Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Nick Clegg says no to Tory plans for more welfare cuts

Newspapers have been reporting for months that the Liberal Democrats were not prepared to sign up to Tory plans for £10 billion of welfare cuts in a spending review that would draw up plans for spending into the next Parliament. Today's Independent says that Nick Clegg himself will ensure that this Government only produces spending plans for 2015-16. The electorate will then decide in the 2015 election whether they want to pursue further cuts in welfare or a heavier burden of tax on the wealthy. 

The report says;
The Liberal Democrats' opposition means the review will have to be watered down. Before the election, the Coalition will need to agree detailed plans for the 2015-16 financial year – for example, so that local authorities can fix council tax levels for that year. But a detailed agreement on across-the-board cuts well into the next parliament now looks politically impossible. "It is proving too difficult; we are not going to reach agreement," one Liberal Democrat minister told The Independent.
It's an encouraging sign that Nick Clegg is seen  to be blocking further cuts to a welfare budget that has already taken a huge hit in this Parliament. We already know that David Cameron's ideas on further cuts include denying Housing Benefit to the under 25s, a step that is hideously unfair.

If the Independent report is accurate, Nick Clegg's actions will ensure that such measures will not be implemented ahead of the 2015 General Election. That in itself is a good sign and something that Liberal Democrat members can take heart from. I do, however, think that it's important that he and other senior Liberal Democrats spell out exactly why that draconian approach to welfare is wrong. Nobody else is going to tackle the Tories' ill informed prejudice about benefit claimants. Somebody needs to speak up for a compassionate welfare system that supports those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to find a job or are too ill to work, but also liberates people from being trapped on benefits by making work pay.

Actions may speak louder than words, but it's the words that can be replayed time and time again on You Tube and repeated on leaflets. It's important that we start getting our distinctive, Liberal Democrat approach across now. It's too late if we leave it until the 2015 election campaign. I've written before that Nick needs to be openly critical of Tory plans post 2015. We know how effective he was before 2010 over the Tories' planned marriage tax break, which the Liberal Democrats have prevented, and in making the case for the raising of the tax threshold, which we've implemented.

There will no doubt be discussion and debate around this at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in Brighton in September, if not as the Independent article suggests, on the floor of Conference itself, certainly around the fringe.Our party gives its members a role like no other in making policy and developing ideas. As we are putting together ideas for 2015, maybe now is the ideal time to join, or re-join and be part of that process. 

Family hopeful of fresh investigation into son's death

Stuart and Margaret Graham are lovely people. They're also two of the most courageous and tenacious people I've ever come across.

You wouldn't have thought, would you, that the first conclusion the Police would draw when a young man is stabbed in the chest was that he committed suicide? Incredibly, that's what the investigating officers from Fife Constabulary decided when their 23 year old son Colin Marr died suddenly after a row with his girlfriend at his home in Lochgelly.

For a long time, the Police just refused to accept that there could be any other explanation. Willie Rennie has been helping the Grahams in their quest to find out the truth of what happened that night since 2008. It took a long time for their concerns to be taken seriously. It's not easy to challenge the heart of the establishment, but every parent will understand why they felt the explanation of their son's death was wanting and their need to get to the bottom of what happened. The way they have kept going when a succession of doors was slammed in their faces is a huge credit to them.

A fatal accident inquiry last year was unable to decide whether Colin's death was suicide or homicide. A new independent review by retired senior CID officer David Swindle reached the same conclusion and made five important recommendations which are:

•          A review of the fingerprint and forensic evidence
•          Five key witnesses to be re-interviewed
•          An uncooperative witness to be interviewed
•          A review of the crime timeline
•          Actions previously identified but never carried out to be pursued    

Yesterday, Stuart and Margaret were interviewed for BBC News after Willie and fellow Mid Scotland and Fife MSP John Park called for the re-investigation to be carried out by another Police force given the criticism of Fife Constabulary. They are asking Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland to meet with the Grahams to discuss the next steps.

Margaret Graham said yesterday:
It's five years, almost to the day, since my son, Colin, died at home from a stab wound to the chest.  This report confirms the suspicious nature of his death.
I share Mr Swindle frustrations at the “basic and serious failings” in the investigation.
There are many lessons for Fife Police contained in this report but to find the truth about my son’s death there five key recommendations that give us hope.
As Fife Police have been criticised so heavily in this report Colin’s family want another police force to continue the investigation.
Following this independent review and the recent Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI), it is clear that Colin's death was not suicide.  We don't know exactly the details of what happened but we've believed for some time Colin did not take his own life.
It's now five years on from Colin's death and this report provides an opportunity to get to some of the truth about what happened on that sad evening in Lochgelly.

This is the second time in 12 years that Fife Constabulary has been found wanting in the way it investigated a suspicious death. Last week former Fife detective Richard Munro was jailed for five years for withholding evidence in the murder of Andrew Forsyth. This led to Stephen Johnston and Billy Allison serving 10 years in prison for a murder they did not commit. 

It's not hard to see why an outside force needs to come in and look at all the evidence relating to Colin's death again. Let's hope that the authorities take swift action to set this in motion. The Grahams' ordeal will never be over, but now that the failings of Fife Constabulary in this matter have been officially recognised, they and we need a re-investigation we can all have confidence in. I also think it's high time Stuart and Margaret Graham received a decent and heartfelt apology for the fact that it's taken so long to even get to this point. Why do the authorities have to be so hostile when challenged?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Amnesty Scotland tells Russia: stop arming Syria

Campaigners protest at Russian Consulate in Edinburgh. Photo: Shabnum Mustapha
I was up early on Saturday morning to join an Amnesty Scotland protest outside the Russian Consulate in Edinburgh. The event was to mark 500 days since the start of the uprisings in Syria which have seen so many  lives brutally taken. There as a mix of particpants, with the youngest at just 10 months, to symbolise the 24 lives needlessly lost every day. It goes without saying that little children like Zain here should be happily toddling around, not being indiscriminately murdered by a horrible regime. 

What do we want the Russians to do? Well, they could stop giving the Syrian Government arms for a start.Amnesty Scotland Director Shabnum Mustapha added that:
We are calling for an immediate arms embargo on all arms sales to the Syrian government, we are calling for the situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes, and we also want a freeze on the assets of the president and his associates.
What started as a protest for freedom and rights has ended in terrible bloodshed.
The event attracted a fair bit of media coverage, on the BBC , STVthe Scotsman and many local papers across Scotland.

Shabnum Mustapha herself had a long article in the Scotsman on Saturday in which she wrote:

We were disappointed that the extended UN supervision mandate in Syria did not include a stronger human rights component which would have improved monitoring and reporting of human rights violations on all sides. Amnesty has repeatedly called on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, to freeze the assets of the Syrian president and his associates and to impose an immediate arms embargo to stop the transfer of arms to the government.
We have also been consistently calling for the international community to unite to end the violence. With Russia and China vetoing a UN Security Council resolution last week (the third one they have vetoed since the violence began), the international community has collectively failed the people of Syria. By the end of today, another 24 lives will be lost.
I've finally put my money where my mouth is and actually joined Amnesty. I've been meaning to do it for ages but never got round to it. Amnesty Scotland has done so much great work in the past year, on Guantanamo, Egypt, Syria and equal marriage.

To sing or not to sing? Scots athletes and the national anthem

Scot goes Pop has gone all outraged at the controversy over Scots athletes not singing God Save the Queen before their matches. He quotes former javelin gold medallist Fatima Whitbread as saying that people have to feel British if they are competing under a British flag.

My message to both sides of that particular argument is that they need to get over themselves. If Kim Little and other Scots and Welsh athletes had been sniggering or crossing their fingers or showing disrespect as God Save the Queen was being played, they would be fair game to have a go at. They didn't, though. Their "crime" was to stand there perfectly respectfully.

My view of the anthem is that, rightly or wrongly it's the UK national anthem, not the English one. Others feel it's an English song. But they grew up with it being played as England's anthem at sports events so it's hardly an illegitimate view.

If I go to church, I don't repeat any responses which indicate a personal belief, because I don't have one.To profess otherwise would be disrespectful both to myself and to the church. I'm not prepared to avow things that I don't mean and I'd hope that any religious celebrant would understand that. I do, though, sit, stand or kneel along with everyone else and behave in a respectful manner.

I don't recall the likes of Jenson Button's or Lewis Hamilton's loyalty to their country  ever being questioned when they don't sing along to God Save the Queen when they win before they head back to the tax havens where they live. I don't, therefore, see why Kim Little and her Scottish and Welsh colleagues are getting it in the neck for not singing along.

Having said all of that, for the nationalists to play the victim over the controversy is just as silly. The team management are absolutely fine with the decisions of the Scottish and Welsh national anthem. The Daily Fail has a highly subjective interpretation of a British Olympic Association statement, saying that they were furious and that the statement was "terse". What the BOA actually said (apologies for link to Fail) was:

It's an individual choice (as to whether or not to sing), but the most important thing is to show respect

Not a million miles from what I said above and I'm neither terse nor furious.

Now, can we all just get on with enjoying the Games. David Millar, Robbie Renwick, Hannah Miley, Kim Little and many other Scots are doing us proud along with all the 541 athletes in Team GB. We will see all sorts of excellence from all over the world over the next two weeks. Let's get our heads out of our belly buttons and look outward, not manufacture rows where none exist. We should be challenging the rubbish in the Daily Fail, not allowing it to set our agenda.

Women's Beach Volleyball should be compulsory viewing

Two days into the Olympics and I'm loving it as much if not more than usual. Saturday was a really busy day for me - a demo, a meeting and an underage driving lesson for Anna - so I only managed to settle down for the swimming finals in the evening.

Yesterday, however, was a veritable cornucopia of sport. Along with the normal F1 (and the less said about the winner of that race the better), I watched Lizzie Armitstead win a thrilling silver in the pouring rain in the women's cycling road race. Then there was dressage. There is something very therapeutic about that and I marvel at the relationship between horse and rider that allows such fine, detailed movements. Then there was a little bit of Archery. Who knew that could be so exciting? In the evening there were the swimming finals - Ellen Gandy's excellent 5th place, Becky Adlington's fantastic against-the-odds bronze medal and France making Europe proud by beating hot favourites USA and Australia in the 4 x 100 men's freestyle relay. I'm such a soppy git and was in tears as Gandy walked out to take her place for the final. These next two weeks are going to make me cry, a lot, I can tell.

The event that had me really jumping up and down and screaming, though, was a thrilling beach volleyball match between British women Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin. Their Canadian opponents won the first set and looked on course to win the second and therefore the match until a gusty fightback from the British pair led to a deciding third set. This was eventually won by a pretty narrow margin by the British pair after some excellent and determined play.

It was really strange seeing the heart of Establishment London, Horse Guards Parade, the scene of the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony transformed into a sandy beach for what's seen as quite a frivolous sport. By the way, I challenge anyone who thinks it's frivolous to actually try playing it and see how far they get. Everyone who works in the Scotland Office will get a fantastic view of proceedings.

However, the different dress codes for male and female players have annoyed the hell out of me. Men get to play wearing a t-shirt and baggy shorts and are a lot more dressed than they would be on a real beach. Spectators might be forgiven for thinking, though, that there must be some rule specifying that women's outfits must cover no more than 2% of their bodies which is a cue for a significant part of the country to ogle. The bikini bottoms don't leave a huge amount to the imagination, and close ups on the backside are required from the cameramen who want to make sure we have a view of the signals team mates give to each other behind their backs to indicate tactics. 

The Leer Factor in this sport is significant, in real life as well as on social networks. These women were being ogled by, to be honest, most of the country. Is this typical objectification of women? Probably. It has a saving grace, though. These women are a fantastic example of what the female body in prime condition should look like. There is no place for the emaciated lollipop with silicon-enhanced boobs which provides the unattainable standard for girls today, a standard which, if they can't reach, drives many to desperation and depression.

If these Games lead to this generation choosing sportspeople as role models, that won't be a bad thing. They eat healthily, keep themselves in excellent physical condition, work incredibly hard and show unfashionable discipline and self control. It was quite funny to see ex footballer Gary Lineker be told in no uncertain terms by Lizzie Armitstead that, no, she wouldn't be having a massive party to celebrate her silver medal because she has an event midweek (the time trial) to prepare for. 

I still have issues with the Leer Factor and the double standards in dress for men and women, but, you know what, if these Games lead to men and women taking note of what healthy female bodies look like, then it might not all be bad. Maybe we should make women's beach volleyball compulsory as well as compulsive viewing. 

One thing is for sure - with the excellent performance of our female competitors in the opening weekend, there will be no excuse for an all male BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist again. 

The achievements of Team GB's female athletes are being celebrated by the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation by way of their Go Girl campaign. WSFF CEO Sue Tibballs said:
The London 2012 Games is a great opportunity to celebrate our female athletes – and to be inspired to get active. This is a celebration so we want our supporters to have fun. But there is an important point to be made. Female role models are essential to inspire young girls to be more active, particularly in a culture that tells them that it is more important to be thin than fit.
With only one in ten teenage girls and one in five adult women currently doing enough physical activity to maintain their health, we are launching Go Girl as a celebration not just of our elite athletes but of the idea of creating a nation of active, healthy and sporty women.
They have a Facebook page that you can like here and you can follow them on Twitter here. Hat tip, by the way to The F Word.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brilliant, bonkers and Bond it like Beckham - Boyle's triumphant Olympic opening ceremony

Boy, am I tired this morning! I'm not suited to sitting up till 1am and then getting up at 7:30 for a meeting. I'm an old lady (about to be older) and I need my sleep. The fact that this was written yesterday shows just how tired I was - after a busy day, I collapsed on the sofa and went to bed early last night. Anyway, here's my account of Friday's Olympic opening ceremony.

I usually avoid these things because they bore me. A lights show and lots of people walking round. And boring speeches.However, with the Games here, I thought it was my duty to have a look at it. Maybe I was intrigued to see what Danny Boyle would do with the £27 million budget. Given that Trainspotting disturbed me more than any other film I've ever watched, I was slightly anxious, I have to confess.

I was not disappointed. It was slightly unsettling to see the Stadium filling with livestock to complement the green and pleasant land scene which started the show. What's that they say about working with children and animals? There were maypoles and morris dancing and Jerusalem, Danny Boy, Cwm Rhondda and Flower of Scotland to reflect the entire UK. As the ceremony started, there was a fast fly through along the Thames from its source to the Olympic Stadium which had more than a nod to Trainspotting for me. This came after a spectacular fly past by the Red Arrows who'd had a long  day covering the UK.

The first mystery of the night was who would ring the huge Olympic Bell to get the ceremony under way. I was dreading Cameron or Boris. My first bout of blubbing came when Bradley Wiggins, winner of the Tour De France, stepped forward, in yellow, to do it.

The country idyll in the Stadium was soon transformed into an industrial landscape complete with dark, Satanic mills and Kenneth Branagh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Each stage had the participation of hundreds of extras in costume. There was a nod to the Suffragettes, too, and to the benefits immigration has brought this country.  The workers on the ground forged Olympic rings which lifted into the sky in good time to provide a sensational image for today's front pages.

For me, the moment of the night was the scene filmed at Buckingham Palace. Having visited it last year, you knew that they were definitely filming in there. They'd even managed to find a couple of corgis.  It never dawned on me that they were the actual Queen's dogs, and even after the grey haired lady said "Good Evening, Mr Bond" my brain just wouldn't compute that it was the actual Queen and not Miranda Hart dressed up or something.

So, we saw the Queen head into a helicopter with James Bond from the Palace, we saw the progress of the helicopter and wondered where it would land. Well, the occupants parachuted out and a few moments later, the Queen was introduced walking to her seat. Pure, dead brilliant!

What happened next prompted Tory MP for Cannock Chase Adrian Burley to tweet that the ceremony had been full of "leftie multi-cultural crap". Hopefuly his constituents in Cannock Chase will give him the boot for that in 2015. There was a huge celebration of the NHS and children's literature as children in hospital beds were read to in a celebration of British authors - and one of the people reading to the kids was J K Rowling herself. There was a massive Voldemort, loads of Mary Poppinses arriving on umbrellas

That gave way to a celebration of British film and music with all sorts of iconic sights and sounds. There was even a whoosh of the TARDIS which was the only homage to Doctor Who. A fair part of the fandom wanted David Tennant's Doctor to light the flame like he did in the 2006 episode Fear Her.

There was a poignant moment as the victims of 7/7 were remembered accompanied by Emili Sande singing "Abide with Me". This wasn't shown in the US, sadly, where an interview with Michael Phelps was deemed more important, much to the choreographer's annoyance. It made me think how many British people and organisations had put time and effort into making sure those who died on 9/11 weren't forgotten. NBC, the official US broadcaster, should take note.

You would have thought that the arrangement of Chariots of Fire conducted by Simon Rattle would leave not a dry eye in the house. And you'd be right. Actually, though, they were mostly of laughter as Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean, placed on a keyboard in the middle of the London Symphony Orchestra played his part with his usual comic brilliance. There can't be anyone on the planet who does facial expressions better.

The parade of the athletes entering the stadium gave us the opportunity to laugh at the unchic sheen of the French team's trousers, of the 1970s cabin crew uniform of the US team and the hilariously camp and gender stereotyped jackets of the German team who looked like they could be headed for the West End stage rather than the sports field. My husband left school in the late 60s and clearly hasn't done much in the way of atlas studying since. "That's not a country, is it?" was a constant refrain. The flags were arranged in the one remnant of the rural scene from the beginning which remained, a reproduction of Glastonbury Tor.

We'd been promised a spectacular entrance for the Olympic flame which had been resting for several hours on a barge near Tower Bridge. It was next seen as darkness fell speeding up the Thames in a power boat accompanied by a very suave looking David Beckham and one of our female football stars of the future. It made me think of James Bond again.

After the Bond it Like Beckham moment, the flame was met, as everyone had speculated, by multiple gold medal winner Sir Steve Redgrave. So, he was bound to be lighting the flame wasn't he?

But before we could find out, we had speeches to listen to. I guess we should be grateful there was no raffle, but people had paid out so much for their tickets, they probably wouldn't have been able to afford it. Anyway, Sebastian Coe and Olympic President Jacques Rogge didn't really speak for that long, but it was still way beyond most people's tolerance levels. It was left to our wonderful 86 year old Queen show how she was a master of the art of brevity - she simply declared the Games open. That was it.

Another moment of blubbery for me came when the Olympic flag was paraded around. Two of the people carrying it were Shami Chakrabarti, one of the strongest voices for liberal values in this country if not the world and Doreen Lawrence, whose refusal to accept the shortcomings of the establishment led her to fight for years to ensure that her son's killers were brought to justice.

So, Sir Steve ran in with the flame, looking for all the world that he was going to light the as yet unseen cauldron. And he would have succeeded if it hadn't been for a bunch of kids! Seven young athletes, nominated by greats of the past, put the Games' theme, "inspire a generation" into reality. It was them, not a famous name, who set the cauldron, constructed from the copper petals each nation brought in with them, alight. It was beautiful.

The ceremony closed with Sir Paul McCartney singing Hey Jude and lots of fireworks. One of my favourite people with one of my least favourite things. It was pretty spectacular, though.

It all made Mitt Romney's churlish and rude comments seem even more inappropriate. I liked the homage to Tim Berners-Lee, too,a reminder that it was a Brit who invented the internet, not Al Gore.

I'm so looking forward to two weeks of watching all sorts of weird and wonderful sports. Nadia Comaneci made me fall in love with gymnastics in 1976, and I love swimming although I rarely watch it at any other time. Then there's the archery and rowing and dressage and diving and cycling. Bring it all on! Let's hope it all goes fabulously well. Yes, I hate the corporate dominance too, but the Games are here. Once they are over, we have precisely nothing to look forward to. Let's enjoy every second while we can.

I've made a Storify thingy of my tweets on the night to capture my heat of the moment thoughts and interactions with others.

It was an night where I, along with half the country, alternated between laughing, crying and wide eyed wonderment. No wonder Stephen Tall has chosen Danny Boyle as his liberal hero of the week over at the Centre Forum blog.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Vince in Edinburgh - what the members said

Edinburgh was spoiled last weekend. Not only was there a Madonna concert and a performance of the Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy radio show (which I went to), but Business Secretary Vince Cable answered questions from Liberal Democrat members on Sunday evening.

Readers will be glad to see former Edinburgh West MP John Barrett, sufficiently recovered from illness and on his usual sparkling form, chairing the session.

Vince answered questions for well over an hour on subjects ranging from renewable energy to high executive pay to winning back disgruntled voters and members to regulating the banks and that Financial Times interview that everyone except Mark Pack seems to be interpreting as some silly season leadership grab.

I decided to ask six members of the audience for a brief assessment of the session and this is what they told me:
I thought it was useful and wide ranging. Of course, the subject of future leadership of the Party was in many people’s minds. It is clear to me that he is interested, which pleases me!
On one level Cable was disappointing.  He was avuncular and charming but very discreet.  He said almost nothing that he has not already said in print and he fielded questions on Party leadership and working with the Tories in diplomatic fashion.  Not surprisingly he was most interesting about his own departmental issues, making comments that impressed by their moderation and pragmatism.  He is clearly very much his own man and every so often he says something quirky that shows the difficulty in tying him down or defining him neatly. Interestingly he went out of his way to declare himself a social democrat and he certainly is well at ease with the concept of using the state in positive fashion for long-term economic planning.
I was impressed with Vince, but I always have been. I was thinking of leaving the Party after standing in the Council Elections but it's people like Vince, Willie and Michael Moore that keep me going.
I thought it was a very good meeting last night, with Vince on good form. Good to get an insight into the smaller print of potential legislation. He didn't always answer spot-on the issue, but was pretty good, and frank with his answers.  He also looked 5-10 years younger than the last time I saw him, so I wonder what he's on and whether I can have some.
I thought the Q&A went very well. Vince is a thoughtful and clear sighted respondent. He gave a re-run of why and where we are. He has the ability to look to the long view, a capacity lacking in most politicians. He can also be disarmingly  frank.  I have never been a Social Democrat but two of our MPs, Vince and Charles Kennedy, stand head and shoulders above most others in their ability to cut through the fog of political chatter  and  weigh up the  solutions available. Sunday reinforced my view that Vince's opinions are important to our party.
I was as impressed by Vince as I have been on previous occasions. He has the advantage of having lived and worked in Scotland, so I feel he understands more about the political landscape here than some others. I very much appreciate him giving us the opportunity to have the Q & A session with him - I don't think that Tory or Labour Secretaries of State would ever do this, and he fields the questions very well.
With this sort of feedback, it's hardly surprising that Vince has such a high approval rating - 80% in the last Lib Dem Voice survey. On his performance I'd suggest that the sooner he does one of the party's new "webinars" the better, even if the powers that be would insist on calling it "Cable Tv."
If you want to read more about the questions Vince answered, you can read my summary here.

Nick Clegg and Paul Burstow's 3 steps for employers on mental health

Cross posted from Liberal Democrat Voice

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's long running work on mental health issues took another step forward this week with the publication of a mental health implementation framework aimed at helping people suffering from mental health problems in the workplace. Employers will be asked to take 3 steps to identify and support those 1 in 6 workers affected. These are:

1)    Make this year the Time to Change: Sign your company up to the Time to Change campaign to end mental health discrimination. By signing up, you make a public commitment from the top of the organisation to the bottom, send a strong message to employees, and get expert support from Time to Change in dealing with mental health issues at work.

2)    Get some ‘First Aid’ training in mental health: Most companies have an employee trained in first aid. But mental ill health is the most prevalent cause of illness among people of working age. Appointing someone as a mental health expert or training a number of people in awareness would make a huge difference. Training is available from a variety of organisations.

3)    Call for help: the Health for Work Advice line in England can be accessed on 0800 0 77 88 44 and www.health4work.nhs.uk. It is designed to support employers and employees in small and medium sized businesses, by providing free-to-use early and easy access to professional occupational health and well-being advice to help employees remain in or return to work after a period of ill health.

Launching the strategy, Nick said:
Today I am calling on every employer large and small to do a mental health stock take. Too many people suffer in silence with mental health issues. Employers are well placed to recognise warning signs and signpost their staff to support.
70 million working days are lost as a result of mental health issues every year, costing business £1000 every year for each employee. Managing mental health at work well can save around 30 per cent of these costs - businesses cannot afford not to take mental health seriously.
These three simple steps give all employers the support to look after their staff’s mental health and keep Britain working.
Liberal Democrat health minister Paul Burstow added:
If we are to improve the nation’s wellbeing organisations from across society need to act as catalysts for change in their communities. This framework provides the practical guidance to help make this happen and I am delighted with the support it has from across the mental health sector who have worked so hard on producing this with us.
If you look at the long press release in full, you'll see that Nick and  Paul  have developed this strategy in conjunction with mental health charities and businesses. It's a real partnership, founded on expert knowledge and best practice. I hope that unions will get on board with this and encourage their employees to carry out these steps, particularly signing up to the Time to Change campaign, so that employees  know that they work for an organisation that wants to eradicate the stigma associated with mental health and will find the support that they need from their employer.

Nick's first major speech as leader way back in 2008 was about mental health issues and he has been inclusive and intelligent in the way he's gone about formulating a series of measures to improve the mental health of the country. He's provided treatment for half a million people, worked to help young people who are suffering and is now taking the effort to the workplace. I've written before about my own struggles with Depression. It's pretty hellish and I really do feel that Nick and Paul are doing exactly the right things. I can't help feeling intensely proud that it's our leader and health minister who have taken the initiative on this. The steps they have taken will directly improve the lives of millions of people. What media attention did this merit? Merely an article in the Independent and an interview on Channel 4 News.  It's time for Liberal Democrat members to put some serious effort into telling people in their area about Nick's and Paul's work on mental health. Everyone will know someone who benefits.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Look what happens when people work together - equal marriage to become a reality in Scotland

The Scottish Government announced this morning that it would legislate for full equal marriage in Scotland, giving same sex couples the right to marry and allowing those religious organisations who wish to conduct these marriage ceremonies to do so. No celebrant or religious organisation will be compelled to carry out marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. This is everything that campaigners for equal marriage have been asking for and is the culmination of a vibrant 4 year campaign which has won hearts and minds across Scotland. 

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that cross party support for equal marriage had played a part in the Government's decision as the Scotsman reports. She said:
We are also mindful of the fact that the leaders of all of the other parties represented in parliament support same sex marriage and that there is significant parliamentary support for legislation.
 Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has been highly vocal in his support for equal marriage and he welcomed the Government's move:
 This is a small but important step for equality in Scotland. I'm sure there will be bumps on the road but Nicola Sturgeon can count on my support to deliver equality in marriage.
 These reasonable changes are about removing barriers and extending freedoms. It's never been about compelling churches to conduct marriage ceremonies against their will. That's why I will work with Nicola Sturgeon to secure changes to the UK Equality Act to cement religious freedoms if such amendments are needed.
Willie was keen to emphasise that this isn't some huge, monumental step, but it really amounted to legislators catching up with public opinion, where polls show over 60% in favour. 
Those of us in all parties who support marriage equality will now make good on our promise to stand with the Government in the face of what will be very noisy opposition from the leaders of the Catholic Church and other religious organisations. 

This means that Scotland will be introducing wider ranging equality in marriage than England. Although Nick Clegg favours allowing religious marriages, the Coalition's plans relate only to civil ceremonies. I wonder if the news from Scotland will give greater impetus for further reform south of the border.
It just goes to show, though, what can be achieved when people work together across political lines. It's an example of grown up politics at its best and we really should be looking at how we can do more of this kind of thing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Prominent womens' rights campaigner detained in Sudan

It's so easy being a political activist in this country. I can campaign for Liberal Democrat policies and values knowing that low poll ratings are my only concern. You can pretty much say what you want about the Government or challenge vested interests and power elites. It's a right some of us don't really appreciate as much as we should. People arguing for human rights or for the feminist cause might be ridiculed in the Daily Fail, but generally can go about their lives without fear of detention and torture. If we don't value this freedom, we could lose it one day - and then we could end up with situations like the following, from the Sudan.

This is not so in other parts of the world, sadly. Last night I received an email from Women Liberal Democrats telling me that Nahid Gabralla, a womens' rights campaigner in Sudan, was detained on 3rd July. We were asked to email the Sudanese authorities.

Nahid Gabralla has been a much needed irritation to the authorities in Sudan. Way back in 2007, the British teacher who was jailed for calling a teddy bear Muhammad spent time there and the BBC described the conditions she was likely to find. No drinking water, or beds or protection from the sun for a start. When you consider that torture is the norm rather than the exception in Sudan, it's clear that the news of Gabralla's detention is very worrying indeed. The fact that she so strongly challenges the prevailing view that women should be totally subservient to men is likely to lead to much harsher treatment for her.

She heads up SEEMA, a campaign against Female Genital Mutilation and, 3 years ago, led a march in support of a woman who had been sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing trousers.

Organisation Waging Peace says that appeals from abroad can help.
Appeals from abroad make an enormous difference. Letting the Sudanese authorities know that Nahid Gabralla is on our radar may save her life. 
They want us to send an email like the following to three Sudanese Government ministers. It will literally take a few seconds. Can you help?

Dear Excellency, I write regarding Nahid Gabralla Siedahmed, who was arrested on July 3rd. I understand that Gabralla is in Omdurman Women’s Prison. I respectfully appeal to Your Excellency to demonstrate generosity of spirit and to release Gabralla from detention. Many people in my country are aware of Gabralla’s situation, and are following her case. Thank you for reading this message.
Yours Faithfully,(your name and country)
HE Omar Hassan Ahmad al-BashirInfo@sudan.gov.sd 
Minister of Justice Mohammed Boushara Dossamoj@moj.gov.sd 
Minister of the Interior Ibrahim Mohamed HamedMinistry@mfa.gov.sd
 Filling their inboxes with international concern will do no harm. I'm hoping, of course, that our Government and the EU are putting similar pressure on the Sudanese authorites to release Gabralla. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vince on leadership speculation, principles, Osborne, independence and much more

Edinburgh has been very well indulged this weekend. Madonna played Murrayfield, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy people were in town and last night, Business Secretary Vince Cable answered questions from Scottish Liberal Democrat members. This was quite hastily arranged at the end of last week, but the room was packed. This was not bad for a day when there was so much sport on tv.

We wanted to include as many people as possible so we took questions via email and Twitter. Vince covered a huge range of topics and stayed considerably longer than planned. He also didn't keep his audience waiting for four hours before even getting on stage unlike certain international music icons. Subjects
included tax, immigration, banks, honesty in public and corporate life, the coalition, the Chancellor, the arms trade, the independence referendum, renewable energy, equal pay, that interview in the Financial Times, executive pay, getting more women on boards, whether London should still be a global financial centre and the Green Investment Bank. He did what I feel our ministers don't do enough of - take responsibility and credit for what they personally have done. He said that he and Mike Moore had insisted on the new Green Investment Bank being in Edinburgh and that he had insisted against the wishes of others that the Minimum Wage should be increased this year. What was interesting was what wasn't asked - there was nothing about Lords reform, indicating, maybe, that north of the border our members aren't that fussed about it?

We didn't spare him either. One of the questions which came in over Twitter was "when did you decide to stop being principled and become morally bankrupt for the sake of a sniff of power?" His response was that it would have been unprincipled to sit on sidelines when the country needed a stable Government to deal with the economic crisis.

Everyone will be delighted to see former Edinburgh West MP John Barrett back in action after a period of illness. He chaired last night's session in his usual relaxed and good humoured style.

Vince was in great form. He spoke to us like we were grown ups and showed quite a lot of empathy and understanding with our position as members and activists. I asked about how we get people back who've voted for the party for decades, or who've stopped being members over the coalition. He offered encouragement, remembering how he'd stood for the party when we were an asterisk in the opinion polls and then being elected to Parliament less than a decade later. He understood how the presence of the nationalists makes the playing field different up here - as you'd expect from a former Glasgow Councillor. He's keeping a close eye on Salmond, whom he likes personally, but suspects that the shine will come off the SNP as they continue not delivering on things in Government and in the wake of the referendum on independence. I feel happy that he's on the Cabinet Committee which is discussing Scotland and the referendum. He and Mike Moore are an effective team. Mike will do reason, Vince will do robust realpolitik. We need both. Everyone agreed with him that Scottish leader Willie Rennie is an "inspirational character."

I collected together tweets from the event which cover most of the questions and put them in a storify thingy which is below for your enjoyment. There are more photos and even a bit of mischief. Find out exactly what Vince said about the cult of youth...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

All eyes on Paris for the Tour de France final

I've been watching this year's Tour de France almost in disbelief. Could it really be that we have British riders in first and second place in the yellow jersey race with another, the cycling world champion no less, winning two stages and going for a third of this race on the Champs Elysees later today? His audacious attack on Friday from quite a long way out provided a thrilling end to the stage.

I don't need to pinch myself, because it is in fact all true. Let's just hope that the procession to Paris is traditionally uneventful. I don't want to say that Bradley Wiggins is the victor until he's actually over the line. 

Brad and the Team Sky he leads have dominated the race. Italian Vincenzo Nabali has made a couple of spirited efforts to take the shine off them, to no avail. I've felt sorry for defending champion Cadel Evans who's had few really bad days. I'd have liked to see him really give Bradley something to think about. 

I have to be honest and say that I'm not over keen on Chris Froome, Wiggins' second placed team mate, who's been telling everyone who'd listen that he'd have been able to win on his own. I was quite satisfied to see Wiggins give him quite a spanking in the time trial yesterday, beating him by a minute and a quarter.

I'd been all about the likes of Mark Cavendish, Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans up until now, with a special soft spot for Thomas Voeckler who should win the King of Mountains title today. The latter is a plucky Frenchman who's never won the yellow jersey competition despite having two long spells in it in 2005 and 2011. I like his humour, humility and general attitude. 

The sayings of Bradley Wiggins

Being a bit of a newbie to cycling, I'd never really paid that much attention to Wiggins. 2009 was really the first year I watched the Tour. It was the year I was ill and Stephen Glenn got me into it. Brad finished 4th that year, but he didn't do so well the year after and then broke his collar bone in 2011 that I haven't had the chance to get to know him really. However, his extended run in the yellow jersey this year has given him loads of media exposure and he's made me laugh and cry so much with his sayings. Who could fail to be moved yesterday when he was talking about his family and his grandad? Earlier in the week, he'd had a press conference on the rest day and very bluntly said, as Mark Pack pointed out:
It's so nice to be recognised for achieving something as so much of British culture is built up on people being famous for not achieving anything.
Then there was the comment about mountain climbs going up and being on tarmac. My personal favourite, though, was when he was talking, in French, to the French media who were asking him what it was like to meet President Hollande after Friday's stage. He made out that he'd no idea who he was and that he thought he was someone off the French version of Big Brother. The ensuing laughter shows that the French media get him.

I just wonder if massive sideburns will make a comeback now. I'm sure they can't be necessary for aerodynamic purposes, but Brad's are pretty impressive.

So, mid afternoon, I'll be cheering on Cav to win the final stage and Wiggins to make history as the first British winner of this iconic race.There won't be much rest for them because next week, they will hopefully be repeating their success in the Olympics road race and time trial.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Should sex offenders be given lie detector tests?

There is probably no less popular group of people in this country than sex offenders. That's unsurprising, and you certainly won't find me with anything nice to say about them. They are, however, human beings and as such have a right to be treated in a fair and just way by the authorities, the same as you or I. Why? Because once you start picking and choosing who gets human rights and who doesn't, life gets very nasty. Like the old poem says, if you don't stand up when the rights of others are violated, there won't be anyone to stand up for you.

That's why I feel deeply uneasy that lie detector tests have in the first place been used on sex offenders living in the community in England and that the apparently successful pilot has been extended.

Why exactly does it scare me so much?

First of all, how do we actually know that the results are accurate? This USA Today article confirms pretty much what I feared, that the results are open to subjective interpretation. If you hooked me up to one of these machines and started asking me questions that were designed to trip me up, and I didn't trust you, you can bet your life I'd look like I was lying even if I was reading nursery rhymes. You bet I'd be feeling anxious. So, if someone "failed", would they be sent back to prison on a false premise. We should be very concerned about people's liberty being taken away unnecessarily.

Second, if we're going to rely on lie detector tests, do we then not become a bit lazier about evidence. Forgive me, but I don't have a whole load of confidence in the US judicial or penal system. This monitoring of sex offenders by polygraph is an idea that comes from there and I inherently distrust it.

Thirdly, there's the slippery slope argument. If this is such a success who next? Terror suspects? Immigrants? Schoolkids returning from a period of absence? Benefit claimants?

Fourthly, success is apparently being determined by the fact that more offenders 'fess up to doing things they shouldn't to their probation officers. Or, to be more accurate, things that they already have done.Can you see where I'm going here? The potentially dangerous moment has passed. Somebody could already have been hurt. Surely, if we want the public to be safe, we need to be thinking about better psychological support and better rehabilitation for these offenders so that the breaches of licence are less likely to happen in the first place?

What do you think about this? Does anyone have any words of reassurance for me on a civil liberties front? Frankly, I'd be surprised, but I'd be interested to hear if there are any liberal arguments in favour of such a scheme.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Back to the 1950s with Fairy liquid's sexist advert

I know I shouldn't give Proctor and Gamble the publicity, but I do feel that it's also important to dissect adverts which display blatant sexism or other outdated social mores. This is their latest effort, for the Olympics.

"It takes a lot of dishes and a lot of washing up, for Mum to build an athlete" reinforces the idea that women do the domestic chores in service to the males of the house. It's just wrong on so many levels. Maybe Proctor and Gamble aren't aware, but women are actually taking part in the Olympics now, you know.

I have to give a big hat tip to former LYS President Sophie Bridger who originally spotted this. She actually wrote to Proctor and Gamble to protest about it, telling them:

The implication being that washing up is purely women’s work is incredibly sexist. The unequal distribution of domestic responsibilities has held women back for generations, and continues to hinder women’s progression in the workplace. And yet you appear to think that this is perfectly acceptable – mum will cook and wash up the dishes, and her little boy will grow up to a big strong athlete. Not her daughter of course, who is now far too busy washing up her own children’s dishes. 
The company sent back to her a generic response which showcased the writer's ability to copy and paste rather than reply to specific points:

We live in a multi-cultural society and, as such, we know that consumers from all ethnic backgrounds use our products, both for themselves and for their families. Indeed, as a Global company, practicing equal opportunities, our own employees reflect the diversity within the local populations. Obviously, it is not our intention to exclude any individual from our advertising, whether this be on the basis of ethnic background, disability, sex, height, hair colour, regional accent, etc. I am truly sorry that you feel we have in any way been deliberately exclusionary.
On the other hand, it would be unrealistic to expect that all sections of our community can be represented at all times. When people are chosen to appear in our advertising campaigns (TV, posters, direct mailing materials etc) we choose those who we think represent the majority of our target market for that particular campaign. Many factors have to be considered in the selection process. Ethnic background is something we are aware of, but it is not the main reason for choosing (or not choosing) a particular person to represent us.
Sophie wrote to them again asking for an analysis on the proportion of men and women shown washing up in their ads. I vaguely remember a bloke doing some washing up once - but that was with a Power Spray for proper dirt that, presumably, weak women couldn't possibly get off themselves. I had a look around on the internet for it, but could only find one video that must have been a spoof because it's so terrible.

I know what brand of washing up liquid I'll be avoiding from now on. If you agree, why not write to Proctor and Gamble to register your displeasure with this advert? You can contact them at pg_weconsumerrelations@mailnj.custhelp.com.

The SNP, equal marriage and a large dose of red herring

Equality campaigners across Scotland were quietly confident on Tuesday. It had been widely expected that the SNP Government would at least allow equality in civil marriage if not religious. After all, the measure had already secured the support of a majority of MSPs and the Equality and Human Rights Commission report suggest sthat it has the support of over 60% of Scots. The Government's plans have, however, attracted vocal opposition from some religious organisations.

However, the Government announced that it was delaying the decision and setting up a Cabinet Committee to "further examine some particular issues of detail". A final decision would be made by the end of this month. I wrote then that there were some crumbs of comfort to be taken, most notably that Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has expressed her personal support for equal marriage, was in charge of this committee.

The BBC reported yesterday, though, that a leaked email from a civil servant suggested that legislation would not be forthcoming unless the UK wide Equality Act of 2010 was amended.
 We would not introduce a bill into the Scottish Parliament until we had reached agreement with the UK government on the types of amendment that might be needed to the Equality Act 2010
Apparently they want to give protect the rights of free speech to opponents of equal marriage and ensure no action could be taken against celebrants who refuse to marry same sex couples.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien has variously called same sex marriage similar to legalising slaverypromising an "unprecedented backlash" if the Government allows it. He's called it a grotesque subversion and said that:
The empirical evidence is clear, same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such relationships, we have failed those who struggle with same-sex attraction.
The fact that he has been able to make these robust and, let's be honest, offensive, comments without legal consequence amply demonstrates that the law on free speech gives opponents all the protection they need.

In terms of the protection of celebrants, Schedule 23 of the Equality Act 2010 outlines when it's possible for religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people including.
The organisation does not contravene Part 3, 4 or 7, so far as relating to religion or belief or sexual orientation, only by restricting—
(a) membership of the organisation;
(b) participation in activities undertaken by the organisation or on its behalf or under its auspices;
Marriage rites clearly come under sub paragraph (b). LGBT people are routinely refused full membership of churches but no legal action has ever been taken.  This shows that the Equality Act issue is a large dose of red herring.

Why, though, would the SNP raise it? Well, any discussion and subsequent amendment to the Equality Act could delay legislation beyond the referendum on independence. The former leader of the SNP Gordon Wilson last year expressed the view that allowing equal marriage could alienate  people considering voting for independence. One of the SNP's major donors, bus tycoon Brian Souter, funded the campaign against the repeal of Clause 2A (the Scottish version of Clause 28).  It's understandable that some people might feel that bringing the Equality Act into play has a strong whiff of expediency about it.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie said that politics must not get in the way of delivering equal marriage:
I want an assurance that the Scottish Government’s demands on the Equality Act are not them putting up a straw man to appease opponents of equal marriage.  I share the view that no-one should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages.
But if changes to the Equality Act are shown to be unnecessary I hope the Scottish Government will accept that fact, and move quickly to deliver equal marriage.  Politics must not get in the way of equality for people in Scotland.
I really hope that the Government will put its energies into delivering full equality. If they do so, they will have cross party support. They will not have to face the vocal minority of opponents alone.

Books: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Anna was really keen that I should read this book by New York Times bestselling author John Green. She had it the day it was published and has re-read it several times since, almost like the character Hazel does with her favourite book which provides a pivotal part of the plot.

TFioS is an extremely well written assault on the emotions. Unlike other young adult bestsellers, there's not a sparkly vampire or a fight-to-the-death Olympic style event for children in sight.This is all about the relationships that form in a support group for teenagers with Cancer. There is no potential for escapism at all.  There is no suggestion that the process of death or living with the effects of the disease is easy. Green conveys the physical and mental agony of approaching death with a realism that struck fear and panic into my heart. If it's hard for a young adult to read, it's excruciating for a parent. While this book moved me to tears, Green cleverly ensured that, within a couple of pages, I'd be laughing. He placed the most emotional scenes in the book close to the funniest or most preposterous. There is one particular incident involving eggs that is both poignant and hilarious.

The central characters, Isaac, Augustus and Hazel are all extremely likeable. Keris suggests that Green's teens are not like any teens she's ever known. For me, Green's teens have quite a lot in common with the nerdfighters, as his army of fans are called - occasionally (well, quite often) pretentious, quite geeky and looking for answers about life, the universe and everything. I loved the strong friendship that develops between the three of them, built on mutual support and gallows humour. They complement each other beautifully. The love story between Hazel and Augustus is exquisitely written. It's a complex cocktail of emotions, beautifully described.

There are aspects of the trip to Amsterdam, a place this book has reawakened my desire to visit, that are completely and utterly unrealistic. I suspect a genuine wish granting organisation would have kept a tighter control of proceedings and wouldn't have let two vulnerable teenagers within a million miles of a boorish, alcoholic man. I'll let that one go, though.

I did feel a bit sorry for Patrick, the support group leader. He tried his best, bless him, but the kids relentlessly took the mickey out of him and didn't quite appreciate him enough.

Reading TFioS has made me want to read the rest of John Green's books. I won't have far to go to find them - they're all neatly stacked by Anna's bed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It's not over yet - the fight for #equalmarriage goes on

So, I took the kids to the beach today, our first visit this year. The absence of rain and the temperature being above freezing provided the impetus to get there while we had the chance. We had a great time - although I'm not sure the jellyfish called Carlos being carried around in a bucket would have agreed. Maybe it's just as well they don't have brains.

I was nervous but anticipating good things from the Scottish Government on the subject of equal marriage. Surely to goodness they wouldn't wimp out, pandering to the loud voice of the Cardinal who'd promised an unprecedented backlash. And, to be fair, they didn't. They just didn't make a decision at all. They set up a sub committee of the Cabinet to look at the details over the next two weeks and they will announce their decision before the end of this month. Well, my birthday is on the last day of this month, and my wedding anniversary is on the Cardinal's Day of Rage, so I just hope I'm not going to be disappointed on either of my special days.

The delay is disappointing - and it's not as if they haven't had plenty of time to make up their minds. The consultation closed on 9th December, for goodness' sake. The issues are hardly what you would describe as rocket science. Do they actually believe that LGBT people should be treated equally in society or not?

There was always the danger that the SNP would split down the middle on this, for a number of reasons. It would be remiss of me to forget that Brian Souter, the man who ran the Keep the Clause campaign, gives shedloads of money to the party. Their former leader Gordon Wilson said on Newsnight last year that obsessing over equal marriage might harm the independence cause. Alex Salmond has said himself, although not with any great conviction, that he favours equality in marriage but would he be swayed by the argument that it could stop people voting for independence? Wilson's argument is a big pile of mince, though, because the pro-union camp has as many if not more supporters of equal marriage.

Being an optimistic soul - well, you kind of have to be to be a Liberal Democrat - I do see some crumbs of comfort from the Government's statement today:

  • Nicola Sturgeon is still the driving force behind this. She's leading the Cabinet Committee, albeit encumbered by Mike Russell and Kenny MacAskill. By rights it should have been MacAskill or Rosanna Cunningham whose name went on the consultation but they didn't seem over keen on it so Nicola has championed it. Let's hope her support for equal marriage, which she's expressed publicly, prevails.
  • They have sunk the Cardinal's ridiculous demand for a referendum without trace. Which is just as well, because if they'd acquiesced to that, what would the next thing have been? Once you set a precedent, what happens if there's a call for a referendum on the rights of non EU immigrants or terrorist suspects? Under 25s?
My worry though is the big IF. "If a Bill is brought forward". That isn't any sort of clear declaration of intent, certainly not like Nicola Sturgeon saying that the Government was minded to legislate.And then there's all the nonsense about a free vote. I think this is a pretty fundamental issue of liberty and I would be happy to see it whipped - but perhaps, given that there's already a majority in the Parliament for equal marriage, the whips don't need to get near it.

It's going to be an excruciating two weeks until they make their minds up finally, if they do. If they go off on yet more consultations and contemplations until after the referendum, their credibility will really be shot to pieces. Willie Rennie said as much this afternoon:
For the SNP to dillydally for the third time risks their credibility on equality.  “Most people who support equality and fairness in marriage will find this bewildering. “I would urge the First Minister to stand firm against powerful opponents, heal any divides in his own cabinet and take a lead on equality in marriage
I guess what we have to do is exactly what we have been doing - making the arguments for equal marriage as positively as we have been doing these past almost 4 years. The way the Equal Marriage campaign has won friends and influenced people has been superb. Let's hope we only have to do one more heave. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our first ever Pride

It seems ridiculous, given that I've been campaigning for LGBT equality for most of my adult life, but I hadn't been to a Pride event before. I'd seen one in all its awesomeness, in London in 1992 as I was heading to a Women Liberal Democrats meeting but I'd never managed to get there.

I'd been disappointed to miss Pride Scotia on 30th June as we were away on holiday so when I realised I was able to get to Pride Glasgow on Saturday, I jumped at the chance - and was really pleased that both Bob and Anna wanted to come too. I fully expected Bob to jump ship at Queen Street and head off to the record shop, Rubadub, but, no, he came with us and walked all the way from Kelvingrove Park to George Square.

First of all, I have to say that Kelvingrove Park is absolutely gorgeous. Why has it taken me this long to discover it? We loved the walk up from Kelvinbridge subway station. Anna pronounced that she thought Glasgow was cooler than Edinburgh. It just seems to be a place I can imagine lying in the sunshine next to the river reading a pile of books. The university buildings around provide some fascinating architecture and it was a lovely respite from the bustle of life in the city.

To back track a bit, before I even left the house, Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow, a church so inclusive it's even prepared to welcome heathens like us, had me in tears with this moving blog post On being Proud.

I’m particularly proud of my sisters in the clergy who, by and large, have found it easier to walk beside me in these struggles than most of my straight male friends. The goodness of my sisters reminds me that their own struggle is not over; that justice is indivisible. Reminds me of the common goal, that one day, we will walk in a world free from discrimination and prejudice of any kind.
I’m proud of my gay brothers and sisters in other denominations – from the highest of the high to the wee-est of the Frees. I’m proud of Scott Rennie and of Affirmation Scotland who have supported him and so many others in the Church of Scotland. I’m proud of my gay brothers in the Roman Catholic clergy, some of whom I was with recently. We met in secret for fear of the Church. We prayed for a time when all closet doors would be smashed to pieces, starting with those in the Vatican and we prayed for all those who sit in discomfort on ecclesiastical  thrones throughout the world. For those whose struggle is secret – know that it is valuable, and true and holy and that I am proud of you.
One of the first people we saw at the gathering point was Sophie Bridger, former President of Liberal Youth Scotland and we were really chuffed to be invited to walk with her and the rest of the young folk. Anna was particularly thrilled to find two fellow Sherlock fans to geek out with and she quickly ditched us to spend time with them. Kelvin was there with a contingent from the Cathedral too, including Jaye and Ruth Richards-Hill from last week's equal marriage event at Holyrood and their delightful dalmatian, Ginny, who was very comfortable with all the attention she was receiving.

I have to say I felt distinctly under-dressed. Nothing some glitterly pom poms and sparkly devil horns wouldn't have sorted out, but, really, I need to do better for next year. There were all manner of bright outfits, people with rainbow socks, and the Sisters from the Order of Perpetual Indulgence were truly spectacular. At this point you might want to read Kelvin's tale of his encounter with a young Australian.

 We set off towards town behind the Carriage of Awesome:

I mean, horses with pink feathers. What more could you want?

We made our way to George Square in probably more organised fashion than I'd seen on a march before where there were loads of stalls. The independence referendum was not allowed to be ignored as both Yes Scotland and Better Together put aside their differences for a few hours and had lovely rainbow banners on display. Better Together has come up with a good range of campaign tat. I have seen mobile phones smaller than their badges, but we proudly wore ours. The Scottish Transgender Alliance, Equality Network, LGBT Youth, Anmesty were all represented there.

There was a rally at which Patrick Harvie, James Dornan, Drew Smith and Tim Hopkins spoke. Just as I do when the BBC does it, I had a bit of a tantrum over the lack of gender balance in the speakers. At such an event, particularly, I would have thought that a bit more thought could have gone into the line up. It was the only facepalm moment of the day. Why could they not have asked Sophie Bridger to speak? Her leadership of LYS's Separate isn't Equal campaign was inspirational. 

After the speeches and a bit of chatting, we went off for a bit, Bob to buy records and Anna and I to Forbidden Planet where she acquired two more Doctor Who t-shirts. They're expensive but good quality. Her 10th Doctor one has been worn and washed so many times since she got it at the Doctor Who convention in Cardiff in March and still looks like new that I was quite happy to provide her with some more.  This time it was 7th and 9th Doctors. She's inherited Bob's fascination with t-shirts. He was wearing bright red braces with a bright green Weird Fish 100 litres t-shirt that day. He came back with a stash of records I'd never heard off but seemed delighted with them. 

A very tired Anna and I returned to George Square and sat and relaxed for a while, listening to Joe McElderry (X Factor winner from a couple of years ago) perform. He was actually very good. I never really thought it was a god idea to have that horrible Rage Against the Machine song for Christmas number 1 that year. 

We didn't get the best view, but if you look hard enough, you can just about see him on the stage.

Anna was happy with her haul of badges I hadn't thought of it this way before, but when I saw  the Never kissed a Tory sticker on my teenage child, I thought it read far too much like an invitation.....

We returned home absolutely shattered but determined that this will not be our last Pride. We had a brilliant day. 


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