Monday, 30 June 2008

Glasgow East Rumour no 2

Surely there's no truth in the rumour that Tommy Sheridan is planning to stand in the Glasgow East by election? Why would he do that? He knows he can't win. All he can do is take votes away from people who are currently thinking of voting SNP. And as the SNP is the only party with any hope of beating Labour, would he, the great convert to Independence for Scotland, not be better leaving the ego trip to another day? As I read the article in the Daily Record (online obviously) I was skimming it and saw this snippet:

"Labour insiders believe he could be the ideal candidate ..."!

For a second I thought they were referring to Sheridan. They weren't. But I bet you anything they're cock-a-hoop at the prospect.

There is no doubt in my mind that this by-election will be on 24 July. Labour are terrified of losing to the SNP so the sooner they have it, the harder it is for us to make the inroads required. That means it'll be a very close run thing and the more candidates there are, the more the votes are spread.

It will be a remarkable feat if the SNP runs Labour close - remarkable but forgettable. Victory is what we're aiming for and that's what people will remember when it comes to the Independence Referendum that Tommy's so keen to see - allegedly!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Uranus Effect

Expect the unexpected - that's roughly what the Uranus effect is all about and my goodness, it's never ending! Latest news of course is that Wendy Alexander is to stand down as Labour Leader in Scotland. About time too. And I say this not because of the never ending row over non declaration of expenses - bad as it is, I'm bored with that now. I say it because much as she may have talents in other areas, being leader of a branch of a political party has proved not to be one of them. I was surprised, I imagine she would be too if she could acknowledge that she wasn't terribly effective instead of privately blaming other people all the time. As I say I was surprised, I thought she'd do a better job but she hasn't and she really ought to have gone long before now. Apart from anything else, if the leader of the opposition isn't up to the job, how can they possibly hold the government to account? And believe it or not, we WANT an effective opposition. Not that I imagine the SNP is ever in danger of becoming complacent as a government but the best way to prevent that is for the opposition to be scrutinising everything we do. As I say, the chances of resting on our laurels are very slim - the Labour Party in Scotland's decades long complacency is a shining example of how not to treat the voters! Anyway I'm off to take the Tartan Hero to the airport - what poor timing Grant! So, as I said last night, PLEASE no more news!

Glasgow East by-election shock!

And another scoop! I hear on the late night grapevine that David Marshall, the MP for Glasgow East is to stand down on Monday. First of all, if it's true that he is ill and particularly if stories that it's related to depression are true, then I'm sorry for him and his family and I hope he has a speedy recovery. And for that reason, I'll say no more (for the moment) except to say that, as you'd expect, the SNP will fight this by-election to win. As Convener of the Glasgow Regional Association, I can tell you our members are motivated, organised and judging by the number of emails and texts I've had in the last half hour asking me what's happening, they're ready to get out there and work.

On that note, I'm off to bed! Please, no more news ... !

COSLA sensationally backs Local Income Tax

Thanks to Glasgow SNP Councillor Kenny McLean for alerting me to this - the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has sensationally voted to support the SNP policy of Local Income Tax. Brilliant news. As my footballing mates would say "get in there"! Labour of course, sour grapes as always, are saying that the decision "does not support the prevailing view among local authorities". Well, COSLA is the body which represents all local authorities so that can't be right. Their reasoning is that a number of councils weren't at the meeting today to vote on it. Was it a secret meeting? I don't think so. So if they chose not to be there I think we can take that as an abstention from the vote. The Labour Party just cannot accept democratic decisions, there's always some excuse as to why more and more people are seeing things the way the SNP sees them. Perhaps they should reflect a little on just why COSLA members are supporting the idea of citizens paying whatever they pay based on their income.

Friday, 27 June 2008

It's Alright, Annie's Coming Back

Have just watched the Nelson Mandela 90th birthday concert and was thinking what a fantastic singer Annie Lennox really is. And that's nothing to do with the fact that she's had the good sense to publicly back Scottish Independence - hah! It's a funny thing but whenever a previous opponent of Independence "sees the light", I always expect to feel resentful that it's taken them so long. But I don't and neither does anyone else in the SNP. We're all just so genuinely happy that someone else has come over to our way of thinking. And anyone who, like Annie, can say:

"I think Scotland could take a stand in a wonderful way, ecologically and morally and ethically. Scotland could stand for something in the way that Norway has done historically."

is someone who genuinely understands the essence of our desire for Independence. So good on ye Annie and don't worry, sweet dreams are made of this, when tomorrow comes. Would I lie to you?!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

A young European

OK so there's nothing political about this and nothing particularly European either - except, of course, that he IS European - but I love this photograph of my nephew Daniel and being the caring sharing type that I am, I thought I'd share it with you.

Daniel is leaving primary school tomorrow and going to the Port High - lucky boy! Earlier this week he was presented with the Agnes Mungin Award for music. He kept forgetting what it was called so I told him it was the Senga Nignum award which I think sounds much better. Anyway he got it for playing the chanter.

Last week I went to the Inverclyde Piping Project concert to watch him perform "I see Mull" on the chanter. He was very good and at the interval one of the teachers came over to my sister to tell her they thought he was good enough now to progress to the bagpipes. "Nae luck" I heard someone say - don't know who, somebody nearby but not me.

That's the thing about being in politics - you have to be nice about everyone and everything lest ye offend. And the thing about being in the SNP is that you have to be nice about all things Scottish.

I have no problem with that because I LOVE all things Scottish but I have a friend called Imogen Airy and she is a bit different. She came along to the piping concert with us and she really does like the bagpipes - as long as she doesn't have to listen to them. She was quite badly behaved because her favourite bit of the show she claims, was the start when all the newbies are up "catterwauling" as she put it. She reckons they were out of tune, "all over the place" and that this was funny! Thankfully she's quite polite and stifled the laughter.

She snorted with laughter, however, when my mother said, in all seriousness, "you'd think the older ones would have learned to play without the droning in the background"! I soon informed her that droning is what they're supposed to do and the more simultaneous drones the better.

Imogen told Daniel the tunes were great but that it would be much better if he could practise cool stuff like The Simpsons theme tune in future. "Don't worry what the teacher tells you, they're not there when you're rehearsing"! Daniel giggles whenever Imogen suggests this but I think it's a terrible example to be setting. And using his chanter to itch her back? Well HE might have laughed but I certainly didn't!
I, of course, as an individual as well as an SNP candidate, fully understand the importance of protecting your culture and heritage and I think this project does a terrific job. I'm very happy that Daniel will be one of the SNP's resident pipers. He doesn't know it yet but he won't mind. And I have to say that even Imogen Airy was quiet during the finale when the stage filled with pipers and drummers and the sound crashed down on us sending shivers up our spines.

Henry McLeish says SNP "uncompromisingly Scottish"

I'm just listening to a discussion on the End of Year report for the SNP government on Politics Now and it's very interesting. Henry McLeish, one time Labour First Minister puts our success down to the fact that we are "uncompromisingly Scottish". Hmmm. Like France is uncompromisingly French. And Spain is uncompromisingly Spanish. Like normal countries you mean Henry? I know there's been much talk of Henry coming round to the idea of Independence and I'm beginning to wonder if it's a possibility. He went on to say that Alex Salmond stood up for Scotland and didn't have to "look over his shoulder for Westminster" thus acknowledging that the unionist parties will only ever be able to do, in Scotland, what the British government allows them to do. Which is precisely why we need an SNP government and more than anything, need our Independence.

Challenges Worldwide celebration at Scottish Parliament

Yesterday, I went to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh where my friend Aileen (pictured) was hosting a reception for Challenges Worldwide, the charity who sent me out to Sri Lanka. The reception was to mark the successful completion of the government funded programme which sent 45 professionals out to work on post tsunami recovery projects.

It was great because I met up with Henry and Karen, two fellow volunteers. And I also got to speak to a packed room about my three months in Sri Lanka - and you know how much I love talking about the lovely Lanka! I was also offered work by more than one person which was a nice surprise.

And ... a member of the board of the charity suggested I get my speech published. So, to oblige & because I'll use any excuse to talk about it, I've decided to publish it myself. So, here it is ... (try not to fall asleep now!)

Scottish Parliament Reception Speech - 25 June 2008

I chose Friday 25th January of this year as my leaving date for my trip to Sri Lanka – I chose it carefully. As an SNP candidate, I am expected to buy tickets for every Burns Supper going. Sadly, this year I couldn’t make any of them and whilst they were all going on I was going to be spending my first night in a new exotic land. Perhaps I'd be sipping cocktails by the beach ...

Not quite. My first night was not how I expected it to be. Had I not been so exhausted, I’d have cried myself to sleep. I had never been to a developing country before, I had never travelled so far, I had never travelled alone.

It was a four hour drive from Colombo to Galle on the South coast where I would be living and working for the next three months. That drive convinced me I’d made a huge mistake – anyone who’s experienced driving Sri Lankan style will know what I mean. But it wasn’t just that.

The sight of goats eating the rubbish in the street unnerved me.

The constant wall of sound crashed down on me – car horns beeping, people yelling, monkeys doing whatever they do.

And the heat engulfed me till I thought I might stop breathing.

That was day one and things could only get better. You will be pleased to hear that they did.

I want to tell you a bit about my background, something about the Challenges Worldwide Approach and what I think I've gained from the experience.

My professional background was in fundraising initially and laterly, communications. I primarily worked in the charity sector although I went on to work for the Scottish National Party for a number of years and from June last year I worked as an Advisor to Aileen Campbell – so I was very used to working for worthwhile causes.

It had never occurred to me to work in a developing country, it just wasn’t me – I liked worthy causes but not THAT much. One night last October however, Aileen and I went to a party in Edinburgh at the home of Eric Swanopoel who works for Bill Wilson MSP. And there I met Mary Cuttle. I had one or two glasses of wine and I vaguely remember Mary telling me she was going to Sri Lanka as a volunteer. “oh that’s a good idea” I said and I may have added “I’d love to do that”. Well, that’s just what you say isn’t it?

Next thing I knew however, the details of the Challenges Worldwide Information evening in Glasgow were in my inbox along with an email from Mary saying “so glad you’ve decided to go”! Feeling guilty I decided I’d better lest anyone think I’d just had one too many that night.

So, as I walked through the door of the information evening on 6 November last year, I clearly remember thinking “this is as exciting as it gets” because I knew deep down that I didn’t do stuff like that. Ninety minutes later I left through the same door and I knew I would shortly be living in Sri Lanka. There were interviews to get through, money to be found, details to work out but none of that mattered – I knew I was going.

I felt exhilarated.
I felt sick to my stomach.
I felt like I was off my head.

But I was going.

So, what changed my mind?

First, the volunteers Will and Paul who are here tonight and had returned from Sri Lanka, spoke about their experiences and that, more than anything, made it real for me, made it seem achievable, made me realise that you didn't have to be a religious missionary type. Or a hippy. Normal people did this kind of thing too.

Secondly, it was the approach that Challenges Worldwide took – I wouldn’t be going out to be a spare pair of hands, I would be placed in a job with an organisation who really needed my particular skills, I’d have a job description, feedback meetings and an exit interview on my return. Hudson Recruitment had people at the information evening too who reassured me that this would not be seen in the job market as anything other than a positive move. There were other Challenges volunteers out there and there was a country manager who would be available to give advice and support.

I started work on the Tuesday after I arrived. The Monday had been spent with Cath, the Challenges Worldwide country manager and some other volunteers – this was our third training day and our first in Sri Lanka.

We had a language lesson – learning to speak some Sinhala, whilst not essential, would prove to be important to all of us.

We had culture lessons – they turned out to be crucial. It’s one thing offending someone in your own country (I do it all the time) but it’s probably good advice not to do it when you’re a guest in a foreign land.

The next day we all started work. I was placed as a Communications Consultant with CBTD – Communities Business & Technology Developers. Tells you nothing about them, you’ll understand why my communications strategy strongly encouraged them to change the name. They are a livelihood development organisation and their biggest programme at the moment is one for people with disabilities.

As I said, I worked on a communications strategy for them, I designed a website, and I recruited a communications officer so that my strategy didn’t go into a drawer in May, never to be seen again. That was a very important criteria for all of the placements set up by Challenges Worldwide – that the work of the volunteers was sustainable. There would be little point in the work only being of use in the time that you were there – it had to be something the host organisation could benefit from and develop over the long term.

The experience stretched me professionally because I was working for an organisation with no website, no information leaflets, little in the way of annual reports and only one English speaker – my boss, the Chief Executive. Except he was Chief Executive and Chief Bottle Washer. He did everything, he was all over the country, sometimes OUT of the country, he worked non stop and he had very little time to speak to me. He was great when he did – and extremely informative but often we’d go a week without speaking and sometimes pre-planned meetings would be cancelled because someone else turned up at the office unannounced.

I have to tell you it takes great imagination and perseverance to put together a Communications Strategy when there is nothing there to start with and no-one to communicate with.

In those challenging times, the support and advice offered by Challenges Worldwide back in Edinburgh, was invaluable. For a start I learned that it wasn’t anything I was doing wrong, that Sri Lanka time is very different to our time as is their working culture eg when an unexpected visitor appears at the office, we would think it rude if all other meetings were cancelled to accommodate this person. In Sri Lanka, it’s considered rude not to welcome them and give them your time.

Sri Lankans work hard but it’s different, it’s not so highly pressured and really all I had to do was slow myself down and realise that I didn’t have to go at 90mph. Every Friday we sent a written report to Alex at Challenges and every week without fail, he responded to any concerns with reassurance and sound advice.

He also came out to Sri Lanka and met with every volunteer and their organisation and that gave us an opportunity to make sure we were on the right track.

So, what have I gained from the experience. The list of benefits is endless.

I can handle insects! Admittedly I fought the mosquitoes and the mosquitoes won - but I can cope with them!

I had three months of sunshine and fresh air.

I learned to communicate with people who spoke a different language to me.

I learned to communicate with people who spoke SIGN language in a different language to me.

I lay awake at night and listened to monkeys playing on my roof.

I met some amazing people in Sri Lanka including some of the other volunteers.

But most of all being in Sri Lanka has completely changed my attitude toward material possessions. I am not taking a vow of poverty (although if I don't find a job soon I might have to!) but I have come home with a completely different mindset and for that, I will be eternally grateful to Challenges Worldwide and I am delighted to be here to celebrate the completion of this successful programme.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Scottish Parliament reception tonight

I'm speaking at a Scottish Parliament reception tonight. It will be strange being in my old work place but not having to do any work! Now if I was getting paid at the same time, that would be just perfect! Anyway the reception is being hosted by Aileen Campbell and it's to celebrate the success of the Challenges Worldwide Sri Lanka programme which was funded by the Scottish Government - and obviously it's the programme I went out to Sri Lanka on. It's terrible because I'm sitting here thinking about what I'm going to say and it's bringing back all those memories I'm trying to suppress for fear that I'll suddenly get up and get on a flight to Colombo! I carry my passport with me at all times these days. I'm not sure if it's because I got used to having to do it in Sri Lanka or if it's simply just in case ... I have always liked to have an escape route. Anyway I'll resist temptation and content myself with evangelising about it all tonight.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Tsvangarai - a bold and desperate move

Over a year ago I blogged about some of what was happening in Zimbabwe - the President of the main opposition party, Morgan Tsvangarai had mysteriously disappeared at the time. More than a year on and still that country has no peace. It's a bold move on his part. A desperate one no doubt but it will be very interesting to see how the international community reacts now and in particular, the SADC (South African Development Community). Surely a year from now we'll not still be looking on as Zimbabwe disintegrates!

Nobody ever drowned in his own sweat

I can't remember whose quote that is but it's true - hard work harms nobody which is why, in the SNP, we never stop. And I do mean never! As one of the SNP's 7 European candidates, I have a responsibility to the whole of Scotland. We've an internal ranking vote coming up to decide which of the seven of us should be at the top of that list and therefore, who among us should be elected next June. So we're being invited at the moment to go along to branch meetings and do our pitch then answer questions. So far, there have been "hustings" (which is what we politicos call them) in Ochil, Glasgow, Dumfries and Lenzie and I've enjoyed all of them.
It's very important to me however that I don't spend the summer simply preaching to the converted and that's why I've been offering my services to constituencies across Scotland. After all, campaigning is what I do best and whatever the outcome of the internal matters, I want to know that I've spent my summer making progress on the campaign for a yes vote on the Independence referendum.
Glasgow South, whose Westminster candidate Malcolm (*SD) Fleming is pictured to my right, nearly bit my hand off when I offered. So Sunday afternoon, I was back up in Glasgow finding out what the people of Kennishead think about Independence. Can't give away too much info but we're all smiling aren't we?
*SD? Slave driver - we canvassed door to door for about 4 hours!

Singing in the Rain

It was a mad dash from the Bannockburn Rally and lecture to get to Glasgow South SNP's BBQ chez Jo Docherty. Jo has had an annual BBQ for as long as I can remember and no matter when she has it, it rains. Maybe it just rains all the time in Glasgow! Many of the guests took shelter in the house and some, as you can see, took refuge in the brick built "bar" in the garden - the SNP President Ian Hudghton MEP being one of them! Some of us though, are hardy Scots and we decided to rough it outside - albeit with the aid of heavy duty umbrellas!!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Bannockburn 2008

Here I am at Bannockburn after the march and rally to commemorate the Battle of Bannockburn a few years back! It looks like the field is empty but it's just the angle the pic's been taken at because it was quite a good turnout. I was a goodie two shoes and walked from Bannockburn to Stirling and then all the way back. I'm pictured here with Harry Mack from Maryhill Canal SNP. The smile is saying "thank God I can go to the pub now"! Either that or he's tickling me! Anyway for lots more photos of this year's Bannockburn visit my photo blog here.

Friday, 20 June 2008

I can't look

I cannot bear to watch a penalty shoot out but that's what I'm about to do. Croatia (come on the Croats) are playing Turkey (in the quarter finals I think) and I switched over to find them in extra time. With 90 seconds to go, Croatia scored and while they were busy celebrating, Turkey equalised, literally ten seconds before the ref blew his whistle!!!

So now, if they can find the ball, it's penalty shoot out - is it sudden death? Don't know, not sure. Oh no, the poor Croatian guy has just missed!!! This is why I hate watching these things. I'm not tough enough. It's not sudden death, it's the full penalty shoot out. Tis a beautiful game indeed but also a cruel one. I'm away to hide behind a cushion!

"They may take our lives ..."

Heading to Stirling tomorrow for the annual march and commemoration of the Battle of Bannockburn. I've lost count of the number of times I've attended this seeing as I was dragged there by my granny and granda so many times as a wean! I tell a lie, I didn't have to be dragged, I loved it. Me and my sisters used to sit up the back of the bus (in those days at least two coachloads left from Greenock) tee heeing at the mad steamin' nationalists on the bus. It's not like that now, fewer people and a much more serious occasion. Tomorrow the speakers include the First Minister Alex Salmond so I will look forward to that as I start out on my 3 mile Bannockburn March - possibly my 30th one! The pic was taken at Bannockburn 1973 and shows SNP HQ staffer Lorraine Reid on her daddie's heid - I'm sure she wont mind!

Explanation from our fellow Celts!

Had to share this letter about the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the Irish Times today - thanks to Stephen for passing it on.

"Madam, - I honestly can't see what all the fuss is about. It has long been customary and deemed polite for us Irish to automatically say no to anything offered by a host, and to keep saying no every time the offer is repeated, until eventually a stage is reached when, because of the host's insistent pleas, a refusal is regarded impolite. This custom has been comically displayed in every FATHER TED episode.

We've been in the EU long enough now for the central powers there to realise this important national trait, so they should now know what to do about our Lisbon No vote.

Does anyone know the German, French or Italian for: "Ah, go on, go on"? - Yours, etc,


Cloghroe, Co Cork.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Holding it in for the Queen

I've had so many emails asking me for my story about "bumping into" Prince Phillip that I've decided to spill the beans. Much easier to do it on the blog than answer everyone individually. Well ...

... several years ago I worked for a large cancer research organisation and every year we had an annual conference. One year it was in Birmingham and as the Scottish contingent were waiting for our return flight at the aforementioned airport, two of us decided to pay a visit to the ladies'!

A burly polisman (police officer for non Scots) stood outside the loos with his arms folded across his chest and when I tried to enter, simply said "no". "What do you mean 'no'?" I enquired to which he simply replied "no". "Do you mean that I can't go to the loo?" I asked (thinking you better not bloody well mean that because I'm going whether you like it or not - I'm always braver in thought than in action!). "Correct" was the informative response. His communication skills were not great it has to be said. Indeed, I was very tempted to start a new line of questioning to ascertain whether or not it was actually ME he was talking to seeing as his eyes were fixed straight ahead of him. I decided against. I also couldn't be bothered asking him why because drawing teeth is not my idea of fun. Instead ... and here's the bit that's actually relevant to the story ...

Instead I moaned to my friend about how there had better be other loos we could use and, as we started to look for them, she spotted something. "There's your reason Anne" she called over and indicated toward someone who looked very like the Queen heading toward us followed by a posse of terribly genteeel elderly ladies tiptoeing eagerly behind.

"WHAT?" said I, in what turned out to be just a touch too loud a voice "I can't go to the loo so that THAT unelected billionairre who can well afford to have someone carry her own posh portaloo behind her, doesn't have to bump into one of her peasants?".

"Oh hello" interjected a soft male voice "do you come here often?" - bit of an odd thing to say outside the ladies' loo at the airport but yes, you've guessed it. Good old Prince Philip had bounded on ahead of the wife and had been standing behind me throughout the conversation.


He proceeded to tell us that a new wing had been added to the airport and they were doing the official opening but I wasn't listening that closely - partly because I was still desperate for the loo but mainly because I was blushing with embarrassment (yes, it does happen)! As I said yesterday in my piece about the monarchy, I believe we should all be treated equally and that includes them so I was pretty discomfited that I'd been so disrespectful to the man's wife. Anyway that was that really except to say that she never even looked in the direction of the ladies' loo!

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

"Grant me thirty years of equal division of inheritances and a free press ...

... and I will provide you with a republic"

It's no secret that I believe Scotland should be a republic. I'm a democrat, I believe in the sovereignty of the people and the right of the people to elect their representatives. I have no problem with the members of the royal family, I don't know them (although I have met two of them and I must share the story of my "bumping into" Prince Phillip sometime). As I say, I don't know them and they did not choose to be born into this lifestyle so I have no problem with them, I just don't want them to have any more of a say in the running of my country than I have - but I'm a generous sort and I'd definitely give them each a vote. I don't really want Gordon Brown to have a say in the running of my country either but at least we have the power to elect or not elect our governments - when it comes to the Queen and her family we have no power and no say.

Just as the royals inherit their position in life, I think I've inherited MY position on republicanism from my dad. One of my favourite stories about him was when, as a soldier in the British Army (you got paid 1/3 more if you joined up rather than did national service - head screwed on my dad!), he was INFORMED that he would be paying 2 shillings out of his next week's wages to buy a British Army wedding present for Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips!

He duly informed his sarge that no, he would not!

It didn't go down well. But it was tough luck as far as he was concerned. No matter who told him he had no choice, no matter what their rank, he calmly (OK for all those who knew him, perhaps the "calm" bit is a little exaggerated!) told them they had no jurisdiction to impose such a ruling ... and it wasn't as if they needed the money ... and he didn't believe in the monarchy anyway ... and nobody had asked if he wanted to donate ... and a whole load of other things besides knowing my dad ... !

In the end they had no choice but to agree. The story my dad used to tell was that he was the ONLY serving member of the armed forces who contributed nothing to the wedding present of Princess Anne. Who knows if that was true or not but it's certainly the case that he refused to pay up on the basis not only of his republican views but also a simple point of principle - that no-one was entitled to take his money without consulting him. His final words each time he told that tale were simple - "that's theft" he would say before sitting back and awaiting the applause from his audience!
The quote is from French Historian Alexis de Tocqueville.

Back and raging at journalists & bank robbers

I've been remiss in my blogging over the last few days but I have an excuse. Actually I have several. Sunday was very busy with family visits and campaign planning meetings. Monday night saw me down in Dumfries speaking to the branch there about my European candidacy and why I think it will be such an important election (more on that later). I travelled down with The Tartan Hero who is also one of the seven candidates. It was great, big turnout, some new members too and the inimitable Environment Minister Michael Russell who said some very nice things about me - I agreed with every word :-) Anyway I got home about 1am and spent most of yesterday preparing for a job interview today. So, it's all done now and I'm back in the land of blogging. So, here I go ...

Reading this story about a so-called "bungling armed robber". I hate when journalists use words like "bungling" to describe someone like that. The reason behind the description is because this guy parked his car (where he prepared for his robbery) between two CCTV cameras. Ho ho, let's all laugh at how silly that was. Let's not. This is not some cuddly big bear you know, some "nice but dim" harmless character. This is someone who is using terror to take someone else's money.

I once met someone who'd been jailed for attempted armed robbery. This guy didn't think it was any big deal that he'd held a gun to a bank worker because "it wasn't a real gun obviously"! Well, no, it wasn't obvious to the bank worker - otherwise the thief wouldn't have bothered would he? Can you imagine how scared you'd be if it happened to you? When you later (often months later) discovered it was a fake gun, do you think that would erase the bad dreams, the sleepless nights and the terror that he might come back? It wouldn't. By then the damage has been done. You've stood there, as this poor woman in the Post Office in Inverkip no doubt did, thinking you are about to die a violent death. To then see a report describing the person who put you through all this as merely "bungling" is just adding insult to injury.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

It's a busy life in the SNP

Here I am pictured with Cllr Alison Thewliss (right) and MSP Bill Kidd kidding on he wasn't with us. This was after the peace chain at Faslane - the peaceful protest against the new trident replacement. Thanks to the Tartan Hero for the pic!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

40 years of nuclear weapons on the Clyde

I'm off out to form a human chain round Faslane. Not by myself of course, my arms are not that long. I'm joining what I hope will be thousands of others linking arms around the main perimeter fence of the base to mark the 40th anniversary of nuclear weapons coming to the Clyde. It's also a protest against the British Government's plans to waste up to £75 billion on the "Trident replacement". Since returning from Sri Lanka, I've been staying at my mum's and she's just told me not to get involved in any trouble at Faslane and if any of my friends are causing trouble, I've to walk away. Mums - what would we do without them eh? All joking aside, I've been to many a protest at Faslane and NOT ONCE have I witnessed a single protestor causing trouble so I'm not expecting any today. I'll report back later, hopefully with photos.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Les Francaise adores l'astrology

Raymond Domenech, the France Manager, is known to be interested in astrology and some journalist asked whether or not he was worried about his team playing on Friday 13th (against Netherlands tonight in the Euro 2008 tournament for those of you not into football).
"No" he answered, "I'm not superstitious, it brings bad luck"!!

Not sure if he was winding the journo up but in case he wasn't and in case he's reading this ...

Dictionary Definition of Superstition: - An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.

Ireland shows Lisbon the red card!

So, it was a close one but the Irish have voted NO to the Lisbon Treaty. I heard the Irish Sun had a page 3 girl on the front page yesterday - with double Xs over her bits - and the words "No way Jose, vote no to Lisbon"! That must be what swung it then!

Anyway it may leave the treaty in dissarray but there are two important points to make here:

First, it clearly demonstrates the power of even the smallest of nations when you're a full member state in Europe - something that until we are Independent, Scotland is not. Ireland has a population of 3 million and, as my Irish friend pointed out to me today, with a turnout of 53% or little over 1.5 million people from 500 million in Europe as a whole, that's 0.3% of the entire population having the power to say yes or no to the Treaty. Right now we'd be dependent on the UK govt "granting" a referendum (you know, that thing that was in their manifesto but now seems to have disappeared) and then we'd be waiting for England to make the decision. With Independence we will have the same rights and the same power of veto as Ireland.

Secondly, it may not be the ideal outcome after years of negotiation but it gives Scotland an opportunity to again argue for the removal of exclusive competence for fisheries. Basically, the way the Lisbon Treaty stands (or stood) no country could opt out of the common fisheries policy - a policy which is damaging to Scotland's fishing community - and despite Ian Hudghton MEP and Richard Lochhead MSP (Fisheries Minister) pushing hard on this, Gordon Brown gave in on it and let it go.

Of course an SNP government in an Independent Scotland would have full negotiating rights and would NEVER give in on the CFP. We're not yet Independent but as OUR referendum comes ever closer, I believe two things could happen: Gordon Brown may think it wise to fight a bit harder for Scotland's corner for fear of losing us; and the EU may, in its negotiations, take Scotland a little more seriously knowing that it's likely we'll be a full member state in the next couple of years.

So it's disappointing for the high heid yins in Europe and something satisfactory will need to be worked out but it's been an interesting day and I'll look forward to hearing the response of the European Council next Thursday and Friday!

We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing

The Herald Diary today has a story about a business flight from Glasgow to Manchester which suddenly dropped a couple of hundred feet due to turbulence. The story goes that all the serious suited and booted business types remained silent while they tried to pretend not to have noticed. Apparently the tension disappeared when a toddler started giggling and yelled: "again, again"! I have to confess to having done the same thing many years ago - when I was approximately 32! It wasn't "again" and I didn't shout but I did get very excited and momentarily forgot that I was not at a fun fair!

In my campaign to get elected to Europe, I have been advised to maintain a serious personna and I do - because I'm very serious about Europe and deadly serious about Scotland's Independence. I don't think, however, it does us any harm to view the world through the eyes of a child from time to time.

42 days detention

I couldn't let it pass without comment no matter how little time I have. The SNP's position on this is well documented so no need for me to regurgitate our press releases. I did, however, love this gem of a letter in today's Herald from Ruth Marr of Stirling:

"Will the person who left the top-secret papers on the train be locked up for 42 days pending further investigation?"

That was it - short but sweet.

My second thought: Am I the only one finding the Tories' position on the extension to 42 days hypocritical? Since when were they the guardians of civil liberties? And since when was David Davies the custodian of human rights?! I look forward to his campaign for the repeal of the Act of Settlement once he's won this particular battle for us ...

And the DUP? What's in it for them and isn't it shameful how easily some folk can be bought off. You DO NOT accept smarties in return for going back on your principles - at least no self respecting person does. I shook my head in disgust on Wednesday night when one of the DUP MPs was vox popped as he left the Commons. "Gordon Brown would have had a humiliating defeat had it not been for us" he declared, adding gleefully "but now, thanks to us he's had a humiliating victory"! Oh well, that's okay then - we can each of us be locked up for 42 days for no good reason now but at least GB looked a bit daft! Eejit.

On that note I'll leave you with a comment left on the Ealing Times website. You could interpret it a number of ways but I'll leave that up to you. It's from Stuart in W7, Lan-dahn!

"Don't blame the DUP, they're easily led; blame the SNP, Gordon knows his seat has gone if he calls an election!"

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Welcome to the EBC!

Interesting but not surprising to many of us were the results of the BBC report into news and current affairs coverage, specifically the spread across the countries and regions of the Britain that this broadcasting corporation is supposed to serve. It made me smile because it reminded me of the day I came home to find my dad smiling smugly to himself as he watched TV. He was giving nothing away when I asked what merited the smugness. However I soon found out when I switched channels. You know when you do that and the name of the channel appears momentarily? Well instead of BBC1 appearing, what I saw was EBC1! I have no idea how he managed it but he was certainly very pleased with himself!

Nothing predictable about tartan

I've just texted someone and was trying to use the word TARTAN. Not an uncommon word you'd think but I use predictive text and apparently the word doesn't exist. Not happy.

Hustings meeting in Lenzie

Myself and the other 6 SNP Euro candidates along with one of my Campaign Managers and local Westminster candidate, Julie Hepburn!

Sick tonight

I had to come home early tonight because I was sick. It doesn't happen often and certainly not bad enough to go home but you just know when you have to stop. As I was driving home I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and thinking how much I hate that feeling of nausea. I stopped however when I remembered something a friend who works in International Development told me earlier today. Apparently each year of primary education a woman has received in a developing country will increase her child's mortality by a year. I couldn't work out why but it's really very simple - at primary school we learn basic hygiene like always washing your hands. And, importantly, we learn how to read which is of crucial importance if you're administering medicine to your children. Yet again it puts it all in perspective. We all get sick from time to time but at least in this part of the world few of us will die from straightforward bouts of sickness!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Thoroughly modern couple to tie the knot

Often there is competition between bloggers to get the scoop of the day but today I think I will definitely be first with this one. My good mates Aileen Campbell (pictured) and Fraser White (can't find a pic of him) are getting married! Aileen is of course the Scottish Parliament's youngest MSP at 28 and I was her political advisor for most of last year - it wasn't that she needed advice but I took a liking to the title :-)

So, today Aileen announced their engagement by text to all her mates and I immediately phoned her up to congratulate her / ask if she was joking / get the gen on how it all came about. I was very surprised to hear that Fraser had actually properly proposed - he's a brilliant guy, very funny, very good company but I'd have thought FAR too COOL to propose!

But no, he did the whole thing - even asking Aileen's father's permission (which is more than Aileen's ever done) before asking Aileen. I am happy to report however that his method of proposing was a pretty cool one. He sent Aileen a text with a photo of him down on bended knee! Unfortunately the text didn't reach her and he phoned her five times to ask if she'd received it yet before finally explaining why he was so anxious to know. THEN ... the text arrived. (I have incidentally checked that Aileen is happy for me to talk about this.)

Anyway I am very excited for both of them and can't wait for the wedding (which I've just invited myself to!!) particularly as one of Fraser's best mates is Bob from Franz Ferdinand - bet FF never thought they'd be wedding entertainers!

Monday, 9 June 2008

Dan the man & the tablet flavoured ice cream

I was going out for a walk tonight down to the Esplanade in Greenock - partly to blow away the cobwebs and partly to burn off some of the many calories I consumed in Brussels last week. Anyway my 11 year old nephew Daniel intimated that he'd like to accompany me and when I pointed out that he didn't like walking and asked why he wanted to come, he said simply: "because you're you"! His sister rolled her eyes because a pre-requisite of being a 16 year old is that you become deeply cynical but I thought it was lovely. The thing about children is that they just accept you for being you and that is something to be treasured.

We took his bike and he cycled while I marched but he blotted his copybook when he persuaded me to go to the local cafe and buy ice cream. TABLET flavoured ice cream - for any non Scots, tablet is a sweet Scottish delicacy that most of us LOVE but try to AVOID. Tablet flavoured ice cream is lethal and not to be touched by anyone with any sense. I'd just had a conversation with Daniel about how crack cocaine is highly addictive and many people become addicted after trying it once - the irony! It's also very very fattening (thus rendering the walk pointless) but I think I found a way of overcoming that ...

Daniel also wanted a drink and searched at length for the right one. "Why is this such a difficult task?" I enquired in my usual patient manner. "Because most of them have sodium benzoate in the ingredients" he replied. "Benzo what?" I stuttered, suddenly feeling slightly inadequate. "Sodium benzoate" he carried on "if I ate a banana and then drank something with SB in it, the SB would stop me absorbing the goodness of the banana"! Smart kid is Daniel.

Anyway, as I was jokingly saying that it didn't matter because there was no goodness to be absorbed whatsoever in the tablet ice cream ( I am SUCH a good influence on these children), it suddenly occurred to me that it may well work in reverse. The SB prevents absorption of the good bits of good food so maybe it does the same with the bad bits, ie the fat, the sugar and the calories. Tablet ice cream is basically just fat, sugar and calories by the bucketload! I got quite excited, almost like I'd had my very own "eureka" moment.

Daniel gave me one of those looks he often gives me that says: "is she serious / sane / really my aunt?". I soon answered the first one for him when I sent him back in the shop to find a big bottle of anything with a high sodium benzoate content! I guess it's really just as well that he's still of an age where, as I said, they accept you for who you are!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

A busy old weekend

Here I am with the First Minister Alex Salmond after he addressed the packed hall full of SNP members at our National Council in Perth. It was a good day on Saturday but why oh why did the sun have to shine when we were indoors all day? Still, it made for a nice drive home which was just as well seeing as I live two hours away! Back up again on Sunday for our National Assembly and it was ANOTHER beautiful sunny day. So, it's been a busy but interesting weekend and I'll update you on some of the more interesting stuff tomorrow - unless of course it's as sunny as it was today. Something tells me I'll be blogging!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Tragedy in Sri Lanka - again

One of the most important meetings I had in Brussels this week was with Mr Andrea Nicolaj who works for the Commission in the "Relations with Sri Lanka" team. I had a number of matters I wanted to bring to his attention including the most pressing issue in Sri Lanka, the 25 year old civil war.

That war between the Government and the Tamil Tigers, has torn the country apart, costing billions of pounds that could and should have been spent on relieving Sri Lanka of its "developing country" status. More importantly it has cost them tens of thousands of human lives and left a nation in despair with no hope of an end in sight.

What I wanted to know from the European Commission was what efforts were being made by them to facilitate peace negotiations. Since the official end of the ceasefire and the departure of the Norwegians who were the main peace negotiators, the violence has been relentless and many Sri Lankans feel forgotten by the international community.

This morning's bomb blast sent shivers down my spine. Many of my friends are still working out there and living in Colombo where today's attack happened. When I was living there we were instructed not to use public buses because they are always targets. But sometimes it's hard not to do so and difficult to believe you, personally, are in any danger. And, far more importantly, for most Sri Lankan people living and working there, they have no choice, they simply have to take the risk! So far 22 people have died in today's rush hour bus attack, more than 50 have been injured.

And all of this at a time when Sri Lanka is suffering terrible monsoons that have seen 350,000 people displaced and 19 dead this week. All of this when they are asking the international community to send aid to cope with this natural disaster. Think how well they'd fend for themselves if less was spent on fighting this violent war.

This is a country of incredibly warm welcoming people who do not deserve to live with this terrible stress and grief. The official at the European Commission assured me they are making overtures to set up new peace negotiations but that right now, neither the Sri Lankan government nor the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) are open to any kind of negotiations.

I would say (and did say) that we have to redouble our efforts because people in Sri Lanka are losing hope. We all live in this world, we in the developed world certainly benefit from the developing world so it is our absolute duty to help them when they need it the most and today's bomb, the latest in a long line, tells me they need us now!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Trouble just follows me round

It's true! I can't go anywhere in the world but trouble flares up. My old IT manager used to call me a jinx because I just had to look at a computer and it misbehaved - but things have got far worse over the years and now I appear not only to jinx IT equipment but world peace!

I went on holiday to Dusseldorf with some SNP friends a few years ago. Despite all being political, the deal was NO POLITICS until the second day when we unwittingly ended up in the middle of a very noisy demonstration. As my friends never tired of reminding me, it seemed that the war in Sri Lanka reignited itself almost immediately I got off the plane!

And now, here I am in Brussels and there are riots, not just in the city but right outside the building where I was to have a meeting with a Commission official! Fishermen clashing with police - flares being thrown, cars overturned, water cannons drenching them - over EU regulations which prevent individual governments from giving them financial aid. Like everyone they're suffering from the escalating fuel costs and it's worse for them because of course if they can't afford the fuel they could go out of business.

Although it looks scary on the BBC video, I didn't see or hear any of that. I saw the protesters gathering in the morning. The night before, the barbed wire barricades were all over the place. I shivered as van loads of police arrived early yesterday, the visors went on and they appeared to be limbering up, batons at the ready. But I didn't witness any of the televised riots.

I like to think of myself as a bringer together of people, a catalyst for co-operation if you like - but I'm beginning to think that the evidence against me is mounting ... I'm going to Perth at the weekend so people of Perth, stay indoors!

In touch with the other side!

Walking to the office with Group Advisor Lachie Muir yesterday and we pass the above meeting notification. I get all excited at the thought of Madame Zelga and the forthcoming seance (I was kidding obviously) when Lachie replied: "aye well, being a Weegie, you WOULD be into ouija boards"! Boom boom! He used to be funny an all!

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Day One in the European Parliament

Well, it's been a busy day. First Ian (Hudghton MEP) collected me from my hotel at 9 and we headed over to the European Commission for a meeting with an official from the Sri Lanka desk. We went from there to ...
... the offices where I read up on various matters European before heading into a ...
... committee meeting to observe what was happening in the world of Internal Markets and Consumer Protection.
We had lunch and I caught up with my old mate from my SNP HQ days, Stephen Gethins - he's now doing a grand job for Scotland Europa here in Brussels.
In the afternoon there was the EFA group meeting (EFA being the European Free Alliance, the group to which the SNP MEPs belong) chaired by Ian as their President and then ...
... a photo session in the Hemicycle, the main debating chamber of the Parliament - as you can see I managed to get in on the act!
I then was "forced" to have a couple of Belgian beers in a lovely pavement cafe by fellow Euro candidate Aileen McLeod before we met up with ...
Lily and Ian Hudghton, Lachie Muir (EFA Advisor) and Alyn Smith MEP for a real SNP night out.
We were later joined by Willie Henderson who's another SNP member but out here with colleagues from Glasgow Caledonian University. The three of them are lecturers in International Law. From the conversations we all had over a Belgian beer or three, you'd never know it but as I always say, what happens in Brussels, stays in Brussels till ... it's time to spill the beans ;-)
Anyway it's been a great day, very busy but very useful meetings which I'll talk more about over the coming weeks!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Just arrived in Brussels

It´s Monday afternoon and I´m in Brussels, in the European Parliament. I´ve come out, at the invitation of Ian Hudghton MEP, on a fact finding mission. If I´m to stand for Europe, I want to know as much as possible about the workings of the Parliament so that when I get elected I can hit the ground running ;-)

I´m also going to be meeting with various people at the European Commission including one very important meeting tomorrow which will be about the situation in Sri Lanka where there is a fear that funding from around the world will dry up now that a few years have passed since the Tsunami. It takes much more than 3 years to recover from something like that and the people of Sri Lanka need our support which is what I´ll be saying to this particular official. The great thing is that tomorrow afternoon, after our meeting, he´ll be flying out to Sri Lanka so he´ll see for himself what I´m talking about! (And I´ll be able to advise him on the mosquito situation!)

I flew this morning from Edinburgh Airport so I left my car at my ex brother-in-law´s house and as I was leaving, my phone rang. When I came off he asked who I´d been speaking to and before I could answer I glanced down and saw a leaflet on the doormat from Edinburgh SNP with a photograph of Alyn Smith MEP - "him" I replied "that´s who was on the phone"! Turns out Alyn was getting the same flight as me which was very handy because he always carries your bags without you having to feign female weakness!

So, I am very grateful to both of our SNP MEPs today and I am looking forward to joining them next June when the SNP increases its quota of elected representatives. I would say "fingers crossed" but it´s hard work that makes the difference, speaking of which .... better go!

Sex and the City - not just a bit of fun

So, I went along on Friday night with my good mates Aileen and Julie – a girls’ night out watching the long awaited Sex and the City, the movie. I’ve seen the TV programme but never really paid much attention. However, a night out with my mates is a night out with my mates. So along I went, dolled up to the nines (not!) and once we’d got ourselves plonked in the front row, Pringles at the ready, the movie commenced.

Now let me say here that I enjoyed it on a superficial level. They’ve done a good job. It was clich├ęd in parts, predictable of course but also funny, energetic and very entertaining. And the tale is one of friendship and love and support – who can argue with that?

However, that’s not what I want to talk about here. As most of the readers of this blog know I worked in Sri Lanka from January to April of this year and, without wishing to sound pious I’ve come back cleansed of the need to throw myself into the consumer society I had previously been so much a part of.

Well, after watching SATC I want to take a big bar of carbolic soap to the lot of them. It’s funny how I’ve only been away three months but very quickly the symptoms of materialism started ebbing away and on Friday night, in that cinema watching the gluttony of the world we live in, I felt like standing up and saying “why are we all laughing at this?”.

One of the characters is, of course, obsessed with designer labels which means she at one point spends $525 on a pair of shoes and later reveals that a cushion cost her $300! A cushion?! Quite honestly I felt sick because these people may simply be characters in a movie but they reflect real life for many in the rich parts of the world. And yet in huge swathes of our planet people are dying because they cannot afford even the basics like food, shelter and medicines.

I had a conversation with Eilidh Whiteford on Saturday night. Eilidh is going to be the next MP for Banff and Buchan and she is also a campaigns manager for Oxfam. She has spent considerable amounts of time in the developing world and has a great deal more experience than my “introductory” three months. Anyway we chatted about the vast difference in living standards across the world and she made a very good point about the recent petrol shortages in Scotland.

Whilst we (and I am including myself and Eilidh here) were busy complaining about having to queue for petrol for up to half an hour, right across the world increasing fuel costs means people are not getting access to medicines when they need them and as a result their lives are being cut short. The petrol situation was a serious one here and when I’m sitting in a queue having to wait forever to pay hugely inflated prices, I am feeling sorry for no-one but myself. But I doubt anyone will disagree that our problems pale in comparison with those of many of our fellow human beings in the developing world.

Now, petrol is essential to all of us. Designer shoes are not. But to Carrie in Sex and the City, she has got to have them. And I don’t even know if it’s because she likes them. It seems to be simply because of the labels attached to them. I can enjoy works of fiction as much as anyone else. And I have friends who are fairly obsessed with fashion and labels – it doesn’t stop them being good people and many of them will agree with what I’m saying here. And whilst I may not have had the cash or the stupidity to spend that kind of money on shoes, I have wasted incredible sums of money on things I had decided were “necessary” in the past.

I think what happened to me out in Sri Lanka was that I had to manage for three months with very few clothes, not a lot of money, no make up (it just slid off in the heat) and very little of anything that I didn’t really need. And I managed just fine – in fact, I was very happy out there. It didn’t do my conversion any harm to be working with a (now) good friend whose day lasted from 5am to 11pm, who had to handwash absolutely everything, who had no microwave, no freezer, no oven, no car, no nights out, no chance of ever holidaying abroad, an outdoor toilet (my worst nightmare) and who, along with her husband, financially supported her parents, her sister and her child all living in a 2 bedroomed house with no windows – BUT was one of the happiest and most satisfied people I’ve ever met.

I guess passing the time of day with my neighbours who washed every morning and night at the well outside their house because they’d no running water and hearing them complain not once, could also have contributed to my conversion.

And having no television, magazines or Western newspapers for three whole months? Well, I believe that’s been the biggest contributor. Taking a complete break from all of that meant I came back and actually NOTICED the things that previously had passed me by but clearly had seeped into my subconscious – like the media constantly drumming home the message about the need for expensive shoes, hugely overpriced home furnishings, the latest gadgets that are so essential for happy living.

And that – the break from it all – will probably explain why although I enjoyed watching SATC on Friday night, I couldn’t just relax and pretend none of it mattered. I felt uncomfortable watching this woman and her friends so obsessed with material gain because it DOES matter, it matters a lot. What the answer is I don’t know but what I do know is if we turn our backs on the problems of world poverty, the answers will never be found. If we work together, if we all agree that it’s wrong wrong wrong to have so much disparity in the world, then one day, we WILL find the answers.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Indygal returns to the world of Scottish politics!

I'm back! After three months away in Sri Lanka and a month recovering from the cold in Scotland, I have given into the nagging and I'm restarting the Indygal blog. I've moved to here because the design on the old site is so awful I can't look at it. But if you want to read any previous posts dating back to March 2007, you can do so here.

If you'd like to read about my personal journey working as a volunteer in Sri Lanka, the first developing country I'd ever visited, you can do so here.

What am I aiming to do with this new Indygal blog? Well, I'm an SNP activist and candidate - I'm standing for Europe in June 2009 and the following year I'll be standing for Westminster for Glasgow Springburn so the blog is primarily a political one.

However, I think the best way to get people interested in politics is to relate it to ordinary day to day life and that is exactly what I'll be doing. It's a mix of the personal and the political. "The right mix" according to the quote from Nicola Sturgeon on the title at the top. I appreciate the support and to repay that, I "let" Nicola be in my team last night at the Crossmyloof SNP Curry Quiz Night - won't be making that mistake again! As you can see from the photo, myself and Nicola's mum and dad were putting a brave face on it when we were narrowly beaten by a gang of councillors from Glasgow and Banff & Buchan!