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Keeping up with you 22 October


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

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

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

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

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SNP Annual Conference

The buzz, the excitement in Aberdeen was electric. It is always great to see people whom I’ve not seen in ages as well as be with all the SNP MPs and MSPs that I’m talking to every day.

But this felt different, dramatically different. I had a sense of the urgency, the desire for us all to get so much closer to our own independence and so much further from Westminster’s bizarre activities.

There was a host of great debates and Fringe events. One of the two fringe meetings I spoke at was about how technology will better connect older people to health professionals and their communities.

I wanted to emphasise – as does our Scottish Older People Strategy released in April - that loneliness and isolation remain a sad and enduring problem, especially as we approach the Christmas season.

Emerging technologies and design solutions are set to become increasingly familiar. These new developments are going to play an important part in improving the lives and independence of our older people.

The second Fringe meeting, alongside Aileen McLeod MEP, focused on the question of whether Scotland can become a beacon in the world to a wellbeing economy?

In 2018 Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand established the Group of Wellbeing Economy Governments to challenge the acceptance of GDP as the ultimate measure of a country’s success - the goal of economic policy should be collective wellbeing, how happy and healthy a population is, not just how wealthy a population is. Collective wellbeing, not GDP, should be the most important measure of a country’s success.

We had important contributions from Dr Katherine Trebeck from the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, and Jane Morrison, also from the same organisation.

It was a great debate that brought in lots of fresh ideas about the best routes forward from a wide range of enthusiastic people.

Two debates I led were on the newly launched Gypsy Traveller action plan and another was on the importance of Human Rights and the value of ECHR. Something the UK, including Scotland, will lose post-Brexit.  

We had a number of exciting announcements. For example, a £3m action plan to tackle the discrimination and challenges faced by the Gypsy/Traveller community has been launched.

The plan, co-produced with local government body Cosla, will support a number of initiatives.

Local authorities will use £2m of the funding to improve accommodation and sites.

The remaining funding will go towards third sector children's education projects and health and social care.

A report published in 2018 found a failure by some local authorities to provide sites for travelling people which meet government standards.

It found that just two sites - in Angus and Falkirk - did so.

The action plan will focus on five key areas:

1 Providing more and better accommodation

2 Improving access to public services

3  Maximising household incomes

4  Tackling racism and discrimination

5  Strengthening community development and engagement

This action plan seeks to tackle deep-seated inequalities and discrimination experienced by Gypsy travellers by addressing the challenges they face.

Naturally, It was our quest for independence that dominated Conference. We all woke on last Sunday to read the Times poll showing support for independence up to 50%. That kind of figure has already been the result in two other polls, but it’s great to see it confirmed.

The SNP leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, put the new sense of urgency, brought by Brexit very clearly: 

“When it comes to choosing Scotland’s future, we should demand and win the gold standard for democracy and for our country.

“The excuses for keeping Boris Johnson in office are running dry, and the patience of people in Scotland is running out. We must take the power out of Boris Johnson’s hands - and put it back in the hands of the people. 

“We will not play Boris Johnson’s games and give in to his demands. But after years of Brexit crisis and chaos the only option – the only option that truly puts a stop to this chaos -  is to call a general election.

“A win for the SNP in any election will be a win for the right for immigrants to live and work in Scotland as their home.
“It will be a win for fair and decent pensions.
“A win for the right to help and support when you’re sick or out of work.
“We have the mandate, we have a majority in Parliament and we’ve absolutely got the momentum.
“And no one – not Boris Johnson – not Jeremy Corbyn, not anyone -  has any democratic right to block that decision from being made.

“The choice facing the people of Scotland is now abundantly clear.

“Scotland can be part of a broken Brexit Britain or choose to take our place as an equal, independent European nation, determined to deliver a fairer, greener, and more just society.”

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, speaking on the Andrew Marr programme on Sunday morning, restated her determination: ““I am putting legislation through the Scottish Parliament right now to put the rules and regulations in place. I’ve said as recently as a few weeks ago that as legislation progresses, we will make request for a section 30 order. We see rising support for independence,”

On a timescale, she said: “It’s likely to be over the next matter of weeks. It is coming soon.”

Depute Leader, Keith Brown, added: “There is no doubt that independence is coming – and Scotland will soon get to make that choice.

“We have an undeniable mandate for a referendum, we have a majority in the Scottish Parliament and we have momentum on our side – with support continuing to grow in favour of taking our future into our own hands.
“In a democracy, no politician should stand in the way of the people. Scotland must have the chance to choose a better future as a matter of democratic necessity.
“We have seen hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, making clear that Scotland’s voice will be heard.
“And while Westminster politics are well and truly broken, more and more people are convinced that Scotland should grasp the opportunity to become an independent country.
“Though the Tories will always try to hold us back, the unstoppable energy of our movement will ensure we keep moving Scotland forward to independence.” 

If I may risk offence to Rabbie Burns, “it’s coming Yes for a’ that, as come it will for a’ that.”

Campaign to save the First Glasgow-Hamilton express bus route

There were more than 4,600 people who backed our campaign to save the X1 Hamilton to Glasgow service.

I was delighted to hear it. I think First really understood what I had said to them about just how difficult and damaging such a loss would be to our Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse communities.

It’s been a rewarding experience to achieve this outcome, working alongside the many other individuals and groups supporting the campaign.

But First remain cautious, so get out and use that bus! First Glasgow commercial director Graeme Macfarlane said: “Service X1 is a route that has been in decline for a number of years in terms of passenger numbers, despite a number of efforts to make the route attractive to service users.

"The removal of any service is always the absolute last resort in this scenario and something we do not take lightly.

“Despite the numbers involved in the very public petitions against the removal of this service, we are simply not seeing this level of customer volume actually using the service.

"This must change if the service is to have a long-term and viable future as a commercial service, but we have taken on board the strong views of the paying public and local stakeholders who we have met with.

“As a result, we have taken the decision to reinstate the service as of 27 October.

"This registration has now been accepted by the Traffic Commissioner’s office, meaning there will be no gap in service from a customer’s point of view.”

So get out there and use that bus! Use it or lose it!

New fund to improve benefit take-up 

I welcome the news that a £500,000 fund is being opened for organisations who help people accessing their benefit options to be delivered by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Benefit Take-up Fund will support charities and third sector organisations in their work to tackle the barriers that can stand in the way of getting benefits someone is entitled to.  

This includes tackling perceived stigma and supporting people through the application process. Computer understanding and access to it can act as a significant limitation among folk who are unfamiliar with the technologies.

As we develop our own Scottish Social Security Agency, we believe it is vital to ensure that the systems we create are easy to access.

"The removal of any service is always the absolute last resort in this scenario and something we do not take lightly.

“Despite the numbers involved in the very public petitions against the removal of this service, we are simply not seeing this level of customer volume actually using the service.

"This must change if the service is to have a long-term and viable future as a commercial service, but we have taken on board the strong views of the paying public and local stakeholders who we have met with.

“As a result, we have taken the decision to reinstate the service as of 27 October.

"This registration has now been accepted by the Traffic Commissioner’s office, meaning there will be no gap in service from a customer’s point of view.”

Lifting people out of poverty

By August next year the SNP in government will have all but doubled the hours children receive. It will give them 30 hours a week of high quality, free care and education - saving families in Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse £4,500 per year for each child.

As announced by Nicola Sturgeon at the SNP conference last week, the SNP will scrap all non-residential social care charges and expand childcare into the school holidays for primary pupils from the poorest backgrounds if re-elected at the 2021 election.

 The First Minister pledged the new policies to ensure that everyone in Scotland has access to the support they need without cost - providing high quality care for those in most need, and helping parents continue working over holiday periods.

We’re determined to help families with the cost of living throughout their lifetimes – ensuring that fairness and equality are embedded in our society from birth to retirement.

That progressive, ambitious vision for government is exactly why people in Scotland continue to put their faith in the SNP.”

Teenage carers in Scotland to benefit from new grant

A new benefit will open for applications on Monday 21 October, with the Scottish Government investing £600,000 to support almost 2,000 young carers in 2019/20.

The Young Carer Grant will be available for 16, 17 and 18 year olds who spend an average of 16 hours caring for someone who receives a disability benefit.

Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said:

“I am delighted that we are using our new social security powers to recognise the extraordinary contribution these dedicated young people make to the lives of those they care for. This is the first time young carers anywhere in the UK will receive a cash benefit.

“With more responsibilities and less free time, many young carers don’t get the same opportunities as their peers and we want this benefit to support them with activities that many of their peers will take for granted.

“We are putting this extra money in their pockets in what could be a pivotal stage in their lives – when they may be finishing school, looking for employment or starting further education or training.

“This new grant will ensure they are treated with the dignity, fairness and respect they deserve.”

Paul Traynor, Policy and External Affairs Manager, Carers Trust Scotland, said:

“Carers Trust Scotland welcomes the Scottish Government’s innovative Young Carer Grant, which goes some way to recognising the immense contribution of unpaid young carers in Scotland.

“It is vital that young carers are able to live their own life alongside their unpaid caring roles and are provided with appropriate support to give them a better chance to reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives. At this key transitional time for many young carers aged 16–18 years old, this financial support has the potential to make a positive difference to their lives and alleviate some of the financial difficulties that these young carers may experience.”

Young Carer Grant opens for applications today,  Monday (21 October). Applications can be made online at, by phone or by post.


Scottish Veterans Fund opens

Organisations that want to work with veterans and their families are being urged to apply to a fund that benefits former services personnel.

Veterans Minister Graeme Dey opened the Scottish Veterans Fund (SVF) at the Armed Forces and Veterans Champions Gathering in Glasgow on 6 October..

The fund, supported by the Scottish Government and Standard Life Aberdeen, backs projects that provide new or innovative approaches to improving the lives of veterans.

This year also sees the fund emphasise that it is open to supporting schemes that help the families of veterans, not just those who have previously served.

Since its inception in 2008, the fund has backed more than 150 projects across Scotland, investing more than £1.4m.

It is particularly aimed at helping the veterans community overcome any disadvantage experienced as a result of service, as well as supporting projects that help veterans and their families successfully transition to civilian life.

Application forms and guidance will soon be available on the Veterans Scotland website and the fund application closure date is 30 November.

Green investment programme opens

Projects helping Scotland transition to a net-zero economy by 2045 can apply to be included in a new green investment programme, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The Green Investment Portfolio will give local authorities, developers and third sector organisations the opportunity to pitch for large scale investment to support projects reducing Scotland’s emissions in areas like renewables, waste, transport and the circular economy.

Announcing the launch at the Ethical Finance 2019 conference in Edinburgh, the First Minister said: “Scotland is determined to lead the transition to a net-zero carbon economy, and we have been clear that we must leave no-one behind.

“With 85% of the finance for this transition coming from the private sector, we must do everything we can to help all parts of the economy contribute to net-zero emissions by 2045.

“The Green Investment Portfolio supports our ethical finance ambitions by matching projects which are reducing emissions with investors so we can fully maximise their potential and promote them globally.

“This could include projects that are making buildings more energy efficient, reducing industrial emissions or even restoring peatlands. Our aim is to take to market a £3 billion portfolio of investable projects over the next three years.”