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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.

You can  phone or email me at any time but I am unable to hold face-to-face surgeries while the Covid-19 regulations are in place.

But I am very much still here to help you. Just leave a message on the main number below and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

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.
 
Covid-19 update and progress
On the plus side, it’s great news that Scotland is rolling out the vaccination programme as quickly and effectively as is humanly possible. We’re dependent upon receiving the vaccines in the first place but providing we get them as indicated so far, our plan will stay deliverable.

The Scottish Government set out the deployment plan on 12 January.
 
The first wave includes:

  • Over 80s and elderly care home residents.
  • Care home staff.
  • Frontline NHS and social care workers.

 
From mid-February:

  • All over 70s.
  • Beginning of March: All over 65s plus Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people.
  • Early May: All over 50s and vulnerable younger people.

 
There’s more information via this link: https://tinyurl.com/y5atvt4o
 
But South Lanarkshire had a large number of 1052 new cases between 3 and 9 January. Between 6 and 12 January, we begin to see some reduction with cases in that seven day period at 925. We need to do everything we can to reduce infection rates.
 
The First Minister took the decision, at lunchtime on Wednesday 13 January, to tighten restrictions further.
 


Click and collect services will be restricted to essential services only, while customers will no longer be able to collect food or drink from inside takeaway premises.

Only retailers selling essentials, such as clothing, baby equipment and books, will be able to offer collection services.

For those allowed to continue, the First Minister said “staggered appointments” will be needed to end queuing, as well as not allowing people inside premises.

The First Minister said: “I know that businesses affected by this change will be disappointed and that many have gone to great lengths to make services as safe as possible.

“But we must reduce as far as is possible the reasons people have just now for leaving home and coming into contact with others.

“I welcome the actions of those businesses that have voluntarily suspended click and collect and tightened their procedures in relation to face coverings.”

Further measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus and limit non-essential contact were introduced over the weekend.

Nobody who lives in a Level 4 area should leave or remain outside their home except for essential purposes.

Working from home arrangements will be strengthened through updated statutory guidance. Working from home should now be the default position for all businesses and services, and only those who cannot do their job from home should be asked to go to the workplace.

From Saturday 16 January, all non-essential click and collect retail services were prohibited in Level 4 areas and further changes will be put in place to how services open for essential purposes operate.

Timeslots will be required for collection and people should not enter a store to collect an item.

Businesses providing takeaway food will also operate on a ‘non-entry’ basis only, meaning customers cannot enter the premises when placing or collecting orders.

Police patrols to be increased
There will be more patrols making sure that people are following the Covid rules. Those who fail to do so may face arrest if they leave home without a good reason.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone warned Scots they would face arrest if they engaged in "wilful and blatant offences" by not sticking to the tough new restrictions introduced this week.

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He revealed more than 7,000 fixed penalty notices had been issued to members of the public since the introduction of the first lockdown in March, with 550 people being arrested.

Speaking at the Scottish Government's daily media briefing, Livingstone said: "This is a critical time in the country's response to the pandemic. To support the public health imperative, I will maximise policing's visible presence in our communities and on our roads.

"I'll do that to help people and offer reassurance - but also to act as a deterrent to those who may be thinking of breaching restrictions.

"Although restrictions have changed again, the approach of Police Scotland has not changed. Our response has been, and will remain, proportionate, reasonable and fair.

"Officers overwhelmingly discharge these new responsibilities with compassion and common sense - but be reassured, if officers encounter wilful and blatant offences, they will continue to act decisively and enforce the law."

Speaking alongside the Chief Constable, Nicola Sturgeon shared a message to potential victims of domestic abuse who may be reluctant to leave home during lockdown.

"We know that during a period of lockdown, there is a very real risk that those who are already experiencing domestic abuse will feel especially isolated and vulnerable," she said.

“So I want to take this opportunity to emphasise a few really important points.

“Firstly, the lockdown restrictions do not prevent you from leaving your home if you are escaping domestic abuse or if you’re taking other measures to protect yourself.

“Secondly, Police Scotland will respond to every report of domestic abuse and they are continuing to treat this issue as a priority.”

Sturgeon added: “Fundamentally, it’s unacceptable that for some people home is not the place of safety it should be.

“So for anyone who’s experiencing domestic abuse, I want you to know that services are still open and urge you to seek help.”

Codeword
I am very aware of the heightened risk of domestic abuse at the present time. Charities like Rape Crisis Scotland have seen a steep rise in cases.

So I’m particularly glad to see the introduction of a codeword scheme that means a victim can ask for help at branches of Boots and many independent pharmacies who are participating. You simply ‘Ask for Ani.’ You’ll then be led into a private consultation room where staff will help you contact police and specialist support services without an abuser or anyone else knowing about your call.

While it’s shocking that domestic abuse still takes place, we want to ensure women and families get as many opportunities to escape from it, and this new resource provides another way for those experiencing abuse, or at risk of it, to reach out for help.

It has remained a priority for the Scottish Government throughout the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are aware that services remain open so people can access the help they need to keep them safe from harm. We have worked with the UK Government to inform the development of Ask for ANI to ensure those experiencing domestic violence are signposted to appropriate support in Scotland.

As set out in our joint strategy with COSLA, Equally Safe, we all have a role to play in tackling violence against women and girls. We will continue to consider the impact of initiatives to support those experiencing domestic abuse, and engage our local communities to work to create a society which embraces equality and mutual respect, and rejects all forms of violence against women and girls.

People can use the codeword at 2,300 Boots branches and nearly 300 independent pharmacies.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, call Scotland’s Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 027 1234. More information on support is available online at https://sdafmh.org.uk/


Scottish Child Payment
It’s been great to see thousands of families have applied for the Scottish Child Payment. I’d like to urge anyone else who may be eligible but has not yet have applied to do so. Don’t miss out on any payments you may be entitled to.

So far, Social Security Scotland have 56,000 applications since the process opened in November. The Scottish Child Payment is set to be rolled out on 15th February.

This is just the start of the work Social Security Scotland is introducing to make a difference to the lives of people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, with the Scottish Child Payment described as ‘game-changing’ by anti-poverty charities. 
 

New takeaway will create 35 jobs on Hamilton
There are a few sectors that can thrive in a lockdown – online shopping (Amazon must be making a fortune) and takeaways must be two of them.

That you won’t now be able to queue up inside may be a bit annoying but it totally makes sense. A dozen or so people waiting together in a limited space is asking for trouble.

But I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for The Original Mr Chef, the curry house opening in Hamilton on 29 January. Owner Wasim Arshad, who grew up in the town, says he is tremendously excited and looking forward to the big opening.

The curry house will also have a new dessert parlour within the shop, also opening on the 29 January.

Wasim told the local paper: “What an amazing way to start the year with some positive news and bringing 30-35 jobs to the area when sadly many people are losing their jobs. We constantly get asked when we are opening in Hamilton and the demand and excitement from the locals is truly humbling to see.

“We look forward to bringing them quality, quantity, freshness and innovation with our food menu items and not just a boring old normal Indian takeaway.”

Extra delivery drives have joined the team already and other job opportunities are available.

Every best wish to Wasim. I’ll certainly be calling in an order!

Keith Brown MSP announces independence taskforce
SNP Campaign Director Keith Brown has announced the creation of the Independence Taskforce at SNP NEC. 



The taskforce, working within SNP headquarters, will lead on strategy around independence as the party heads towards a referendum in early stages of the next parliamentary term. 

Mr Brown, the SNP's depute leader and campaign director, said: 
"Our Independence Taskforce at SNP headquarters will be welcomed by party members and grassroots Yes activists across the country.

"I really believe that when I make the appointment it will also fire-up the wider Yes movement.

“The staff at SNP HQ do an amazing job, with a huge membership to look after. On top of the vast amount of administrative, member care and support work they have been putting on world class events, off and now online, as well leading on digital political messaging - and of course coordinating campaigns that have won numerous elections.

“And now we’re ramping things up. The Independence Taskforce will bring strategic direction and expertise which I believe is the final piece in the jigsaw that will help deliver independence."   
 

Latest from the polls
An 18th poll in a row has shown a majority of people in Scotland would back independence – with 57% of people supporting an independent Scotland.
 
The poll carried out by SavantaComRes for the Scotsman newspaper also found strong support for the SNP and reported the worst polling for the Scottish Tories since 2016.
 
Respondents to the poll continued to show confidence in the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and also show that more than 1 in 3 2019 Scottish Labour voters would now vote for the SNP.
 
Commenting, SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown MSP said:
 
“An 18th poll in a row showing support for Scotland’s right to choose its future underlines that it is becoming the settled will of the people of Scotland.
 
“The SNP will take nothing for granted and will continue to work every day to defend and promote the interests of Scotland.
 
“People in Scotland have the right to decide their own future instead of a Boris Johnson led Tory government which has imposed a disastrous hard Brexit in the middle of a pandemic.
 
“The Westminster system is broken, and Boris Johnson cannot continue with his Trump-style denial of the right to people in Scotland to choose a better future. Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not those of Boris Johnson.”  
 

Independent Scotland 'top of the list' to re-join EU
Remember when Project Fear told voters in the Referendum that if Scotland became independent, we would be forced out of the EU? There’s a rich seam of irony in that claim!

Barbara Lippert, Director of Research at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, has said that Brexit has been a “gamechanger” for many in Europe and she understood why Scots might want to leave the UK and return to the EU.

She said she believed there would now be “broad openness” to an independent Scotland becoming part of the EO.

An expert of EU enlargement, Ms Lippert insisted that Scotland would not be put “in the same basket” as Western Balkan states seeking to join, such as Montenegro, Serbia and Albania.

Ms Lippert told an online event, organised by the European Movement in Scotland, that Scotland has a “far better image” than those nations.

She added that in terms of membership criteria, “Scotland will look like a bright spot”.

Commenting, SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown MSP said:

“Scotland has been dragged out of the European Union against our will, but it is extremely encouraging that our European friends and neighbours have not forgotten about us.

“Our ambition to re-join the European Union demonstrates what an independent Scotland would look like as we reach out to the world - while Westminster isolates itself.

"People in Scotland have the right to choose their own future and escape the chaos and damage of Boris Johnson’s Brexit and from a Tory government we didn’t elect.

“As an independent member of the EU we will be an equal partner and able to take advantage of the huge opportunities of the European Single Market which is seven times the size of the UK.”  

Kay Ullrich 


Commenting on the death of former SNP MSP Kay Ullrich, First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said:

“I am utterly heartbroken to hear the news of Kay Ullrich’s death. My thoughts and love are with her husband, Grady, her children, John and Shelly, and her beloved grandchildren.

“Kay was a huge personal influence on me and was absolutely instrumental in helping to shape my early career. A lifelong advocate of independence, it was through Kay that I first became involved with the SNP, and her role in helping me take my first steps into active politics is something that I have never forgotten and will always treasure.
 
“She was a valued mentor, role model and friend whose kind advice, insights and wisdom I learned so much from. She was someone I looked up to for many years, and whose passing now leaves a huge void in many people’s lives, my own included.
 
“Kay was an outstanding person, deeply loved by many, and those of us who today mourn her loss will continue to be guided by the principles of compassion and integrity which ran through everything she did in life.”

Ms Ullrich, who represented the West of Scotland region in the Scottish Parliament from 1999 to 2003, was a lifelong campaigner for independence.

It is understood that, as a close neighbour of a young Nicola Sturgeon, Ms Ullrich convinced the future First Minister to join the SNP.

Today on Twitter, Ms Sturgeon described her as one of “the most influential figures in my life”, adding that she was “devastated” by the news of her death.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said it was “very poignant” to be told of Ms Ullrich’s death by Ms Sturgeon, describing the former MSP - and SNP member for 55 years - as “a great friend and ally in good times and in tough times.”

“Love and condolences to her family,” his tweet concluded.

Ms Ullrich, who studied at Queen’s College Glasgow, was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 after a 24-year-long career in social care.
Initially serving as the SNP’s shadow minister for Health and Community Care, she was appointed Chief Whip when John Swinney won the party leadership in 2000.

She stood down from the Scottish Parliament at the 2003 election, and ran unsuccessfully for the SNP presidency in 2005.

She is survived by a husband and two children, including BBC Scotland journalist Shelley Jofre.
 

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.

You can  phone or email me at any time but I am unable to hold face-to-face surgeries while the Covid-19 regulations are in place.

But I am very much still here to help you. Just leave a message on the main number below and someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

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. If you have friends who might be interested, please do forward this email and encourage them to sign up.


 
Here's 2021
A guid New Year to you all. I don’t think there’s anyone who won’t be relieved to leave the last one behind. It’s been mostly dreadful for everyone in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.
 
Now, vaccines are being delivered into our arms, protecting the most vulnerable first, then getting around the rest of us as soon as practicable. By 30 December, nearly 100,000 people in Scotland had received their first dose of the vaccine.



That the new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is becoming available should certainly help. Boris Johnson claims that there are many more doses of this vaccine available. We will wait and see how the distribution system works.
 
That Westminster seems to be confused, even chaotic, in its failing efforts both on a tracking system and now on distribution of the vaccine, probably isn’t a surprise to Scots.
 
Here, we absolutely need to continue to follow the FACTS guidance. In the week up until 31 December, South Lanarkshire’s health board area clocked 552 new cases, a rise of 31.4% from the previous week.

The First Minister has already warned that the new variant of Covid-19 is becoming dominant with 42.8% of positive tests tracked to it. That the variant spreads so easily and quickly is a major cause of concern.
 
Nicola Sturgeon said: "As I indicated before Christmas, the severity of this challenge means we can't rule out the need for restrictions that are even tighter than those in the current level 4." 
 
All mainland council areas were placed in level four of the Scottish Government's lockdown framework on Boxing Day in an attempt to curb a sharp increase. Hospitality businesses were forced to shut and people were banned from mixing with other households indoors.

So don’t say you weren’t warned!

Hamilton District Foodbank
It’s no surprise that the pandemic has brought with it a huge rise in the use of foodbanks. Figures show that almost 700  children within the Hamilton district needed their help.

My friend, Isobel Graham, the Manager of the Hamilton Food Bank has always wanted to put herself out of a job. She would love to see a time when food banks are no longer needed.

Meantime, though, she and her volunteers give of themselves with incredible generosity and selflessness.
“We’re dedicated to ensuring that people in our community without enough money for food are able to access emergency support.



“Our vital work in the community has only been possible in the last year because of the incredible generosity shown by local people in donating food, time and funds.

“Support from local organisations and the public is more important than ever this year after the impact and fallout from the pandemic.”

And don’t forget, those volunteers put themselves at risk when helping customers and handling donated goods.

Donations can be dropped off at the Foodbank bases in Hamilton: 13-15 Cadzow Street onTuesday, Thursday and Saturday 11am until 2pm and The Salvation Army, Burnblea Street, Hamilton on Mondays 11am until 2pm (closed on public holidays).

The distribution centre opening times are at 24 Quarry Street on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 11am until 2pm and at The Salvation Army, Burnblea Street, on Monday 11am until 2pm.
For more information, call the foodbank on 07884 451512 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Hamilton District Foodbank is part of The Trussell Trust, who run the UK’s network of foodbanks.

 

A little Christmas cheer

Families were out at Chatelherault Country Park on New Year’s Eve. Youngsters From Hamilton were having a great time.

I hope everyone was staying within their own family groups and kept aware of keeping at a safe distance apart!

But it’s great to see people out enjoying themselves after such a subdued Christmas.

The inventiveness of some of those snow-travelling devices is testament to the Scottish ability to think out of the box!

Picture courtesy of The Hamilton Advertiser

 

That Gordian Knot


 

Back in 333BC, Alexander the Great arrived in Gordium, in today’s Turkey. He came across an ancient wagon with its yoke tied on using an incredible tangle of tight knots. An oracle of the time suggested that any man who could untangle it would become ruler of all Asia.
 
Whether Alexander managed to untangle it or whether he just took his sword and cut through the knots declaring that it didn’t matter how the knots were undone is uncertain. But he did go on to conquer Egypt and vast tracts of Asia before he died at a tender 32.
 
Thus we arrived at the notion of a Gordian Knot – something virtually impossible to untangle. Now, Bill Cash MP and Brexit enthusiast has declared that Boris Johnson has cut that Gordian Knot in achieving the UK’s departure from the EU.
 
I was a bit taken aback by this MSP's description of Johnson’s Alexander-style heroism. The very concept of democracy began in ancient Greece where the word democracy was introduced by combining ‘demos’ the (common) people with ‘kratos’ which means strength. I don’t see any evidence of its use in the current Westminster government, especially where Scotland is concerned.
 
So I would like to emphasise to a certain MSP that I am not unfamiliar with ancient Greece in spite of his Twitter claim that I would be incapable of  having ‘dreamt up this tweet.’

 

 

First Minister’s New Year Message
“This Hogmanay, as we look forward to a new year, most of us will be relieved to be ringing out the old one.
“2020 has been unimaginably difficult: thousands have lost loved ones, our society has been upended, our economy has taken a severe hit, many have lost jobs, families have had to cancel holidays, and of course Christmas plans had to be cancelled too.

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"We have had to deny ourselves so many of the things that we most value in life, human companionship, hugs from loved ones, the comfort and the pleasure we get from meeting and spending time with each other.

“I can simply never thank all of you enough for the sacrifices you have made, and the patience you have shown, during these last difficult months.

“One of the continuing consolations of this year has been seeing how often the worst of times have brought out the very best in people.

“Our health and care workers, in particular, have shown the most extraordinary dedication, in the most testing of circumstances. The entire country is grateful for your efforts.

“But there are so many other examples too. When we asked for volunteers to help people in their local communities, more than 40,000 people signed up in the first 48 hours alone.

“Thousands of others signed up for vaccine trials, or helped to track Covid symptoms.

“And many more of you supported charities and local businesses; or helped in your local communities; or kept in touch with neighbours and friends who otherwise would have been lonely.

“These have all been points of brightness in dark times. They have reminded us again of what truly matters in life - kindness, compassion, solidarity and love.

“As we look forward to 2021 – for all the difficulties that still lie ahead - there is a lot we can now look forward to.

“Tens of thousands of people in Scotland have now received their first vaccination against Covid.

“And that number will grow in the weeks and months ahead.

“2021 will also see the expansion of free nursery care, the introduction of the Scottish Child payment to tackle child poverty, and the first full year of Scotland’s new investment bank. As we rebuild after this pandemic, we can, we must, focus on making Scotland a fairer country and a greener country.

“And of course, towards the end of the year, the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, and the COP 26 climate change summit – a gathering that has the potential to set the whole world on a path to a more sustainable future.

“So even as we reflect on this darkest of years, we can see light ahead.

“Of course our first priority must be to get through these next few weeks and months. They will be tough for all of us.

“So let’s stick with it, and stick together.

“Let’s continue to show each other kindness, compassion, and love.

“And let’s all of us resolve to make 2021 Scotland’s year of recovery.

“I wish all of you a Happy New Year.”

 

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.

While I've had to cancel constituency surgeries during Covid-19, you can still email me or phone the office. One of us will get back to you as soon as possible.

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 growing demand for Scottish independence
Opinion polls now show consistent majority support for independence as more and more people want decisions about Scotland to be taken by the people who live here.

 The UK Government’s Brexit policy, its reckless refusal to request an extension to the Brexit transition period despite the pandemic and its refusal to agree even modest additional borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament all demonstrate why Westminster control over Scotland is so damaging.

 

But the Scottish Parliament must secure Boris Johnson’s agreement before we can mount a second referendum. He keeps saying ‘no’ but even he cannot fly in the face of a settled majority forever.

Independence will give Scotland the powers we need to grow our economy and invest in our people and public services to create a fairer and more sustainable country.

The UK's exit from the EU, against the wishes of the Scottish people, leaves the country with a key question on independence: Do we now decide to take our future into our own hands so Scotland can chart its own path?

 

Covid-19
On 8 December, we saw the first people in Lanarkshire received the eagerly-awaited Covid-19 vaccine.
 


During the first phase, the priority groups are healthcare staff with direct patient contact, residents and staff in care homes, and all those over the age of 80.

These groups will be vaccinated between December and February.


Heather Knox, (above) chief executive of NHS Lanarkshire added: “While this is great step forward in winning the fight against Covid-19, we can’t become complacent. We need to continue to play our part in keeping ourselves safe. This means continuing to follow the national FACTS guidance.”
 
I know this will be a Christmas like no other, and that it can be difficult not to kiss and hug your family members and friends. But we must pull together here for the common weal.
 
The figures in South Lanarkshire are now, thankfully, beginning to slow down. Statistics published by Public Health Scotland revealed that there were 420 new cases in the region between Sunday, 29 November and Saturday, 5 December - the lowest weekly total since the week beginning September 27.

 

In the second full week of level four lockdown, the number of new cases in the region fell by 28 per cent.

A drop in case numbers was recorded across the board with East Kilbride and Avondale, Clydesdale, Rutherglen and Cambuslang and the Hamilton area all seeing a reduction.

On Tuesday 8 December, the First Minister said to Parliament: “The overall result of today’s changes is that 16 local authorities will move to a lower level of restrictions from Friday, and the rest will remain at the same level. That is good news. It reflects the fact that the number of cases in Scotland has been falling in recent weeks...Moving any area down a level is not a neutral act. Given that it allows some restrictions to be lifted, it presents more opportunities for the virus to spread, so it presents real risks. I ask everyone—especially people in areas that are moving down a level—to continue to do everything that they can to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Be careful and cautious, follow all the rules that are in place, and please still try to limit your interactions with others as much as possible. It might be counterintuitive but, as restrictions ease, caution becomes more important, not less.”
 




There have been some key government announcements regarding Covid-19:

  • Anyone required to self-isolate will need to do so for 10 days, rather than 14, following updated clinical advice.
  • There is a new £55 million emergency sports funding package to tackle lost ticket revenue during the pandemic.
  • Businesses across Scotland are to benefit from a new £185 million package of targeted coronavirus support.
  • Universities will stagger the return of undergraduate students to campuses over at least six weeks, within a  package of measures to minimise the transmission of coronavirus.
  • More than two million people who had been living under the strictest Covid-19 protection level for three weeks had restrictions eased on  Friday 11 December.
  • The first vaccinations against coronavirus have been given in Scotland to those who will be carrying out the vaccination programme.
  • A £10 million fund which offers interest-free loans to tenants who are struggling with rent arrears has opened for applications.

 

Hamilton drama group to perform virtual Christmas nativity
Hamilton’s Drama Kirk have filmed the greatest story ever told and uploaded it to YouTube.
Drama Kirk normally perform the Nativity in the town centre as part of the reindeer parade, however that will not be possible this year because of the pandemic.

Christmas 2019

So for Christmas 2020 they decided to film the greatest story ever told and put it on YouTube.
Liz Blackman, the group’s creative director, said: “We also usually take our play to other community venues like care homes.

“Clearly, none of that would be safe this year, so we had to look at other options.
“We wanted to provide something fun, that could be easily shared with schools, community groups and churches. Something that could fit alongside celebrations being planned, which could tell the story of Christmas in a modern way.

“We found a wonderful script, Jerusalem News by Ray Markham, and decided to film it and make it freely available.

“We hired a small team of professional actors and worked with them to ensure we could adhere to social distancing whilst filming. In a first for us, we also hired a director.”

Nicholas Elliott directs the production and is himself a professional actor, playing Jesus for Drama Kirk’s since 2018.

Liz added: “As well as the opportunity to work with Nicky in a different way, I felt there was something poignant in having ‘Jesus’ lead how we celebrated his birth.”

Nicholas said: “In directing this lovely, clever, little script we developed ideas of comedy, elements of drama and emotion and we challenged ourselves to get a bit of everything in there. What we have a arrived at is a different, funny and somewhat poignant take of the Nativity told through the eyes of a newsroom in a heated press environment.”

Jerusalem News is set in a TV newsroom in the city, and inspiration is at an all-time low. The team are wondering what story to cover. Could it be Herod’s latest building project? A new angle on the census? Suddenly, a new story presents itself, in the shape of a baby, born behind a pub in Bethlehem.



Could this baby be the promised Messiah? Will the team run the story? And will this turn out to be the greatest story ever told?.

Local actress Louise Scott joined the cast, working with Drama Kirk for the first time.

She is a recent acting graduate of New College Lanarkshire who is also currently producing her own Hamilton-based series Tales Fae a Wee Toon, which reflects on lockdown life from the perspective of different characters.

In Jerusalem News Louise plays Ruth, who first gets the call about the exciting birth. She then has the tough job of convincing the other journalists to run with the scoop.
 
Drama Kirk hopes this short film will provide schools, community groups and churches with a fun resource to augment their celebrations.

The film is available on YouTube or DVDs can be sent if required.

Go to Hamilton Old Parish’s YouTube channel to watch the drama at www.youtube.com/c/HamiltonOld
 
 
Support for families
South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) has pledged to support families who have children entitled to free school meals.
 
This does not include general P1–P3 meals, which all pupils in that bracket currently receive for free.

Among the new payments families can now claim are:
• free school meals payment for pupils who are self-isolating
• free school meals payment for pupils who are shielding during the current Level 4 lockdown
• free school meals payment during school holidays
• a one-off winter fuel payment

The council has also approved a scheme to make a one-off payment of £30 to parents/carers towards the cost of lunch for pupils who are eligible for free school meals but can’t attend school because they are self-isolating as part of the Test and Protect Scheme.

This began for any new cases of pupils self-isolating from Monday, 23 November onwards. Payments will not be backdated.

In addition to this, any pupils eligible for free school meals and who received a letter from the Chief Medical Officer advising that they should not attend school and should shield for the three-week period from Monday, 23 November, to Friday past, 11 December, will receive a one-off free school meals payment of £45 if they did not attend school during this period.

The leader of the Council, John Ross, said: “We recognise the impact Covid has had on families across the area and are determined to do everything we can to help those most in need.
 


“I am particularly pleased with regards the self-isolation payments – this is something we are introducing as a council and will hopefully mean one less thing for those who are eligible to worry about.
 
“The other payments we are offering are thanks to money from the Scottish Government and I would like to thank them for their support which will ensure those most in need do not go hungry.”

The Scottish Government has given councils funding for pupils who get free school meals to receive a free school meal payment for school holidays.

Tackling social isolation and loneliness



I am delighted to tell you that almost £6 million in funding will provide friendship and human connection to people at risk of social isolation and loneliness over the winter months.

Part of the Scottish Government’s £100 million winter package to support people, the funding will ensure services such as wellbeing calls, befriending support, advice and volunteering are maintained and extended over winter.

Through the Connecting Scotland programme, an extra £4.3 million will help 5,000 older people to get online, and around 200 families to maintain contact with a loved one in prison custody, through digital devices and internet access.



More than £1.6 million will go to organisations providing key helplines, for groups such as older people and victims of domestic abuse. Over £900,000 will go to various other projects across Scotland supporting people of all ages affected by social isolation and loneliness.

Making the announcement, I said: “Living through an extended period of not spending time with our friends and loved ones has been painful for everyone, but extremely damaging for some and we know that many people will find the upcoming festive period particularly hard.


“The events of this year have reaffirmed our commitment to tackling social isolation and loneliness as a serious public health issue.

“That’s why part of our Winter Plan for Social Protection will have a specific focus on addressing this across society. In particular among older people, disabled people, the young LGBTI community, care-leavers, and women and girls at risk from violence and abuse”.

The charity Generations Working Together will receive £76,200 to continue connecting care home residents with their families and younger people in the community.

Chief Executive Officer Alison Clyde said: "We provide support and training to care home staff to ensure residents are connected with loved ones, as well as young people from the local community. Participants share their skills and life experiences, learn together whilst making new friends and most importantly have fun. This also helps to break down intergenerational barriers – vital in tackling ageism and reducing loneliness and isolation.”

Shared Care Scotland will receive £80,000 for its Time to Live grant scheme for unpaid carers. Chief Executive Don Williamson said: “Ongoing restrictions continue to have a significant impact on carers, many of whom are unable to access their usual forms of support. Accessing a short break through a Time to Live grant can make a huge difference to a carer’s health and wellbeing, helping them recharge their batteries and sustaining them through the winter months.”

YouthLink Scotland will receive £150,000 to allocate small grants to local grassroots youth work.

Chief Executive Officer Tim Frew said: “Some young adults face uncertainty around their future job prospects and struggle to cope with the restrictions. This funding will enable us to direct youth work support to where it is needed the most, boosting young people’s interaction with others and promoting positive mental wellbeing.”

Background
In addition to the £5.91 million from the winter support package, the Scottish Government has also provided £1.16 million funding over the course of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to organisations who tackle isolation and loneliness through local projects, intergenerational learning and phone helplines.

Our National Assistance Helpline, connected to all Local Authorities, remains in place to support people and provide advice when they need it.
 
In addition to those mentioned above, organisations to receive funding include: Befriending Networks (£100,000), BEMIS/Ethnic Minority Resilience Network (£100,00), Scottish Mens’ Sheds Association (£100,000), Chest Heart Stroke Scotland (£75,000), Glasgow Disability Alliance and other national disability organisations.

 

Reach out and help tackle loneliness
The number of Scots who say they regularly experience loneliness was on the rise before lockdown hit this year.

A national campaign has been launched to support the thousands of Scots who may be isolated over the festive season.

A host of celebrities and charities have backed the Christmas Together initiative, which aims to tackle the growing problem of loneliness over the Christmas period.


 

It's backed by Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland alongside high-profile figures including Michael Sheen and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
 
Scots are being asked to simply reach out to someone who’d like to hear from them and make sure no one feels alone in the coming weeks.

The number of adults reporting they regularly suffer from loneliness has risen steadily in recent years.

But the situation has been made worse by lockdown with families unable to visit relatives as normal.

I have already welcomed he initiative: “This Christmas will be unlike any other. We need to look out for each other and make sure that no one feels alone.

"The virus may have changed how we live, but it will never change who we are as a kind, friendly, compassionate country.

"So many people have come together to help each other during the pandemic and we need to keep doing that to fight isolation and loneliness this Christmas and beyond.

“I fully support the Christmas Together campaign and would encourage people to get involved and give someone the gift of kindness."

Actor Michael Sheen said: “Loneliness and social isolation are nothing new, but lockdowns and restrictions have made the crisis even more acute.

“None of us has enjoyed being cut off from company. Imagine how it would feel if your whole life was like that.

“That’s why it’s brilliant that Christmas Together is happening just when it’s needed most.


“This is going to be a Christmas like no other at the end of a year like no other. But we all have the power to make it better by rekindling the spirit of community that helped us through the worst of it.”

Christmas Together is led by the Together Coalition, a group of organisations helping to build kinder, closer and more connected communities in the aftermath of Covid.

In Scotland, the campaign has partnered with Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland’s Kindness Call programme to pair volunteers with people who are feeling isolated, alone and in need of someone to talk to.

Across the UK the Christmas Together campaign is taking place as part of the Great Winter Get Together from the Jo Cox Foundation.

 


 

 

 

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.

We're working from home but if you leave a message on the office number below, someone will get back to you as soon as possible.

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.


Virtual Conferencing
 Covid-19 has altered our lives in so many different ways that we could never have anticipated. The experience of our National Conference being entirely virtual is a new one for all of us! On the upside, you don’t need to queue up and you can’t get trapped behind a very tall man in the seat in front!
 
We won’t be travelling or contributing to global warming with hundreds of vehicles on the road, and we don’t need to sleep in a hotel bed! You can follow the action from the comfort and virus-free space of your own home.
 
I won’t come home feeling exhausted – but how much we are all missing the chance of catching up over a coffee with someone we haven’t seen for ages, the special conference atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm as we look ahead towards Scotland’s independence.
 
This is the biggest and most interactive conference of any political party during the Covid-19 pandemic. Conference is taking place on events platform Hopin, and includes all the key features of a physical conference venue, with a main stage, fringe events and an exhibition area.

Networking is also available through the 'Blether' function, allowing members to make new connections and meet new friends from across the world, including Australia, Canada, Europe and Qatar.


Scotland’s future
Both within our virtual conference and far more widely throughout Scotland, we are seeing support for independence rising continuously. No surprise there for us in the SNP but a recognition from many more people that to have control over our own governance is by far the best choice for our choice.

For now, the primary focus is on the pandemic but at the same time, we are looking ahead to a refreshed and resilient economy that is the prelude to an independent future that is  equal, fair and compassionate for everyone.

We can protect and invest in public services like our NHS. We can overcome poverty, inequality and we can make our contribution to tackling the climate emergency.

The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future. It’s time to put all our efforts into making sure we bring about the better country that we, and future generations, deserve.



At Conference, the First Minister said: “We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.  
 
“So this weekend, and over the next few months, let us reach out – to all of Scotland – like never before.  
 
“Let us demonstrate – with cool heads and patient persuasion – that Scotland is ready to take its place in the global family of independent nations.  

“Scotland is now a nation on the brink of making history.

“Independence is in clear sight – and if we show unity of purpose, humility and hard work, I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.
 
“The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future.
 
“Let’s now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country that we and future generations deserve. 
 
“An independent future lies ahead - lets grasp it."
 

Protecting Scotland’s NHS

SNP members have backed calls for a renewed drive to tackle the determinants of health inequalities – including an expansion of emergency mental health support in Scotland. 

At the party’s virtual annual conference this weekend, SNP delegates welcomed the Scottish Government’s intention to establish a National Care Service. 

The SNP also reaffirmed its long-standing commitment to free universal education in Scotland and called on the Scottish Government to put an end to exclusionary practices in schools, such as additional costs in music or home economics classes. 

Commenting, Scotland’s Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said:  “Our NHS has been there for us for over 70 years, and in the middle of this terrible global pandemic, the importance of our health service is clearer than ever. 

“We owe our thanks to each and every member of Scotland’s health and care sector. It is our duty as a government to ensure high standards of support are available to our most cherished public resource – now, and in the future.

“That’s why I have commissioned an expert independent review of adult social care that will take into account the experiences of those supported by, and who work, in social care, as well as looking at funding, governance, administration and delivery.

“This review will examine how best to deliver a reformed national approach to care and support services – and will help us create a National Care Service should our party be re-elected.


“I’m delighted that SNP members have reaffirmed the party’s commitment to supporting Scotland’s NHS and to tackling the root causes of health inequalities in our communities.”

SNP MSP, and Convener of Holyrood's Education Committee, Clare Adamson added: “Closing the poverty-related attainment gap is the defining mission of this SNP Government and that commitment is more important than ever in the current circumstances. 

“Education is, and will always remain, free in Scotland under the SNP. But there’s work to do as a government if we are to ensure that every child has the ability to reach their full potential. 

“Helping schools get rid of extra charges for music lessons or home economics classes is part of that, but we must continue our work to empower local councils and headteachers to make the best decisions for their individual circumstances.” 

Hamilton SNP councillor Josh Wilson raises over £600 for Hamilton Advertiser Toy Appeal
 


 
A Hamilton SNP councillor put his best foot forward to help the Hamilton Advertiser Christmas Toy Appeal.

Josh Wilson ran 50km in a week to raise a whopping £630 for underprivileged children.
The funds will now be spent on brand new toys that will help to make Christmas Day special for hundreds of little ones.

Josh said:: “This year has been hard for most of us, but particularly for those who are struggling financially. Many people have already lost their jobs and the redundancy rate is at record levels.


“Christmas will be a difficult period of time for many people and I just wanted to do a little something to help.

“Every year, the Hamilton Advertiser runs a successful toy drive, along with the Salvation Army, that supports families who are struggling to make ends meet. To support their brilliant campaign, I decided to run 50k in one week to raise cash to buy children gifts this Christmas and I’m delighted to report that I completed the challenge on Sunday afternoon.

“A huge thank you to everyone who donated – the support I have received has been overwhelming and it goes a long way in helping to make Christmas more special for hundreds of local children.”

The Hamilton Advertiser’s toy appeal is in full swing now, but with just over two weeks left until donation deadline day – on Monday, December 7 – they are hoping for many more toys and gifts.


A spokesperson said: “In particular this year we are lacking in baby boy and girl items as well as toys or gifts for children aged eight to 12.

“Items could include new clothing with tags, nightwear and baby and sensory toys. For the older children there could be arts and crafts sets, fashion accessories, Lego, science kits, age-appropriate make-up sets, football and sports equipment or games.

“And fragrance/make up sets or gift vouchers always go down a treat with the teenage age group.”
 

Breakfast and lunch free for all primary school children
Every Primary School pupil will be eligible for free breakfast and lunch, all year round if the SNP is re-elected in May, John Swinney announced at Conference.



The Deputy First Minister set out this latest step in the drive to tackle child poverty, with the programme being implemented from August 2022, making Scotland the first nation in the UK to offer universal free primary school meals.

In the face of predictions that Tory welfare cuts will drive child poverty rates even higher, the expansion - estimated to cost around £230 million per year in additional expenditure - will introduce a free year-round breakfast and lunch for all primary school pupils.

In his speech to conference, John Swinney said: “The callous cuts to welfare imposed by the Conservatives are bad enough. But we now face a tsunami of child poverty if the Tory Chancellor imposes a second wave of austerity. Scotland’s children cannot afford that.

“This is not just an issue for the very poorest. This is an issue for working families, forced to feed children from foodbanks or go hungry themselves.

“Right now, all P1 to P3 pupils are entitled to free school lunches. Given what I fear we are facing from the Tories, we will not leave a child at the mercy of a Tory Chancellor just because they are in P4, P5, P6 or P7.

“If elected next May, from 2022 we will extend universal free school lunches to all primary school pupils, P1 to P7.

“We want every child to have every chance to learn every minute of every school day, starting from the moment they arrive in class. So, we will also extend free provision of a healthy breakfast to all primary school pupils as well.

“But one of the lessons of 2020 is term-time isn’t enough. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and so neither can we.

“If re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.

“All primary school pupils. All classes. All year round.

“That is the next step in our battle to stop the Tories forcing more and more kids into poverty, support families, and make Scotland the best place to grow up.”
 

Free period products
I am so delighted to see this historic move. Women, indeed girls from the age of 12 or 13, have been paying for the natural occurrence of being a woman. With a heavily male-dominated government at Westminster, nobody has tackled this ‘female only’ issue. It’s easier for them to just not talk about it.

Fortunately, our SNP Government isn’t so precious. We talk about the realities of our daily lives.

Scotland will become the first country in the world to 'make period poverty history' - after MSPs at Holyrood voted to put into legislation that anyone in Scotland can access free period products.
  
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill enshrines the right to access free period products for anyone who menstruates in Scotland. This will be through a duty placed on local authorities and education providers to make period products obtainable for free to anyone who needs to use them. 

The Scottish Government became a world leader as the first country to provide free products for pupils and students in education, as well as to women on low-incomes across a range of community settings - investing over £21 million in the scheme.


Every Hamilton resident generates the weight of a cow in waste each year



Every person in Hamilton generates almost half a tonne of waste a year – that’s the equivalent weight of a small dairy cow.

Statistical data released by SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) has revealed that households in South Lanarkshire generated 0.44 tonnes of household waste per person during 2019. Of that, 90kg (14 stone) goes to landfill – that’s the same weight as the average man in Scotland.

In South Lanarkshire a total of 146,941 tonnes of waste was generated, 68,135 tonnes of that was recycled which accounts for 46.4 per cent of the total. That’s up from 44.3 per cent the previous year when 66,676 tonnes was recycled by South Lanarkshire Council.

Another 41,761 tonnes, that’s 28.4 per cent of household waste, was diverted from landfill and disposed of by other mean such as incineration or composting.

That’s a huge increase on 2018 when 11,261 tonnes were diverted – 7.5 per cent of the total waste collected.

Encouragingly, the percentage of household waste recycled in South Lanarkshire is now above the Scottish average of 44.9 per cent.

And the amount of household waste it now sends to landfill has decreased significantly on the previous year.

Just over a quarter of the collected waste (25.2 per cent) went to landfill in 2019 – 37,044 tonnes – almost half of the previous year’s total of 72,533.

The amount of household waste going to landfill in Scotland dropped to less than a million tonnes for the first time ever during 2019.

The total of 760,000 tonnes, is a reduction of 273,000 tonnes, the eighth consecutive decrease in landfilled household waste. This is mainly due to an increase in incineration and partly due to less waste being generated.

 
Hamilton Mausoleum competition winner John Kennedy
For over 160 years it has towered above the town, an immutable and iconic landmark that spans the generations.



Now however, we are getting a tantalising glimpse into what Hamilton Mausoleum could become.
A design competition has produced a number of remarkable ideas – some practical and some perhaps more fanciful – for the 128ft structure.

Over 100 people submitted their ideas for giving the mausoleum a face-lift. And the judges were impressed with the submissions that ranged from landscaping the area around the structure to filling it with water so that people can dive and look at tropical fish.

But it was John Kennedy who grabbed first place in the competition with a design called ‘The Invisible Landscape’ that combined an immersive virtual reality experience within the mausoleum with a new design of the land that surrounds it.

John Kennedy grabbed first place in the competition to re-imagine Hamilton Mausoleum with a design called ‘The Invisible Landscape’.
 
Ian McAllan, Provost of South Lanarkshire Council, said: “I was absolutely delighted to be one of the judges in this fantastic competition. The entries were inventive, inspirational and at times quite moving – a true testament to Hamilton’s iconic mausoleum.

“After much deliberation, the entry by John Kennedy which sought to re-imagine the landscape around the mausoleum in a more formalized manner was chosen by the judges as the first-placed winner.”

The design competition invited ideas on how Hamilton Mausoleum and the nearby Keeper’s Lodge could be preserved for the cultural benefit of future generations.

And John’s winning entry showed how the mausoleum could be re-purposed into a small museum presenting the history of the Hamilton estate. Exhibition cases would display artefacts associated with Hamilton Palace, on loan from other museums from around the world.

He also made the case that virtual reality reconstructions of the original palace could also create an immersive experience on a grand scale inside the mausoleum.

John even had plans for the area surrounding the landmark, creating a new grand avenue lined with birch trees to the Keeper’s Cottage. The cottage itself would have a small coffee kiosk and public washroom for visitors to the Low Parks.

The Glasgow Institute of Architects invited the design ideas and their president Phil Zoechbauer said: “Having lived in Hamilton and passing the iconic mausoleum structure many times, this competition has been an opportunity to look at it – and the possibilities that surround it – with fresh eyes.

“As a panel, we were collectively impressed by the originality of ideas and quality of submissions. The selected schemes were diverse in their approaches to re-imagining what Hamilton Mausoleum and its Keeper’s Lodge could be, ranging from the fantastical to the light-touch, and their potential for bringing these monuments back to life are inspiring.”
 

 
Guest Judge Professor John Hume OBE commented: ”The proposal greatly enhances the setting and improves the landscape value of the area around the mausoleum whilst facilitating the competition brief and drawing attention to the mausoleum and keeper’s lodge, whilst also being an asset to the town of Hamilton.”

Ross Lambie, representing the Hamilton Mausoleum Trust, also noted: “The winning proposal by John Kennedy set out a robust and adaptable masterplan for the wider site, breaking the hinterland up into defined zones, each taking advantage of an existing underutilised attribute.
"The trust congratulates John for his winning entry: it certainly has given us delicious food for thought on the future of the mausoleum and Keepers Lodge.”

And from further afield, president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects Judi Keith-Brown also said: “John Kennedy’s scheme taught me a lot about the history of the site, especially around the great north avenue. The reinstatement of this, combining the manmade with the bio-diversity of the site including the wetlands, makes for a very beautiful and achievable scheme.”
 

New social housing for Larkhall



New social housing is to be built in Larkhall after plans were approved by South Lanarkshire Council.

Plans for 20 new homes on land between Robert Smillie Crescent, Glengonnar Street and Riverside Road were approved by the council’s planning committee on Tuesday, 4 November.

The development includes 10 two-storey semi-detached dwellings, eight two-storey cottage flats and two one-and-a-half storey detached homes.

Planning and building standards manager Bernard Darroch told the committee that the scale and principle of the development was “acceptable” at the brownfield site and that the plans “comply with local plan policy”.

Currently, a number of footpaths run across the site and plans include maintaining pedestrian access from Robert Smillie Crescent to Riverside Road.

Conditions have also been attached to ensure existing footways surrounding the site are resurfaced.
 
No objections were submitted to the plans from members of the public.
 
 

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 this constituency up to date on the issues that matter to them.

I am privileged to represent the people of Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse as their Member of the Scottish Parliament.

My aim is to be an accessible MSP, available to respond to my constituents’ needs whenever and wherever possible.


 
Scotland’s Future


A new poll shows support for Scottish independence at the highest ever point in a Panelbase survey: Yes 56% and No 44%.
 
Boris Johnson needs to recognise that his ‘no, no, no’ line is parallel to Donal Trump squatting in the White House. Both are refusing to accept reality.
 
The 13th and 14th polls together reveal a clear majority of Scottish voters who say they will vote for independence. The poll also shows that the SNP holds a commanding lead over opposition parties and Scottish voters are continuing to put their trust in the party.
 


A YouGov poll shows the SNP on course to win 56% of the constituency vote in next year’s Scottish Parliamentary election – with the Tories on 19% and Labour on 15%.

The Panelbase survey also predicts the May election will see an SNP vote of 53% in the constituency vote and 46% on the regional vote. That would be a majority vote for independence.
 
SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown said: “These are yet more significant polls for the SNP, which show voters across Scotland continue to place their trust in the party to deliver – in stark contrast to the Westminster government, which is acting against Scotland's interests.

“They should be a wake-up call for the Tories – their Trump-like attempts to ignore free and fair elections and deny the people of Scotland the right to choose their own future is utterly unsustainable.


“If the UK remains a democracy, then Scotland must have the right to choose a better path than the shambolic, hard-Brexit Tory government at Westminster.

“And that decision is for the people of Scotland, not a Tory government we didn’t vote for, led by Boris Johnson.

“The SNP is taking absolutely nothing for granted and we will continue working hard to retain the trust of people in Scotland at next year's election. But it is clearer than ever that voters believe Scotland’s future lies as an equal, independent country."


Scotland’s glory night
We were all thrilled, chuffed, delighted, and cheered by our win in Belgrade where Ryan Christie and David Marshall won the hearts of people all across Europe.

Ryan’s  post-match interview left me with a lump in my throat. It was clear to see how much it meant to the team to be taking Scotland to the Euro’s.

Steve Clarke’s side brought Scotland back on the world stage and, for the first time in 22 years, Scotland will be going to a major finals at Euro 2020.



Scotland’s new-found talent for winning penalty shoot-outs helped carry us over the line. Hopefully this new found skill will be put to good use next year at the tournament.
 

LGBTI Police Scotland recruitment drive
It is totally unacceptable that the percentage of Police Scotland recruits from the LGBTI community is so low.
 
Long-lived prejudices are still very much alive in the 21st century and that is shaming for all of us. The Scottish Government has been putting a lot of work into trying to change this situation and have a clear ongoing strategy about how we can keep moving forward.


The report points up that “Scotland is considered one of the most progressive countries in Europe in terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality.

“We aim to preserve and advance Scotland's reputation as one of the most progressive countries in Europe in terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality.”

I am delighted, therefore, to learn that Hamilton Police (@HamiltonPolice) are hosting a national recruitment event on 3 December between 6.30 and 8pm, via Microsoft Teams.
 
The event will be LGBTI focused as this group is currently under-represented in Police Scotland.


Older People’s Strategic Action Forum
I was delighted to meet with the Older People’s Strategic Action Forum on Wednesday 11 November. The Forum ensures the views of older people, those who support them, and their discussions around ensuring that the rights of older people are heard throughout the #Coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
 


There is already high awareness of how much the Scottish Government has done and continues to do for this vital group, and that we have the Scottish Older People’s Assembly is a vital part of our work. You can find out more at @Scotopa


For more about the Older People’s Strategic Action Forum (OPSAF) look here: https://www.gov.scot/policies/independent-living/ and here: https://www.gov.scot/groups/older-peoples-strategic-action-forum/

The Scottish Government wants to hear from older people in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse about their views on how #coronavirus is impacting upon them.
 
The survey will only take a few minutes to complete and your views will contribute to a better understanding of how we manage the pandemic among older people.
 
https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ImpactofCOVID19OnOlderPeople

The Older People’s Strategic Action Forum (OPSAF) was set up to ensure that the views of older people, those that support them, and their representative groups are heard. 
 

Scottish Child Payment
The Scottish Government is taking applications now for the Scottish Child Payment. In fact, more than 28,000 requests for the “game-changing” scheme were reached in the first two days of applications, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
 


Parents and carers who receive other welfare support such as Universal Credit or unemployment benefits can now apply for the £10 a week/£40 a month payment for each child under the age of six.

The payment is part of the Scottish Government's efforts to reduce child poverty, and it should be rolled out for all qualifying children aged under 16 by 2022.

When the payment was first announced last year, John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, said it was "an absolute game-changer in the fight to end child poverty".

The First Minister added: "This payment is intended to tackle child poverty and with the economic impact of the pandemic meaning more households are reliant on benefits, we need to make sure that reaches all eligible families.

"The plans we have to promote the Scottish child payment have been set out publicly and include carrying out an extensive advertising campaign, but also making information available through a number of other routes including midwives and health visitor packs, the baby box and nursery and school enrolment packs.

"I would encourage all parents and carers of the 194,000 children that could be eligible to make sure they apply for this new benefit."

The benefit was due to be operational by the end of this year but was delayed because of coronavirus, with the payments now starting from February.

The Scottish Fiscal Commission has predicted the benefit will be claimed for 155,000 children of the 194,000 who are believed to be eligible.

A cause for hope
We are all exhausted and frustrated by the fight against Covid so it is especially cheering to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While of course we must be cautious, Scots could be vaccinated against coronavirus before the end of the year, 

The First Minister said while there are no guarantees yet around a meaningful date by which stock of a coronavirus vaccine could be available in Scotland, but early in 2021 looks realistic.

That would be an incredible leap forward for the entire world, though the logistics of getting the vaccine to everybody will be massive.

Drugs manufacturer Pfizer revealed earlier in the week that its Covid-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing the virus. The creator of the vaccine says that he is "confident" that next winter will be "normal" with 300 million jabs set to roll out worldwide.

Nicola Sturgeon has been responding to some of the ludicrous conspiracy theorists posting myths and  trying to scare people on social media platforms. Anti-vaccine protesters spin negative nonsense that is a real threat to our lives and the lives of the people around us.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie had claimed research suggests as many as a third of people could be "uncertain or unlikely to accept a vaccine when it is available". That is a depressing outlook. When the smallpox vaccination was introduced, there were sceptics then. Education won the day and the disease has been eradicated.

MMR created anti-vaccs based on a piece of 'research' which connected it to autism. The 'research' turned out not only to be untrue but to have been made up, yet that paper cost children to be born deaf, blind or sterile because of parental anxiety. I imagine that if those parents could have that chance again, they'd be first in the queue.

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..

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.During the Covid-19 pandemic, we are all working from home.
If you need help, phone the office as normal and leave an outline message. Someone will soon get back to you. You can also email me at any time. All the contact details are at the end of this email.

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.
 
 
Covid-19 update
 From 6am this morning (2 November), Scotland has moved to the new 5-tier system of Covid-19 restrictions.
 
In South Lanarkshire for once, we’re not proud to be in the top position.
 
The First Minister could not have been clearer: if you don’t follow these new rules, coming into force you’re heading for the top level of restrictions “within the next few weeks”.

No area will be placed in the lowest, level 0, which is close to normal life, but neither will any local authority be in level 4, which is the most severe level of restriction.

South Lanarkshire feared a move to Tier 4. We have avoided that for the present. Let me emphasise once again we all need to comply with the rules. They don’t exist to please the Government. They exist to protect all of us.
 
The Government will be monitoring rates of infection in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, checking the number of people in hospitals, the number of infections recorded and any deaths on a day-to-day basis.
 


The First Minister will not hesitate to move us into Tier 4 if the figures continue to increase. It is up to each one of us to take responsibility for ourselves and our family members so that we can contain this unrelenting virus.
 
The five-tier lockdown restriction plan
The First Minister has announced exactly how the new procedures apply.
 
Nicola Sturgeon gave an assurance that there would be no return to the March-style lockdown. Even under the highest level of restrictions schools and businesses will remain open.


The new measures will allow the government to impose different measures across Scotland depending on the prevalence of the virus.

Level 0 is broadly comparable to the position we reached in August when the virus was very suppressed, but still a threat, the First Minister says.
 
Level 1 sees slightly more restrictions - for example, indoor household meetings would reduce to 6 people from 2 households - but there would still be a reasonable degree of normality overall.
 
Level 2  entails restrictions broadly similar to those currently in place just now outside the central belt – with limitations on hospitality and no gatherings in people’s homes.
 
Level 3  is broadly similar to the tougher restrictions which currently apply across the central belt, with much of hospitality being closed completely.
 
Level 4   would apply when transmission rates are, or are threatening to become very high, with corresponding pressure on the NHS. The restrictions at level 4 are closer to a full lockdown. For example non-essential shops would close.

 

Police in Lanarkshire have been called to over 300 house gatherings since the end of August.
A total of 26 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) were issued and 11 people were arrested.

 

Half of these were in South Lanarkshire and half were in North Lanarkshire. However, most of the 156 gatherings that were in breach of coronavirus regulations were in North Lanarkshire.

In total, 64 of the 119 gatherings in South Lanarkshire were found to be in breach of the regulations while 92 of the 119 in North Lanarkshire breached Covid rules.
Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham has called on the people of Lanarkshire to “do the right thing” after the region narrowly escaped being placed into the top tier of the Scottish Government’s new five-tier system of restrictions.

DCC Graham said: “Despite overwhelming levels of co-operation and support from communities across Scotland, a small minority of people continue to host or participate in house parties and gatherings.

“These are not confined to certain age groups and people should not be in any doubt that house gatherings allow coronavirus to spread. Where we encounter wilful, repeated, persistent or flagrant breaches we will, as the public would expect and support, act decisively to enforce the law.
 
“The chief constable has made it clear that we are asking people to take personal responsibility to do the right thing and remember the purpose of these measures is to aid the collective effort to stay safe, protect others and save lives by preventing the virus from spreading.

“Recent figures highlighted public confidence in Police Scotland has risen by around 20 per cent because of the way our officers and staff have carried out their duties with common sense and courtesy during the pandemic.

“Assaults on police officers and staff carrying out their duties during this challenging time are disgraceful and will not be tolerated as we remain committed to improving and ensuring their safety.”

Police were called to more gatherings in Monklands and Cumbernauld (96) than anywhere else in the region.

They were also called to 92 in East Kilbride, Cambuslang and Rutherglen, 77 in Hamilton and Clydesdale and 73 in Motherwell, Wishaw and Bellshill.
Monklands and Cumbernauld (49) also saw the most gatherings against the regulations.

In Motherwell, Wishaw and Bellshill there were 43 gatherings in breach of the Covid rules as well as 36 in East Kilbride, Cambuslang and Rutherglen and just 28 in Hamilton and Clydesdale.

Most of the FPNs (11) and arrests (six) were also in Monklands and Cumbernauld.

Seven FPNs were issued in East Kilbride, Cambuslang and Rutherglen while six were issued in Hamilton and Clydesdale and just two in Motherwell, Wishaw and Bellshill.

There were two arrests in both East Kilbride, Cambuslang and Rutherglen and Motherwell, Wishaw and Bellshill but just one in Hamilton and Clydesdale.



In one weekend last month, police in Lanarkshire attended 58 house parties as tighter restrictions were brought in amid an increase in Covid cases.

Between Friday and Sunday, September 11 and 13, police responded to 405 house parties across Scotland, 14 per cent of which were in Lanarkshire, despite new restrictions specifically targeted at stopping the spread of coronavirus by gathering in houses having been brought in that weekend.

Two weeks later First Minister Nicola Sturgeon slammed Scots still hosting and attending house parties as police attended another 300 across the country.
 

‘Supporting our Community’ wins top national award

Supporting Our Community (SOC) members were delighted to be named the winners in the Celebrating Communities category at this year’s Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) charity awards.



The award recognises the enthusiasm, commitment, and extraordinary lengths that voluntary groups go to in order to work with individuals, communities and organisations.

SOC was set up by a group of volunteers from Hillhouse, Burnbank and Blantyre, including couple Mark and Donna Rouse.

The initial plan was to open a centre to provide support to families who were struggling to access the statutory services required regarding mental health.

But, following the tragic death of Mark and Donna’s 16-year-old daughter, Darian, from suicide in December 2018, the plan was strengthened and included many more services for the community.

These services include offering programmes designed for full family engagement allowing everyone to be involved.

Before announcing the winner, Alan Sherry, chair of CLD Standards Council Scotland, emphasised that the finalists ‘have made a significant impact and difference in the communities in which they work’.

During the virtual awards ceremony, Mark, project co-ordinator, accepted the accolade on behalf of SOC and told event host Sally Magnusson: “This will help us to grow and hopefully provide lots more support to people in our local community, who live in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland".

Sally was moved by the development of the community hub and replied: “It must be good to see something positive coming out of the tragic loss of Darian. It is such a great initiative and it’s wonderful to hear how well you are doing. Congratulations.”
 
Mark said: “We are delighted to win the Celebrating Communities award. We are only able to achieve this thanks to the people who have supported us, the dedication and hard work of all of our staff and volunteers in addition to the positive and strong partnerships we have developed.”

Darian, a pupil at Calderside Academy in Blantyre, had suffered her own mental health issues over the years and had struggled with anxiety.

Her death was a major turning point for the Rouse family who, with a group of fellow activists, set about providing the vital community-based service that also runs classes such as guitar and crochet lessons, community gardening and arts and crafts sessions for all the family.
 
[with thanks to the Hamilton Advertiser]

 

Keeping the lights on
As many of you will know, I’ve been working hard with energy providers over the last few years. The campaign to help people crippled by fuel poverty to the extent that the family had to be either cold or hungry continues to be a crucial issue to resolve.
 
Now Ofgem, the energy watchdog, under pressure from myself and support from SNP colleagues, has ruled that energy suppliers must provide emergency credit for vulnerable households.
 
The point of this ruling is that it will reduce the number of pre-payment customers who are left without energy because they have no money to put in the meter.
 
I have worked with Scottish Power for a few years now, starting off with the pilot Quick Credit Voucher scheme and developing onwards to add in other energy supply companies.

To say I am delighted by the news that energy companies will now have to offer support for our most vulnerable households is an understatement.

I see first-hand the impact fuel poverty has had on some of my own constituents in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse and the sheer relief they experience when offered the breathing space that comes with the Quick Credit Voucher scheme. It has literally kept the lights on for many.

Following the success of the pilot, we teamed up with the Citizens Advice Bureau to host the Energy Credit Summit which brought together the Big Six energy suppliers in Scotland. The summit called on Ofgem to fund a country-wide initiative to help those in fuel poverty.



It has been a long campaign and there are many organisations that deserve credit for the work done to get us to this point. My thanks to all of you.

The Citizens Advice Bureau, Scottish Power, Npower and the many others who took part in the Energy Summits in the Scottish Parliament have been vital in pushing this forward.

Alongside this there have been many individuals like Matt Cole from the Fuel Bank Foundation who have worked tirelessly to push for more support.

There is more to do - and we can do it. Under the current rules laid out by Ofgem there is still the option for suppliers to demand repayment of their individual credit scheme if they wish.

While Ofgem has stated that they believe suppliers should consider customers’ ability to pay and agree an affordable rate, I still have my concerns that these rates will be unaffordable for many.

With more than £200m being gathered by Ofgem from fines and redress payments from energy firms there is a real opportunity to make these credit payments truly transformative for the 174,000 people in Scotland in extreme fuel poverty.

I will continue to work with Ofgem and the major energy providers to build on this progress and make fuel poverty a thing of the past in Scotland.

Momentum now firmly behind independence
The 11th consecutive poll shows a majority supporting the Yes vote and control over our own affairs in Scotland.
 


Support for independence continues to be the "settled will of the people of Scotland" - with another new poll showing a majority would vote Yes in an independence referendum (56%).

The poll, conducted by Theresa May’s former pollster, is the 11th consecutive poll to show a majority for Yes and puts the SNP ahead on 58 percent of the constituency vote.

Brexit and the UK government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic were among the most persuasive arguments for independence - with 79% of voters surveyed agreeing that “Boris Johnson is not the leader I want to have for my country.”

The study also found that Boris Johnson’s opposition to an independence referendum is unpopular, with 53 % of voters saying the UK government would be wrong to deny a referendum if the SNP win a majority in next year's Scottish parliament elections.

SNP Depute Leader, Keith Brown, said: “People in Scotland believe they have the right to take their own decisions rather than being subjected to those of the Westminster governments, led by the likes of Boris Johnson, whom we don’t vote for.



“With consecutive polls putting support for independence above 50%, it’s clear that majority support is no longer a trend, but now the settled will of the people of Scotland.

“The Westminster parties' undemocratic attempt to deny the people of Scotland the right to choose their own future in a fresh referendum is now utterly unsustainable.

“The Westminster government clearly can’t be trusted to act in Scotland’s interests. In the middle of a global pandemic and economic recession, the Tories have unbelievably decided to impose a disastrous hard Brexit on Scotland which will hit jobs hard. 

“Scotland must have the chance to escape this Westminster mess and choose a better future as an equal independent, European nation - and that right lies solely with the people of Scotland.”

The new poll, by JL Partners for Politico, puts Yes 12 points ahead, assuming another vote was held now.

The result would be 56-44% for independence, excluding those who don’t know which way they would vote.

Politico's separate poll of polls suggests Yes is at 50 with No on 42, while eight per cent are undecided.

Voters are also likely to bring an SNP clear majority, putting Nicola Sturgeon back in Bute House as First Minister at the Holyrood election next March, putting more pressure on Johnson to agree to a second vote.

JL Partners had done polling analysis for former PM Theresa May, who had always said "now is not the time" for another referendum.

The firm now says the picture has "dramatically changed" and was "bleak" for unionists.
 
"It is hard not to look at these figures and assume the Union is doomed. It is certainly the gravest situation the Unionist cause has found itself in in recent history," JL Partners founder James Johnson said.

He added that polling saw Boris Johnson is "loathed" by people in focus groups.

Read more here:  https://tinyurl.com/y46pzlbj

 

WOULD YOU LIKE TO HELP?


The community spirit shown by people across Lanarkshire has been heart-warming. If you would like to offer your help, there are a whole host of new groups working across Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse.

They are working together to help spread cheer and make sure the most vulnerable in our area are getting the necessities they need.

The range of services provided include delivering shopping to elderly or vulnerable neighbours, using online group chats to combat social isolation and loneliness, and handing out care packages to the elderly and vulnerable.

If you are in Hamilton, you can find more information about the Hamilton COVID-19 Warriors here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/213851619986142

If you are in Larkhall, you can find out more information about the COVID-19 Rainbows – Larkhall here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1092656721095368/permalink/1092743704420003

If you are in Stonehouse, you can find out more information about Stonehouse Coronavirus Community Support here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/3402877913061116

If you do not have Facebook but are keen to do your bit locally, then feel free to email me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I can put you in touch with one of your local groups.

At this time, it has never been more important for us all to look after our neighbours and family.