Forget all those lovely doggie movies from Lassie or 101 Dalmatians to Marley and Me. The Chalmers Church Community Hall in Larkhall was more like a teenage rave party. It's amazing how much noise a crowd – or should I say a herd? – of dogs can make in the stark acoustics of a bare community hall!
We were absolutely delighted to host another free micro-chipping event with the fantastic charity, Dog's Trust (www.dogstrust.org.uk). Those three tireless ladies spent some four hours giving 142 dogs free microchips so that their owners can be traced in the event of a dog going missing. Their patience and their dedication deserve huge recognition and I hope they got it from the owners.
There were two ladies who, together, brought some 24 Chihuahuas which kind of threw us a bit, but at least they're all now safely identified!
Better prospects for our asylum seekers
Regular followers will know that I feel especially passionate about the plight that currently faces those folk who arrive in Scotland as refugees and asylum seekers. The UK Border Agency's attitude is one of 'go home' with their advertising vans offering to book the tickets (though not pay the fare, by the way).
But in my experience with the Scottish Refugee Council and through the many personal stories I have heard directly from those affected by the downright inhumane treatment they have endured. This week is Refugee Week Scotland (http://tinyurl.com/42szqv9)
The Scottish Government has a strong strategy called 'New Scots: Integrating Refugees in Scotland's Communities' which you can see here: http://tinyurl.com/nssxdf9
So it was great to have a motion in the Scottish Parliament, put forward by Humza Yousaf, Minister for External Affairs and International Development, on how best to move forward in creating a better system.
It is encouraging to know that there is real support for what we are trying to do. John Wilkes, Chief Executive of Scottish Refugee Council, says: ": "When refugees flee countries where they face persecution, sexual violence, torture or death threats and start to settle in Scotland, they can face many barriers to rebuilding their lives. Though they are resourceful and arrive with many skills, refugees must often learn English, find housing, friends and ways to contribute to their communities. Finding a job can be a huge challenge. The approach of Scotland's Integration Strategy, unique within the UK, echoes that of our Holistic Integration Service. But it goes further to ensure services across Scotland consider the needs of refugees in a joined up way. Our vision is for a Scotland in which all people seeking refugee protection are welcome, have their human rights and dignity respected and are able to achieve their potential. This strategy is an important step towards achieving that."
Councillor Jean Jones, Spokesperson for the COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership: "COSLA welcomes the benefits that refugees bring to Scotland's communities, as well as respecting the humanitarian responsibility that Scotland has to welcome those who come here seeking protection. We were pleased to work in partnership to develop a plan to ensure that refugees are welcomed in our communities and supported to build a new life in Scotland...This strategy draws upon everything we have learned in Scotland about successfully welcoming refugees, and sets out an action plan for a wide range of agencies to work together to deliver a better future for refugees in Scotland."
We see independence as an opportunity to take a different approach that welcomes people who desperately need a place of safety and security. We recognise the skills asylum seekers bring and the contribution they can make to our society. Under independence, as well as our asylum policy, our immigration policy would reflect this, helping us to meet our need to grow our working age population.
The White Paper 'Scotland's Future' sets out how we want to take forward our policy on asylum. The principles would be consistent with the idea of an independent Scotland as a modern, constitutional, social democracy, committed to meeting its international obligations and playing a responsible role on the world stage. We would put in place an independent asylum agency, separate to our immigration service, with a non-political board to handle asylum applications from the initial submission right through to the decision on whether to grant refugee status.
We believe that asylum seekers and refugees should be integrated into Scotland's communities from day one and that Scotland should be a place of safety and fair, sensible humane policies on asylum.
We have a long history of welcoming people from all over the world and the current Westminster barriers against integration do not serve Scotland's communities or its needs.
But we are helpless. We have no control over asylum policy and what we can do to help mitigate the current practices imposed upon us is limited. With a Yes vote, we will have the levers of power so that we can create policies that fit our needs.
Here's how Humza set it out: "Whether it's enrolling in English lessons, finding work once they are eligible or joining in with their local communities, refugees and asylum seekers who come to Scotland need help to rebuild their lives and to make a full contribution to society. This strategy will make sure the Scottish Government works with partner organisations to enable people to integrate, and to help communities to be more welcoming. We believe that asylum seekers and refugees should be welcomed, supported and integrated into Scottish life from day one...
"As a nation playing a socially responsible role in the world, an independent Scotland would be more welcoming and would continue to provide a place of safety for those seeking asylum, and would have the power to implement fair, sensible and humane policies on immigration. As well as our legal and moral duty to provide protection to people fleeing persecution, Scotland also recognises the contribution that asylum seekers and refugees can make by enriching our cultural diversity, expanding the world view of our children and bringing new languages, skills and experience. Indeed it is our very diversity that makes us stronger and more competitive as a nation and we welcome people who want to come to work and live in Scotland."
I, too, was speaking in the debate which you can see in full here with my contribution about one hour and 15 minutes in from the beginning: http://tinyurl.com/qbyxmrr
As you'll understand, it's always a subject we want to talk about! On Wednesday, the opportunity came with a Labour motion that tried to argue public services would be compromised by independence.
This is the kind of nonsense scaremongering that annoys not only Yes supporters but all Scots who are fed up being offered 'information' that is at the very least disingenuous and undoubtedly misleading.
It wasn't difficult to see how the tide was flowing. When Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke, her clarity and honesty shone through the surrounding morass of depression and misery.
Scotland, she pointed out, is one of the wealthiest countries in the world – richer, per head, than the UK, France, Japan, Italy and the majority of independent developed countries.
The record of the Scottish Parliament is the best evidence of why it is better for all of us that decisions are taken here. That shows abundantly in recent poll results that overwhelmingly support that reality.
The experts back us up. From the Financial Times (www.ft.com) to Standard and Poor's (www.standardandpoors.com) , the head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (www.ifs.org.uk) and the ratings agency, Moody's (www.moodys.com)
I could go on at length about all the advantages independence will bring us – you can find a lot of them on the Yes Scotland site: www.yesscotland.net but let me just wrap up a couple of points:
· Everyone agrees that Scotland is currently one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The issue is why at present so many people don't get the benefit of that great wealth. The referendum is about how we can create more jobs and build a fairer society for the future.
· Since 1998, with limited powers over our economy, we have been able to deliver a better economic performance in Scotland – despite Westminster's economic mismanagement.
Creating Connections, Changing Lives
It was, for me, genuinely inspirational to join the befrienders who were awarded last Tuesday by Covey Befriending www.coveybefriending.org.uk These are folk who give up their own time and energy to help others. They range from a retired bank manager with a bit of time to contribute to the ordinary people around the constituency who want to bring support.
It was a privilege and a delight to join the Covey volunteers and managers at the presentation event where the people who are giving so much of their time and resources were rewarded for their work. It was great to hear from the people they had helped, talking about how inspirational these people had been for them; helping them to get on track.
These are young people, like Kirsty for example. She has learning difficulties caused by an virus contracted when she was a baby. She's had a hard time and the Covey Angels have really helped her to develop the vital social and interactional skills she needs to enjoy her life.
Congratulations to the people at Covey, volunteers and staff, who have developed that one-to-one connection with people who could otherwise find themselves very cut off and isolated. I really commend all of them.
Motor Neurone Disease Scotland
It was great to welcome friends old and new along to the MND Awareness Week reception that I host annually at the Scottish Parliament.
As regular readers will know, I've been involved with the charity for nearly 30 years now and continually seek to support all of their valuable efforts whether that means sky-diving or something a bit closer to ground level!
It isn't just about helping to raise money of course – though please do donate if you can www.mndscotland.org.uk - but about providing the kind of support that around 400 people in Scotland afflicted by this rare disease need. My own father died from MND so I am all too familiar with just how devastating it is.