic Groups Directory. They've done roadshows and visited various groups. Evidently, it's still not enough.

There are many reasons why people don't register - lack of knowledge, lack of interest, or even deliberate disengagement. There are historical reasons - people who fear unpaid Poll Tax catching up on them - and factors like students only registering at home when they are also eligible to register in their place of residence. It's pretty staggering that this amounts to 100,000 people taking no part in the democracy that governs them or even voting for the Council who provides them with a service.

I suppose political parties are equally culpable for lack of people on the register. It's a apathetic circle: if people aren't on the register, we tend not to visit them. They then think politicians aren't interested in them, and continue to disengage.

If we find people by chance, and they're interested in registering, a form will be sent to them. Some people have genuinely overlooked registering despite the notifications, and appreciate it being drawn to their attention; I get the impression that they are a minority.

There's a lot of talk about people actively deciding not to vote - but active abstention still allows a minority of people to elect representatives. Some politicians would only care that they got elected, never mind the mandate, so active abstention will make no impact on them whatsoever.

Low turnouts merely cause people to wring their hands and say something must be done. They'll talk for a while about reform and debate the merits of compulsory voting. Then things will continue as usual.

Far better, in my view, to look at the candidates, track them down, speak to them, and find out which of them is a decent human being and would represent your views. Speak to your neighbours, family, friends at the pub about it. Staying at home and not voting changes absolutely nothing. Mass participation has the power to effect change.

If you're in Glasgow, and want to register, the forms are available online here: please do your bit, democracy needs you!

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Debate is Free - Question Time event

Wee plug for the lovely Kirsteen from Debate is Free at Subcity Radio. They're having a Question Time style debate on Thursday night, and looking at the line up of guests, it'll be well worth a listen.

Details here: http://www.subcity.org/shows/debateisfree

As part of Subcity Radio's 15th birthday celebrations and the highlight of the stations news and current affairs programming this year it is holding a special edition of political discussion programme Debate is Free which airs on Sunday mornings. This special edition of Debate is Free: Election 2010 aims to cater for young, first time and undecided voters who live in Scotland.

While Question Time is holding a similar event Debate is Free will be focusing on Westminster issues that are important to voters in Scotland rather than the whole of the UK. Scotland has a unique political landscape in contrast to the rest of the UK thanks to devolution and Debate is Free is eager to give voters the chance to raise their issues. The programme which has interviewed political heavyweights such as Shami Chakrabarti and Vince Cable with its open format will record on the 11th of March starting at 1930 to broadcast on the 12th.

Want to apply to be part of the audience for Debate is Free: General Election 2010? Simply go to http://tiny.cc/DIFGE and fill in all your details.

The panel for the debate on the 11th of March is as follows.

Patrick Harvie- Glasgow MSP and Co-Convener of the Scottish Greens

Ann McKechin- Glasgow MP and Minister for the Scotland Office

Alistair Carmichael- MP for Shetland and Orkney and Lib Dem Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and
Northern Ireland.

Tommy Sheridan- Co-convener of Solidarity

John Mason- Glasgow MP and SNP Spokesman of Work and Pensions

Richard Cook- Conservative PPC for East Renfrewshire against Secretary of State Jim Murphy.

If you don't want to be part of the audience but still want to submit a question or comment on the show then email debate@subcity.org or look us up on Twitter: debateisfree or become a fan of us on Facebook.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Scotland needs Champions

As reported elsewhere, we launched our election campaign this morning in Edinburgh.

I spent today campaigning in Glasgow East, both canvassing and leafleting, and received an interesting response on the doorsteps. There's a genuine warmth for John, even among those people who aren't SNP supporters. People recognise the work he does, and appreciate the regular newsletters they receive. John is a natural champion for the area - hardworking, tireless, patient and kind.

What I also heard on the doorstep was a disaffection for politicians, borne of the expenses scandal. They see Labour and the Tories as just being the same, and some people have now become so disillusioned that they don't think they'll vote this time.

The Westminster politicians who abused our trust have done what seems like irreparable damage to the fabric of our democracy. I wish I could get a hold of them, these duck-pond owning, first-class travelling, hospitality abusing, money grabbing fools; I don't think they have any comprehension of what they have done.

Their selfish actions have also had a knock-on effect those who do work hard, who do their best and see their job as being a servant of the people. It's not right that the diligent get lumped in with the dilettantes.

I hope that, as the election draws closer, we're able to get that message across. It's difficult, especially in a Westminster election with the usual built-in media skew, but I hope, with every door I knock and every leaflet I deliver, I can remind people of the good work being done by our local champions. They set the standard for all our other candidates; it's about representation, being there for your constituents, and standing up for a better deal for Scotland.

I thought it might be of interest to those who missed it to publish Alex's speech. The capitals are original for emphasis - I'm sure everyone who has ever heard the First Minister speak will hear it quite clearly in their own heads!

At this election, more than ever before, Scotland needs champions.

And so on polling day, we are not just choosing MPs in the House of Commons. We are choosing national champions to stand up for the people of Scotland.

National champions and LOCAL champions, who will offer communities across our nation the voices that they need.

Have no doubt the outcome of this election is in the hands of the people.

The people will decide whether Scotland is the winner.

And the London parties would do well to remember that.

Any party that takes the people for granted – any party that says Scotland's votes are irrelevant will pay a heavy price on polling day.

Labour, Tory or Liberal - they have come together to try to cut Scotland and the SNP out of the election debates. Just as they are trying to carve Scotland out of this election.

The pundits and London politicians think they know what is going to happen on polling day.

They say it is all about Gordon or David, Labour or Tory, tweedledum or tweedledee.

But they are wrong.

These are the people’s elections and what will matter are the people’s votes.

And the seats we are fighting, the constituencies we look to represent. These are not Labour seats, or Liberal seats or even SNP seats. They are not the possession of any one party.



I remember last year how the pundits were so certain who was going to top the Christmas charts. All bets were off. The X-factor had it sewn up.

The system, the slick PR, the prime time TV shows, would make sure of it.

But then the people decided they would have their say. They would decide.

They raged against the machine.

They voted - and they won.

There is much to make us rage with politics today.

Westminster expenses, greedy bankers, an illegal war, the deepest recession since the 30s.

And the obscene decision to waste £100,000 million on new nuclear missiles while public services are under real threat from the consequences of recession.

That alone, that one choice, tells us everything we need to know about the today’s Labour Party.



There is rage at the metropolitan political consensus. A consensus of cuts that has left the ordinary people of this country out in the cold.

Decisions taken in London that impact hard on families and communities.

This is the Westminster machine and people are raging.

Against a system that favours the few and ignores the many.

Against a way of politics that leaves the people on the outside.




Around our shores, in our universities, colleges, in our successful growth companies, there is so much potential.

Across our country talent we can build on, energy, determination we can unleash.

There is too much at stake, too promising a future, to let the wrong decisions, the wrong priorities stand in the way.


So have no doubt, Scotland needs champions.

National champions and local champions.

We meet here today in Edinburgh East a seat the SNP is working hard to win. And you heard earlier from George Kerevan. Someone who has what it takes to be a local champion.

And you saw SNP candidates from across the country – from Dundee, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Moray, Ochil and Perthshire. SNP candidates talking about the local issues they care about.

Setting out how they can make a difference for the communities they come from, the communities they are working hard for, the communities they represent.

That is what is important today and for this next parliament.

At this election we can elect a team of MPs who will champion the causes that matter.

Working hard for the people they represent not only when elections are looming, but every day and every week. SNP members in parliament and in our council chambers.

People’s politicians. Local champions.

Scotland needs more of them.

We are told that the Parliament might be balanced with no majority. Good. If so then let us balance it in Scottish hands.

We are told that the UK debt is now a crippling 1 trillion pounds. But Scottish north sea oil and gas reserves are worth a trillion pounds and yesterday just yesterday it was revealed that the Norwegian oil fund has increased by $100 billion dollars in a single year.

Some people say that the lights could go out in the UK through energy shortages. But offshore Scottish renewables could produce 10 times our own electricity requirements.

The London parties say that Scotland shouldn’t get the chance to vote on our own independent future. Apparently they already know the result. Well why don’t we let the people speak.

Because the threat to Scotland is real and pressing. Recovery is fragile. We all know the pressures people are facing.

And yet, at a time when government should be doing all it can to help, the London parties – Labour, Tory, Liberal – have the axe sharpened and poised.

That is the biggest current challenge facing us as a nation – as a national community. A challenge that is about more than budget lines. Because the London axe is poised not just on Scotland's budget, but on Scottish jobs.

On lifeline services.

On our health service, schools and police.

Poised on these things that really matter in our lives and for our communities at a time when £100 billion - £100,000 million - will be spent on new nuclear bombs.

Whether it is Gordon Brown or David Cameron sitting in No. 10, the next London government is ready to unleash a sustained attack on Scotland and our public services.

Tory or Labour the prospect is just the same and it is depressing, dismal and desperate.

They plan immediate cuts. New cuts this year. Early cuts, deep cuts even cuts targeted on Scotland.

Further cuts in the year ahead that Scotland's councils have warned could be 'catastrophic' for the services communities rely on.

The shared agenda of the London parties is a threat not only to our economic recovery, but to so much that makes Scotland what it is today.

To the social democratic ethos that means we as a community know the value of looking out for each other; the value of investing in education, in housing and in health.


The London parties talk about cuts as though it was all about numbers on a balance sheet. But we know different. Behind those cuts will be real people, real services, real jobs.

At this election, the choice is clear. We must do all we can to protect those people, those services and those jobs.

Thus Scotland needs champions. Now more than ever.

SNP MPs who will be at Westminster with a clear purpose – as national and local champions. Working to win the best deal for our nation.

Giving the people in communities across Scotland the strongest voice.

The more SNP MPs elected the stronger Scotland's position will be.

Because at this election the message is simple.


At this election people across Scotland have the opportunity to do more than just vote for a politician.


Today we launch an election theme.


A chance to take that London script, Rip it up and create something better, something bolder.


Friday 5 March 2010

A busy and varied Friday

One of the things I love about being a Councillor is the wide variation in the things I get to do. Today was a great example of this.

This morning, I was asked by Station Commander Eddie Renfrew to come along to the first day of a new initiative in Kilbirnie House, the community resource based at Calton Fire Station. Kilbirnie House is kitted out with great facilities for young people to get them interested in fire safety, as well as having a conference room and computer suite.

Strathclyde Fire and Rescue were keen to get local people in to use the resources, and got in touch with John Wheatley College about hosting a computer skills course. Today saw the first group of women from the Calton come along to get started. They're all looking forward to surfing the net, sending some emails, and improving their typing skills, and I'm glad to see their enthusiasm being met by the local Fire and Rescue service. It's a great opportunity, and a very practical way to get the most out of their resources.

I hope the ladies will forgive me for posting up this picture of them as the lesson got underway!

Following this, I rushed back to the City Chambers for the Executive Committee. Today's agenda included a huge paper on Council funding for a range of organisations, details of the polling stations at the upcoming General Election (no confirmation of date, sadly!), a submission to the private members Bill on Autism Strategy, and proposals to allow groups to bid to run the Community Centres Culture and Sport Glasgow are proposing to close.

After lunch, I met with a constituent in Barrowfield, who is concerned by the behaviour of Celtic fans arriving by buses. Some drink, leave rubbish, and urinate close to his home. No one should have to put up with that, so I'll be doing what I can to help.

I attended the World Day of Prayer service at St Michael's in Parkhead. This was a great event, where all the local churches had come together to present a service composed by women in Cameroon. John Mason MP also attended, along with Frank McAveety MSP, and the congregations were pleased to see so many politicians giving their time and support. I had a good chat with some of those involved afterwards, and sampled some of the lovely home baking. I hope my singing didn't annoy too many people - I'm more used to Hampden!

After that finished, I popped back into the office to clear a few things off my desk. It's great to be out and about, but the paperwork tends to build up the second I leave!

Tuesday 2 March 2010

More police on the beat, fewer crimes

Good news today on police numbers in Scotland; new figures show that the SNP Government has surpassed its manifesto commitment to increase police numbers by 1000.

At the end of 2009 there were 17,273 police officers in Scotland – 1039 more than when the SNP came to power, and 1272 more than in 2005. This record number is reflected in the Community Police in my own ward, who have been popping into my surgeries to say hello and keep me updated on what's been going on. There are a lot of faces and names to remember! They now cover smaller geographical areas, and are getting about on foot and on bikes to see and be seen.

It's not just my ward that's been so well covered - every single Police Force area in Scotland has seen an increase in the number of police officers. This is due to record funding for police recruitment under the SNP, and has helped crime rates hit a 30 year low.

I suppose in this context, the news yesterday that youth offending in Glasgow has dropped by almost a third in the past two years shouldn't be a surprise. Glasgow's Youth Justice Strategy Group has been diligently working away all the while when Labour have been screeching and fudging. The Intensive Monitoring and Support Service is an alternative to jail for young people, and re-directs them from a life blighted by a cycle of re-offending, anti-social behaviour and crime.

According to the Evening Times:

The number of under 18s in Glasgow identified by Strathclyde Police as having committed an offence last year:

Attempted murder, serious assault, robbery, threats – 343 (down 11%)

Indecency – 39 (down 35%)

Housebreaking, theft, fraud, other dishonesty – 1541 (up 3%)

Fire raising, vandalism, malicious mischief – 1209 (down 15%)

Possession of offensive weapon, knife carrying, drugs offences – 2476 (down 17%)

Petty assault, breach of the peace, consuming alcohol – 6782 (down 5%)

Driving offences – 396 (down 20%)

Total – 12,786 (down 9%)

Yes, that's right - instances of young people carrying an offensive weapon or getting involved in drugs are down a massive 17%. Coupled with the work being done by CIRV, I think that should be commended, and Labour should be ashamed at their opportunistic scaremongering. Of course there's still a lot to be done, but the figures show real progress. Well done to all involved.

Purcell to quit

I heard very late last night on twitter and the political scrapbook blog that Steven Purcell, Labour leader of Glasgow City Council was to step down. I could scarcely believe it, but picking up the papers on the way to the pool this morning confirmed the story was real .

Being leader of Glasgow City Council is a big gig; come the general election, it could be the most significant position Labour in Scotland have. Scotland's biggest city has a massive budget and all the trappings of power that accompanies that.

Keeping going as the political leader of the city for five years must take it's toll, and the stress story certainly sounds believable. I hope Steven gets the time, support and space he needs to recover.

I wonder though, who will fill his shoes, and will they be able to unite a Labour group which has it's own rivalries and history. Whoever takes over will seize control of the considerable patronage available in Glasgow, doling out lucrative paid positions as senior Councillors, Committee Conveners, and places on arms length organisations. What will it mean for Glasgow Labour's relationship with the rest of the party, and with the Scottish Government (which they pettily refer to as 'Executive' whenever they can)? Interesting times lie ahead...

UPDATE: just had an email from the Council's Chief Executive, who says Councillor Jim Coleman, the current Deputy Leader, will take over in the interim and Labour will appoint a new leader in May. Lots of time for shenanigans, back-stabbing and dealmaking!