Saturday, 29 November 2008

A festive joke

Tonight me and Dan the Man (my nephew) went to the Salvation Army Carol Concert at the City Halls in Glasgow, which I was invited to because of some work I'd done with them at parliament. It was fantastic, I LOVE singing with loads of other people, I think maybe I should join a choir.

Anyway I just wanted to share a joke with you that Major Kennedy of the Army told us tonight. Three young boys were chatting about Christmas and what they do on Christmas morning. The kid who was a member of the Church of Scotland said he went to Church on Christmas morning and the first hymn they always sang was "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". The next boy was a Roman Catholic and said he loved going to church and singing "O little town of Bethlehem". The third boy was Jewish, his dad owned Toys R Us and he said "every Christmas morning me and my dad go to the shop, look at the empty shelves and sing 'what a friend we have in Jesus' :-)

Call me stubborn but ...

Had a quick flick through a Christmas gift catalogue this morning and thought I'd found the perfect (and inexpensive) gift that would do most folk I know. It was a passport holder with the thistle and the words "Scotland Passport" (see photo). Was just about to order when I saw what they are called ... "Regions Passport"! Call me stubborn but I am giving NO MONEY to a company that refers to my country as a region. They've also got one for Ireland but why? Ireland has its own passport, it doesn't need a fake one so they don't even know that Ireland is not a region of Britain. Aaargh.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Wendy's at it!

I'm back. Arrived home Wednesday evening and for some reason went to work at the parly on Thursday morning. As I'm struggling to stay awake on the road home, I'm standing at the barrier in Waverley Station waiting to show my ticket and I spot this woman shoving in front of me. She's got a phone to her ear, talking loudly, bags and papers in her other hand and a flexi pass ticket - one that you have to fill in with TODAY'S date. Anyway as soon as I heard the voice I realised it was Wendy Alexander.

I spotted that she was holding a ticket dated 10th September and wondered if the inspector would be as eagle eyed as me. He was! She got caught! "Sorry sweetheart" he said in his Saff London accent, "you can't travel wiv a 2 month old ticket". Wendy, without stopping talking for a second, emptied everything onto the ground and faffed about on the floor of the station for quite some time (talking all the while) before finding a blank ticket to fill in with TODAY's date.

I guess someone else had filled in the date for her. I guess she just didn't know that you had to have the right date on it ...

Friday, 21 November 2008

Do I ever get a straightforward journey?

Followers of my last blog will know that I don't. Not ever. Something always happens. Today is no different. Here's how it's been so far.

4am alarm goes off and unbelievably, I get up!

4am to 4.30am I get ready because (again) unbelievably, I'm all organised and just need to brush teeth etc.

4.30am taxi turns up on time - apart from having to put up with the driver's racist crap, all is well.

4.50am Anne arrives at the airport for her 6am flight.

5.30am we're told there's going to be a short delay.

6am we're told there's going to be another delay and we'll now be leaving at 7am.

7am we're told it'll be 7.20am (I'm on my 2nd cup of horrible and expensive tea but it's something to do).

7.20am we're told it'll be 7.40am

7.40am - "final boarding call for remaining passengers to Malaga" - what a cheek, when was the initial boarding?

7.45am - we're told they've 100 folk on the flight and the screens were updated to show we were boarding but it didn't show up and when they were 80 folk short, they put the final call out.

7.45am - we all have a little chuckle at the above because after all, we're leaving now.

7.46am - we're told we can't board, there's another delay.

7.46am - we stop chuckling.

7.50am - the 100 passengers who were on the plane are taken off!!!

8am - we're told it'll be 8.15.

8.15am - they call for all smokers to meet the member of staff at gate 27a and she'll take them outside for a cigarette.

8.16am - as the branded ones queue up I consider taking up smoking just for something to do.

8.20am - the passengers tell the staff the flight will now be 10am.

8.20am - clearly pissed off staff phone their HQ to verify and yes, it's true.

Well it's true for the moment but let's not count those chickens!

Knock on effect of course is that my friend won't be able to meet me off the train now because he'll be working so after 4 hours sleep when I finally get to Cordoba, I'll need to trundle through the streets with my suitcase and find a bar to sit in till he finishes work later tonight. And, I'll have to try and stay awake. A challenge indeed.

Anyway any more delays and I'll come back on this ultra expensive internet connection and blog about something else equally mundane. Adios!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

No, quiero practicar mi Espanol

That's what I'm going to be saying constantly over the next few days - it means "no, I would like to practice my Spanish". I'm heading to Cordoba in the South of Spain for a few days tomorrow morning and I'm planning to speak Spanish as often as possible.

Our fellow Europeans however, generally expect to have to use English so I'm expecting some resistance - particularly as I understand Spaniards speak faster than Glaswegians but my Spanish is as slow as the 38 bus in the Glasgow morning rush hour.

Another handy phrase - "podria decirlo mas lento por favor?" - would you mind speaking more slowly?

And seeing as I seem to spend my whole life apologising (it's a habit, I even apologise to people who bump into me covering me in hot coffee!!), it's really helpful that there are 3 sorry words in Spanish - lo siento, perdone and disculpe - saves me repeating myself over and over again!

Anyway it's unlikely I'll be doing much (any) blogging until I'm back next Thursday so adios mi amigos, try not to freeze and I'll look forward to returning to putting the world to rights soon!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

That BNP story

Not sure how I feel about the database of the BNP being freely available. I have a copy and of course I've looked at it and within two minutes was shocked to discover an old classmate on it. Curiosity will not allow me to delete it but I'm hoping nobody else I know is on it. However, whilst I don't know how the database was leaked, I can't help but feel very uncomfortable about the whole thing.

One of the members on being interviewed by the BBC said he felt like he was "living in a fascist state". Let's ignore the irony of that - the irony, the utter ridiculousness and the fact that it's hard to feel sympathy for anyone who'd perpetrate these hateful views. Just because their views are despicable, does that mean we should have the right to know who they are, where they work and where they live? Some of them will now be sitting targets. Having said that, the BNP don't need a list of addresses for their potential targets - all they need to know is the colour of someone's skin and that's something no-one can hide.

Yes, my reasonableness is disappearing now that I've considered it properly. I don't feel comfortable with it and I don't like the idea of anyone being targetted but let's face it, there are many other people far more deserving of my concern so I guess it's just tough luck - if you're proud of your "principles" you should stick your head above the parapet anyway and if you feel you can't, you need to ask yourself why!

Union is flawed!

This is a photo I took as the train pulled into Waverley Station this morning. It shows the various flags hoisted above the Bank of Scotland HQ, the Saltire being in a lowly subservient position of course! What I noticed, however, was that the Union Flag (it's only a Jack if it's on a ship) has got a big hole in it!! That's all I want to say. That's all I NEED to say :-)

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

No hope no future

It's heartbreaking to read the findings of the Action for Children Factfile Report. Apparently 1 in 5 of our young people believe they've little chance of making a success of their lives. That's bleak! If you believe you've no chance, you're probably right because negative thinking affects your behaviour and the choices you make.

I was pleased to see that the charity was warm to the SNP Government's commitment to young people and although governments have the biggest role to play in all of this, sometimes the impact of those we meet in our daily lives is far greater and has the potential to do more good and, obviously, more damage.

I came back from Sri Lanka to discover that my 16 year old niece was going into 5th year sitting two highers. She didn't know that two highers was not enough to get into university to do a languages degree. She didn't know because nobody told her. She had enough standard grades to sit four highers but the timetable clashed. She just accepted this and told nobody until I asked her.

When I explained that she wouldn't get to do what she planned if she followed that path, she resigned herself to working in the new Tesco in Port Glasgow! Obviously I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with shop work if that's what you want to do but she has a love of languages and she wants to travel the world and absorb new cultures.

What's more, she's an intelligent girl and more than capable of doing that but she was so down about her chances that it took a lot of talking round from the 3 McLaughlin sisters to convince her not to throw in the towel - at 16 years of age!

OK I'll skip bits of the story. She's now full time at James Watt College studying for 4 highers (including Spanish, thus my learning to speak it too) and actually loving it. She's full of beans and will talk at length to me about sentence structure or future imperfect verbs (I nod, say "si" and let her carry on!). More importantly she's excited about her future. She really believes it's all out there for her and so it probably will be.

My question is where was the school in all of this? They didn't tell her she wasn't doing enough to get into uni because they didn't KNOW she wanted to go. Why didn't they know? Because they never asked. Apparently she was asked if she wanted to see a careers advisor at some point and said "I don't know" in that teenage way we all once had. And that was it. She was not asked again. I've since spoken to the school about it and they admit that she was not very communicative so they didn't push it. No wonder kids at that school don't rate their chances of success if their future job plans are so unimportant that discussing career options is not an integral part of their education!

But it wasn't all kids at that school because apparently SOME get mentors. Those who are really struggling have a mentor in 4th year. Good idea. Those who are expected to do really well also get a mentor! Why? To make sure they actually DO do well. (Had to laugh when Christie described this category as "those from Kilmacolm" - I well remember that rivalry.)

And those in between like my niece who is smart enough but just doesn't know it, get left behind. If it'd been left to the school she would have slipped through the net. She'd have sat and probably passed her two highers and then discovered that it wasn't the passport to uni she thought it was. And maybe she would have given up and resigned herself to low paid shopwork. Maybe she'd have been one of that 20% of Scotland's young people who see no future for themselves.

All of our young people should be excited about the future. Of course they can't all travel, can't all go to uni but not everyone wants to do that. Everyone however deserves the right to feel positive about their future. Our governments have the biggest influence on all of this but family, teachers, youth workers, everyone around that impressionable young person has a responsibility too. Right I have to go because Christie's testing me on verb structures tonight and if I've not read up on it I'm in serious bother!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The road well travelled

Not long back from the Isle of Skye! I went with these two friends to the Skye SNP fundraiser which was a private showing of The Stone of Destiny preceded by a talk from Winnie Ewing, ex MP, ex MEP and ex MSP. It was a great night and one which I will blog on later in more detail. Anyway I'm telling you all this to put the next bit in perspective. Ian, who ran our B&B kept saying to us "and you came over 200 miles just to go to the pictures you say?" and then every so often he would add "it used to be that folk from Skye would take a trip to Glasgow to go to the pictures but I've never heard of anyone doing it the other way round"! It was a bit of a mad dash but I've had a fantastic weekend and loved every minute of it. Loads of material for the blog but later!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Speedy bonny boat ...

There has been so much I've wanted to comment on this week but I've been so busy with Spanish lessons and visits to the gym that I've not had time. Had I had the time I'd wanted to talk about a variety of topical matters, Gordon Brown's interference in the HBOS situation being top of the list. Then there's the local income tax, the stupid debate over PFI, the lack of street signs in Glenrothes, the torture that is body pump (only my fingers can still move - and my eyes!) and the incredibly good decision to award Nicola Sturgeon Politician of the Year. I will be blogging on the latter soon but for now ... I'm off to Skye. As always I do ten things at once so I'm packing, getting my hair cut, blogging and making up sandwiches as we speak!

I'm off to support Skye SNP with their brilliant fundraising idea. They've got a private showing of The Stone of Destiny and it starts off with a talk by Winnie Ewing, one time MP, MEP and MSP and famously known throughout Europe as Madame Ecosse. I can't wait - on both counts!

Just a quick story then before I go. There are many "famous" couples in the SNP, the Hunters and the Pennycooks being pretty high up those rankings. Anyway, the Hunters went along to a cinema in Glasgow to watch The Stone of Destiny, the film charting the escapades of Ian Hamilton and friends, who staged a daring raid in England to bring the Stone back to Scotland.

The aforementioned couples have been around forever and know Ian very well. Anyway The Hunters are sitting in the cinema together enjoying the film and suddenly they spot Ian Hamilton himself on screen playing a cameo role. In unison they call out "there's Ian Hamilton" only to hear an echo from the other end of the cinema as the Pennycooks who were there unbeknown to the Hunters also exclaim their suprise at seeing him! Maybe you have to know them to find it funny but seeing as most of you who read this probably do know them, I'll assume you laughed!

... like a bird on the wing!

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Reverend I M Salmond

Aaargh, I can't do the technology but click here and see one of the funniest sketches of the year!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Happy Birthday Toby!

Toby, my nephew, 2 today. Clever, cute and about to be even noisier when my birthday present arrives.

What does the Glenrothes result mean for the SNP?

Twenty years ago tomorrow, Jim Sillars won the Glasgow Govan By-Election for the SNP. It was my first election and the excitement of being part of it and particularly of winning, is hard to describe but it's something that will always be with me. From then on in I was sucked into the party and I've never managed to break free since! Never really wanted to and there's a reason for that which I'll come onto.

The following June saw a by-election in my own constituency of Glasgow Central. Alex Neil was the candidate and again, it was a real buzz of a campaign. But we failed to take it and Labour held on despite us going up by 20 percentage points and Labour going down by 9. We made the most progress but we lost. I was devastated.

At the 1992 general election, despite the people of Govan almost hero worshipping Jim Sillars, we lost the seat (due, not 'almost' entirely but ENTIRELY to *Labour lies). I wondered if the party would ever recover. I was certain that I would not.

These two events however, were probably the making of me as an SNP activist.

It sounds odd to say it, but failure and disappointment gave me the strength to fight what I then realised would be a long, hard fight. I couldn't have known that 20 years later we would still not be Independent but I certainly woke up to the fact that one swallow a summer did not maketh and one by-election, a free Scotland would not bringeth :-)

There are many relatively new members of the SNP who have only ever experienced success and will now, post Glenrothes, be feeling as I was feeling in 1989 and moreso in 1992. One or two of them may decide politics is not for them and who can blame them? It's a tough old life. But for others, this will be a positive. They will grow from this experience.

They will surprise themselves by turning up next week at their branch meeting and getting enthusiastic about the next campaign, they'll throw themselves into canvassing, leafletting and the usual round of SNP fundraisers. They'll join in the post by-election analysis and figure out how we do it better next time. And before they know it, the hurt will have gone and it will be onto the next opportunity to move forward towards Independence.

The reason they will do that is because they know, with unswerving certainty, that what they are doing is right. Independence may be a normal state of affairs for most countries but for Scotland, it's something we've had to fight for since the demeaning Act of Union in 1707.

It's about restoring pride and dignity among our people, about taking our place in the world and building on OUR international reputation, not being tarnished by someone else's. And it's about refusing to allow the people of Scotland (regardless of the complicity of some of them in all of this) to be treated like voting fodder any longer.

Right now, many of our newer members will be, like the rest of us, utterly exhausted. And they may be wondering why on earth they used up their annual leave, fell out with their partners, let down their families, missed visits to the gym, skipped important lectures, got into bother at work etc etc. It would all be worth it in the end, they no doubt thought. And they were right. What they got wrong was the end date. It wasn't 6 November. It was some day in the future, we know not when but it's called Independence Day.

It's like everything else in life - if you get an easy run, you become complacent, you care less about the cause you're fighting for. I wish, with all my heart that we'd won on Thursday - for the people of Glenrothes and for Peter Grant who is a really good guy and would have been a million times better than Lindsay Roy who doesn't even know what a Post Office Card Account is when it's a massive issue for folk who aren't in the headmaster class! I wish we'd won but we didn't and so we must take what we can from the result.

We went up by 13 percentage points. Good - we're getting MORE popular. We didn't win. Bad - we need to look at why. But I would say to anyone who is feeling damaged by this, please don't. The feelings I described in 1989 and 1992 were not just mine. Nicola Sturgeon was there, feeling exactly the same. Fiona Hyslop, Shona Robison and many many more of our people who could not have foretold that one day they would be, eg, Deputy First Minister of our country in a parliament we never knew we'd have. We didn't know HOW we would get our Independence, we just knew that we would. And we will. Look how far we've come since then.

Had it not been for the resilience and steely determination of the people I've just mentioned and many hundreds more, we'd not have a parliament, we'd not be in power now and we'd not have the opportunity to put Independence to the test in a referendum of the people.

If someone had told me in 1988 that I'd still be doing this in 20 years time, I'd probably have given up. I'm glad I didn't. I don't think it will take another 20 years, the tough part's over and we're on the final strait with just a few hurdles to get over. But I can honestly say if I thought it would take the rest of my life, I would do it. I might not do it to the exclusion of everything else (as many of us have been doing on and off for a while) but I'm in it for the long haul.

And in time, I think our newer members who are hurting so much right now, will gain a great deal of personal strength from learning the lessons of the unpredictability of politics. I know many members who don't enjoy being beaten but secretly love the hardy reputations they've gained from getting up after a fall, getting out and getting right back at 'em - maybe I'm one of them ... secretly!

In the scheme of things this is nothing more than a minor setback and the opportunity for the party and for the individual activists to reflect, renew and review. Better it happen now than in 2010.

*Labour lies in 1992 - I'll explain in more detail tomorrow.

Listening Labour?

I've not read the Sunday papers yet but I'm hearing there's a story in the Scotland on Sunday that the British Labour Government will next week announce that it's ruling out ANY further powers for the Scottish Parliament. Surprised? No. Of course not.

Sir Kenneth Calman might be, mind you, seeing as the joint Unionist fop for the Scottish Government's National Conversation was the Calman Commission. And the Calman Commission was set up by the Brit government to have a "national conversation" with the people of Scotland about whether or not the Parliament should have any more powers and if so, what!

(They were not allowed, however, to discuss the option of full Independence. The reason? Well, like naughty children with tired parents who just can't be bothered explaining, we were told "because we say so"!)

Anyway this Calman Commission is not due to report back until next summer and already the decision has been made. If you're surprised at this, please, open your eyes, there was never going to be a proper debate about this. The Labour Government made the decision before setting up the Commission. Like I said, it was a fop for the SNP government's genuine discussion about the future of the country which is, after all, OURS!

As per usual the Labour Party are doing their Marie Antoinette with the people of Scotland. Give them an inch (and the good folk of Fife just gave them quite a few) and they'll be off running a marathon.

So it was and so it will always be ...

X factor - can't help myself

Controversial decision to put Laura out of the X Factor but two things made me laugh. Apparently Holly Willoughby has appealed to the "Great British Public" to stop voting in the way that they are voting. "Something is going badly wrong, please stop it" she said! I wonder if I could go back to Glenrothes and just say "look guys, you got it wrong, please rectify next week"! They want to make their minds up these X factor producers - if they want people to stop voting for the singers they feel sorry for, STOP GIVING US SOB STORIES!!

The thing that made me laugh the most however was a comment somewhere (either I can't remember or I don't want you to know that I googled X factor result!) which said "the bottom two should have been Daniel and Mariah Carey"! Could not agree more - MC has to be the most over-rated soooperstar EVER! And I would bet my last penny that she did not get a single vote last night!

Anyway, Glenrothes by-election post to write, must stop getting distracted!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Even the monks were laughing at me!

So, I headed along to the Annual Kathina Cermony at the Buddhist Vihara (temple) in Maryhill today and they couldn't have made us more welcome. I went along with Bob (Doris - mate, MSP and employer) and Mary who is responsible for me having gone to Sri Lanka to work earlier this year. For the two of us it was pretty special because we're both really missing Sri Lanka and the people so to be in a buddhist temple taking part in the ceremony, eating Sri Lankan food and meeting lots of new people was great. I was thrilled when they offered me a blessing and after tying the string round my wrist, the Venerable Rewatha translated what had been said. When he told me all my dreams and wishes would now come true, I got a little bit excited and found myself exclaiming "YES" and sticking my thumbs up in a John Mason fashion! It's all about getting caught up in the moment and I certainly do that! (Don't ever go to the cinema with me, I always forget it's not real!) Anyway it was a much lovelier way to spend a Saturday than getting soaked in Cardendendenden or whatever it's called :-)
More photos of the ceremony are here.

Glenrothes by election

Oh my goodness, I just checked how many folk had come onto the blog today and the numbers have doubled! I'm now annoyed at myself for not updating sooner on the Glenrothes by election. It's really just not been possible. Hardly any sleep last night once I got back from Fife, working all day (I try not to blog-on-the-job) and straight out to a dinner at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery tonight. Tomorrow I'm going to the annual Kathina Ceremony at the Buddhist Vihara in Maryhill but I'll do my best to blog after that. I have a lot I want to say. I think probably I'm not as worried by the result as many other people but I guess I come from a different standpoint to a lot of other people in that I think it's good not always to get what you want. I'm sorry we didn't win, I wish we had but I wasn't overly surprised and I'm not terribly concerned. I will explain why tomorrow ...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

D Day

I'm heading off to Glenrothes now and it's going to be a long day but I cannot wait! Nothing will dampen our spirits today. The day started at 7am with frantic texts and calls to find transport for people whose lift had fallen through. I feel like a juggler sometimes in this party. I did all the phoning and texting from my bed, dressed as I was like a MUMMY (no heating) and I did spare a thought for the SNP folk who're doing the early starts on polling places in Baillieston, in Forth and in Glenrothes. So now, thermals on, pieces made, hat scarf and gloves strangling me, I'm off. I won't predict, I never do. It comes of long experience of by elections and knowing that ANYTHING can happen. I am quietly confident but it ain't over till it's over. Right, blogging won't get votes. I'm off!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Obama takes Ohio, SNP win everywhere else!

As I watched the results come through last night with a group of friends, others were texting. This was the funniest one. Patrick Grady, Westminster Candidate for Glasgow North texted me this photo with the above caption. I'd love to claim the credit but I can't. It made us all laugh anyway!

Obama, son of Jock Tamson

I love this story about Alex Salmond claiming Obama for one of our own. Apparently he has some Scottish ancestry, as did a previous 12 US presidents. So ... he's invited Obama to "come back" to Scotland during Homecoming Scotland 2009, the fantastic campaign to get Scots visiting Scotland next year. If it works, that is ONE visit I am NOT going to miss!

Obama's the President Elect of the USA

Just a very quick post for the moment. Am very sleepy because I stayed up half the night to watch the US Presidential Election results. I stayed over in Edinburgh and watched with some friends including Esther who is from Ohio. We managed till 2.30am and couldn't stay awake any longer. We were fairly confident by then but I can't tell you how fantastic it felt to wake up to the news that the USA had elected Barack Obama as their 44th president. The BBC questioned whether or not the world's expectations of Obama were too great. Well, of course they are. But if he does nothing else he achieved two great things yesterday.

He has changed the course of history for the better for African Americans - traditionally African Americans don't have top executive jobs and now he's gotten THE top job in the world. That HAS to have a knock on effect. And he's dramatically changed the world's perception of the United States. I am a good example of someone who is exceptionally cynical of the USA but last night, that country gave me hope that all is not lost. The time for deeper analysis is later, the days when we realise Obama is not a saint will arrive in the not too distant future but this is a GOOD result, and those of us feeling slightly emotional about it should be allowed our dewy eyed moments.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Final Saturday in Glenrothes

Off to Glenrothes shortly for the last Saturday of campaigning and really looking forward to it. Of course I'm looking forward to getting my life back when it's all over but I've really enjoyed this by-election. And today should be fun. The SNP has around 1000 members heading to the constituency right now and apparently the Labour Party has coachloads of Labour members coming up from England. Shame there's no such thing as doorstep subtitles because I'm not sure they'll be able to figure out the Fife accent! Still, it'll make for an interesting atmosphere.

In all the times I've been in Glenrothes campaigning I've only seen / met ONE Labour activist. That was Lindsay Roy, the candidate who seemed to be wandering up and down the road looking for someone, anyone :-) To be fair he seems like a nice enough man, thrust his hand into mine and said how nice it was to see me. He's obviously one of that breed of political activist who thinks we're all pals underneath.

My view of that is that this would be fine if it were a game we were playing and after 90 minutes we could shake hands and say cheerio. But it's not. It's about people's lives, it's about our country's future. So although I was polite to him, today I'm going to do everything I can to make sure he doesn't win and the people of Glenrothes DO - by electing Peter Grant as their next MP. Better go - I've told the Glasgow members not to be late for the bus, better not be late myself!