Sunday, April 29, 2007

McConnell slams Scottish Towns

Residents of Dunfermline, Cumbernauld, Alloa, Motherwell and Wishaw will no doubt be bemused by Jack McConnell's comments reported in today's Sunday Herald saying that ......"the town centre almost symbolises a lack of civic pride" among other things. He also calls the place he represents, Motherwell, a pigsty.

Which party, I wonder, has been in power in all of those towns for as long as anyone can remember? I only really know Dunfermline out of the ones mentioned, where Labour has completely neglected the town centre for decades. Liberal Democrat Councillors, and now Willie Rennie MP, have put forward constructive suggestions for centre revitalisation for a long time and until recently those calls fell on deaf ears. There remains much to be done to give that proud city the centre it deserves and Labour has proved that it's not up to the task.

No doubt Jack will have plenty spare time in the next few years to take up the cause of revitalising Motherwell to make it more to his taste.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Lib Dems on course to win Edinburgh Central

The Evening News has done a profile on Edinburgh Central. In it under-threat Labour incumbent admits that people are thinking about the SNP. How interesting. I seem to remember the struggling Labour campaign in Dunfermline talking up the SNP as their main rivals when they knew perfectly well that their support was haemorraging to Willie Rennie. In 2005 the struggling Labour campaign in Edinburgh South talked up the Tories as their main rivals when they knew Marilyne MacLaren was breathing down Nigel Griffith's neck. In fact, Marilyne was just 405 votes behind.

The moral of the story is that a vote for the SNP in places like Edinburgh Central and Dunfermline West might as well be votes for Labour.

Labour knows that Siobhan Mathers is on course to win and the only thing that will save their skin is an increase in the SNP vote.

Children and Alcohol

I'm quite saddened by the calls today to ban alcohol being given to children under 15. I was always allowed, in fact encouraged, to have a glass of wine with Sunday dinner. This has undoubtedly given me a rather expensive fondness for decent red, but it did mean that I knew what it was all about and I learned to drink sensibly. I have overindulged over the years, but not to huge excess.

I'm never very keen on these knee jerk solutions which involve banning things. We need to learn to drink better, and to do that we need to look at why young people are developing dependencies to drink and drugs at such young ages. What is missing from their lives and how do we put it back?

As usual I think part of it comes down to strong family life, loving parents, and close attachment. There's nothing as good as spending quality time with those you love and it's very sad that many people don't get to experience as much of that as they need.

The solution is not to ban, but to tackle the causes of the serious problem.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Prescription Relief

The Liberal Democrat pledge on prescription charges is set to bring relief to anybody who currently has to pay large amounts of money for prescribed drugs for chronic conditions not covered by current exemptions. The plans mean that the maximum anyone will pay will be one prescription charge per month. Everything above that will be free to all, and those people currently exempt will pay nothing at all.

I have been in contact with a fair number of people through my work whose lives have been blighted by illness and who currently have to find the money to find essential prescribed drugs. This move would make life easier for them.

Coupled with that is a pledge to give pharmacists greater powers to prescribe so that GP's time is freed up to concentrate on those who really need it.

The Hidden Cost of the SNP

Having been ordered to take the day off by the boss (he also forbade me from going anywhere near the computer, so please don't tell him) I was looking around for a new laptop. I went on one well known site and saw what I thought I wanted at a reasonable price. By the time I'd got through all the extras, the cost had pretty much doubled.

It's a bit like that with the SNP. They can talk but they sure can't count. If all their spending pledges were implemented, you'd have to put income tax up by around 9p to pay for it. Frankly, it's just not worth the pain.

Just as an aside, does anyone else find that countdown thing on their website and on their broadcasts irritating. You'd think they'd have made it more exciting but it's all a bit scary and looks like it's counting down to some huge explosion or something.

People turning to the Liberal Democrats

The Times poll this week showing the Liberal Democrats gaining support is no surprise to me. On the ground, all over the country, there is evidence that people want change. They are totally fed up with Labour because of cash for honours, Iraq and Trident, among other things. They absolutely do not want independence - not even a quarter of people actually support the idea.

So, they are turning to the people who have made the difference over the last eight years - free personal care, free eye and dental checks, ending tuition fees and now pledging to end the graduate endowment, delivering a new Forth crossing, STV for local government elections and all sorts. If the last one sounds boring, just wait until May 4th to see how liberating it is - local authorities will at last be free from one party dominance. People will have a real and fair choice in their local representation.

The Labour manifesto has so few ideas in it. It's almost like they sat round a table and thought - "Gosh, we haven't got a clue what to put in it and we can't be bothered thinking anything up - why don't we just throw some money at education cos people are interested in it." In contrast, the Liberal Democrat vision is clearly outlined and costed - free playgroup places for 2 year olds, one hour's physical education per day, zero tolerance of bullying - even the News of the World has given us positive comment on that one today. A positive vision rather than Labour's cynical and tired effort at manipulating the electorate.

Borrowman Fan Club - Scottish Branch

There's a lot of high quality literature going out in Scotland at the moment - and much of it is due, either directly or indirectly to Campaigns guru Duncan Borrowman. He has trained many of our best literature writers as well as coming up here to help in Edinburgh Central.

I remember during the Livingston by-election when we were working to a very tight timescale, Duncan went in to Cowley Street on a bank holiday weekend to finalise the production of our first tabloid. He then held my hand through a couple of major crises during the campaign.

He has a very good tactical mind, and he is always willing to share his knowledge and help out.

If I had a vote in the GLA selection, he would definitely be top of my list.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Siobhan Mathers for Edinburgh Central!

There's no point in pretending that I don't get emotionally involved in election campaigns - in every election, I have close friends standing and I desperately want them to win. So I'm going to use this blog to do a bit of shameless plugging for some of them - starting with my friend Siobhan Mathers in Edinburgh Central. We have a friendship which was forged on the streets of East Dunbartonshire helping Jo Swinson in 2005. Since then we've been through the Livingston by-election, where Siobhan's husband Charles Dundas was the candidate, the Moray by-election, the Dunfermline by-election where she worked on casework with me and the build up to her campaign to win Edinburgh Central.

Don't just take my opinion as to her prospects. The Observer both acknowledges her great personality and her chances of winning. In Edinburgh Central, it's clearly a two horse race between Labour and Liberal Democrat and a vote for anyone else just helps Labour.

I was amazed to find Siobhan all over the front page of the Scotsman on Easter Monday. It's not often you go to get petrol and Tesco and find your friend in the same sort of position usually reserved for supermodels and celebs:-)

Siobhan has tremendous energy and enthusiasm and is very focussed - she's good enough to be a minister in time - and will totally devote herself to getting the best deal for her constituents if elected. She has such a breadth of knowledge on so many issues and, having cut her professional teeth on the BSE Enquiry and in Europe, she certainly knows how to master a complex brief. Her analytical mind will have absorbed and understood a complicated document while I'm still struggling with the introduction.

She and I share a love of food and wine, but she is much more disciplined about it than I am.

She also wins the prize for the best campaign headquarters - I have never, in my life, seen a lace tablecloth on the envelope stuffing table. And flowers in the window too.

I hope she makes it into Holyrood - she will liven it up a bit, bringing flair, energy, humour and knowledge to benefit both the parliamentary party and, most importantly, her constituents. So, if you live in Edinburgh Central, vote for Siobhan.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

News from the Dunfermline Front

Sorry I haven't been around for some time - I have barely had time to eat and sleep , in common with many political activists over the last 3 weeks, let alone find witty and interesting things to write here.

My day goes something like this. The alarm goes off somewhere between 6 and 7. I think "Noooooooooo. Not already. Please." I fight my way to semi consciousness, throw on some clothes, have some caffeine and get in the car and head over to Sunny Dunfermline. There I drown in a sea of casework until late evening when I come back in time to put Anna to bed and deal with e-mails or write envelopes or some other such campaign job. This is every day. I am lucky, though. I had the last weekend in March off, one of two I've had this year - actually it might have been 3 but I was ill on the third one. One of my colleagues hasn't had a day off since February.

It's all worth it in the cause of getting Jim Tolson elected to Holyrood. The Team is working really well together and it is a fun campaign. We have managed to do a huge amount of stuff and have had so much positive feedback. We believe in Jim and think he would make a fabulous MSP, but what really drives us on is that so many people get in touch and say that they are supporting us because Willie or one of the councillors have helped or they can see what a difference we are making. Some of the communications we have had have shown so much trust in Willie - one letter made me cry the other day, it was so lovely.

What really amazes me is that we are now almost three weeks in and I haven't had any junk food yet. In fact, my appalling diet has been transformed. No alcohol since 31 March, drinking loads of water and eating industrial quantities of fruit. There might be something in all this healthy eating stuff, because within days I felt better than I had in months and I although I feel exhausted, I don't feel unwell.

The family is resigned to never seeing me. This is the most involved I've been in a campaign since Anna was born. I did say to her the other day that I would have lots of time to spend with her after the election. She said "That sentence was going well until you mentioned the election." She doesn't seem too traumatised, though. My poor husband is suffering from my grumpiness but is being the glue that holds us all together. It's funny how different people react - my non political friends think I'm mad and being unreasonable to him, and the political ones think "It's an election. He should be used to it by now."

It is actually hell being away from them - I do miss them terribly and hate tearing myself away day after day. However, I was talking to a friend of mine recently. I first knew her when she was not much older than Anna and she has grown up with the rough and tumble of the electoral cycle dominating her family life. She is now standing as a Council Candidate with an excellent chance of winning. Maybe this will be Anna in 15 years' time. Eleanor has the best attributes of both her parents and will be a caring and hard working representative so good luck to her.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Next First Minister

In less than 5 weeks we will have a good idea about who the next occupant of Bute House will be - who will lead Scotland through the next 4 years. The testosterone poisoned rants and name calling of Salmond and McConnell are hardly inspiring. Who can respect someone who slates another politician's teeth, as Salmond did Douglas Alexander? Who can be bothered with the tired old tirades which come from McConnell, Brown and Blair. I don't think he's said one single positive thing recently.

In contrast, Nicol Stephen has set out a bold and ambitious programme to tackle climate change, to deliver health care as locally as possible, to invest in young people rather than demonise them, to get rid of the unfair Council Tax. The target to produce 100% of electricity from renewable sources by 2050 will provide a cleaner and more sustainable future and attract investment to boost Scotland's economy.

I can barely bring myself to admit this, but it's nearly 20 years since I first came across Nicol during the 1987 when he stood in Kincardine and Deeside. That campaign laid the foundations for his stunning by-electon victory four years later. Over the years he has gained experience from local government, the Westminster Parliament, running his own business and, latterly, as a Minister. As a father of 4 young children, he understands exactly the pressures on Scottish families.

I've seen him at quite close quarters since he became leader two years ago so I have a reasonable idea of what makes him tick. He is at his best when he's out and about meeting people and listening to what they have to say. During the Livingston and Dunfermline by-elections, I lost count of the times when he would approach a group of young people who initially looked at him with, at best, suspicion. Within a few minutes, they were having a good, positive dialogue. He does make you feel that he is bothered about what you think.

Anyone with a family and a demanding job will know how difficult it can be to balance both and, for Nicol, his ministerial and party responsibilities do mean spending a lot of time away from home. I have always been impressed to see him taking the time out to ring his kids round about bedtime, no matter what else he is doing. You can't really imagine McConnell and Salmond paying much attention to the minutiae of domestic life, but Nicol understands what life is like for real people. I met him on a train on his way to Livingston during the by-election. He was on his mobile phone having a discussion with the customer services department of some company who had mucked up delivering some new appliance to his home. He was clearly getting the runaround but he deliberately and calmly got the matter sorted to his satisfaction.

He is not the sort of person to let anyone pull the wool over his eyes, be they civil servants, Party staff or Party workers. If he thinks he's not getting told the full story, he doesn't scream and strop, but he does question you quite forensically until he knows the exact situation - and if there's a problem he will give clear guidance and advice to sort it - he resolves instead of blaming.

While Nicol might not have the hot air and theatrics of the others, he's a decent human being and he does have the vision, the experience and the passion to lead Scotland forward.


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