HAMILTON ADVERTISER COLUMN
29 DECEMBER 2016
CHRISTINA MCKELVIE MSP, HAMILTON, LARKHALL & STONEHOUSE
It’s been a year of horrific tragedy, populated by the images of terrified and injured children struggling to survive amid the ruins of Aleppo. We’ve seen Islamic extremist attacks kill 30 people in Brussels and a disturbed man kill 50 young people in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Just last week, we saw the Berlin attacker, Anis Amri, ram his hijacked lorry into the Berlin Festive Market, killing 12 and injuring many more.
There’s no getting away from those facts, or from the terrifying reality of a Yes vote to leave the European Union. The outcome may be democracy at work but it wasn’t Scottish democracy. Two out of three voters here recognised just how significant our membership of the world’s largest trading bloc actually is and how important free movement of people is for Scotland’s economy and its people.
But in Hamilton, we’ve had some great moments all the same. I’ve seen births, marriages and the achievements of students here. I’ve had the privilege of helping hundreds of constituents sort out problems over housing and benefits against the ever tightening and painful grip of the Tory austerity agenda.
I’ve watched the young women of the University of the West of Scotland stand up for their safety on campus – and we’ve seen that campus secured to stay here in our town.
Myself and Angela Crawley MP managed to pull together the Hamilton Town Plan consultation. At the end of October, we told local people about the 1,800 responses we received. Those insights will allow us to formulate progressive steps for change that will revitalise our town, always with the active involvement of local people
We had the Scottish elections in May and once again, the SNP topped the polls comfortably. I’ve thanked you all before but let me say it again now, thank you to all the folk who voted to bring me back with an increased majority and to the many of you that tramped the streets with me during the campaign. And if you didn’t vote for me, I am still just as much there for you too.
The American elections were as much of a shock to most of us as the Brexit vote. Never in my life have I seen such stark venom nor so much bluster and nonsense. Misogyny has become trendy. Donald Trump has made it so. It’s fashionable to talk about women in sexist and disparaging language.
In so many ways, this has been a backward year where we have seen the mounting frustration of people across the globe who feel disconnected from democracy.
I don’t think this is so in Scotland. Since our own referendum in 2014, Scots have become engaged in making their own future and demanding that their own Scottish Government is accountable to them. That’s real democracy at work.
We have some additional powers coming through in 2017, particularly some control over what our social security policy should look like. It’s not as much control as I would like to have – about 15 per cent of the overall budget – but it’s a start.
And let’s think about some of our local successes, like Kirsty Gilmour’s badminton success in Rio, and young Brandon Murray, our work kick boxer champion, then there’s Chloe Rees who’s been selected to play for the UK in ice hockey. Well done to all of you!
I get so weary of people who complain about ‘today’s young people.’ They say they are all wasters and layabouts, that they don’t have any manners or respect for their elders and betters. They get discarded as some kind of social pariahs. The young people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse don’t fit that model.
I have never found any of those assumptions to be even remotely true. Not just because I am the mother of two sons in this age bracket but more because I have had so much experience of talking to the young folk in this area about their futures, their desires, their views about politics, society and social engagement.
Over the last five years, I have given a huge amount of time and commitment to our young people. Why? It’s obvious. They are the people who will take Scotland forward, who will carve out the skills and brilliance that will continue to getting this country noticed throughout the world. And among them will probably be some new politicians, able to lead the people around Hamilton with innovative, imaginative policies.
You may know that we had Apprenticeship Week recently. Modern Apprenticeships are a great success story for this Scottish Government. We recognised the need to create a real integration between the employers and the potential skills base. Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is experienced and competent in making sure that employers have a real input into dual learning.
In 2008, there were 10,600 apprentices. In 2013, Scotland had some 36,000 in training and the Scottish Government is aiming for 30,000 new starts each year as soon as possible.
The success of the scheme is a push-pull effect between the Scottish Government, SDS and the employers who are actively involved. There are now around 80 different types of apprenticeships available with new areas such as Financial Services and IT developing all the time.
The Scottish Government’s Youth Employment Strategy recognises the importance of integrating the vocational and academic routes and contains key initiatives with this focus.
The figures speak for themselves with 92 per cent of apprentices staying in work once qualified, while 96 per cent of employers say staff who have undertaken the training are more competent. Unlike the rest of the UK, Scottish apprenticeships guarantee a job at the end of training.
In Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, we have above the national average of young people on on to further and higher education. Since this Government took over, positive destinations in the SLC area have gone freom 88.7 per cent to 93 per cent in 2014-15.
I’m proud of that improvement. No school leaver should end up as a NEET – not in employment, education or training – and they won’t on my watch!
Just in the last few weeks, I’ve been meeting up with successful NHS procurement apprentices who love what they’re doing and with apprentices at the Scottish Gas Academy who are carving out a future for themselves. I am really encouraged and enthused by them. They’re committed and serious about what they’re doing and I wish them all the very best. I know they will succeed and they have the support to do so.
As well as that, over the last five years, I’ve been running lots of job fairs bringing together employers and potential recruits. I’ve talked to these employers. I’ve learned what they’re looking for and I’ve been working hard to get a match.
Because that’s what Scotland’s economy depends on: employers having the skills they need to develop and grow.
What a year it's been!
But let's just look at a few recent changes and events to wrap up 2015 and forge our path for the year ahead.
It's great to know that we have Stephanie Callaghan standing for what was Lynn Adams' council seat. Lynn died recently from cancer. She was a great friend and I miss her more than I can say. She was a real inspiration in all our lives with her generosity of spirit and her enthusiasm for life.
But Stephanie is an ideal choice. She will, if elected, be a tremendous person to carry on the spirit of Lynn's work and add her own character to it. She has been a committed volunteer and community activist and has already proven herself to all of us in the SNP. Good luck Steph!
I'm delighted to be able to report at least a partial success in our campaign to keep the University of the West of Scotland campus in Hamilton. Our SNP team has fought hard against the idea of moving the campus to a spot between the M8 and Eurocentral. Not exactly a hot bed of facilities for students in a former, failed industrial park owned by Cerebus.
This big American outfit has a lot of its dealings in pornography and is a big supporter of the American pro-gun lobby. There are all sorts of press reports about some of theiir rather questionable activities in the past.
So I'm pleased that the University Court rejected that option in favour of the Hamilton International Technology Park. There will be issues to iron out, particularly over what happens to the existing Almada Street site which needs some decent investment.
Reservations aside, Hamilton is a university town with lots of students using local businesses and facilities. That's important and it's the natural location as part of the life and blood of our town.
I've been busy supporting The Haven Christmas Tree Campaign this year. Visitors to my office in Hamilton were more than happy to make a contribution and to add a little card to the tree.
Coping with a life-limiting disease is a huge event in a person's life and the Haven's programme of support is there to help folk manage all the aspects of their illness. It offers three drop-in centes in Blantyre, Forth and Wishaw.
The team of specialist nurses, therapists and volunteers all work closely together to provide the highest standard of support in a non-clinical holistic environment.
At the Scottish Parliament, I've been delighted to see my personal campaign to make domestic abuse across Scotland into a ground-breaking specific offence starting to take real shape.
The Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson MSP, has announced a consultation on how to take the concept forward. The consultation will draw in stakeholders to think about how best to structure legislation. it will run until 26 March 2016.
When we were speaking in the Parliament about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 24 November, I stressed the point again that women are still way behind in so many ways from getting safe sanitary facilities to being fairly represented in the boardroom and indeed in politics. Only by developing a culture where the idea of 'equality for women' is so ingrained that there's no debate about it required can we see a time when women will no longer be regarded as second class citizens.
I've also been talking about Westminster's welfare reforms and the damage it is causing to the most vulnerable and needy in our communities. As always, the women suffer disproportionately. When Universal Credit is fully rolled out here, women will lose out even more. They will be answerable to the 'male breadwinner' for the money to run the home and if has other ideas about just how to spend that money, then it will be the women who have to try and sweep up the mess.
Strikes me as a move right back to the 19th century when women were expected to do what they were told at all times and to be grateful for any housekeeping cash they got from the men. If that's David Cameron's idea of progress, then I dread to think what's coming next along with more cuts.
Mr Cameron once said that he was born not with one but with two silver spoons in his mouth. I say try a week living on benefits in Hamilton. He could learn a lot.
MSPs approve human trafficking law
As many of you will already know, I have been campaigning long and hard to secure new legislation designed to tackle human trafficking in Scotland.
Yesterday, (1 October), I was delighted to see that legislation moving into place. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill establishes human trafficking as a specific offence.
It also incrreases the punishment for offenders to a maximum life sentence and ensures more support for victims.
You can watch the full debate here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/odz2y78
You will find my own contribution here: http://tinyurl.com/ntshonp
You can read the full Bill here: http://tinyurl.com/njmhqux
It is great to know that we in Scotland are taking the lead here in making life more difficult for those who would force servitude and compulsory labour - including prostitution - upon their victims.
Children are especially vulnerable, snatched out of their homes and placed into alien, often filthy environments where they are held against their wills.
It seems incredible that this slavery is taking place in the 21st century and in a modern democracy, but make no mistake, it is, and to far more victims than you may imagine. The current immigrant crisis is adding to the problem.
The Bill also:
Police Scotland has welcomed the new legislation, and Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone added: "Trafficking is unacceptable. We will target those who trade in human beings and we will work with partners to ensure victims have the support they need.
"The new las sends a clear signal to those who choose to exploit and enslave others that we are committed to ending this horrific crime and that we will pursue those responsible to bring them to justice."
Traffickers, you are not welcome. Scotland is closed to you. Those who are trafficked, are refugees, are in a real state of misery, are entirely welcome here. We will provide you with sanctuary and with support.
We therefore have a moral obligation to ensure that Scotland is an inhospitable environment for those who seek to commit this despicable crime.
This Bill will ensure that we put in place the measures needed to prevent people trafficking men, women and children through Scotland and that their victims are properly protected. In particular, it will strengthen protections for the most vulnerable children through the provision of independent child trafficking guardians.
The solution to this complicated, and often hidden, crime is not just to be found in legislation - that's why this bill will also require ministers to work with others to develop a Scottish trafficking and exploitation strategy. The strategy will seek to increase awareness of the crime, to improve detection and training for staff on the front-line.
Clare's Law deomestic abuse scheme is rolled out in Scotland
A scheme that allows people to be told if their partner has been violent in the past has been introduced in Scotland.
It follows a six-month trial in Aberdeen and Ayrshire which saw 22 people warned that their partners had a history of domestic abuse.
The initiative is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her violent ex-partner. Sadly therefore, the legislation is too late for her but many more women are now in a position to check out the background of a partner.
The 36 year old was strangled and set on fire by George Appleton in Salford in 2009. She was unaware of his history of violence against women.
Her father, Michael Brown, has campaigned for people to have the right to ask for information about partners, and for the police and other agencies to have the power to take the initiative and tell someone if there are grounds for concern.
Police Scotland said the aim of the scheme was to prevent domestic abuse by "empowering" men and women with the "right to ask".
In the past, it was difficult for anyone entering a new relationship to find out if their partner had prior convictions for violence or domestic abuse.
Disclosures can also be triggered by friends, relatives, social workers or police officers. If checks show that someone does have a record of abusive behaviour, the police will consider sharing the information with the people "best placed" to protect potential victims. Requests are made via a form on the Police Scotland website.
The force's figures show that the number of domestic abuse incidents reported in Scotland from 1 April 2014 - 31 March 2015 increased by 1,076 to 59,471 compared to the same period the year before.
So the Scottish Government is clocking up important achievements that include a new Equally Safe Justice Expert Group, a summit with academics and practitioners looking at work to prevent domestic abuse in Scotland.
And the Scottish Government is providing record funding to tackle all violence against women and girls - £20 million over 3 years on top of existing funding.
Later in the year, our Government has committed to introducing an Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill which, among other things, will create a new offence of sharing private intimate images - that is, revenge porn - something else I've been campaigning hard for having seen some of the life-wrecking impact on young lives.
That is an action that is well supported by many agencies who have seen the damage first-hand.
‘We support the bringing forward of this legislation. In particular, a specific offence to tackle the issue of the sharing of intimate images will bring much needed clarity to the law and help reassure victims that they can achieve access to justice. This Bill will take matters forward, but it has to be seen within a much wider programme of activity that the Scottish Government is pursuing and of course a specific offence of domestic abuse is still required with a public consultation the right way to develop such an offence.
At its heart though, this programme is about tackling gender inequality which is at the root cause of violence against women. By addressing this inequality, the Scottish Government is showing leadership on this critical issue.’
Mhairi McGowan, Head of Service, ASSIST & Domestic Abuse Services, Community Safety Glasgow
‘Rape Crisis Scotland welcomes the planned introduction of jury directions in sexual offence trials. Jury members may hold their own views about what they would do if they were sexually attacked, and may judge a complainer’s behaviour in light of this. It is unreasonable to expect jury members to know for example that freezing and being unable to fight back is a very common reaction to a trauma such as rape. It is important to ensure that jury members are equipped with factual information they may need to help them come to the right decision, and that this decision making is not marred by erroneous preconceptions about behaviour.’
Sandy Brindley, National Coordinator, Rape Crisis Scotland
“We welcome the announcement today that the Scottish Government will introduce legislation which will go some way towards addressing domestic abuse.
“The announcements made today recognise the seriousness with which domestic abuse must be taken by politicians, police and the legal system, and places a greater focus on the perpetrators of crimes against women and children, rather than the behaviour of their victims.
Dr Marsha Scott, Scottish Women's Aid Chief Executive.
Welcome to a very different kind of Westminster
I know it's been said a hundred times or more, but politics in Scotland is never going to be the same again and I say thank goodness for that! More than that, Westminster has been hit with a new and very energetic force in 56 SNP MPs. It is about time the frock coats and wigs woke up to 21st century politics.
It's with huge enthusiasm and a real sense of purpose that I welcome both Angela Crawley, MP for Lanark and Hamilton East, and Margaret Ferrier, MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. The change in the vote was spectactular with Margaret winning 52.6 per cent and Angela 49 per cent.
Myself and Angela Crawley MP on the campaign trail
Margaret Ferrier MP
When you look across the whole of Scotland, the SNP won a total of 50 per cent of the vote, up 30 per cent since 2010. That is 1,454,436 voters who put their trust in Scotland's national party.
The SNP now holds 56 of the 59 seats that Scotland has at Westminster. David Cameron, with his unpredicted majority of 12 seats and a total of 331 seats out of the 650. Other parties here are left with just one seat each in Scotland.
What does it all mean? After all, it's still only 56 seats out of 650. How much change can the SNP MPs hope to bring about? We might think we can't be ignored but is that really true? Won't David Cameron do exactly that? These are the kinds of anxieties I'm hearing from folk.
Let me assure everyone that we will be heard! In Mr Cameron's much reported 'family of nations,' Scotland can no longer be silenced.
Our MPs will make sure of that. On big issues like the renewal of Trident, Westminster's attempt to dump the Human Rights Act and its planned massive £12bn of welfare cuts, your SNP MPs will be making a very positive noise as we move towards the much heralded 'most powerful devolved government in the world' that the Prime Minister has promised.
The Scottish Refugee Council
Regular browsers will be well aware that I continue to campaign on the issue of the rights of our refugees to be treated fairly and equably. The forthcoming Refugee Council Scotland's Festival, starting on 3 June and running for three weeks will celebrate our diversity in Scotland. You can find out more about the different events here: http://tinyurl.com/pg2uvdp
People with disabilities
I know many of you are increasingly worried about the impact of more welfare cuts on our most vulnerable people. I have met many constituents who have already been told they are fit to work when they clearly are not and many others who have already lost in the region of £1,000 a year in benefits cut backs to the Disability Living Allowance for example.
That the Tory government has appointed Justin Tomlinson, Conservative MP for North Swindon, to the post of Disability Minister is worrying to put it mildly.
Mr Tomlinson is well known for his strong anti-benefits and anti-human rights background. He is a party loyalist with a strong record of voting against the interests of sick and disabled claimants.
According to the They Work for You website, Mr Tomlinson's voting record is a scary indication of what lies ahead. You can view it here: http://tinyurl.com/le5xxpd
Our 56 MPs are going to have a fight on their hands but they're up to it. When David Cameron continually described his party's campaign as being 'for working families,' he clearly wasn't - and isn't - giving consideration to those people who are unable to work through no fault of their own.
We must wait for Chancellor George Osborne's summer budget to feel the full impact of these cuts. I know that anyone with a disability, working or not, is frightened of what will come.
The Scottish Government will do whatever it can to mitigate these assaults but our powers are very limited. We need devolved power over the entire welfare system to be able to manage the system in a genuinely compassionate and caring way.
Young people with a better future
New figures from the Office of National Statistics show the lowest youth unemployment level since the recession of 2008, down 5.1 per cent over the year. Only five of the 28 EU member states now have a lower youth unemployment rate than Scotland.
Our government's policy of guaranteeing 30,000 Modern Apprenticeship opportunities every year to 2020, and modernising the system of vocational training is clearly working.
Modern Apprenticeships work because the training is built with the input of the sectors involved. Employers know what they need so of course they need to be actively involved in what and how their apprentices learn. I want to encourage more employers around this area to sign up with Skills Development Scotland to make sure their voices are heard. Read more at www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk
Benefits - or not?
With Labour having backed the Tory/LibDems on £30 billion of cuts, we in Scotland are set to receive a lot more austerity. New benefit controls are going to see more claimants suffering - as ever, it'll be the least well off, the disabled and most vulnerable who are hardest hit. Citizens Advice Scotland www.cas.org.uk has urged the UK Government to halt the introduction of the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to disabled claimants in Scotland.
PIP is the replacement benefit for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and was introduced as part of wider reforms to the welfare system.
But under the Smith Commission proposals for further devolution to Holyrood, control of this benefit is due to be handed to the Scottish Government in 2017.
CAS has argued that this will see Scottish claimants being switched to another system now, only to be moved again in two years' time.