At the Scottish Parliament
We’re all back in Edinburgh www.scottish.parliament.uk after a summer recess packed with events, canvassing, the normal constituency work and a great sense of anticipation as we move so close to the Referendum vote on 18 September. There’s a sense of electricity in the air everywhere in Scotland, from the pubs in Govan to the sea fishermen in Peterhead; the Highlands and islands to the folk here in Hamilton. The referendum debate is in every sitting room, café, train, bus, taxi. It’s exciting to see so many people getting politically engaged.
On the doorsteps around my constituency, we’ve been talking to literally thousands of people, listening and asking for their views. I’ve been out pounding the pavements every one of the last 10 days and I’m hugely encouraged by what I’m hearing from the ordinary residents.
A poll released a few days back confirms what we’re finding anecdotally. Across Central Scotland, the backing for Yes is now running two points ahead of No. Of those most likely to vote, 44.8 per cent say they will be putting their ‘X’ in the Yes box. 42.8 per cent say they will back No and 12.4 per cent remain undecided. And we still have some weeks of campaigning to go.
The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
The mantra, ‘People Make Glasgow’ is everywhere in the city, on buildings, projected in lights, at the different games venues, on posters, leaflets, T-shirts, sweatshirts and every imaginable object.
The Games have transformed the city, breathing a great blast of cultural, social, linguistic and fashion features. Walking along one of the city’s main shopping streets, Buchannan Street, it’s been tremendous to see and hear all those different people.
Our local Hamilton sporting heros – by the way, it was Hamilton, Canada, that hosted the first Games in 1930 –Margaret Letham, Grant Sheldon and Kirsty Gilmour really did us proud.
Kirsty Gilmour, who won a silver medal and was the first Scottish woman to reach a commonwealth badminton singles final, has been a participant in the ‘go for gold’ scheme from Hamilton International Sports Trust.
Margaret Letham led her team of four to the semi-finals of the lawn bowls fours and just missed out on a bronze medal, and 19 year old Grant Sheldon finished 14th in the individual elite men’s triathlon at Strathclyde Park. He also helped Scotland to a seventh-place finish in the Mixed Team Relays.
As for the 72 countries who fielded more than 1000 athletes, they had a great time enjoying our renowned goodwill and friendliness as well as the superb facilities constructed and used for the games.
Aussie star Kylie Minogue captivated the crowd for the closing ceremony. Some 7.7 million people watched the show around the world, 2.5 million more than the entire population of Scotland in all! You can see the show here: http://tinyurl.com/k7tlos9
I’ve loved the games, the buzz they’ve brought to Glasgow, and the legacy that now brings more sporting opportunities to Scotland’s aspiring starts. As it all closed, it was Dougie Maclean singing his familiar song, Caledonia, that really sent out that message from Scotland to the world: this is a very special. You can watch Dougie sing the song here: http://tinyurl.com/lnepghg
Trident nuclear missiles
One absolutely fundamental commitment by this SNP Government is that independence means the end of Trident nuclear weapons in the backyard of Scotland’s largest conurbation.
It was good to see the motion reinforcing this position put to the Scottish Parliament earlier this week. You can watch the motion put forward by Transport and Veterans Minister, Keith Brown, followed by the full debate. You’ll find me about half an hour in: http://tinyurl.com/kgbra2k
Trident is an assault on Scotland. The Scottish Government has no control over its presence whatsoever. The USA and Westminster between them manage these weapons of mass destruction. Only with independence can we say: “No more. Get them away from our city and our people. We want no part of nuclear weapons, of the power to wreck the globe, or of the £4 billion cost over the next few years.”
Nor do I want the secret night-time convoys of nuclear warheads that pass along the main motorways and carry with them a multitude of serious risks. In the last five years, there have been 70 safety lapses. Vehicles have got lost, a fuse box failed, fuel has leaked, brakes have overheated, alarms have malfunctioned. The gun flap of a vehicle “opened inadvertently.”
Westminster’s PM, David Cameron, doesn’t want these weapons in his own backyard either and I sincerely hope he doesn’t move them there. But he thinks it’s fine for them to sit in Glasgow’s backyard. Could that have anything to do with the fact that the Conservative Party doesn’t win too many votes in Glasgow anyway? In fact, they have just one MP in the whole of Scotland, out of a total of 59 members.
Trident nuclear missiles in Glasgow’s backyard
Ahead of the debate, former Mayor of Hiroshima Tadatoshi Akiba said that the removal of Trident after a Yes vote would be a major boost to the campaign for nuclear disarmament across the world – saying that: “your successful effort in Scotland would tell them and the world that citizens round the world have won this historic and monumental and humanitarian battle over nuclear weapons.”
Scotland’s chance to make a powerful statement on nuclear weapons was also highlighted by Ward Wilson, Director of the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons Project. Mr Wilson has said that Scotland’s rejection of nuclear weapons “will have an enormous and beneficial impact on the safety of civilisation.”
Mr Wilson also said that: “at key moments, small nations can have a profound and powerful impact on world conversations. They can clear away the dust and cobwebs of the past. This is one of the moments.”
This came after prominent peace campaigner Bruce Kent, Vice-President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, backed a Yes vote as it “would lead to the removal of immoral and illegal Trident from Faslane and Scotland”.
In fact, most of the Scottish Parliament’s MSPs back the removal of Trident but politics being what it is, the opposition felt compelled to vote against the Government even though they had backed removal four years ago. We won the vote with a comfortable majority but it continues to depress me that politicians will vote against what they believe in just to score a point against the other side.
Nuclear weapons don’t stop wars. We’ve seen than sadly and repeatedly everywhere from Vietnam to Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine. No, wars are created by extremists of different kinds, misguided by a fanaticism that sees them reach some kind of spiritual perfection. Think 9/11. Think Taliban, ISIS, Sunni and Sh’ite. These are not wars about nuclear weapons. These are wars about terrorism, religious fanaticism and internal civil tensions. Having the power to obliterate half the world doesn’t impact on those wars.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by political expediency. It’s what political groups do – they back the position that most hurts the opposition, regardless of whether that’s actually the morally right position to take.
As I’ve already said above, Labour voting against the removal of Trident is a perfect example of this. They don’t want Trident either – but they aren’t prepared to back the Scottish Government committed to removing it. Is that intelligent, joined-up thinking? Doesn’t seem like it to me. We agree in the principle – No to Trident – but we can’t both back the same motion. Now that’s silly politics.
A Living Wage
This Scottish Government has been very active and determined about giving the people who work here not just a so-called ‘minimum wage’ but in fact a ‘living wage.’ That is one that does what it says: provides a working person with enough money to live on.
The Minimum Wage, introduced in April 1999 at £3.60 an hour. It now sits at £6.30 an hour providing you are over 21. It hasn’t kept up with inflation. The Living Wage, on the other hand, sits at £7.65 per hour – in other words, some £1.35 hour higher than the minimum. If you calculate that out across a month, say, that could mean a pay improvement of about £270.
First Minister Alex Salmond wants to make that Living Wage the standard in Scotland. Yes, he meets resistance from some businesses but we believe that our workers are worth backing and that’s just what we’ve been doing. We can only seek the Living Wage from the public sector – and we’re assessing our potential contractors with that in mind – but we want the private sector to follow our lead.
So what we’re doing is initiating a fair pay commission. We’ve already implemented the living wage in all the government departments over which we have control – but we can’t dictate what the private sector decides for now.
So it was with the same depressing sense of how political party is more important than the right policy – or even, actually, the facts – when South Lanarkshire Deputy Council Leader, Jackie Burns (Labour), decided to have a go at me in the local newspaper.
What Mr Burns doesn’t seem to have grasped is, well, European Law. I suggest he reads up a bit on it. It may be rather dry but it’s a very necessary part of ensuring that we comply with that broader EU legislation. Our policy may be in breach of European Law and we need to check that out first. That’s sensible research.
As Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, explained: "We're the first Scottish government to adopt the living wage for all of our employers and we encourage all other employers, public private, third sector, to pay their staff the living wage."