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?
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:
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.
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.”
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.