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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.


Into the Campaign


May’s elections for the Scottish Parliament are gaining momentum as more and more polls reveal a clear majority in favour of an independent Scotland, able to make our own decisions for the people here, and able to re-join the EU. In 2014, the Remain campaign promised Scots that staying in the UK would protect the EU membership. So much for that betrayal, just one among too many to count.


 
The 21st poll in a row shows a majority for independence of at least 53 per cent. A couple of polls have put that figure much higher.
 
Our First Minister’s level of popularity is hugely impressive, whatever way you look at it!

These results are from Mark McGeoghegan, Research Manager at Ipsos MORI in Glasgow.


 

 





But we cannot be complacent. Opposition parties will attempt to distract us, but we have to remain focused on what this election is about - putting Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
We have selected amazing candidates all across Scotland, and we’re going to need to work hard to get them elected this May.

We know this election will be like no other, because of the pandemic.

So we’re asking you to help spread our message digitally, so everyone in Scotland sees our positive message for the future.

Don't neglect to encourage people to take up the option of a postal vote during the pandemic. It's easy to apply for one online:https://www.snp.org/postal-vote/
 

Tories in a panic 

The Tories are "clearly in a panic" over growing support for independence - as new figures show the Tory government is spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on its anti-independence campaign.

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Newly released Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, and newly published job adverts, reveal the Tory government is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on new staff for its 'Union Unit'. It follows a separate FOI response in December, which revealed soaring expenditure on spin doctors, communications and advertising at the Scotland Office.

Together, the data shows the Tory government is spending millions on its anti-independence campaign, despite publicly claiming there won't be a referendum:

  • £110,000-£114,999 on salary for Oliver Lewis, the former Vote Leave staffer and Brexit apprentice of Dominic Cummings who heads the Union Unit
  • £57,000 - £80,000 on salary for Jack Sellers, a Union Unit special adviser who works jointly with the Wales Office, and an undisclosed amount for two additional unnamed policy advisers
  • An estimated £280,000+ for "at least" four new "heads of role" posts in Michael Gove's Union Directorate - including, heads of communications, policy, analysis and engagement, advertised at a salary of £64,500 - £70,877 each
  • £8,538,000 on soaring Scotland Office expenditure, which has risen by 73 per cent since 2013/14, with spending on communications tripling from £509,343 in 2013/14 to £1,354,776 in 2019/20
  • The soaring expenditure has seen the number of Scotland Office communications staff triple from 6 to 17, and overall staffing increase by 43 per cent from 58 to 83 from 2011/12 to 2019/20, despite the diminishing responsibilities of the department

Commenting, SNP Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Stewart Hosie MP said: "Boris Johnson is clearly in a panic about rising support for independence - if he is spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on political campaigning.

"Despite what they claim in public, the Tories know there will be an independence referendum if the people of Scotland vote for one in May - that's democracy.



"But the Tories are completely clueless if they arrogantly think a No campaign run by Vote Leave Brexiteers in Westminster, with no understanding of Scotland, will persuade anyone.

"People in Scotland have the right to decide their own future. The issue at the election in May will be this: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic – the people of Scotland or Boris Johnson?

“Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s."
 
If you would like to read more around this, here are some helpful links:
'Union unit: Does soaring wage budget reveal ‘panic’ at Number 10?' -
https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/politics/uk-politics/2889772/union-unit-wages/

Cabinet Office Freedom of Information response on current Union Unit spending (8th February 2021) revealing four current staff (Oliver Lewis, Jack Sellers and two unnamed policy advisers):
https://mcusercontent.com/4fae14f57a18ee08253ffc251/files/13ce72c9-59e0-4d17-bc66-e3d8831f0244/FOI2021_00553_Aaron_Lukas.pdf

Special Adviser Pay (Oliver Lewis page 5, Jack Sellers page 9)
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/944317/Annual_Report_on_Special_Advisers_2020_-_online_publication__1_.pdf

Cabinet Office job advertisements for "at least" four new heads of role posts with an advertised salary of £64,500 - £70,877 each: https://cabinetofficejobs.tal.net/vx/lang-en-GB/mobile-0/appcentre-1/brand-2/xf-c64db99f3369/candidate/so/pm/1/pl/16/opp/6218-6218-Head-of-Policy-Strategy-and-Analysis-Engagement-and-Strategic-Communications/en-GB?utm_source=ziprecruiter

Scotland Office Freedom of Information response on Scotland Office spending (18th December 2020):
https://mcusercontent.com/4fae14f57a18ee08253ffc251/files/032f2806-4e8d-4ac9-a3ca-aa90f9abfbf0/FOI.pdf


 
EU exit and Covid-19 business support

I was delighted, along with Angela Crawley MP, to welcome new support for hard-hit businesses post-Brexit. The Scottish Government announced on 3 February support for hard-hit businesses announced by the Scottish Government.

A new £7.75 million funding package will offer support to fishermen, seafood businesses and ports and harbours threatened by the ongoing effects of coronavirus (COVID-19) and EU Exit.
The package includes:

  1. £6.45 million for the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund which will provide support to eligible shellfish catchers and producers, in addition to trout farmers who have faced issues exporting to the EU and have lost access to domestic food markets as a result of COVID-19
  2. £1 million to be made available to support the investment plans of ports and harbours faced with a loss of income through landing fees
  3. up to £300,000 to assist the welfare and emergency support activities of the Fishermen’s Mission in recognition of the hardship facing people working in the sector at this time
  4.  Angela have been working closely with businesses across their constituencies who are involved in these sectors to make sure their concerns are being addressed.

We are starting to see the very real bite of Brexit on our economy. Rather than the oven-ready deal we were promised Boris has left us with rotting seafood. I had visited companies locally before Brexit who had invested substantial sums in preparing for the huge increase in bureaucracy but what they are having to deal with is worse than anyone could have reasonably prepared for.

Angela and myself have been working closely with local businesses affected to make sure their concerns are being heard at all levels of government. This vital lifeline from the Scottish Government will bring a sigh of relief to our world leading seafood sector in a time of great uncertainty.

It is time for the UK Government to pull the finger out and properly support the companies they have landed in this mess with their out of touch Brexit obsession.

Angela adds: “Despite promises to the contrary, leaving the world’s largest single market has presented huge barriers for local employers.

“Exporters of fresh seafood based in my constituency have already lost out on millions of pounds in reduced custom, ruined produce and additional administration.

“And whilst welcome, the funding announced by the UK Government doesn’t come close to meeting the fall in revenue experienced by exporters as a result of these changes.

“The Tories must remove the bureaucracy, allow fresh seafood to flow from Scotland to the EU and until they do, provide adequate funding to ensure local businesses can continue to thrive.”
 

Viridor plans at Overwood plant

Renewable energy is a vital resource for Scotland and our Government has already reached demanding targets in our efforts to move away from damaging fossil fuels.
 
But we need to plan carefully for minimum disruption to our communities.
 
That’s why myself, my colleague, Angela Crawley, MP for Lanark and Hamilton East, and SNP MSP candidate for Clydesdale, Mairi McAllan, have called on Viridor to give more time to its consultation process.


 
We have written to ask the company to consider residents who may struggle with the use of online formats or who don’t have ready access to a computer, to be able to put forward their anxieties. Covid-19 has, by necessity, ruled out face-to-face group meetings.

We have explained to Viridor: “We have serious reservations that during the Covid-19 pandemic with continuing restrictions on face-to-face meetings, that proper consultation of some of the most vulnerable residents in Stonehouse and Blackwood will not be allowed to take its course. In order not to disadvantage these constituents, we would strongly urge you to consider delaying this planning application until we are back to a more normal state of affairs.”

There are strong feelings in the constituency around this application and I firmly believe they all deserve to be heard. That is why we have written to Viridor to ask them to delay consideration of this application until we have returned to a more normal state of affairs.

Angela Crawley said: “We know that there is a great depth of feeling about this proposal and it would not be right to proceed with a consultation on this scale during the current restrictions. To do so would disenfranchise hundreds of people and I would encourage you to delay the start of the consultation until such times as a physical meeting can be held.”

Màiri McAllan, SNP candidate for Clydesdale, added: “Given the strong feelings there are in the community about this proposed development, it does feel appropriate to request a delay in the submitting of this planning application.

"This would allow the people of our area the full opportunity to examine the proposal in detail and for a proper and more accessible consultation event to take place once circumstances allow.

"With the necessary restrictions we have in place at present, there is a clear risk that not every resident would have the means to participate to put their views across, and I would urge Viridor to consider a delay.”

I’ll be keeping you posted.
 

Missing Larkhall man 

Jamie Waugh was last seen more than a fortnight ago.

Jamie’s family is ‘extremely concerned’ for the 28 year old who was last seen around 4.30am on Sunday 31 January when he left an address is Glen Avenue, Larkhall, intending to go to another address.


Sergeant Audrey Peat said :"It is out of character for Jamie not to be in touch with friends or family for this length of time. They are extremely concerned about him and just want to know he is safe".

Jamie is described as 5ft 11 inch tall, brown receding hair, blue eyes, facial hair and was last seen wearing Black T-shirt, Navy blue zipper top, black Adidas shorts and grey trainers.

He may also have a pair of dark coloured tracksuit bottoms. Jamie has a tattoo on his right arm with the letters "JAMIE" and a skull and roses tattoo on his left arm.

Jamie has links to both the Larkhall and Blantyre areas of Lanarkshire. If you have seen Jamie or have any information about where he might be, I urge you to contact Police on 101 quoting incident number 1830 of 06/02/21.
 
 

Scottish Water Road Closures in Hamilton 

Might be a bit irritating, but it’s vital work and at least you can plan ahead with information.

From Monday, 1 March, Muttonhole Road will be closed between Highstonehall Road and Newhousemill Road to enable Scottish Water to carry out upgrades to the local water infrastructure.



Road traffic management has been agreed in conjunction with South Lanarkshire Council.
It is anticipated that it will be in place for approximately one week.

Drivers are urged to follow local diversions.

Georgina Reid, Scottish Water’s corporate affairs manager in the west, said: “It’s important that our customers continue to enjoy clear, fresh drinking water. This essential work to improve the resilience of existing infrastructure, and help reduce the chance of pipes bursting, will help us achieve that.

“Some customers may experience a change in water pressure and/or discoloured water. If this happens, simply turn on the cold water tap in your kitchen and let the water flow slowly until it runs clear.”

She added: “We apologise for any inconvenience and thank affected road users and local residents in advance for their patience and understanding.”

Scottish Water personnel and contractors will adhere to Scottish Government Covid-19 guidance for the construction industry and the public. Measures will be in place to ensure safe working and allow for safe distancing by the workforce. This also ensures the safety of people in the communities and locations where we are working.
 

UK Government challenged to act on strict hotel quarantine rules

The SNP has said the UK government risks “actively undermining Scotland’s COVID suppression strategy” if UK Ministers continue to refuse to enforce strict mandatory quarantine rules for those travelling back to Scotland from airports in other UK nations.

New Scottish Government rules will see travellers from all international flights required to quarantine in supervised hotels from Monday last, 15 February, but in England hotel quarantine only applies to 33 ‘red list’ countries.

SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford said any refusal to implement the policy undermines vital public health advice - and shows a blatant disregard for the ability of UK nations to impose different rules to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

Ian Blackford MP said: “The UK government risks actively undermining Scotland’s COVID suppression strategy unless it urgently rethinks plans to ensure those travelling to Scotland comply with the rules set out by the Scottish Government.

“The decision to introduce managed quarantine in Scotland has been led by the best scientific advice and on lessons learned from our experience with the virus. 

“These new measures are a crucial part of tough action that Scotland has taken throughout the COVID pandemic - which effectively eliminated the virus last year. The current position of the UK government stands in the way of stopping the spread of Covid-19 and shows a blatant disregard for devolved governments making policy in the best interests of their residents.

“I’m urging the UK government to think again. If Westminster chooses not to adopt the tougher measures that will be in place in Scotland, it must at least work with the Scottish Government to ensure that the rules of each UK nation are respected and, crucially, implemented.”
 
 

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 epecially important for us all to look after our neighbours and family.

 

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.

Change of day



So as I can be as up to date as possible, the day for distribution has moved from every other Monday to every other Wednesday from today onwards.
 
Please feel free to forward this email to anyone who might be interested. We always look forward to seeing new subscribers joining our group.
 

Changes at Westminster



Ian Blackford MP has announced a reshuffle of SNP MPs including changes to his front bench team.
 
The SNP Westminster Leader said the reshuffle would draw on new talent and ensure the SNP has the best possible team in Westminster as Scotland faces the challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit.
 
Ian Blackford MP welcomed four new additions to his front bench;

Patricia Gibson MP as Shadow Spokesperson for Housing, Communities and Local Government


Angela Crawley MP as Shadow Spokesperson for the Attorney General


Richard Thomson MP as Shadow Spokesperson for Northern Ireland


Stephen Flynn MP as Shadow Spokesperson for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy


Commenting, Ian Blackford MP said:  "We have a wealth of talent and experience and this reshuffle of SNP MPs ensures we are in the best possible position to hold the UK government to account during this global pandemic and the aftermath of Brexit, to support colleagues ahead of the Scottish elections, and to deliver independence. 
 
"Team working and cooperation are key to ensure results and this reshuffle will give us a strong team to take us forward. We have an incredibly hard-working group of MPs - I thank them all for their commitment and congratulate those in new positions. 
 
"Neil Gray MP will coordinate our Inclusion and Wellbeing team before he steps down as a MP and seeks election to the Scottish Parliament. I thank him for all his work and wish him the very best. 
 
"We are at a crucial time in politics. Never before have we faced a challenge as great as the global pandemic, and Scotland is acutely feeling the ramifications of leaving the European Union. With the Scottish elections on the horizon and independence in touching distance, our new team is ready to work hard for Scotland." 


Virtual Burns Night



I can’t help but wonder what our famous national Bard would have made of a virtual Burns Night. He’d probably have joined in, I imagine! He was always up for a great gig.
 
Well, must needs and Friday 5 February at 7pm, Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse SNP friends and colleagues will be joining together to celebrate the life and works of Rabbie Burns, all online so full social distancing will in place. And of course you can join in from wherever you happen to be.
 
Apart, naturally, from wanting to see me, other guests include Angela Crawley MP, Neil Gray MP, John Ross, leader of South Lanarkshire Council and Cllr Josh Wilson but there will be many more.
 
The night will be hosted by Angela Crawley MP and includes a host of guest speakers. There will also be a special video message from Janey Godley for our guests to enjoy.
 
We all invite you warmly to join us. Tickets are £10 and are available from tinyurl.com/1qyjf1au


Universal Credit
Local Tory MSPs have been urged to back a U-turn on Tory plans to cut Universal Credit in the middle of an economic crisis  - after new figures revealed that Boris Johnson’s plan to remove the £20 per week uplift in April would hit 29,478 people in South Lanarkshire.



Latest statistics show that in November 2020 there were 29,478 people claiming Universal Credit in South Lanarkshire in November. If all these people remain on Universal Credit until April, then they will be affected by the removal of the £20 uplift.

The SNP has repeatedly called on the Westminster Tory government to maintain the £20 boost to Universal Credit and extend it to legacy benefits - yet all six Scottish Tory MPs abstained on a vote which would have ensured that. 

Anti-poverty think-tank the Resolution Foundation estimates that the cut to Universal Credit by £20 a week could see the incomes of low-income families fall by more than four per cent (4%) and plunge a further 820,000 children into poverty across the UK.

By slashing social security payments by £1000 a year, in the middle of an economic crisis, the Tories could push 29,478 people here in South Lanarkshire further into hardship and poverty.

There must be an immediate U-turn on this, to avoid worsening poverty and inequality across the country during the Covid-19 crisis - and I would urge local MSPs to support this. 

Although the SNP government has led the way in tackling poverty, with new benefits like the Scottish Child Payment and a social security system based on dignity and respect, this progress is being severely undermined by Tory cuts. 

It is crucial that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit is made permanent and extended to legacy benefits, as part of a wider package to boost incomes after a decade of damaging Tory austerity cuts. 

Scotland shouldn't have to wait for Westminster to act to protect the incomes of the most vulnerable in our society. The only way to secure a strong, fair and equal recovery is for Scotland to become an independent country - with the full powers needed to build a fairer society.
 

Budget

Scotland’s Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, has unveiled a draft budget that secures a major cash boost for the NHS, more investment in local public services and further financial support for families.



In Holyrood on Thursday 28 January, the SNP Government announced record funding of over £16 billion for Scotland’s health services, with a further £869 million to directly support the fight against the pandemic. Public sector workers will also be handed a pay rise.

£90 million will be made available to local authorities to freeze Council Tax levels, keeping more money in the pockets of families, while a majority of taxpayers will continue to pay less than they would elsewhere in the UK.

Ms Forbes also announced over £1 billion for the creation of a Green Workforce Academy to help people build skills for the future, £711 million to create more affordable housing, £98 million to improve broadband speeds and mobile coverage and £567 million to support the UK’s most ambitious childcare programme.  

During his flying visit north on the same day, what Boris Johnson deemed an ‘essential’ trip - though that is hard to swallow given the Stay at Home message. Our First Minister doesn’t feel it is ‘essential’ for her to make comparable visits.

Predictably, Mr Johnson came to talk down Scotland’s lower levels of Covid-19 and to tell us independence is a distraction. It’s odd that he is always first to introduce our right to choose as well as first to condemn and reject it.

SNP MSP Tom Arthur said that the budget “shows that where Scotland has the power, the SNP will take a different approach to give Scots the best deal in the UK.

“In unprecedented circumstances, and with one hand tied behind our back, the SNP is using its powers progressively to invest in our schools and our hospitals – while protecting household incomes during these tough times.

“Against the backdrop of added uncertainty caused by Boris Johnson’s Tory Brexit, the SNP Government has offered positive vision and leadership at a crucial moment for Scotland.

“While the Prime Minister has flown north to tell Scotland we couldn’t tackle this pandemic without Westminster’s support, back in the real world the SNP is getting on with the day job – creating a more prosperous equal society for us all.

“The question for voters at May’s election is simple. Who should be in charge of Scotland’s economic recovery from this virus, a government democratically elected by the people who live and work here, or Boris Johnson?”

Tax
Scotland's tax bands stay the same, though will increase with inflation.
The majority of taxpayers in Scotland will pay slightly less income tax than the rest of the UK.

The Finance Secretary will freeze the top tax rate of income tax at £150,000 and said that taxes will go down for all Scots compared with this year.

On the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax levied on home purchases, which was lowered to a temporary nil rate last year up to purchases of £250,000 will return to the £145,000 limit on 1 April and increase in tiered levels on more expensive properties.

First time buyer relief remains.
 

Health

Spending on Scotland's NHS will increase by £800 million over and above the core budget in the coming year.

This means the total budget reaches more than £16 billion, including £869 million to provide specific support for Covid-19 care.

A total of £145.3 million has been allocated to help tackle alcohol and drug issues, fulfilling the First Minister’s pledge of £50 million per year for five years.

Kate Forbes also announced that mental health funding would exceed £1.1 billion to cope with the effects of coronavirus as well as improve services across the country.
 

Public sector pay 

Public sector workers earning under £25,000 will get a three per cent pay rise. People on higher wages will receive a 1% increase capped at £800 above £80,000.


Councils

Local authorities will be given financial incentives to freeze council tax for the year ahead. Additional funding of £90 million will be made available to Scotland's 32 councils if they choose to keep local rates at the current level.

The Finance Secretary pointed out that  freezing council tax would help households suffering financially due to lockdown.
 

Business support

There is to be an extension in business support funds to help cope with the pandemic.

The strategic framework business fund, which provides grants based on restrictions put on businesses, will continue beyond this financial year, provided funding is forthcoming from the UK Government.
 
Full details of the Budget are here:
https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/corporate-report/2021/01/scottish-budget-2021-22/documents/scottish-budget-2021-22/scottish-budget-2021-22/govscot%3Adocument/scottish-budget-2021-22.pdf


Help for home schooling
Almost 6000 digital devices have been distributed by South Lanarkshire Council to help families with home schooling during lockdown.

Already, 5177 Chromebooks and 750 MiFi devices are in homes across the region - allowing pupils to keep up with their studies while schools remain closed.

Head of senior phase education Stewart Nicolson said that "this has been a phenomenal logistical and technical exercise" and the council is now "much better prepared for remote learning" than in March 2020.

On Tuesday, January 19, the education committee heard how Scottish Government funding of £1.46 million has allowed the council to improve digital inclusion across the region.

Priority was given to families in receipt of free school meals that had no digital devices at home and this saw 2200 Chromebooks and 480 MiFi devices distributed in the first stage.

Chromebooks are laptops optimised for browsing the internet and using office-based software such as word processors, spreadsheets and presentations.

MiFi devices are wireless routers which provide access to the internet via WiFi hotspots and the devices supplied by SLC come with a one-year Vodafone contract providing unlimited data.

To widen access, a further 3200 Chromebooks were needed to help families with "extremely limited digital access".

In practice, that means families whose only internet access was through a mobile phone or families with a device split between parents working from home and children at school.

Consideration was also given to pupils with additional support needs and 400 of these Chromebooks have touch screens.

Most of these have already been delivered, but SLC is expecting that remaining devices will be delivered in the next few weeks.

In a bid to support digital inclusion, families were given follow-up technical support through a named contact which has allowed the council to directly link up with targeted vulnerable families regarding set up, connectivity and user access issues.


All requests from families for MiFi devices have been met with over 750 families now able to access the internet.

Mr Nicolson added: "Funding of £1.46 million was made available to the council to support digital inclusion in response to the situation noted during the first lockdown, where some children were unable to access education in a meaningful way due to having either limited or no access to appropriate devices and internet connections.

"This has been a phenomenal logistical and technical exercise to get these devices set up and they have been configured so that not only will they work in the children's home, but they will also be compatible if they want to bring them into school."
 

Good news for South Lanarkshire taxis
I was delighted to hear that taxi and private hire drivers in South Lanarkshire will have access to three times the amount of Scottish Government support than they did last year.



Eligible drivers will be able to claim a £1,500 grant to cover fixed costs, boosting the support available to them by the Scottish Government.

A total fund of £57 million has been available to taxi and private hire drivers.
I’m pleased that the Scottish SNP Government has been able to increase the funding available to taxi and private hire drivers.

Many of these drivers in the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse Constituency have gone above and beyond the call of duty by providing transport for key workers and taking people safely to hospital appointments.

This substantial increase in support for them is the recognition they deserve in what has been a tough time for the industry due to the lockdown restrictions.

Many fixed costs have remained for drivers even though business is much reduced. Insurance, general maintenance, licence plate fees and rental fees still have to be paid, so the increase in funding will cover these expensive costs.

I urge SLC to contact firms quickly to ensure they can receive the money as soon as possible.
 

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.