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Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email meat any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.
 
 
Meeting older people from ethnic minorities in Hamilton
 



I had a wonderful time joining some delightful and interesting older people from different ethnic minorities in Hamilton last week. I joined them for their regular lunch in the Burnbank Centre.
 
These lunches are held as part of the Older People’s Services Project (OPSP) which is run jointly by Trust Hanover and Bield Housing Associations. The OPSP has been running for ten years and is the only national outreach initiative which focusses on the complex needs of older ethnic minority people from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. The project focuses on helping those it works with learn about and access the full range of benefits and services they are entitled to.

It was great to come along to the OSPS lunch as the local MSP and speak directly to the older people who are benefiting from the projects work.  The turnout was tremendous and a huge number of Scotland’s diverse backgrounds were reflected in those attending. The food was just as diverse and delicious!

Scotland’s diversity is its strength. To quote the EUs motto we are “united in diversity”. That is why the work of OSPS and the Scottish Ethnic Minority Older People Forum set-up through its work is so important. For our country to be successful we need to support everyone who lives or works here.
 
JD Wetherspoon given alcohol license



The Bairds building in Hamilton has been sitting empty for a while now, so I’m glad to see a new occupant is in sight. Weatherspoons, with its license in place, is set to follow through with the next stages of its pub/restaurant.

Plans reveal a big space with capacity for up to 881 people, and those with tender ear drums will be relieved to know that there won’t be any music!

Hamilton South Councillor Josh Wilson said: “JD Weatherspoon’s ambitious proposals include investment of around £3 million and the creation of a two-floor restaurant.

“This, alongside other recent developments, including the Premier Inn and the Hilton coming to Hamilton shows that there is real progress on our town centre regeneration plans.”

Since I first set about consultations around the future of Hamilton, Angela Crawley MP and I have moved forward very substantially and I think that’s a real success story. That consultation brought us more than 800 responses, many of whom were anxious about the empty Bairds building.

To have this positive outcome will mean jobs and a new facility for everyone to enjoy.
 
15,823 people in South Lanarkshire to lose their free TV license


It is estimated that 6.4% of over-75s people in South Lanarkshire will be forced to pay an extra £154.50 in household bills when the free TV licence policy for over-75s is axed.

The SNP has renewed calls on the UK government to ensure the free TV licence is fully funded, and can continue to benefit households and older people across Scotland and the UK. 


I have written to the UK Government to urge them to backtrack on this damaging cash grab.
A decade of damaging Tory government cuts has left older people in Scotland worse off – and it’s concerning to see that the decision to axe the free TV licence will hit 15,823 over-75s in South Lanarkshire. 

This is yet another broken Tory manifesto commitment which will take money out of the pockets of older people. 

It is time this Tory government finally made the welfare of our older population a priority – instead of making things even worse by taking away key benefits.

The Tories should urgently stop this swindle and ensure that the TV license for over-75s is be properly funded and protected. I am calling on all Tory candidates for Prime Minister to commit to reversing this heartless cash grab.
 
Spotted a scam?



Over the last year, the Citizens Advice network has seen a huge increase in people coming to us for advice on reporting scams.

Said Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, Derek Mitchell, explains: “That’s why we have launched the Scams Awareness campaign, to equip people with the skills they need to spot scams, tackle the stigma that surrounds scams and to promote the importance of reporting. At Citizens Advice Scotland, we are advocating on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people, giving them a voice to stand up against scammers.

“Our research has found that 46% of people in Scotland have been targeted by a scam at least once in the past year. Scammers will be targeting people living in your local community and using increasingly sophisticated methods to trick people into parting with their cash.”

"The campaign runs for the next two weeks and will be urging people to:
STOP, REPORT AND TALK. We will be encouraging people to talk about their experiences of scams in a bid to help prevent them happening to others.

"Whilst the Scams Awareness campaign will reach all types of people, we are targeting two demographic groups that our current research tells us are particularly vulnerable:

Young people (16 – 25 year olds) are overwhelmingly targeted via their digital tech and online:

  • 43% of young people had been targeted by an email scam in the last year.*
  • As digital natives, young people often assume they would be easily able to spot a scam yet this confidence can leave them out of pocket.

Older people (65+) are often victim to a wide range of scams and are most vulnerable to high-detriment scams:

  • 38% of older people had been targeted by a landline phone scam in the last year.
  • Older people will often trust the contact they receive, whether it’s over the phone, in person or online.

Find out more on Twitter @CitAdviceScot or on Facebook under CitizensAdviceScotland.
 

Fuel Poverty legislation

As a recent survey has shown, as many as one in 10 working Scots are struggling with gas or electricity bills. The Scottish Government is introducing legislation to better tackle the problem and commit to achieving pragmatic, realistic targets.
 
The survey, carried out by YouGov for Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), overlaps with another by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) which showed some tenants of private and social landlords are forced to turn heating off because they are unable to pay the bills.
 
Separate from this legislation,  I and my colleague, Councillor Julia Marrs, approached energy providers to look at how they could help. By February 2018 we had managed to have Scottish Power agree to provide vouchers in a pilot scheme, N Power Fuel Bank and Scottish Gas Energy Trust then followed.
 
The design of the scheme varies slightly but all are grants which do not need to be repaid to help those who are struggling to afford to top up their meter. This gives those people support and financial breathing room without pushing them into debt.

There are now more than 40 agencies running Quick Credit Voucher schemes in partnership with Scottish Power’s scheme alone which includes a mix of energy companies, food banks and CAS offices. 
 
As part of the ongoing work to expand the reach of the scheme many of the organisations involved met on 22 May for a second Energy Credit Summit that I hosted in the Scottish Parliament following on from an initial meeting in 2018.
  
I will continue working hard with the energy providers, CAB Scotland and others involved in providing Fuel Credit schemes to ensure there is always support available for those who find themselves in dire straits.

No one should be forced to go without warmth because they are struggling financially and initiatives like Fuel Credit go a long way to making that a thing of the past.

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

 

Hamilton Jobs fair

I’d like to remind everyone, especially those younger people who are just finishing up their school years, that the Hamilton Jobs fair is on Friday 5 July between 11am and 2pm at the Town House.

I’ll be there along with my colleague, Angela Crawley MP, to welcome you. We’ve arranged for some major employers to come and introduce themselves to you. Aldi, Aspirare, and our new Social Security Scotland are all looking for new candidates. We’re in the process of arranging for other employers to join us and some stalls are still available. Just contact me by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This is a regular event that I’ve been promoting for years and years. I do feel that it’s so important everyone gets the opportunity to live the career they want to so it’s a great chance to meet potential employers face to face.

These are jobs that are available now so go and pitch your best and I am wishing everyone gets at least close to what they want!

Back at Brexit

It’s been a great couple of weeks for lies! We’ve seen Corbyn say he will definitely work towards a second referendum on Brexit then the next day he says, well, maybe we’ll consider it. We've watched the Channel 4 debate among the candidates fighting for the second position but Boris Johnston, the bookies favourite, absent.

We’ve seen Michael Gove admit to taking cocaine "several times". We’ve had Better Together campaigners exposed by the SNP as the bunch of Project Fear’ scare stories they put out crumble. The myth that Scotland would be vetoed from joining the EU and Scotland could only guarantee its EU membership by staying within the UK.

Wasn’t that a choice irony?

 

Referendum Bill

The Scottish Parliament has introduced a Bill to make provision for the holding of a referendum throughout Scotland on. The Referendums (Scotland) Bill will provide a legal framework for the holding of referendums on any matters within Scotland’s control. It is intended that the Bill will have completed its parliamentary progress by the end of this calendar year.

The Bill includes provision for the date, question and referendum period to be set by secondary legislation. For a referendum on independence, it is proposed that this would take place following a transfer of power, ensuring such a referendum could not be legally challenged.

Putting in a framework in Scotland would allow a future referendum to take place in a timely fashion.

 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“Now, more than ever, it is essential that we keep Scotland’s options open so that people have the opportunity to choose a better future.

“An independence referendum within this parliamentary term will give Scotland the opportunity to choose to be an independent European nation - rather than have a Brexit future imposed upon us.

“Throughout the Brexit process, Scotland has been treated with contempt by Westminster, and our efforts to find compromise and protect the interests of the people of Scotland, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, have been ignored.

“We will seek agreement to a transfer of power at an appropriate point to enable an independence referendum that is beyond challenge to be held later in this parliament. It is essential the UK Government recognises that it would be a democratic outrage if it seeks to block such a referendum – indeed, any such stance would, in my view, prove to be utterly unsustainable.”

Government Business and Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell said:

“Although referendums have become an increasingly common feature of UK democracy, it is a long time since the framework governing them was last comprehensively reviewed.

“Introducing a standing framework for referendums is a reasonable thing for any country or Parliament to have and this legislation will put Scotland in the same position as the UK and many other countries.”

 

Donald Trump’s visit

From beginning to end, Donald Trump’s visit was a series of dishonest claims and sheer ignorance of the UK’s systems. Once Theresa May had enlightened him by informing him during a press conference that NHS stood for National Health Service, Mr Trump said yes, of course the NHS would be on the table for negotiations in a trade agreement, along with everything else such as chlorinated chicken, hormone-packed beef and dangerous additives like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil to mention just a few.

As Kirsty Blackman MP, SNP, "Donald Trump cannot be trusted to keep his hands off our NHS, and the Tories are plotting to block the Scottish Government having any veto over such a damaging deal. The SNP government will fight to the end to defend Scotland's public services from this unprecedented Tory Brexit danger. Our NHS must remain in public hands - it is not, and should never be, up for sale.”

He retracted next day, after someone had told him about just how crucial the NHS to the people of the UK, including Scotland. No, he said, the NHS wouldn’t be on the table after all. I suppose it depends upon whose promises you’re inclined to believe. To me, there doesn’t seem to be much sign of real honesty anywhere outside of the SNP where what you see is what you get.

Not only is Donald Trump a dubious source of truth, listening to Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage is a positive feast of dishonesty and disingenuous comments. ‘Normality’ in politics has become thoroughly corrupt and is successfully squeezing out the meeting of democracy – the rule of the people – because people are angry and they need someone to blame.

We must resist this encroachment upon our own fundamental briefs in respect, dignity, fairness, compassion and a sense of being able to get listened to.

Back in 2014, even though the Scottish Referendum on independence failed by a small margin, it raised political consciousness hugely. Everyone on the buses, on the trains, in the bars and shops, was talking politics. They were being heard and that is a huge step forward.

 

Migrant children

As many of you know, I’ve been actively attacking the UK’s detention of migrant children for years. I have never accepted Westminster’s casual dumping of Lord Alf Dubs’ parliamentary agreement to accept into the UK some 3,000 migrant children. The deal was agreed then dropped. Another symptom of political arrogance.

Closer to our own front door is Dungavel detention centre. My colleague, Linda Fabiani MSP, East Kilbride, along with myself and others in the SNP, have been trying to get the centre closed for years.

 

 

Linda has written to the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, inviting him to visit the centre which is home to at least 20 children and six pregnant women who have been there since 2016. It’s another example of promises unmet. The UK vowed that it would end detention of under-18s at Dungavel almost 10 years ago.

The UK Government vowed to end the detention of children at Dungavel almost ten years ago, but it has now been revealed that 19 children and 6 pregnant women have been held at the privately-run detention centre since 2016. 

The figures, obtained by an FOI request, also show that almost 3,000 people have been held for more than 28 days.

Dungavel, which opened in South Lanarkshire in 2001, is operated by a US firm on behalf of the Home Office and accommodates almost 300 people detained under immigration laws before they are forced to leave the UK.

The centre has been mired in controversy - with reports that more than 200 detainees are considered at risk of self-harm, and asylum seekers being paid just £1 for an hour of work. Human rights organisations have also raised concerns over the safety of women and vulnerable detainees after a sharp rise in crime was reported at the centre. 

She points out: “This is the harsh reality of the Tories ‘hostile environment’ – children and pregnant women held behind barbed wire, in a facility which is entirely unsuitable for vulnerable people.  
 
“The UK government must stop detaining children and pregnant women at Dungavel – and they must do so now.
 
“Innocent families, women and children shouldn’t be detained like this, especially given it’s a decade since the Home Office promised to end the barbaric practice of detaining children.
 
“The Tories have an abysmal track record on their mistreatment of asylum seekers.
 
“These figures are a depressing reminder of the total disregard this Tory government shows towards migrants, and show the need for Scotland to have full control over immigration.”

Full Best Start Grant package now available.

A brand new benefit for low income families is now open for applications.

The £250 School Age Payment is for families with a child old enough to start primary school  this August.

The payment is part of the Best Start Grant, a package of three payments for families in receipt of eligible benefits - including Universal Credit, Income Support, Housing Benefit and tax credits - to help at key stages in a child’s life.

The Best Start Grant package also includes the Pregnancy and Baby Payment, which has been open for applications since December 2018 and the Early Learning Payment, which launched in April. 

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said:

“Covering the costs of a child starting school puts pressure on family finances, and we have created this new payment to help ease that burden, putting more money into the pockets of families at a time when they need it most.

“We are committed to doing all we can to make sure Scotland is the best place for a child to grow up.  We want to increase financial support to families, bringing equality to children by giving them help towards a fairer start.

“We also want to encourage everyone who is entitled to a payment to apply, so will be working with services to promote the benefit to ensure as many people as possible are aware they can access this new additional support.”

Female Genital Mutilation Bill

FGM is an issue that I’ve been seeking to stop in Scotland ever since I first became aware of it. So I’m delighted to now be able to see action on a new Bill. The act is already illegal but there remains a need to protect women and girls who may be considered at risk from FGM.

The legislation would introduce Protection Orders specifically designed to safeguard women and children who might find themselves under pressure to undergo FGM.

The Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Bill will also see statutory guidance issued for professionals and agencies working in this area. This will help to ensure a more consistent and holistic multi-agency response across services to victims of FGM and those at risk of the practice.

The introduction of this legislation builds on the commitment made within the Scottish Government’s National Action Plan to prevent and eradicate FGM and to strengthen the law in this area.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a deeply abhorrent practice and a fundamental violation of the human rights of women and girls. It is a physical manifestation of deep-rooted gender inequality.

FGM is already illegal. This Bill will provide for increased protection with the introduction of protection orders and putting guidance on a statutory footing to improve the response of services.

FGM survivor Neneh Bojang from Edinburgh said: “I was just nine years old when I was subjected to FGM. It was excruciating and has caused me pain throughout my life. If this Bill prevents even just one woman from going through the same, then in my eyes, it will be a success.”

 

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.

 

European elections

The SNP has won a historic election in the Scottish European elections, achieving the highest percentage vote of any party in the UK and achieving the party's best ever EU result with over 600,00 votes.

The party has received 40.7% of the vote in South Lanarkshire and 38% nationally, an increase of 8.8% across the country.

The SNP won in every part of mainland Scotland, with the party making history by achieving the country’s biggest ever margin of victory at a European election and securing 3 MEPs. 

The emphatic win means the SNP is will send Alyn Smith, Christian Allard and Aileen McLeod to the European Parliament.


I believe that people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, people in this area, and across the country, have sent a strong message that Scotland does not want Brexit.

Alyn Smyth has been serving Scotland's interests in Brussels and Strasbourg for many years now.He points out: "This is the biggest European election win for any party ever seen in Scotland. Winning 3 of 6 available seats in Scotland is simply phenomenal.

 
“Throughout this campaign the SNP has offered a message of hope and ambition. Scotland wants to be part of an EU that allows us to travel, work and live freely across Europe.

"Brexit may have had a great night in England and Wales, but Scots can see through Nigel Farage with the SNP bringing back a higher percentage of the vote than Brexit managed.

"Labour has slipped back by 16.6%, an indication of the chaos and division so rife under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership while the Tory vote has dropped by 5.5% to a0.7%, putting Ruth Davidson's party in fourth place.

“Scotland deserves better than a Westminster system that isn’t working – it’s no wonder more and more people believe Scotland’s future should be as independent country within the EU.”

“We were all sorry, though, to hear that Labour’s David Martin had lost his seat. He was a well-liked figure who had served a very long time in the European Parliament.”

Scotland's six new MEPs will be;

  • the SNP's Alyn Smith, Christian Allard and Aileen McLeod
  • Louis Stedman-Bryce of the Brexit Party
  • Sheila Ritchie of the Liberal Democrats
  • and Baroness Nosheena Mobarik of the Conservatives.

Turnout across Scotland was 37.5%, up from 33.5% five years ago.

Alyn Smith, who topped the party list for the election, said it was clear from the results that Scotland was a "different country" to the rest of the UK - where the Brexit Party won the most votes.

Alyn Smith told BBC Scotland: "It is clear that Scotland is for Europe, we have voted Remain again, and that vote cannot be ignored.

"People are voting SNP for a variety of reasons - there are those who are lending us their vote and others who are diehard SNP voters, we've got people coming to us from all over the spectrum.

"This has been about proving to the UK that we want to remain (in the EU)".

 

The two Larky Mashers from High Avon Street

Remembered in Valencia 14th May 2019

Christine Wallace gave us the fascinating story about her mother’s cousin,”a brave son of Larkhall.”

The story and the memorial are best explained by Christine who joined the celebratory group in Valencia.

“I feel so privileged to have been able to attend the incredibly emotional and beautiful memorial to Bob Smillie last week, on the 14th of May 2019 in the city of Valencia.

“Bob was a son of the town of Larkhall, my mother's first cousin and a grandson of Robert Smillie the miners' leader. He went out to Spain to fight against the fascist forces of General Franco and saw military action alongside George Orwell in the trenches.

 

 

“He died in Valencia, the circumstances of which were alluded to in The Times newspaper article, shared on the Mashers page in October last year. He was only 20 years old. Through comments on that post, I was put in touch with the researcher Mariado - her passion and dedication to Bob's memory made all of this possible and I cannot thank her enough.

“Before that I had thought Bob's story had been forgotten and that he was only a family memory... Special thanks to the sculptor Frank Casey, a wonderful gentleman whose stunning memorial to Bob changes colour like a rainbow in the Spanish sunlight.

“Thanks to Kane Smillie, Bob's grand-nephew, who kept Bob's memory alive, a cousin I am very glad to have found because of this. Thanks to Ona Nua, whose wonderful music had the whole crowd in tears. Thanks to the Orwell Society - George Orwell's writing brought Bob's story to the attention of millions. And, of course, thank you so much to the Spanish people, so warm and welcoming.

 I will never forget the face of the elderly gentleman who came up to me and said, "we are grateful, so grateful for what he did...". As I said in my short speech, "Bob’s story must be remembered, not only as a warning of the darkest times but of the way people from many different countries and backgrounds can and have come together to fight injustice and help those in need."

Stigma of the menopause

For the first time, I opened a debate in the Parliament about the stigma that goes with the very word ‘menopause.’ Certainly in the minds of most – though certainly not all – Scottish men, it’s just something you don’t talk about, not unlike the issue of domestic abuse.

In Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse there are many women – I don’t know how many – trying to make their way through a section of their lives that is both inevitable and often pretty miserable.

I want to cut through that taboo and try to build more understanding of the symptoms of the menopause in wider society. There has been lots of good practice by the STUC Women’s Committee in its 2018 report, Menopause and the Workplace. It commends the awareness raising work of Rachel Weiss who established the Menopause Cafes and annual Menopause Festival.

The Scottish Women’s Convention is gathering the experiences of women across Scotland who are saying, in their own words, that menopause isn’t just ‘a woman’s issue’.

I wanted to tell  MSPs that I am proud to see Holyrood discussing the menopause publicly.

I detailed Scottish government plans to fund a feasibility study into a Centre for Flexible Work in Scotland, another UK first.

I called on all workplaces to develop policies to support women going through the menopause, and pointed out that the Scottish government is putting reviewing its own policies for staff.

I’m glad to say that MSPs unanimously backed the motion calling for an end to the stigma that is associated with menopause.

You can watch and listen to the whole debate here: https://www.scottishparliament.tv/…/debate-its-time-to-end-…

 

SNP slams punitive Tory policies for increasing poverty

Funny how the Tories keep declaring an end to austerity. The SNP has criticised the Tory government for its ‘deliberate’ failure to tackle poverty, after the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty reports that the UK’s social security net has been ‘badly damaged’ by the Tories’ ‘ideological’ austerity agenda.

Philip Alston’s report found that although the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, one fifth of its population (14 million people) are living in poverty, and 1.5 million experienced destitution in 2017. It also predicted that 40% of children will be living in poverty by 2021 - which Alston called a ‘social calamity’ and ‘economic disaster rolled into one’ – and warned that if Brexit were to happen, it is likely to have a massive detrimental impact on the most vulnerable in our society.

Alston describes the UK social security system as a ‘digital and sanitised version of the 19th century workhouse’ and calls the Tories’ decision to dismantle the welfare safety net ‘ideological’. Alston notes the increase in Universal Credit allowances and plans to introduce a consistent measure of poverty but calls this ‘window dressing to minimise political fall-out’.

The report acknowledges the efforts of the SNP Scottish Government in trying to mitigate the impacts of the austerity policies, despite Tory cuts to Scotland’s block grant funding. Alston praises Scotland’s social security system – a system based on dignity and respect.

Commenting, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Neil Gray MP said:

“This UN report is a damning indictment of the Tory government and its shameful legacy of worsening poverty and inequality across the UK – the UK government must halt its austerity agenda now and follow Scotland’s lead by building a social security system based on dignity and respect.

"A decade of Tory austerity cuts, and the deliberate dismantling of the welfare state, has resulted in growing destitution in our communities - and it is a warning that Brexit will compound the damage done, leaving the whole country even worse off.

“Brexit has already made people poorer, and Tory plans to drag Scotland out of the EU against our will would be devastating - costing up to 100,000 Scottish jobs and leaving every person in Scotland up to £2,300 worse off a year. 

“Under Westminster's watch, by 2021 almost one in two children will be living in poverty – that is indeed, a ‘social calamity’ and it is an absolute disgrace that the Tories want to exacerbate this by proceeding with Brexit, which we know will be bad for everyone”.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights - https://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/39/Add.1

 

EngAGE Conference 2019

I was delighted to speak to the Herald-sponsored EngAGE conference in Glasgow on 23 May. I explained how I am looking for ways to best invest the Scottish Government’s £1m fund for the Tackling Social Isolation and Loneliness strategy.

We’ve got another £750,000 fund to find ways of keeping, particularly older people and women, engaged in the workplace.

 It was a packed all at Glasgow Caledonian  University. People do need to better recognise the diverse workforce we have and how best to give everyone the job opportunities most suited to them. People who are older but may well still be working in, say, ten years’ time do find it difficult to access jobs in a fairly ageist world of work.

“The main purpose of it is to keep that person engaged, included and alleviate any issues around social isolation and loneliness.

“I’m open to any ideas about how folks think that money should be spent, but not the usual suspects,” she said.

The purpose of the strategy is to help keep people who may feel isolated for a variety of reasons - including a disability, poor transport links, change of location or any chronic medical problem -  can feel better connected to their community.

I introduced the day on the theme of removing barriers, tackling inequalities and allow people to flourish and be themselves.

Older people contribute hugely to our economy and society, so it is in everyone’s interest that we have a positive attitude to ageing, and the Festival Of Ageing will do just that.

It brought together business leaders, the public sector and third-sector organisations to showcase the opportunities and benefits from our older workforce and population.

I saw a couple of pieces of tech there that could be life changing for people, it can keep someone’s independence, it can keep them at home, it can keep them connected to the community.

I was introduced to Sota, a “social companion” robot which can “help elderly people remain independent”, according to its creators, NTT DATA.

The Japan-based global IT services provider was described as “the BT of Japan, just way cooler” by its VP of innovation, Tom Winstanley.

Sota can track a person’s movements in the home and, if an elderly person has a fall, it can take a picture and send it back to carers and medical staff who can assess if they are in need of help.

Mr Winstanley also discussed the technological developments under way in Japan, which are being used to help its ageing community.

 

Dr Lesley Sawyers, executive chair and a founding partner of GenAnalytics, Christina McKelvie MSP, Herald editor in chief Donald Martin and Professor Pamela Gillies at the launch of the Herald EngAGE conference

“There is a world of technology out there, but its about finding the right application. Technology is only part of the solution. It will take a community to make that really come to life,” said Mr Winstanley.

 

 

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.
 
Brexit
Scotland is gearing up for the Euro elections on 23 May. Don’t be tempted to fall for David  Lidington CBEde facto deputy PM to Theresa May, who welcomed the European elections like the promise of a complete disaster for the Tories.
 
It will be if polls prove even vaguely accurate. Everything suggests that Nigel Farage’s Brexit party will sweep the boards. Still more of a kick in the teeth for the Tories following hard on the local election decimation they suffered last week.

The slough of despond gets more and more miserable.
 
If Mrs May's Government didn’t show quite as much contempt for Scotland and for our interests, I might even begin to feel slightly sorry for Theresa May. But she has only herself to blame.
 
So do make sure you get out on the 23 May and project your voice. The SNP’s number one candidate is Alyn Smith who has been a highly effective MEP for the last 16 years and is really committed both to Europe and to Scotland. See more here: https://www.alynsmith.eu/
 



We have five more SNP candidates, all of whom are highly worthy of a vote so all you need to do is put an X for SNP.
 
The SNP’s six candidates – three men and three women – are led by Alyn Smith, who has been an MEP since 2004. Christian Allard, who was born in France, is second on the list of candidates, followed by the party’s former environment minister Aileen McLeod, ex-Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP Margaret Ferrier, Scottish Borders councillor Heather Anderson, and SNP national executive committee member Alex Kerr.


 
I must give a special mention to Alex Kerr, who currently works for me and very successfully too. It’ll be a marvellous challenge for him and I wish him every good fortune.
 
We need to send a clear message of rejection to the Westminster Tory government of its damaging plans to drag Scotland out of the EU, and inflict harm upon Scotland’s public services, economy and people’s living standards.


 
As our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, explained at the launch of the SNP’s European campaign: “Westminster is paralysed by Brexit with its two main parties broken by infighting and indecision.

“These European elections are Scotland’s chance to make our voice heard.

“The Tory government has ignored the people of Scotland, and treated our parliament and our government with contempt.

“But they can’t ignore us forever, we must continue to fight to stop Brexit and the damage it will inflict on everyone, in every walk of life.

“Scotland’s future belongs in Europe - let’s make it loud and clear on May 23rd.”

Candidate Christian Allard, French-born and working within the fishing sector here for many years, brings an interesting perspective: “For three years Theresa May has tried to make Brexit about one thing – ending freedom of movement.

“EU nationals have been used as a bargaining chip and have faced fees to apply to stay in their home. 

“Well, EU nationals should use this election to send Theresa May a message.

“Try running our NHS without nurses and doctors from the EU.

“Try running our world-class universities without researchers and staff from Europe.

“Try running our fruit farms or our fish processors without us. 

“Freedom of movement is essential to Scotland’s public services and our future prosperity.

“Scotland’s future lies in Europe. A vote for the SNP is a vote to make clear Scotland says No to Brexit.”



Last weekend, on Saturday, SNP activists were out distributing half a million STOP BREXIT flyers as part of three ‘Super Saturdays’ the party is holding in the run up to the elections.
 
The move comes as a new poll this week found voters see the SNP as the most anti-Brexit party in the UK – the survey by YouGov found that 65% of respondents said they thought the SNP was against Brexit, the highest figure for any political party in the UK.
 
Speaking ahead of the first Super Saturday, Depute Leader of the SNP Keith Brown said: “The SNP will be out in force today across the county making the case that Scotland’s future lies in Europe – a vote for the SNP is a vote to stop Brexit.
 
“Never before have European elections been so important. We need strong SNP voices in Europe to send a clear message that we will not accept a Brexit process which fails to represent Scotland’s interests.
 
“A vote for the SNP is a vote to make clear that Scotland says no to Brexit.”


Larkhall Community Plan
Many of you already know that I’ve been encouraging and supporting the Larkhall Community Plan from when it was initially set up.


It’s great to see that participants like the fantastic Larkhall Growers are now developing what they’ve been doing. The Growers have been working on the Plan and encouraging people to take part in the survey so as to make their views known.

 

Take part here: http://www.larkhallcommunitygrowers.com/events/
 
Hamilton Rugby Youth Festival
I had a fantastic time at the Hamilton Rugby Youth Festival on 5 May. The brilliant volunteers at the club put on a marvellous event every year. I think this is about the 25th one!

"It was a huge success, as it always is," says Youth Convenor, David Vickers. "In what is always a great day, our youth festival welcomed hundreds of youth players to Laigh Bent at all MINI and MIDI age groups. A perfect end of season bonanza of sport!"

"Both MINI and MIDI teams participated. Our annual P1-3 All Blacks vs British Lions match played their match at noon with all the enthusiasm and vigour they always show."

There were children and young people, plus their families of course, around about 600 of them in all from all over Lanarkshire, plus Dumfries who ran off with most of the trophies!

David adds: "We've take on a new full-time employee, Steven Meenagh, who's been managing festivals elsewhere for a long time so this was his first Hamilton Youth Rugby Festival. Plus we had the new Regional Manager for Scottish Rugby, Ailidh Hood.

"But of course, far more important than all of those people, even the Glasgow Hawks, is our own Christina McKelvie! She has been great and really loyal in her support for us. We really do appreciate it."


Hamilton Jobs Fair
I’ll be co-hosting the Jobs Fair in the Hamilton Town House on Friday 5 July between 11am and 2pm.
 


Myself and Angela Crawley MP have brought aboard an impressive group of big employers who are looking for staff. So far, we have confirmed include Social Security Scotland, ALDI and Aspirare.
 
I’d like to encourage other businesses to join us. There’s no cost to take a stall so contact me by email on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone the office if you prefer 01698 403 310.
 
It is a tremendously important that people are encouraged to reach their full potential and if we can help you to do that by meeting with the right employer, then that’s a big plus.
 
So whether it’s an apprenticeship, a new career direction or a way to develop your skills and training, please do join us at the Hamilton Town House.
 
 
Climate change
Many of us have come suddenly to recognise the real threat of Climate Change. Extinction Rebellion may have irritated and annoyed Londoners, but it has been hugely successful in pushing the climate crisis up the political agenda.



Even at a personal level, individuals and families are suddenly doing more environmentally friendly things such as using low-energy lights, recycling everything possible, reducing waste in a range of smaller ways. Yes, we need big action at Government level but we all have a personal responsibility as well.

In fact, Scotland will have the most stringent statutory targets in the world. The proposed targets were already world-leading – now Scotland is redefining what world-leadership means.

Scotland will go greener faster under new, tougher climate change proposals that set a target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for 2045 which will see Scotland become carbon neutral by 2040.
 
We have already halved greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland while growing the economy, so we know we can do it. We are committed to meeting the most ambitious targets possible and doing so while continuing to build an inclusive and fair economy.
 
 
Age of Criminal Responsibility

No child aged under 12 will be treated as an offender beyond this autumn, since the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill received Parliamentary support last Tuesday.

At present, although children under 12 cannot be prosecuted in Court, they can be referred to the children’s hearings system on the basis they have committed an offence. 

Under current legislation, this means they can gain a criminal record.  This can often compromise childhoods and also limit opportunities and life chances in adulthood, particularly around employment.           
                           
The Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill raises the age from eight to 12, meaning that Scotland will lead the way in the UK in terms of ending the treatment of children under 12 as criminals.
The Bill will make far-reaching changes to the way that the law treats children under 12 with Scotland leading by increasing the age of criminal responsibility to the highest in the UK.

Evidence shows that early involvement in formal criminal justice systems can be severely detrimental to children and their future behaviour.
Children’s Minister Maree Todd said on Tuesday: “Today is an historic day. This ground-breaking law delivers a bold, progressive, child-centred approach that will make a real difference to children’s lives.

“We can be proud that Scotland is leading the way in the UK. This new law means that no child under 12 will ever again be arrested or charged with an offence in Scotland. But the Bill also ensures that serious harmful behaviour will be investigated appropriately and victims will continue to get the support they need.

“Currently young children can be left with criminal records that can follow them into adulthood and affect their chances of getting training or a job. The measures in the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill will end that.”

Ballantyne shows her true colours
Embattled Tory welfare spokesperson Michelle Ballantyne has come under renewed pressure after “callous” comments about changes to pension credit rules that could leave low-income Scots up to £7000 a year worse off.


Asked whether she would support a cross-party letter to the UK Government calling for a delay to pension credit changes, the Tory front-bencher replied: “Do I care one way or the other? I probably do not, actually, if I am honest”.
 
The Tory government recently announced changes to force mixed-age couples to apply for Universal Credit instead – meaning a cut in income of up to £7000 a year.
 
Ms Ballantyne has previously faced criticism for calling for the Scottish Government to have “nothing to do” with the NHS, saying that “people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like” and claiming that “there’s no such thing as a bedroom tax."

Spring Conference in Edinburgh

The atmosphere was electric in Edinburgh’s Conference Centre at the weekend. I could not only feel the energy and commitment all around me – I could sense a new excitement, a new drive towards stronger, more compassionate, better government for Scotland. In other words, an independent Scotland with full powers to govern.

“We gather in Edinburgh, in our beautiful capital city,” said First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. “Soon to be, we hope – and how good does this sound – the capital city of an independent Scotland.”

Her speech was inspirational and the response of the crowd in the auditorium was filled with enthusiasm – pretty loud enthusiasm too! – proof, if proof was needed, of the scale and size of the voice of independence for our land.

“Scotland’s enlightenment legacy is not just about our history. The search for knowledge, invention and innovation is the foundation on which we will build our future too.Few countries are better placed than Scotland to help lead the world into a new age.”

In the climate of Brexititis – a new virus that attacks democracy by infecting people so that they live in a malicious fantasy world riddled with delusions of imperial grandeur where Britannia rules the waves and India is exploited and ravaged – Scotland’s very evident desire to remain in Europe continues to be ignored by Westminster’s collapsing Cabinet.  

A new Survation poll commissioned by the arch-unionist campaign group, Scotland in Union, show that the Tories have fallen behind the Labour party on Westminster voting intentions.

Westminster voting intentions delivered 41% SNP, Labour on 24% and the Tories third on 22%.

The Scottish Government has used its devolved powers for the good of everyone. A new social security system that, within the last year, has brought nearly £200m to carers and families.

In a spectacular boomerang attack, the poll also shows a 63% majority in favour of Scotland having a referendum on independence.

Those who voted to remain in the UK in 2014 on the grounds that this would ensure Scotland would stay in the EU have had an unexpected kick in the teeth. Had Scotland voted for independence then, we probably wouldn’t be living with Brexititis now.

But, as we continue to try and stop Brexit, SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown MSP points out: “With the Westminster parties making a mess of Brexit, the European elections are Scotland’s chance to shine.
 
“Scotland is being dragged out of the European Union against our will. All our efforts to be heard on Brexit have been met with a brick wall.
 
“The people of Scotland have been ignored, the Scottish Parliament has been ignored. And, when the Scottish Government offered compromise, it was ignored too.
 
“Enough is enough.”

I couldn’t agree more. Now let’s move forward.

 

Keeping up with you

Hello and welcome to all of you in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

Thank you for taking a moment to look at this email. I want to keep everyone in touch with what’s going on in the constituency and what it might mean for you.

My door is open to anyone who seeks advice and support, so you can  phone or email me at any time.

You also have the option of visiting  constituency surgeries on Mondays. You don't need to make an appointment.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive your personalised copy of this newsletter, which we are sending out every two weeks, then please do  sign up here.
 

 

 
The Petition to remain in the EU
At the latest count – Tuesday at 1630  - the Petition to Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU stands at 5,746,570 That is well over 10% of the UK’s electorate of 46,148,000.
 


If you don’t like your MP and you want to have a by-election called, then 10% of the electorate have to sign a petition to say so.
 
It’s certainly not all over yet. If you haven’t yet signed it, I hope you will. You can find it here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584/signatures/new
 
Even many of the Tory MPs who were pro-Brexit now admit, privately at least,that there is no deal that is better than the one we’re trying to throw away; the one that is being a member of the EU and its free trading bloc of more than 500 million people.
 
The whole Brexit referendum was founded on lies and dishonesty, with its promises of an extra £350 million a week for the NHS and saving truck loads of cash to do all kinds of things to improve our public services.
 


So far, the entire Brexit plan has cost us some £40 billion a year in lost income, according to the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, Gertjan Vlieghe.

The estimate for the weekly cost of Brexit so far is more than twice the £350 million that Leave campaigners claimed could be saved. Our EU membership costs us each 85p a week and people forget how much we get back in CAP payments, infrastructure projects, community initiatives and educational projects like Erasmus for example.

Free trade, ease of travel to other countries, free movement of people and all of the EU agencies that uphold our human rights, the rights of disabled people, rights of children, right to justice and fair employment, regulatory systems for drugs, food, drinks, toys that keep us safe.
 
Now none of us can tell what is happening. On Saturday more than a million people marched in London – lots came from Scotland – to demand a People’s Vote and the SNP fully backs that position and our First Minister joined in alongside SNP MPs and MSPs.
 

 
Democracy isn’t a one-way ticket in support of a Prime Minister's own decision. That is a dictatorship or tyranny.

It’s a bit disconcerting to find that Leave voters describe a new vote as ‘a remainers’ vote’, and 'undemocratic' yet the 52:48 vote was ‘the people’s vote.’
 
A new referendum would be just that: a new vote, not a repetition of 2016, any more than the 2017 general election was a repeat of the one in 2015, just two years before.


 
 LEAP

I hugely enjoyed welcoming staff and volunteers from http://www.leap-project.co.uk/  LEAP, in the Parliament last week.
 
These folk provide and absolutely invaluable services to the older community across South Lanarkshire through services such as befriending and handyperson project.
 
These activities make a huge difference to older people who so often feel lonely and isolated.
 
You can see the wide variety of other services they offer and get involved as a participant or a volunteer. https://tinyurl.com/Leap-Hamilton
 

Local elected Members visit Burnbank to discuss anti-social behaviour
I organised a walk-around in the Burnbank area a couple of weeks ago. I know how many people are seriously concerned about anti-social behaviour there, so I wanted to talk to Inspector Derek Hamilton. Councillor Stephanie Callaghan also wanted to find out more.
 



We discussed ways of improving security. Extra police patrols and CCTV to see the action.
 
I found Inspector Hamilton was very responsive and genuinely wants to do more to tackle the problems.
 
It’s behaviour that most of us find totally unacceptable. It is frightening, vicious and threatening.
 
Stephanie added that “It was helpful to speak to business and residents in the local area about their concerns and what they want to see happening to improve the problems they are facing.

"The Council and the Police are totally committed to tackling this unacceptable behaviour and will be working together closely to ensure this happens.”
 
Inspector Hamilton said: “In recent months Burnbank has been a priority area for local police in relation to acts of anti-social behaviour and violence. 

"We have worked with South Lanarkshire Council Housing Department and Joint Problem Solving Team, local business owners and elected officials to improve CCTV provision and directly address the behaviour of known individuals. 

"We have carried out daily hi-visibility patrols in Burnbank and engaged with parents of young people frequenting the area.  A number of arrests have been made and alcohol seized. 

"We will continue to work with partners, consult with the members of the community and elected officials, and carry out additional patrols in the coming days and weeks.  I would encourage anyone experiencing problems to contact Police via '101', or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111”
 
World Down's Syndrome Day
March 21st was World Down’s Syndrome Day. To raise awareness on that day people across the world took part in Lots of Socks Day!

Why socks? The Down's Syndrome Association explains: "Well, because chromosomes look like socks and people with Down's have an extra chromosome.

"We invite you to help us celebrate and wear your socks with pride."

And that's just what lots of us MSPs did on the day!



 
Fresh increase in support for Scottish Independence
It’s not hard to see why more and more Scots who voted ‘No’ in 2014 are beginning to see the advantages that come with independence. The noticeable thing is that everything ‘No’ voters feared would happen with independence has now taken place because of the UK Government.

 

In 2014, many No campaigners said that independence would force us out of the EU and how awful that would be. In fact, of course, it’s the UK that is taking out of the EU by force.
 
So guess what, all the things the No voters feared would happen if Scotland left the UK started to happen under the UK government: Benefits would be cut, more austerity than ever, more racism, more violence, there would be more zero  hour contracts, the Health Service would be struggling even more, investment would fall, jobs would be lost.
 
The big difference was, and still is, that we don’t make our own decisions in Scotland. We are told what to do. Only the fundamental change in that equation will change anything.
 
It was no surprise in a way, but still encouraging to see the impact Brexit is having upon the independence campaign. A Panelbase poll for The Times, Scots backed independence over No Deal by 52% to 48% - ironically, exactly the same balance as is bringing us out of the EU and so profoundly altering the UK’s status in the world.
 
When it came to backing independence over Theresa May’s Deal, then the margin increased to 53% and 47%.
 
Since December then, independence beats both the Brexit options and almost a quarter of No voters would now prefer to leave the UK than leave the EU.
 
 
International Women’s Day in the Scottish Parliament



I was delighted to be involved in the debate in the Chamber on International Women’s Day. I had put up the Motion about the Balance for Better campaign and the Cabinet Secretary for Social Services and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville, began the debate by “celebrating women’s social, economic and cultural contribution to society and to raise awareness of the structural  inequalities, discrimination and violence that are experienced by women and girls in Scotland and around the world.
 
“It is a day on which to reaffirm our commitment to women’s rights and to galvanise our collective efforts to end gender inequality.”
 
After several great speeches, I contributed to the debate (see https://www.scottishparliament.tv/meeting/debate-international-womens-day-2019-balance-for-better-march-7-2019 at 1652)
 
My emphasis I upon how women are held back so severely – 63 million girls don’t have access to an education – and until that is changed, there will be no gender equality.
 
Women have just as much of a right to reach their goals as do have men, but that’s not the reality we are seeing. Women have the right to feel safe, not to have limits set on them by others, educated, valued and most importantly of all, equal.
 
Here are a few extracts from what I said in the Chamber:
 
“As many members will know, over my 11-plus years as an MSP, I have been an advocate—some might say an outspoken one—for equalities issues. I am proud to have spoken in just about every international women’s day debate in Parliament, because the day holds a special significance for me.
 
“In years gone by, international women’s day was one of the few opportunities when we found space to discuss women’s equality and to raise awareness of the systemic change that is required for women to achieve their rightful place in society. We have heard many examples of how we can do that and many examples of the work that is still to be done.
 
“However, I now see a Scotland where women and girls, and men and boys, are making space to discuss such issues daily—in schools and colleges, in workplaces, in people’s homes and, of course, on social media. The debate on women’s equality can no longer be contained to just one day, or even 16 days; it is now a debate for everyone, every day.”
 
Here's to women everywhere in the world!