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