Saturday, June 29, 2013

How exciting can one weekend get?

I am sitting on my bed during a brief lull in Doctor Who convention proceedings sipping Earl Grey & marvelling  at how many exciting things are going on this weekend.

On the Liberal Democrat front, Portsmouth Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson and his partner John have their civil partnership today. I hear that there was gridlock in the city as guess made their way to the ceremony. Best wishes to Gerald & John for a long & happy life together. 

Then there's the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. I so want Mark Webber to win his last race here but he'll have a tough job. A Mercedes win would be nice, but I would much rather it was for Nico.

Wimbledon continues with British interest into the second week.

Just as my parents leave France after their first joyfully successful motor homing expedition, the Tour de France starts. Let's hope we see our Cav continue his current good form.

And then there's here at Starfury's Return to the eleventh hour convention, based around Matt Smith's tenure as The Doctor. It had a controversial start after convention organiser Sean Harry disengaged brain & keyboard while, in his words, feeding some Internet trolls. In so doing, he insulted Sixth Doctor Colin Baker who responded on Twitter. I think it will take a hand-written, sincere apology to get over that one, not just a simple tweet. We all screw up online - it's how you put it right that matters.

Anyway, it is fantastic to have Neve McIntosh & Catrin Stewart, who play current irregular companions Madam  Vastra & Jenny Flint. They had a fun talk speculating about their characters' pasts and future and suggesting that the Doctor might have a child with them. Catrin revealed that Matt Smith kissing her and her slap in response in Crimson Horror were not in the script. Matt added the kiss, she responded accordingly.

I just love Simon Fisher Becker, who plays Dorium Maldovar. Apart from being very funny, he provided lots of real, practical insights into an actor's life. He said he spends part of each day reviewing work he's done (as he put it, ringing his agent and seeing if the money has come in) and looking for new work. Both he & Christina Chong made much of the idea that you don't just say you want to be an actor, you behave as though you are. You have to be quite strategic about learning the craft and knowing the industry. 

And that is all I have time for now - autographs & photos to collect! Then fancy dress, with Anna as Rory Williams, tonight. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Protecting children, delivery charges, nuisance calls and better comms support for deaf people - Lib Dem MPs' private members bills

Stephen Tall told us all about the private members' bills brought in by Tory MPs in their "alternative Queen's Speech" - everything from burka banning to reintroducing the death penalty to naming the August Bank Holiday after Margaret Thatcher.

I thought I'd look into the measures the Liberal Democrats who were successful in the Great Parliamentary Raffle are hoping to bring into law. As you might expect, they're a bit more practical and relevant.

Sir Malcolm Bruce's Bill is all about improving communications support for deaf people. Signature has more details:
Sir Malcolm is a tireless advocate for the deaf community and is keen to use this opportunity to improve the everyday communication experiences of deaf and hard of hearing people...
The main aims of the bill are to establish a body that oversees British Sign Language (BSL) training, BSL teaching and supports deaf and hard of hearing children in schools.
The full title is "a Bill to establish a body to assess provision of communication support for deaf people and to make recommendations; and for connected purposes". The short title of the bill has been confirmed as Communication Support (Deafness) Bill.
It would have been surprising if Mike Crockart hadn't produced a bill aimed at tackling nuisance calls. His campaign on the subject continues to gather support.  Which? magazine is supporting his bill:
Backing Mike Crockart MP’s Private Members’ Bill which aims to change the laws around how personal data is used and to give regulators more powers to tackle companies which breaks the rules, Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:
“People are sick and tired of being bombarded with nuisance calls and texts. The current system is failing the public and given the scale of this problem, it’s time for the Government to step in.
“We urgently need to see a new approach, new laws and new technology to tackle this scourge on people’s lives. We hope MPs get behind this bill to strengthen the law on consent and put people back in control of their personal data.”
Last Christmas, Tavish Scott highlighted that Christmas would be cancelled if Santa had to pay the extortionate delivery charges often levied on parts of rural Scotland.  Robert Smith agrees and his bill aims to force retailers to be  more upfront about these charges. He said:
Some of the extra charges made by online couriers to deliver to parts of Scotland are just outrageous. Retailers need to think about finding more reasonable ways to deliver their products to rural areas. One option is to deliver goods by Royal Mail which charges one price to deliver anywhere in the UK. Alternatively retailers need to think about using couriers that charge more reasonable amounts for delivery in Scotland.
People in rural Scotland and on the Islands understand that products may take a little longer to arrive, but the additional cost charged by some companies just seems out of all proportion.
Finally, Mark Williams concentrates on child protection and updating the definition of what constitutes cruelty.  I will warn you that his explanation makes heartbreaking reading:
As a result, the 1868 Act stated that ‘wilful neglect’ was a criminal offence if the health of the child was or was likely to be ‘seriously injured’. The 1868 Act’s replacement in 1933 refers to the same requirement for neglect to be ‘wilful’, and for the child to be subjected to ‘unnecessary suffering’, and this only on a physical level, in order for that neglect to be criminal.
In my view there is no ‘acceptable’ level of suffering for children, and yet our laws in the United Kingdom currently assume that there is.
That needs to change – it cannot be the case that the ‘accidental’ neglect of children (that is to say there is nothing ‘wilful’ in the neglect) is not considered a criminal offence, and that no sanctions exist to tackle psychological and emotional child neglect – this is despite expert opinions suggesting that psychological neglect is the most destructive form of abuse.
I have encountered a number of harrowing tales since choosing to become involved in Action for Children’s campaign on Child Neglect. In one case, an individual child was openly told by his stepfather that he was hated; he was forced to go to bed before his siblings, at 6.30pm, and regularly wet his bed because his room was not lit, to the extent that maggots were found in the mattress. The child was persistently criticised, refused affection and told he wasn’t wanted; was socially isolated, prevented from playing with his siblings, and was used as a scapegoat for the family’s problems.
Yet, this is not considered criminal neglect by our laws and the police are, as such, powerless to intervene. When the child was finally removed to live with his grandmother, the hatred passed on to one of his younger siblings, who was only removed two years later.
All in all, a much more sensible package of measures.  If you want these to have any chance of success, it'll be down to lobbying MPs and government ministers to give them support and time, so get to it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why shouldn't boys who post sexted images of girls online be criminalised?

I've just been listening to an item on the Today programme about how to deal with the problems of sexting. This involves a teenager, almost always a girl, taking a nude photograph of herself and sending it, often under considerable pressure, to another teenager, almost always a boy. That boy then distributes it amongst all its mates who then send it to all their mates. They spoke to some boys who had done it and their motivation was, basically, nothing to do with the girl. She or her image,  was simply a commodity to give them status amongst their peers.

One thing that struck me about the article is that if parents went to the Police, they were told that if they prosecuted the boy for distributing an illegal image of a child, they would also have to prosecute the girl for taking it.

There's something about that that strikes me as fundamentally unfair. The girl is sending a photograph, albeit one that she's too young to be taking, possibly under pressure, but on the basis that it's for private consumption. The boy breaches that trust and spreads it. He, as far as I can see, gets away with few consequences while her life can be ruined. As ever, she's the one who's blamed, in the same way that a teenage girl who gets pregnant is blamed as though she did that alone.

It is illegal for under 16s to have sex with each other. They are going to do it, often mutually consensually happily. They can guard against, although not completely prevent, any consequences, in terms of pregnancy or STDs by using contraception. It's not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, and I wouldn't encourage any teenager to do it, but there are a fair few who won't be bothered by that.

Sending a private photo to all and sundry, however, is an act which is by itself clear abuse.A girl taking the photo of herself and sending it to someone she trusts is not to blame for the abuse which follows, but she will bear the consequences for the rest of her life. She will be judged, humiliated and the sense of violation will be debilitating. The boy who distributes the photo has absolutely no penalty. Why can't there be a presumption against prosecution of the girl but a presumption for prosecution of the boy. I don't necessarily think that the boy should end up in prison, but I quite liked the NewYork idea mentioned on the programme of an order that they should be sent on some sort of education.

Having said all of that, the horse has left the stable, run the race, had its dinner and a satisfying nap by the time that the image gets out there.The most effective move is to stop it happening in the first place. How? More education, of course. But if boys knew that this was abuse, and that they could face consequences, not least their Granny finding out, for example, that education would be so much more effective.

Maybe there does need to be a bit of toughness here and a very strong message needs to be sent that this sort of abuse will not be tolerated.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Willie Rennie's latest e-newsletter: Courts, Pars, a fair deal for tenants and a day with health professionals

Willie Rennie as MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife sends out a regular e-newsletter to his constituents. A copy has fallen into my inbox. If you would like to subscribe to it, email 

eNews from Willie Rennie MSP
Thanks for reading the latest edition of my eNewsletter designed to keep you informed about my activities on your behalf.  If you have any views on the subjects raised pleased don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Cupar Sherriff Court
I am frustrated that the SNP Government has secured the support of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee to close Cupar Sherriff Court and nine other courts across Scotland.  Despite considerable opposition from local people the Committee, including local SNP MSP Rod Campbell, backed the plans.  Rod Campbell said it would have been an "abuse" of his position to vote to stand up for local constituents and save the court.  Together with Councillor Margaret Kennedy and MP Ming Campbell, I was opposed to the closure because of the economic impact on the town, access to local justice and the money wasted by moving the police station next to the court.  I pressed the First Minister in Parliament but he refused to back the courts.

Opencast coal
I have been working to deal with the consequences of the collapse of coal mining companies in Fife.  ATH and Scottish Coal collapsed last month leaving local communities, the council and government to deal with the environmental legacy with polluted water and barren land. Sites at Kelty, Crossgates and Oakley are causing particular concern.  I am a member if the Scottish Government's Coal Taskforce, have met Energy Minister Fergus Ewing and Fife Council Leader Alex Rowley. I am opposed to the proposal to introduce a 'pay as you extract' restoration scheme as a replacement for bonds as this could cause even greater problems if companies were to subsequently fold.  If you have concerns about your local opencast please get in touch. 

Police Authority Chief Executive
The Chief Executive of the new Scottish Police Authority has resigned after only months in the job causing concern that problems at the troubled organisation have not been resolved despite Scottish Government assurances.  I quizzed the First Minister on whether his Government had covered up the resignation, submitted in February, in order to conceal more serious problems.  As a result the organisation has had insufficient time to recruit a new permanent Chief Executive and are now recruiting another interim Chief.  The authority, responsible for holding Police Scotland to account for the service it delivers, will have had three Chiefs in its first year.  I will continue to press for answers.

Rethinking renting
Shelter Scotland's campaign for greater security for private tenants came to St. Andrews recently.  I am backing the campaign as it protects tenants from poor landlords who can ask them to leave the property at very short notice without good reason.  To join the campaign check out the Rethink Renting website.

West Fife Show
Farmers and visitors to the West Fife Show at Kelty were keen to update me on issues facing the rural community.

A day with health professionals
I spent the day with health professionals in Dunfermline and Dalgety Bay to get a better understanding of their work.  I spent the morning with the PACT and Hospital at Home team at Queen Margaret Hospital.  This included Care at Home, Community Rehab, and physiotherapy personnel who are tasked with supporting patients in the community who would otherwise be in hospital.  This relieves pressure on the hospital and keeps people at home where they often prefer to be.  In the afternoon I met the Learning Disability Service at Lynebank Hospital whom I quizzed about their work and explored the issues of delayed discharge and integrated health and social care. Finally, I met the Public Health Nursing Team at Dalgety Bay Clinic to see the wide range of services they provide including immunisation and maternity support.

Dunfermline Athletic Football Club
I lent my support to the campaign to buy Dunfermline football club.  After the large group of supporters successfully raised thousands of pounds to save the club they are now embarking on phase two of the campaign - this time to buy the club.  You can make your personal contribution at the Buy the Pars website. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pensions, the triple lock and Scottish Independence

Steve Webb has come under a bit of fire for comments that his triple lock, which guarantees a state pension rise by the higher of earnings, inflation or 2.5%. Let's look at what he actually said to the Financial Times.
My view is it should be triple lock; to be absolutely clear, I would want to see that continue. But we, as a party, will have to thrash that one out.
He made clear that this would be something that all parties would have go deal with.
This is pretty much a statement of the obvious. Every policy of a previous government is up for grabs once the next lot come in.

The triple lock, of course, was brought in when the pension was much lower. It was £97.65 per week  in 2010-11. Sustaining it over the longer term with a pension rate of £142 per week which will be brought in by the Pensions Bill currently going through Parliament  is bound to present challenges. We will need to be quite clear about how we would pay for it. Steve clearly thinks that we should and will no doubt argue his case with the Manifesto Working Group which is currently developing the platform for 2015.

I have long said that it is ridiculous that a family with a disabled child get no help with heating costs while my husband, who is still earning a reasonable amount, qualifies for Winter Fuel Allowance that we don't need because he's over 60. I'm very encouraged that Nick Clegg has signalled that any further cuts to welfare must come from those who can most afford it. The money that will save is not sufficient, however.

Our record on improving and widening access to a decent state pension as well as ensuring fair annual increases, is undoubtably one of the best things we've done in Government. It's the sort of reform we have been talking about for as long as I've been in the party. Steve Webb wrote about the new Bill for LDV in January:
 It will treat men and women equally for the first time and will value unpaid caring work just as much as a high-flying city job. That is why the big winners from Single Tier will be women, carers and some low earners who haven’t previously received much in the way of earnings-related state pension. And for the first time ever, we will be bringing the self-employed fully into the state pension system.
You know your polices must be good when they're nicked by your opponents. Scottish Finance Minister John Swinney told the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland that an independent Scotland would, from 2016 provide a single rate pension with a triple lock. Willie Rennie took him to task for promising a Liberal Democrat pensions policy without saying how he would pay for it:
The triple lock is a great policy for pensioners which is why we are delivering it in Government.  It's been possible with the economic base of the United Kingdom.  The SNP promise our policy but have failed to show how they will pay for it. Instead of promising everything and costing nothing they should answer the serious questions posed by ICAS about the security of pensions after independence.
Swinney spoke of a "seamless transition" of pensions after independence. This flies in the face of what ICAS said in a report questioning how the pensions system could operate post independence given that many schemes currently operate across the whole of the UK. The effect of EU rules requiring schemes to be fully funded if they operate over more than one country could cause significant problems, they said:
If Scotland became an independent country there would be significant cross-border issues for schemes which currently operate UK-wide. Under EU law (as interpreted by UK legislation), schemes which operate in more than one country must fund their liabilities in full and any underfunding must be rectified immediately rather than through a staged recovery plan. Dealing with underfunding would have major cost and cash flow implications for employers with underfunded cross-border schemes.
That doesn't sound seamless to me.

Swinney's assertions are consistent with the SNP's "it'll be fine" attitude to everything. If you question them, you are accused of scaremongering. Scottish voters are too canny to just cross their fingers and hope for the best. They will need much more credible details if they are to be persuaded to vote for independence than the SNP has yet been able to provide.
Why, though, should voters choose some sort of  imitation of Steve Webb's scheme when they can have the real thing by staying in the UK?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Would you have helped Nigella?

Everyone's been pretty shocked by the photos of Charles Saatchi's assault on Nigella Lawson for which he has now received a Police caution.

Just out of interest, I looked up the criteria for giving a caution and the procedures for doing so on the Ministry of Justice website. It appears that domestic assault is not normally the sort of offence considered appropriate for a simple caution:
Positive action is recommended in cases of domestic violence and abuse to ensure the safety and protection of victims and children while allowing the Criminal Justice System to hold the offender to account. Domestic violence and abuse cases often involve a number of incidents prior to reporting to the police. A positive action approach considers the incident in its entirety and should focus investigative efforts on gathering sufficient evidence to be able to build a prosecution case that does not rely entirely on the victim’s statement. Police and prosecutors should refer to the ACPO/CPS Charging checklist3 to help secure evidence-based prosecutions which are not solely victim reliant.
The next paragraph may offer a clue as to why a caution was given in this circumstance:
 However, where a positive action policy has been adhered to but the victim does not support a prosecution and the available evidence (including any additional evidence adduced) would only disclose a very minor offence a simple caution can be considered in preference to a decision to take no further action.
This is obviously a very difficult time for Nigella and she should be subject to no criticism whatsoever for any decisions she makes or doesn't make in relation to this. The fault lies entirely with Charles Saatchi. It's to be hoped that having to sign a bit of paper admitting his guilt in front of a Police Officer will teach him a lesson.

I'm not his biggest fan, it's fair to say. Nigella once famously said that he preferred a bowl of cereal to her cooking. If he's said that to her, even privately, it's a bit demeaning, to be honest. If you have a spouse who's achieved a great deal in their field, you would surely be really proud of them, wouldn't you? Such an attitude seems quite belittling of someone who's made millions from her unique and slightly salacious style of cookery programme.

One thing that's been vexing many is that nobody went to help Nigella on the night. Had I been there, I'd have intervened if I'd seen anyone put their hands round someone else's throat, especially if that other person looked distressed. And if I had taken any pictures, I'd have sent them to the Police, not a downmarket Sunday scandal rag.

Yesterday I asked on Twitter if anyone had ever intervened in a case of domestic assault. I had 11 replies, not bad for a quick tweet in the middle of the afternoon, from people who had either got directly involved or who had called the Police, including one from someone who had tried to stop a hammer attack on a family. Thankfully everybody was ok in that instance.

I've never had to intervene between spouses, but I have done so when I've seen parents behave really unpleasantly towards their children, giving them verbal abuse or pushing them around. There is never, and I mean never, any circumstance when it's justified to scream at your child, calling them a "wee f***ing s***e. Once I saw a mum push a shopping trolley really viciously at a boy of about 8. In both instances I got abuse from the parents but at least their anger was focused on me, not the child.

Alecia Simmonds has put forward her ideas as to why nobody helped Nigella. She said:
The reason, I think, is not that the 70 year old Saatchi posed such a hulking physical threat. It is simply because what they saw would normally have taken place behind closed doors, in a domestic setting where law, for most of our history, has refused to enter. Thanks to years of feminist campaigning domestic violence legislation has relatively recently sought to challenge the idea that these incidences are ‘just another domestic’ and to end the violent tyranny too many men wield over their partners. Yet for all our legal reforms, the Nigella incident proves that domestic violence is still considered a private matter between husband and wife. Domestic violence is simply not taken as seriously by our society as other crimes.
 I think she might have a point. At least the legislative protections are there victims of domestic violence, but our attitude towards it needs to catch up.

Another article I read today showed, though, that there are some men who have no issue with treating women as equals. In the Brisbane Times, John Birmingham writes about the monumental misogyny of the last week and calls upon the decent men of this world to stand with women against this nonsense:
Because the truth is the world is not solely populated by misogynists and homophobes and embittered, deeply stupid and potentially violent males. It’s also full of calmer, gentler, more intelligent and wiser men who know better than these fools and who are perfectly capable of standing them down. Men who want better for women because so many of the people they care most about in the world are women.
Where are these blokes when a man puts his hands around a woman’s neck and starts to squeeze? Where are they when some idiot demeans and disrespects a prime minister, not because of what she’s done, but because of what she is? Where are you guys? Because if you just stepped up and said no at the very moment that it's happening, not later, but right then and there, some of this wretched dickishness might finally die out.
Birmingham's view echoes that of Helena Morrissey when she said that it can't just be women calling for better representation within the party - men have to take ownership of the issues we've had as well. 

I hadn't, by the way, been aware of the goings on in the Australian army where emails depicting demeaning images of female officers  have been doing the rounds. That's appalling in an environment where you have to be able to trust your colleagues 100%. The army chief Lt General David Morrison certainly let the perpetrators have it. 

The attitudes prevalent around these issues shows that there is still a long way to go before men and women achieve true equality. What would you do if you saw someone upset by the violent behaviour of a partner while you were out and about?

Reasons to help Christine Jardine in Aberdeen Donside

On the wall in Christine Jardine's campaign headquarters, formerly a pet shop, just out of interest, there is a poster where people have written why they have come to help. Here it is in glorious technicolour.

Some of the best are:

Because the SNP have short-changed Aberdeen

Because Christine is awesome

I believe in Christine

Because I just really, really, really love the Lib Dems a lot. (I'd put money on Liberal Youth co-chair Kavya Kaushik having something to do with that one.)

Because we need people like Christine in Parliament.

Because Lib Dems support local communities

To stop the Nats

Donside needs a strong Lib Dem Voice

Christine is the intelligent choice

Because we are on the right side of local issues - and Willie Young sure is not

Returning the favour for Eastleigh

Delivering new pens

Because campaigning is a good hangover cure (this one appeared the night after Malcolm Bruce's 30th anniversary dinner)

Whatever motivates you, you would be given a very warm welcome in Donside over the last three days of the campaign at Team Christine Towers at 8 Scotstown Road. The phone number is
07516 450672 or you can email

There's a new VPB as well if you want to catch up with some phone canvassing - C534BA-1813

Christine is an amazing candidate. She has knocked on thousands of doors over the last few weeks and her no nonsense, Aberdeen first attitude has been very well received. We also could not have asked for more from Liberal Youth Scotland. They have really stepped up to the plate and have been an intelligent, hard working,  integral part of the campaign. We are so lucky to have them. 

We know the Daily Mail gets politics wrong all the time - but you'd think Strictly would be simple enough for them to understand

The Daily Fail website recycles a Total Politics interview with Nadine Dorries in which she's as predictable as ever. I particularly like the way she describes, in the original interview, the Liberal Democrats as "more left wing than Labour" and then says Cameron is a social liberal just like us. I think the SwivelEyedometer just exploded.

We shouldn't really be taking lessons from someone who doesn't think Trident is a weapon of mass destruction. 

Anyway, it's not her particular brand of politics I want to highlight but the Daily Mail's inability to get even the most basic of facts right.

Nadine, apparently, wants to to Strictly Come Dancing. It's not a prospect I relish, to be honest, but it wouldn't stop me watching the show. The Fail had this to say about Vince Cable's appearance on the show and why he couldn't do a full series:
Business Secretary Vince Cable took part in a Christmas special of the show in December 2010 when he partnered with ballroom professional Erin Boag.
But rules on impartiality meant he could not take part in the full Strictly series.
No, that's not why Vince can't do the full series. It's because he already has stacks of qualifications in ballroom dancing so he wouldn't be learning from scratch. Being that experienced is fine in a Christmas special, because he was up against previous competitors, but it would give him too much of an advantage in the series proper. 

If I had my choice of which Liberal Democrat I'd put in, it would be Jo Swinson. She would actually be a serious contender because she has the physical stamina from all her running and a sense of rhythm too. 

Back to Vince, though. If we can't have him in the whole series, we at least have this memory of his beautiful foxtrot with Erin Boag to keep us going.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

McInnes: The beginning of the end for local justice

I asked this morning if North East Fife MSP Rod Campbell would put constituency over party over court closures. Sadly, we now know the answer. He, like his SNP colleagues and John Finnie who is technically an independent voted down a Labour motion to annul the orders closing the courts.

I am certain he won't be allowed to forget that choice in a hurry.

It was depressing to watch the SNP MSPs criticise the closures and then vote for them. It was as though they were too scared to defy Kenny MacAskill.

It was also depressing how few of them, including MacAskill were bothered about the human consequences of their decision.

Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Alison McInnes had this to say after the vote.

Today’s vote marks the beginning of the end for local justice in Scotland.
SNP members of the committee have shown complete contempt for their constituents in voting to close down local courts in Cupar, Stonehaven, Peebles, Haddington and around the country.  To make the argument to save their local courts and yet blithely vote for the Government demonstrates a complete lack of respect.
Kenny MacAskill may try to shirk responsibility, but these are his plans.  He is responsible for ending Scotland’s proud tradition of delivering justice at the heart of local communities.

Tesco can be a dangerous place.....#losetheladsmags

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on Liberal Democrat Voice asking if it was time to lose the lads' mags in light of a new campaign set up by UK Feminista and Object. Even though my article was quite mild, and suggested no legislative change whatsoever, merely urging a think about the damage lads' mags and our hypersexualised culture does to women, it attracted some quite aggressive comments. Any time a woman speaks up about these things, there is a queue of mostly men waiting to shout her down and call her names, so it wasn't entirely unexpected. As you can imagine, I'm not one to be put off.

The Lose the Lads' Mags campaign aims to rid the magazine shelves of pictures of half naked women. If men want to read the stuff that's in them, then that's up to them, but do women really have to be subjected to images of scantily clad women on the front covers of these things? What does it tell kids about the world in which they are growing up? Today, they are taking the campaign a step further by asking Tesco to lose the lads' mags.

Simple trips to the supermarket can be quite damaging in that regard. Let's face it, you take your little girl to Tesco and the first thing she's likely to see is pouting, half naked women from the covers of the likes of Nuts and Zoo, not always from a high shelf either. Then you go to the toy bit and she finds herself being pigeonholed into pink and sparkly. Rather than just let kids choose for themselves what they want to play with, toys are segregated into frills and froth for girls and practical, interesting ones for boys. Some egregious examples, like the Early Learning Centre marketing doctors' outfits for boys and nurses' outfits for girls were withdrawn after pressure built on social media.

And if the message is damaging for girls, it's part of the mix that tells boys that the world is run by and for men, that women are second class citizens. When they then, and most of them do, access internet porn and see women being treated as mere receptacles rather than equal partners, they accept that and their expectations of how their own relationships will work are adjusted accordingly.

People have the right to buy whatever rubbish they like. I certainly do. The lure of a Nigel Slater recipe card or Les Miserables DVD have even on rare occasion persuaded me to buy the Dail Fail. What the Lose the Lads' Mags campaign is about is about the imagery that pervades the public space. Women in demeaning, half naked poses on the front pages of magazines where anyone can see them sends a message that women are second class citizens and that has to be wrong and contributes to a misogyny that is much more malevolent than anything I remember when I was growing up. Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism today writes at the Huffington Post about the sorts of things they hear from young girls. There are triggery elements for sexual assault in what follows:

One 13-year-old girl wrote to the Everyday Sexism Project in desperation, saying "I am so scared to have sex it makes me cry nearly every day... some of the boys at school keep sending us these videos of sex... and it looks so horrible and like it hurts... [it's] so scary and painful and the woman is crying and getting hurt." Without any other information to offset these messages, she believed that this was simply what sex was like.
Other young people spoke of boys in school discussions saying "rape is a compliment really" and "it's not rape if you enjoy it". One woman told me of her shock at seeing her 12-year old sister's social networking profiles, where boys in her year left messages saying "Give me a blow job you slag" and "you have no idea how hard I would fuck the living shit out of you". When she refused to send them explicit photographs of herself, they called her "a frigid little bitch". Boys, too, are in desperate need of clear support to overcome the misleading messages they may be receiving online at a young age about their role in sexual relationships and how they should treat partners.
Yes, you read that right. 12 year olds leaving sexually explicit, insulting and intimidating messages on girls' social media profiles.
Last year I wrote about how uncomfortable I felt when a man next to me on the plane was reading one of these lads' mags. Why, I said, do men think it's ok to get their nuts out in public?
If men (I could say people, but who are we trying to kid here?) want to look at this stuff, then there's very little I can do to stop them, but for heavens' sake, can they not do it in the privacy of their own homes? When men ostentatiously read stuff like this in public, it's like they're making a huge statement that they see women as simply being there as window dressing, as decoration, as pleasure enhancers rather than their equals. They clearly feel that they have a right to own all the public space. I felt it was so rude of him and it made me feel uncomfortable. Now, I don't have the right to be protected from being offended, and nor am I asking for it, but I think I have every right to express my displeasure at such insensitive and crude behaviour.
There is so much that needs to be done in terms of changing a culture that is deeply damaging towards women. A debate about the images we consider appropriate in the public space is only a small part of it. In the 70s, every workplace would have had a girly calendar and women just had to put up with it. Things have changed now, and such displays are no longer seen as acceptable. Lads' mags are a regressive step back and their publishers need to think about the images that they put on the covers. If retailers can put pressure of them in that regard, so much the better.

Taking those images out of the public space will give the vital work that comes through education, to promoting understanding, as Laura Bates says, of what a healthy relationship should be, more chance of success.  Is it really too much to ask that women are treated as equal citizens in the media? Caroline Lucas has a Westminster Hall debate on media sexism tomorrow and as I'm in London, I hope to be able to see it. I'll tell you all about it when I do.

If you want to tell Tesco to lose the lads' mags, then you can do so via Facebook, Twitter and Email here.

Will Rod Campbell put local justice in Cupar before party?

One thing we know about SNP MSPs is that they're a pretty compliant bunch who don't give their whips much bother.

The biggest rebellion to date is over an internal party issue, NATO, which led to the resignation of two SNP MSPs from the party, although they continue to vote with the Government in practice.

Today, though, all eyes will be on the four SNP members of  Holyrood's Justice Committee as they vote on a report which, if implemented, would see the closure of ten sheriff courts around the country. It's typical of the SNP's desire to centralise anything that sits still for more than five seconds.

I used to work in courts in England. Nobody goes to them at good times in their lives. They are either in debt, victim or accused in a criminal case, or going through deep family trauma. It goes without saying that they don't need the hassle, particularly if they don't have a lot of money, of having to travel great distances to access these services, particularly when the courts that they would be centralised into are already not meeting their targets. If you are dealing with issues about where a child should live, or whether  a parent should have contact with them, you need to sort that out pretty quickly and efficiently. You don't want the reason for delay to be an overloaded, over-capacity administrative system. Travelling from Cupar to Dundee, or Stonehaven to Aberdeen or Haddington to Edinburgh or Arbroath to Forfar is really too much to expect people to do, especially when public transport options aren't always up to scratch.

I've heard it said by SNP types on Twitter that this is an administrative, not a political decision. This is nonsense and typical of the SNP's "it wisnae me" attitude. Today it's politicians voting on this proposal, so they cannot escape accountability.

All the opposition MSPS will vote for Labour's motion against the proposal. All 3 opposition leaders have signed a letter to the Justice Committee which says:

On Tuesday the Justice Committee has the opportunity to vote against the closure of local courts and stand up for local services, jobs, businesses and proper access to justice.  
The court closures mean that in a number of cases witnesses, the police and victims will have to travel further to see justice done.  Not only do these plans greatly limit access to justice they also threaten to increase costs.  It is understood that even with the introduction of video conferencing, some of the remaining courts will struggle with the additional business.  Such expensive delays and disruption to cases are the last thing Scotland’s justice system needs. 
These plans also damage efforts to achieve diverse and successful local economies.  The trade generated by those who use local courts makes an important contribution to local businesses.  Taking well-paid public sector jobs and passing trade linked to the courts away from town centres will make it harder to keep our high streets viable.
Tomorrow, the Justice Committee can make the Scottish Government reconsider its approach and help keep justice local.   
In the interests of access to justice, protecting local services and local economies we urge the Justice Committee to support the motion to annul the Scottish Government’s court closure proposals.    
Yours sincerely,
Willie Rennie
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats
Johann Lamont
Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Ruth Davidson

Leader of the Scottish Conservatives
Rod Campbell, MSP for North East Fife has gone on record to question the proposal to shut Cupar Sheriff Court in his constituency, but will be put his vote where his mouth is? Highland MSP John Finnie, now an independent after resigning from the SNP over NATO is also sceptical.

Willie Rennie said that the spotlight was now shining on this committee and SNP MSPs on it:
The spotlight is now shining on nationalist MSPs. They have to choose between their constituents and their government. In the interests of local justice and in support of our local communities they need to do the right thing. The SNP government’s case for the closures is chaotic and cavalier, and support for it is very difficult to justify. It seems to be centralisation gone mad.
All I want, though, really, is for MSPs to think about the human consequences of the decision to close local courts. All of them earn more than enough to enjoy easy access to transport, whether car or public. Think about what it might mean for people who aren't that lucky, and think of the human consequences of cases being delayed by an inefficient, centralised disaster.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Willie Rennie as you've never seen him before

Everyone who knows Willie Rennie will know that he hardly ever stops. Whether it's getting on Alex Salmond's case in Holyrood, fighting for college funding or for the best start in life for two year olds, to travelling from one end of the country to the other encouraging and supporting activists, he's on the go all the time. Resting is not an option for him.  He can probably be described as WTF (Worse than Farron) in that regard. He will always enthuse you to do more work than you thought you were capable of.

He's spent a fair bit of time in Aberdeen Donside recently, supporting Christine Jardine's campaign. It was on a trip there last Friday that he was caught by an activist who had better remain anonymous doing something you don't normally see.

This uncharacteristic lounging around did not last long, however,  and he was soon back on the doors talking to voters.

The campaign HQ at 8 Scotstown Road is open every day and can be contacted on 07516 450672 or I'm hoping that as it's Aberdeen based  Liberal Youth Co-Chair Kavya Kaushik's 23rd birthday today, that everyone reading this will knock on 23 extra doors or make 23 extra phone calls in her honour. Contact HQ and they will give you the VPB code. If you can't go, you can donate here.

I was in Donside on Saturday and found that Christine's message was going down very well on the door. People feel that the SNP has let Aberdeen down, taking money away from the city and putting them in the central belt. They don't have much enthusiasm for the Labour candidate or council either. They like that Christine is fighting for Aberdeen to get its fair share of government money and investment and for nursery education for 1000 2 year olds in the city, while the SNP only provide it for 40.

One thing that was very clear was that people really don't want independence. They're happy for the Holyrood to have more powers, but they want to stay in the UK.

We did have some amusing encounters on Saturday. On the first street we went to, I reckon you could have found a quorum for the Scottish Parliament. In just a few steps we counted 5 MSPs, including Willie Rennie and John Swinney. It was quite amusing that we'd all decided on that street, the longest in the constituency, on the same day.

Yet again the young people in this party are doing us proud, with LYS members Hannah Bettsworth, Daniel O'Malley and Euan Davidson spending most of their time on the campaign trail. First there was EastLY, then there was GoldGuard during the county elections and now Donside helping Christine.

From a personal point of view, this was a return to an area that I spent a bit of time in as a student. I got a harsh reminder of the passage of time on Saturday. When I first arrived I went to a church that met in Oldmachar Academy which was all very new then. I remember it being out in the open a bit and very visible from the road. Not any more. It's pretty much surrounded by mature trees. It really doesn't seem like almost 30 years ago.

Sarah Teather and Sally Hamwee contribute to report which highlights misery of new family immigration rules

The conclusions of today's All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, that the changes in the family immigration rules are unfair and causing families to be split up, should come as no surprise. It was obvious to anyone who knows even a small amount about the immigration system that they would have a terrible and heartbreaking impact.

As global communications and travel become easier, so it becomes more and more likely that people are going to fall in love with someone from a different part of the world. If that someone is from within the EU, as it was for Nick Clegg, then they have a perfect right to live together with them in this country. If, however, they are from outside the UK, the process was always a bit more complex. Last year, however, the Government introduced stringent and inflexible new income limits, based on the income of the UK spouse, which makes it much more difficult. The report shows that the number of applications refused rocketed from 1 in 10 in the first quarter of 2012 to not that far off 1 in 2 after the change came in.

The rules are particularly unfair if you are a woman married to a non EU resident. I have a friend who lives in Japan with her husband. She's not in employment because she's at home looking after her children. Her husband earns more than enough to support the family, yet there is no way they would, under the current rules, get in to live in the UK as a family. Women are doubly at a disadvantage because even if they are in work they are likely to be earning less than a man doing the same job. We're supposed to have equal pay, but as the Fawcett Society will tell you, if you compare all work, for every £1 a man takes home, a woman earns 85p. 

The BBC has a number of examples of families affected by this, including that of a British woman due to give birth next month and feared her Japanese husband could be deported at any time. It's not as though she doesn't have enough money to support the family, it's just not salaried income as she is self-employed. Another example from the report tells how a 5 month old breastfed baby was forcibly separated from its mother because of these rules. How wrong and how heartbreaking is that? I remember dealing with a similar case. At that time it was against the Home Office's own policy to separate mother and baby in those circumstances but it ignored it anyway. How can we allow such cruelty to happen? There is no need. It's not as if spouses can claim benefits anyway. 

How would you like it if you were separated from your spouse or your children in these circumstances? I have to wonder what would happen in the future if the Tory right got its way and we left the EU. There are so many people, including Nick Clegg, who are married to EU citizens. What would happen if they lost their right to live here? Leaving the EU is unlikely to happen, but maybe some people might like to think about the human consequences. 

One thing I learned from this report is the situation regarding adult dependents, like parents. If you are over here working for the NHS, paying taxes, for example, surely you should be able to bring your Mum and Dad over if they become too frail. The report identifies that people who want to do this find themselves in an impossible situation. If they fail the income requirement, they can't do it, but if they pass on the amount of income, they are then told that they can financially support their parents in the home country. That is just inhuman, reducing care for a parent to simply a matter of handing over cash for others to provide a service. In your parents' last years, surely you want to be with them, holding their hands, reading to them, chatting about shared memories, enabling them just to spend time with them, soothing their pain or distress, comforting the other parent when things get really rough. 

I'm glad to see that Liberal Democrats Sally Hamwee and Sarah Teather have been involved in the preparation of this report. Its recommendations include an independent review of the new income requirement with a view to changing it so that it doesn't adversely affect those of a particular gender, or religion or ethnicity. They also want the rules changed to enable adult UK citizens to bring their adult dependent relatives over earlier and more easily.

How would you like it if you were forcibly separated from people you love? If that is something you can empathise with, please sign the Migrants' Rights Network's letter to the Government asking them to change this deeply unfair policy. 

Friday, June 07, 2013

SNP's criticism of Darling's visit to Tory conference is worrying

So, the Scottish Tories are meeting in Stirling this weekend for two days of torrid whispering in corners about Ruth Davidson's leadership and not discussing more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The event will also feature a Better Together reception as Labour and Liberal Democrat conferences have done. Alistair Darling in his role as chair of Better Together will be speaking. Typically, the SNP, including people who should know better, have been chuntering about this. Rather than discuss the nitty gritty of independence, because their plans are constantly being shown to be a bit lacking in either logic,detail or accuracy, the SNP like to talk up the presence of the Tories in the Better Together campaign. Not the most grown-up approach.

But that tactic, if you think about it, displays a worrying, almost sinister, mindset. It's not exactly what you would call pluralistic. I don't care much for the Conservative Party's world view. Even its supposed moderate programme, which involved getting rid of the Human Rights Act, marriage tax breaks and inheritance tax cuts for rich, dead people, as well as eroding employment rights, was bad enough. The nastier side that we are seeing at the moment on equal marriage and Europe really makes me feel very uncomfortable.

Ok, I don't like what they stand for. Some of it makes my skin crawl and every day I'm grateful that the Liberal Democrats are in there at Westminster stopping the worst of their ideas. I can't deny, though, that there is a very long tradition of Conservative thinking and support within Scotland and that there has to be a place in the debate and in Scottish political life for them.

If dealing with the Tories is so bad, you have to wonder why the SNP are running councils with them and why their minority government between 2007 and 2011 relied so heavily on Conservative support.

The SNP need to avoid creating the impression that they are seeking to exclude any of Scotland's mainstream political parties. Our current parliament is made up so that parties have to work together. If Scotland votes for independence, it would be a massively retrograde step if that was not the case. I don't think that any one seriously thinks it would be, so maybe the SNP sshould just grow up a bit. Three of Scotland's main political parties are working together in what they see as Scotland's best interests. Together, they cover all but six of Scotland's Westminster seats. They are headed by a credible and engaging figure who would wipe the floor with Alex Salmond if the First Minister would be brave enough to debate him. The case for independence is so far going backwards in the polls. If Salmond and Yes Scotland are going to make any headway, they are going to have to bring more to the debate than "Oh look, there's Darling with the Tories."

I haven't heard one person outside of politics mention the Tory Conference. Most people are blissfully unaware that it's going on. The conversations I do have with them on independence tend to revolve around pensions, currency and jobs, as well as feeling part of the UK. There's a long way until September next year and the debate needs to be of much greater quality than it currently is.Better Together is not exempt from this either. Both sides need to be better at understanding where people are at in their thinking and responding to that, not just engaging in sterile, ill-tempered acrimony.

Liberal Democrat McInnes' loses bid to secure prisoners a vote in the independence referendum

Scotland's referendum on independence next year is, we hope, a once in a lifetime event. If Scotland votes for independence, there is no going back. It's a huge decision.

We know from Alex Salmond's tussle with some UK Supreme Court judges a couple of years ago that the SNP don't care much for human rights of prisoners. Rather than being mortified at being found in breach, they decided to pick a fight with London because that's what they do.

To a liberal mind, prison is about rehabilitation, about getting the inmates' life in order, adding to their skills so that they can go out and contribute to society. Our justice system falls way short of that. So those in prison don't always get the support they need during and after their sentences.  So it's not surprising that so many of them end up back in and out of the place.

SNP, Labour and Conservative MSPs today ganged up to stop the Parliamentary Committee discussing the Referendum Franchise Bill from suggesting an amendment which would have given prisoners serving short sentences the right to vote. She had earlier explained why she wanted the measure so much:

The independence referendum is unlike any democratic decision Scotland has had to make before. Where a general election dictates a country’s direction for the next four years, this decision could steer Scotland’s path for the next three hundred years. 
It seems disproportionate to deny someone serving a short sentence a say in the future of their country. It seems nonsensical and arbitrary that someone sentenced in the summer will be shut out of this decision whilst someone caught in the spring will be allowed to vote.

Crimes must be punished. Our justice system must be seen to be effective and be effective. But if we want a prison system which rehabilitates offenders and helps them to become responsible citizens, it seems cruelly unforgiving to shut short term offenders out of a decision which could have repercussions on their life long after release.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will be putting these amendments before the Referendum Bill Committee with the hope of encouraging sensible debate from members. The UK is already out of step with the rest of Western Europe on this issue. On the biggest decision we will take in 300 years Scottish Liberal Democrats are clear that this is a reasonable, responsible and proportionate step to take.
After the vote, where she was backed by the Greens, she said she would try again to get the amendment through at Stage 3.

It's just a shame that the other parties can't see that to deny offenders on short sentences a say in the future of our country is unfair. If Scotland votes for independence that would affect not only the prisoner, but every generation of his or her family to come.

It may not be fashionable to stand up for the rights of prisoners, but it's the right thing to do and I'm very proud of Alison for so doing. Mind you, when she's up against a government who didn't care when the Prisons Inspector gave them a right rollocking over its neglect of women prisoners, she was always unlikely to win this one.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Embarrassment for SNP as it looks like they think they're a one party state...

The SNP campaign in the Liberton and Gilmerton Council by-election in Edinburgh has proved that it's, as Edmund Blackadder would say, at home to Mr Cock-Up. Yes, I know it's a case of there but for the grace of god go we, but if we'd made the mistake, they'd hardly have just sat there and nodded sympathetically.

From the Scotsman:
SCOTTISH Nationalists were today accused of misleading voters after issuing leaflets which talk about an “SNP by-election” and tell people they are being asked to choose a “replacement SNP councillor”.
Voters in Liberton/Gilmerton are due to go to the polls on June 20 to elect a new councillor following the death of the SNP’s Tom Buchanan – but the by-election is an open contest involving Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Ukip, the Pirate Party and an independent as well as the Nationalists.
However, the SNP leaflet says: “Sadly Councillor Tom Buchanan passed away recently and on June 20th you’ll be asked to vote in a local election to find a replacement SNP councillor for our area.”
Voter Kay Jenkinson, 72, said she was shocked when she read the leaflet put through her door earlier this week.
She said: “We know most political parties, if not all, can be strangers to accuracy but this is just ridiculous.

 The Liberal Democrat candidate in the by-election is a very nice man by the name of John Knox and there are 3 very good reasons to support him:
1. He cares passionately about providing new opportunities for the young and supports award winning Edinburgh LibDem initiative, the Capital Guarantee to provide traineeships for young people.
2. He is campaigning hard to protecting the Green Belt.
3. We don't need another Labour/SNP councillor - we need a councillor who is going to work tirelessly for the local community - we need John Knox.
I first met him back in the day when I was campaigning for Marilyne McLaren to get selected for Edinburgh South. He's a good bloke and would be a very conscientious, diligent councillor. So, if voters want someone who'll work quietly for them and not think that somehow he has some entitlement to their vote, John Knox is your guy.

Johann Lamont's best line ever at FMQs - and it wasn't even accurate....

It's been a bit of a pandatastic week.

The Edinburgh Zoo pandas have been here for 18 months and have so far managed to avoid the First Minister. Until the other day. The way he pronounced on Tian Tian's medical condition like he knew it all was quite scary. If I were her, I'd have felt he was a bit impertinent, to be honest.

Then Willie Rennie reminded us all how Salmond had pandaed to China on human rights last year saying on Facebook:
The First Minister’s cuddle with the pandas reminds us that last year he was warned off meeting the Dalai Lama by the Chinese Government. Alex Salmond shamed Scotland by putting his narrow interest above human rights. I can only hope that he has reflected on his misjudgement then and won’t make the same mistake again
And today, Johann Lamont had the Holyrood Chamber in hysterics at First Minister's Questions when she came out with what must be her best line ever:
The First Minister’s campaign started with a day at the cinema. A year on, he is going to the zoo. In our hearts, all of us know that his campaign is going nowhere. Scotland has a lot of sympathy for the panda, Sweetie. We know what it is to reject the unwanted advances of a big beast with only one thing on its mind.
A good line, but not entirely true. Certainly, in what has become the Annual Panda Mating Standoff at Edinburgh Zoo, Sweetie was having none of the idea. In fact, she even growled at Sunshine.The zoo veterinary lot blinked first and artificially inseminated her. When we went to see the pandas last month, the keeper told us that after she had had the procedure, Sweetie was, shall we say, more than mildly interested. The keepers wouldn't let nature take its course by that stage, though.

Lamont returned to the pandas as she ended her FMQ section which, as usual, took way too long...
 Perhaps the real reason why he went to see the pandas at Edinburgh zoo this week was to find out first hand from Sunshine how to deal with rejection.
It's not like Salmomd to miss a trick, but if I'd have been him, I'd have pointed out that anyone on the Labour benches would be able to share more first hand experience of rejection, but never mind. It was a funny moment.

On this the rest of the political parties should follow the SNP's lead...

 You should know by now that I'll always give credit when I think it's due. The SNP did a good thing the other day. At their party council meeting in Aberdeen, they passed policy on incorprating the World Health Organisation's International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes into Scottish law. This is something that could really make a difference, in conjunction with many other measures, in increasing the poor breastfeeding rates in Scotland. Last year I wrote about a UNICEF report which talked about how increasing breastfeeding could save the NHS a small fortune and tackle inequality too.

I said:
So, Nick Clegg, forget the novel tonight. Read this report before you go to sleep and get to work championing breastfeeding in the same way that you have parental leave and mental health. This has the potential to change a lot of lives for the better, to make our mothers and children healthier, to reduce inequality and all the while save us money.
This is the motion that the SNP passed on Saturday:
Council notes that Scotland has one of the lowest rates of Breastfeeding in Europe with only 22% of babies being exclusively breastfed at 6 weeks. Norway has 99% of babies at birth receiving breast milk and 80% still getting some breast milk at 6 months.

Council notes that Norway has adopted the World Health Organisation Code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes into law and ensured that babies, young children and parents are not exposed to inappropriate advertisement of products that undermine the normal way to feed a baby.

National Council urges the SNP to adopt the WHO code fully into policy and enact it upon gaining independence in order to protect babies who are breastfeeding and those that are fed on infant formula.
 There are plenty people in other parties who would happily support a similar policy. I think part of the independence debate is deciding what sort of Scotland we want to see - and find a way of delivering it whatever the outcome next year. Currently the decision on implementing the Code is reserved to Westminster. I don't see why it should be. We have different regulations on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol, so why not formula? Why not try to get all parties to reach a consensus on this? Now, I doubt you'd ever get the Tories on side. They are not ones for impeding big business. It wouldn't be unrealistic for Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and SNP to make a joint case for this to happen regardless of our constitutional future.

No matter whether we're independent or part of the UK, you had better believe that formula manufacturers would kick off big time at the first sign of this being brought in. It would be like the Scottish Whisky Association on minimum pricing only noisier and with even less legal substance to its case.The best way to withstand that is with a strong consensus across and beyond politics that this is the right thing to do. It's not impossible, though, and definitely worth it in the long run.

We are more than capable of grown-up politics in Scotland  and what issue could be more important than the health of all our babies? Let's work together to make the case for this change.

Only one day left to Name the Bridge

The Forth Replacement Crossing is due to open in 2016 and the public are getting a chance to vote for its name. Voting has been open for a while now, but closes tomorrow - so if you want to have your say, you'd better get on with it. 

I finally got around to casting my vote yesterday. I have to say that I'm not in any way impressed with the shortlist, although I'm not sure one Twitter correspondent's suggestion of Unnecessary Bridge should have made it, funny though it was. The list of five names is too samey and incredibly boring.

It wasn't too difficult for me to make my choice between the five options:

A Caledonia Bridge: If it were at the Border, maybe, but it doesn't represent the whole of Scotland, it's about crossing between Fife and Edinburgh.

B Firth of Forth Crossing: Honest to god, how boring can you get? Next to the Forth Road Bridge and the Forth Bridge (I'm with Billy Connolly on that one, it's not the Forth Rail Bridge, it was there first), you end up with a Holy Trinity of Bland. Underlining in thick red sharpie that the water is called the Forth. I think we know that. Let's do something different.

C Queensferry Crossing: Slightly better than the Firth of Forth crossing, but still too functional.

D Saltire Crossing: Same as Caledonia Crossing, but why would you name a bridge after a flag? I suppose it was good enough for a tv programme, Blue Peter, but still...But we don't have Union Jack Street, or Stars and Stripes Square, do we?

E St Margaret's Crossing. Now you're talking. Women are rarely recognised and even if you're not religious, patron saints are, I guess, part of our culture. St Andrew is everywhere, from cathedrals to a central square in our capital city to schools, to the seat of Government. I really liked what Kate Higgins wrote about her a couple of years ago - and you know a blog post must be good when you can remember it after all that time.
Today we trip the light fantastic to celebrate Scotland’s Patron Saint, Andrew.  Sadly, the heavy snow put paid to many of the planned festivities but it’s clear that we Scots are growing to love our national day and to indulge in ostentatious displays of patriotism.  Hurrah!
But Scotland is a male dominated culture, so it will come as no surprise that in whipping up a ceilidh for Andrew, our other patron saint languishes unloved and unacknowledged.   But actually she – and yes, it is a she – has much more claim to Scotland’s hearts than he does. 
I might have preferred Queen Margaret's Crossing rather than St Margaret's, but my inner feminist won out here. It's important to recognise this woman who, after all, set up the first Forth Crossing as well as doing many charitable works and looking after the poor.

If you feel the same way, go and vote for her here. If you don't agree, vote anyway.

Kids can't escape sexism - not even in the classroom

Picture a school, somewhere in the UK. A classroom full of teenagers is asked by their teacher to discuss in groups what they thought the world would be like in 30 years' time.

An all female group were talking about things like terrorism, liberalism, tolerance, the poverty gap and international co-operation. 

The teacher came over to their table and asked them if they were talking about futuristic fashion.

This happened. It shouldn't have. Girls should not be pigeon-holed in this way. That teacher probably doesn't have the first clue that he was being sexist. He probably didn't mean to cause offence. People who interact with kids do have a special responsibility to engage their brains before they open their mouths, though.

The great value of the Everyday Sexism project is that it shows how commonplace these sorts of incidents are and raise awareness of what sexist behaviour is. Many women experience examples of sexist, demeaning behaviour on a daily basis. They are fundraising now to expand their operations. You might want to consider giving them a donation here. I have. A word of warning, though. The video is quite triggery for sexual assault.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Support equal marriage vigil as Lords debate Bill on Monday 3 June

The House of Lords debates the Same Sex Marriage bill on Monday 3 June. They will address the general principles of the Bill before voting on a Second Reading.

When the matter was debated in the Commons two weeks ago, I was saddened to see that so many of my friends were upset by a protest against the Bill.  Think about how it feels to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and to see people demonstrating outside Parliament to exclude you. They tell you that they think that your relationships are somehow less valid. It makes me feel angry to see my friends put through that sort of discomfort. Love and commitment between two people who want to spend their lives together is the same, so it's clearly logical that everyone should have access to the same legal recognition.

That's partly why I'm so glad to see that there is an equal marriage vigil taking place outside Parliament from 5:30 pm on Monday. I would so love to be there, except this 400 miles' distance thing is a bit of a problem.

Monday also marks the second anniversary of the death of Andrew Reeves, the much loved London campaigns officer and then Scottish Director of Campaigns. I've been thinking a lot about how he would be feeling about the process of the legislation both at Westminster and Holyrood. He's been a much missed presence at every vigil, every march we've been to. I'm sure he would have been very proud of everyone from Willie Rennie, Nick Clegg and Lynne Featherstone to LGBT+ Liberal Democrats who have done so much to turn this Bill into a reality.

Wherever we are in the country, I hope all supporters of equal marriage will take part in this vigil in some way, whether by tweeting (or  using any other form of social media), blogging or organising local events to show support. It's also important that we politely and reasonably make the case to the Lords and ask them to support this Bill. Even if they don't personally agree with it, they should not stand in the way of equalising the rights of others, especially as the Commons has voted it through with such a stonking majority. Many people in the Lords will remember the day when it wasn't just legal, it was commonplace to discriminate on racial grounds. The changes in the law have done much to improve things, although there's a long way to go on that front, too.

Oh, and a note to people on the vigil, if you happen to see Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore anywhere near Parliament, sing Happy Birthday to him. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Strictly won't be the same without Miss Whiplash!

So, the BBC chose the middle of a Summer afternoon to sneak out the news that four of their Strictly Come Dancing professionals won't be returning for the new series, at least not with celebrity partners. I am a bit gutted to see that Erin Boag is leaving. She's been in from the beginning and her departure leaves only Anton and Brendan from the original cast left. She earned the nickname "Miss Whiplash" for her strictness in the training room.

A couple of her highlights:

That Samba with Julian Clary from way back in 2004:

And something altogether more sophisticated with a certain Liberal Democrat Business Secretary:

Vincent and Flavia's departure is also a blow, particularly Flavia. There's only so much of Vincent you can cope with. You never quite know whether his ego is really as big as that or whether he's just playing it for laughs. I suspect the former.

Like Camilla Dallerup, Flavia has decided to depart on a high, as defending champion. I never really warmed to Louis Smith, to be honest, but I loved her partnership with Russell Grant from the year before.Especially that Jive to Reach for the Stars at Wembley:

As for Vincent, I still go back to his jive with Louisa Lytton.

I have to be honest and say that I am not heartbroken at Aliona leaving. Nothing personal - I just don't like her choreography. However, her highlight, I think, would be her Charleston with Matt Baker:

They have chosen four new dancers, rather too many of them with a Burn the Floor background. Why can't they just go back to what they did before and get proper competition ballroom or latin dancers. Although I'd quite happily have Darren and Lilia back. 

The new dancers include Iveta Lukosiute, who stood in when Aliona was injured last year, Emma Slater, a British dancer who has been on the last 3 series of Dancing with the Stars in the US, Janette Manrara and Aljaz Skorjanec from Burn the Floor. 

They join remaining dancers Anton Du Beke, James and Ola Jordan, Robin Windsor, Natalie Lowe, Karen Hauer, Brendan Cole, Artem Chigvintsev, Pasha Kovalev and Kristina Rihannof.

And, can you believe, it's only 3 months till Strictly and the countdown to Christmas that goes with it. Where is 2013 disappearing to?


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