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.
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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:
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.
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.”
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.”
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.