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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 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.

International Day of Peace

 

Not in living memory have we ever needed world peace more. From Donald Trump in the USA, to India, Kashmir and Pakistan, the threat to peace in Northern Ireland and the many other implications of a no deal Brexit as set out in the Government’s own Yellow Hammer paper.
 
We’ll be celebrating at the Scottish Parliament on Saturday 21 September, marking all the desires and aspirations we have. The main theme, appropriately, is a focus on Climate Action for Peace which draws on the UN Sustainable Development Goal 13.
 
The impetus set off by 16 year old Greta Thurnberg has brought a huge jump in awareness and action to tackle the climate crisis.
 
This International Day of Peace is a space for all of us to rethink assumptions and to ask ourselves what more we can do as small components in a great world movement, and how peace is the guiding light for progress.
 

Car parking in Hamilton
 Myself and the team at #HamiltonBID have been talking with the South Lanarkshire Council about car parking in the town and now the Council has commissioned a survey to ask you - customers and businesses - to feed in your opinions. This is your opportunity. Click on the link below to complete the short survey.
 
Chair of South Lanarkshire Council’s Community and Enterprise Resources Committee, Councillor John Anderson, said: “We want to hear from as many people as possible that use council parking facilities in Hamilton, whether for business, leisure, shopping or as part of their commute.
 


“The survey will look at a number of issues,” he explained, “including the reasons for people’s trips to the town centre, how often they make them, what type of payment system is most appropriate and what their priorities are in terms of balancing the needs of everyone who visits Hamilton.
 
“As well as the set questions, there will also be an opportunity at the end of the survey for people to add their own comments.
 
“All responses are anonymous and will be considered in the development of an appropriate strategy for parking in the Town Centre.”
 
I am delighted to see action being taken to gauge public opinion on parking in the Town Centre. In 2016 myself and Angela Crawley MP launched the “Our Town, Your Voice” consultation which helped kickstart Hamilton’s Town Centre regeneration.



Parking was one of the key issues which shone through in the responses to this and it is one of the key issues we need to fix to drive more shoppers back in to Hamilton’s Town Centre.
 
The survey will be open from today (Monday, 9 September) until Monday, 7 October 2019. 
http://bit.ly/hamiltoncarparking
 

Fairhill Fun Day
Last Saturday I joined the joy at the Fairhill Fund Day and it was great. Wonderful to see people of all ages enjoying themselves doing everything from bouncing on the castle to chatting to Police Scotland’s Lanarkshire Division.

These pictures tell the story:


 







Supporting our Communities

 I began off this week with a visit to Supporting Our Communities (SOC). SOC is  a tremendous group who took over the old exodus hall in Hillhouse and have transformed it in to a brand new community hub.
 
The group is dedicated to:
 
1.       Create a social hub for the local community.
2.       Run new activities and programmes for family and children.
3.       Create new well-being and mental health services for our local area.
 
With activities ranging from coffee mornings, to crochet and guitar lessons SOC offers an absolutely amazing service to the community and I would urge those living nearby to go and visit when they can.
 
 
 


The Scottish Household Survey 2018 Annual Report
 High satisfaction with childcare and a sharp increase in concern about climate change are two of the key findings in this year’s Scottish Household Survey.


Of households with a child aged two to five, 86% said they are either very or fairly satisfied with the overall quality of funded early learning and childcare they received.

Meanwhile, concern about climate change has soared to a record high. Almost two thirds of adults viewed climate change as an immediate and urgent problem. The greatest increase in concern is among adults aged 16-24, rising from 38% in 2013 to 67% in 2018.

Scotland’s communities and housing also fared well in the survey. Findings include:

  • nine in ten households are very or fairly satisfied with their housing
  • more than 8 out of 10 people who have used their local schools or health service are satisfied with them
  • the number of households managing well financially has risen from 42% to 55% in the 19 years to 2018
  • home ownership among young people aged 16- 34 has increased since 2014
  • internet access in homes is high, and continuing to increase, and the gap in connectivity is narrowing between lower and higher income households
  • 83% of adults living in Scotland believe their neighbourhood is one where people are kind to each other

Responding to the findings, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “The Scottish Household Survey is a unique opportunity for people to share their views and experiences and help the government understand how people feel about life in Scotland.



“This survey shows that parents are ready to benefit from the Scottish Government’s £2 billion investment in the expansion of early learning and childcare, with the increase in flexibility and choice that this will bring, including options like year-round provision. We know the transformative impact that a high quality, nurturing, early learning and childcare experience can have, and from August 2020 children will be able to access almost twice as many funded hours.

“We want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up, and that means that every child, regardless of their circumstances, should be given the opportunity to realise their full potential so it is great to see parents are satisfied with their early learning and childcare.

“I am pleased to see the positive trend in the number of households managing well financially in recent years and that the majority are happy with their housing and neighbourhoods. It was also interesting to see those who use our local services report to be more satisfied than non-users.   

“The gap in home internet access is also decreasing and work is ongoing to ensure this continues so that all citizens can benefit from the advantages access to the internet brings.

“Climate change remains a concern and people are clearly worried about the negative impacts it will have. It is one of the Scottish Government’s top priorities and this year’s Programme for Government committed Scotland to lead the way in tackling this global emergency.”

Background
Scottish Household Survey 2018 Annual report 
Scottish Household Survey 2018 Key Findings report 
All childcare data presented is from households with children aged two- to five-years-old who have not yet started school.
 
The Scottish Household Survey is the largest social survey of people across Scotland, giving them an opportunity to provide information to government on their experiences, views, attitudes and behaviours. 

The survey has run since the outset of devolution in 1999.  It provides robust data on a wide range of different topics, including housing, neighbourhoods, sport and physical activity, internet use/digital engagement, views on local services, culture, the environment, and volunteering, at both national and local authority level.
 

 

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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 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.
 
Kicking off the new season
 
First, today is the end of the recess at the Scottish Parliament. It’s looking to be a historic time for the UK to put it mildly, but we in the SNP haven’t given up yet!
 
Far more important, Saturday 7 September is the first Hamilton League Game of the season at the Rugby Club in Hamilton.


 
I’ll see lots of you there, I’m sure!
 
It’s been a busy summer, with lots of interesting events and people to talk to. I’ve enjoyed myself, even if the weather hasn’t  been great!

Talking about suicide
 
Suicide is a very difficult subject for a lot of people to talk about, including those who have been directly affected by it. That the @FFAMS_UK charity offers brilliant support makes a huge difference to the lives of people who continue to live with that special kind of grief.
 
I walked the Let’s Walk and Talk about Suicide route with a family who had lost a brother/uncle. I heard from many families who have had amazing support from FFAMs. The concept of walking and talking really works.
 

 

Paddy, my border collie, loved the long walk and numerous dips into the loch. I got a medal and Paddy got a rosette!
 
Here’s how FFAMS describes their work: “FFAMS is a Lanarkshire based charity that provides emotional and practical support to anyone affected by murder, suicide or suicidal behaviour. It provides a grass roots befriending service that can be accessed by telephone, email, face to face or in group support. All support services are free of charge.
 
“FFAMS befrienders will have personally experienced the loss of a loved one through murder and suicide, or experienced the distress caused by suicidal thoughts and behaviour.”
 
The Helpline number is 01698 717 424 9 to – 5 on weekdays or 07932 855 82412 outside normal working hours.
 
Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau
 


Hamilton CAB held its AGM on 23 August, and it was wonderful to hear about the valuable work they do in our community, and present them with a Scottish National Standards for information & advice providers award. Hamilton CAB is the first advice organisation in Lanarkshire to be accredited by the new scheme, the award was accepted by trustee Rosemary Robinson, congratulations to everyone at Hamilton CAB on their hard work.
 
Future care in Blantyre
 
At the end of July, I joined an extremely useful information session on the future of care in Blantyre, with South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care partnership.
 
The plans for the new Care Hub opening in Blantyre were discussed in detail with opportunities for feedback from visitors. 
 
The new style of care being put forward here helps ensure that as many people can be supported to continue living as independently as possible in their own homes through the support on offer in this hub. 
 
The hub is also set to contain houses with technology enabled care as part of placing independence at the heart of the social care system. 
 
A few days before that, I joined a coffee morning at the Douglas View Care Home. I met with some of the residents and staff and found out more about the support provided to those living with Parkinson’s Disease.
 

 
Ivan McKee MSP and Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, visits the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse constituency
 
I was delighted to welcome Ivan McKee MSP to show him around a couple of fantastic businesses here.
 
We had the perfect weather for our visit to Equis Ice Cream, one of Hamilton's best known exports. Thanks to Scottish Enterprise Equis is receiving extra funding to take advantage of their success and grow their business future.
 

 
Then we visited Probe Test Solutions Ltd who are blazing the trail when it comes to electronics right here in Scotland! They are competing with companies all over the world and investing that success in training and employment opportunities for young people living in Scotland. 
 

 

Mobile Men’s Shed
 

 
On a lovely bright, sunny day in Larkhall at the end of July, I met up with the Mobile Men’s Shed as part of its South Lanarkshire Tour!
 
It was great to hear about all the work being done bSeniors Together and volunteers across South Lanarkshire as part of Scottish Men's Sheds Association to help make social isolation and loneliness a thing of the past.
You can keep up to date with their work and find out how to get involved here:  https://www.facebook.com/SouthLanarkshireSeniorsTogether/
 
 
Best Start Grant pays out nearly £13 million
 

The new Best Start Grant package is putting more money in the pockets of low income families than the DWP system it replaced.

Since it started making Best Start Grant payments last December, Social Security Scotland has made more than 42,000 payments to families in Scotland, totalling £12.9 million.

Of the total paid out between December and June, £6.1 million was for the Pregnancy and Baby Payment, which replaced the UK Government’s Sure Start Maternity Grant in Scotland.

In the entire 2017/18 financial year DWP paid out a total of £2m Sure Start Maternity payments in Scotland.

The Best Start Grant also introduced two brand new payments, the Early Learning Payment, which has paid out £4.3 million and the School Age Payment, which has paid £2.4 million.
 
 

Social isolation and loneliness can – and does – afflict anybody at any stage in their lives and for a host of reasons.

I see it often among my constituents. Just for example, one lovely gentleman with serious health and mobility issues, was effectively trapped in his third floor flat. He saw virtually no one and was becoming more and more depressed. We managed to find him a ground floor flat and he says it has changed his life. He is also getting support from a local charity volunteer who takes him out to do his shopping, or for a doctor’s or hospital appointment.

Probably the most important thing of all is that he’s meeting people again, he is joining up in local activities and being invited out.

Scotland has become one of the first countries in the world to develop a national strategy to deal with the serious problem of social isolation.

 

 

To kick start the strategy, in my role as Minister for Older People and Equalities, I explained that the strategy would be backed by £1 million over the next two years to support and expand innovative projects and approaches to bring people together.  Improvements to health and social care, more accessible transport and investment in digital connectivity will all help to create a Scotland where individuals and communities are more connected.

Actions within the strategy include:

*         Working with health and social care integration authorities to address social isolation

*         Piloting an innovative housing solution for older people to test intergenerational and co-living arrangements

*         Working with partners to raise awareness of the value of befriending

*         Engaging with older age groups to understand how digital technology can add value to their lives

Launching the strategy, I pointed out that one in ten people in Scotland report often feeling lonely. In today's fast paced world, with technological advancements, people can sometimes feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with rapid changes in society. This can lead to people withdrawing and losing touch with friends and family.

People often feel afraid to admit they are lonely or isolated yet these feelings can affect anyone at any age, or stage, or walk of life. It is known that social isolation and loneliness can have a significant impact on a person's physical and mental wellbeing which is why we are tackling this issue with a preventative approach allowing loneliness and social isolation to be treated as a public health issue.

This is just the beginning of work we are doing to tackle loneliness but we can't do it alone. It is the responsibility of all of us as individuals and communities, and within the public sector, local authorities and businesses to reach out with kindness and build a country where all of us feel welcome within our communities and valued as an important part of society.

The symptoms can be difficult to diagnose and solutions can be challenging to prescribe. Often, the consequences of this can be treated through effective community intervention and engagement.

As an issue which affects us all, no matter our background, the solution must involve everyone – individuals; communities; local authorities; health boards; community planning partners; third sector; social enterprise and businesses.

These are the reasons behind this Scottish Government’s commitment to find the best pioneering strategy to engender a kinder, more inclusive nation.

 

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.