Campaign Diary – Week #9

  • Best bit: Getting to hang out with the South team, the national campaign team and my fellow candidates at Conference. Fantastic folk!
  • Worst bit: Going over a pothole and bursting a tyre (on Dad’s car) 150 miles from home
  • Folk of note: Mrs Menzies the librarian (and so much more) at Wallace Hall Academy in Thornhill
  • Miles travelled: 591
  • Things I learned: Only 5% of Scottish Borders residents are “very satisfied” with the opportunities to participate in local decision making processes. Whilst just under 35% are “fairly satisfied”, 11.8% are “very dissatisfied” and nearly a third of local people didn’t have an opinion.

Ooft! It’s been some week, with a flooding meeting, our Spring Conference and a fantastic 330 mile journey around the South.

A bonnie night on the beautiful drive to Peebles
A bonnie night on the beautiful drive to Peebles

On Wednesday, I drove down to Peebles for a Tweeddale Area Forum meeting focused on flooding. The meeting of around 50 members of the public listened patiently to an almost unintelligible presentation from Scottish Water on their reservoir at Talla. Rumours abound in the community that  there was a purposeful release of water from Talla in the midst of December’s storms and that this water caused homes to flood.

Flooding in Peebles over New Year
Flooding in Peebles over New Year

The truth is that just 13% of the water that flows into the Tweed by the time it hits Peebles comes from Talla and the surrounding hills. On the nights of the floods, the reservoir was so full that water was rushing over the top of the dam, unstoppable in its force. But many in the meeting wondered if Scottish Water could have done more in the days running up to the storm, to manage the flow.

Scottish Water present to the meeting
Scottish Water present to the meeting

Regardless of whether anything could have been done differently, what really struck me about the meeting was two things. Firstly, the language used in Scottish Water’s presentation was so opaque, so jargon-laden that the community members present either switched off or assumed that it was purposefully complex with the aim of misleading them. Secondly, several people, including me, asked the council, Scottish Water and the SEPA rep in attendance if they could clearly explain who was responsible for what aspects of flood prevention and management. Not one of them could offer a clear answer, though the council rep did announce that they were initiating the area’s first flood prevention strategy (better late than never?)

The most clearly understandable slide in the presentation from Scottish Water
The most clearly understandable slide in the presentation from Scottish Water

It’s little wonder in this context that Borders residents report that they are either unaware or only mildly satisfied with the state of participatory democracy. If those in power don’t know how decisions are made, how are the rest of us supposed to join in?

Thursday and Friday were largely spent on preparing for our Spring Conference with speech writing and practice with fellow candidates.

Selfie time with fellow candidates as we prepared for a morning of speeches and discussion
Selfie time with fellow candidates as we prepared for a morning of speeches and discussion (credit: Callum MacLellan)

Saturday was immense and intense. We were going non stop from early doors, prepping speeches, helping to set up, and most importantly, meeting up with wonderful fellow greens. I gave a speech that you can read here. Saturday night was a bit wonderful as I got to hang out with the best people ever – the South of Scotland team. I’m so blessed to be surrounded by such an awesome bunch.

Sunday started at 7.45am with a brutally cold escapade where we filmed part of our party election broadcast.

A grainy teaser of our Party Election Broadcast
A grainy teaser of our Party Election Broadcast (plus drone!)

A poor choice of footwear and near freezing temperatures while we stood pretty still for over an hour could have made us grumpy candidates, but Ross Greer, Isla O’Reilly and I decided to pass the time allocating roles in our imaginary SGP MSP band. Andy Wightman on percussion, John Finnie on guitar and Patrick fulfilling a Bez type role. I feel it could work. I gave another speech on Sunday, closing conference. Most of it is in note form in my head but I’ll write it up and get it online.

Snowy hills heading for the Dalveen Pass
Snowy hills heading for the Dalveen Pass

Monday was probably the biggest road trip I’ve done so far. Leaving Dunbar at 6am, I picked up Brenna in Edinburgh and drove us south west through gloriously snow covered Pentlands, past Biggar and over the Dalveen pass to Thornhill.

There I gave a talk to about 100 fifth and sixth years on how the voting system works, what happens in parliament and why it matters that they vote. Afterwards, Brenna – who attended the school – took me to meet Mrs Menzies who runs the library there.

Talking to young voters at Wallace Hall Academy in Thornhill
Talking to young voters at Wallace Hall Academy in Thornhill

She is clearly much more than a librarian, acting as a mentor, a shoulder to cry on and a fountain of knowledge for generations of young people. It was a pleasure to meet her.

From Thornhill we went off in search of open cast coal mines for a photo to go with some upcoming campaigning, before heading south to Dumfries for more meetings and lunch at my new favourite place, The Stove.

As we had some spare time before an evening meeting in Kelso, I suggested a wee detour to Annan as it’s a bit of the world I’ve not spent much time. On route we saw the most incredible hills – Cumbrian beauties covered in snow and looming over the Solway.

Looking south from Annan towards the gorgeous hills of Cumbria
Looking south from Annan towards the gorgeous hills of Cumbria

Chasing the hills for a better view, I managed to go over an unavoidable and horrendously deep pothole, exploding the front tyre. A wee wait for help from the AA and we were back on the road, heading through the hills to Kelso.

In Kelso, the Borders Greens were in full flow by the time we arrived, hearing from the lovely Pip Tabor from the Southern Uplands Partnership.

With the fab Borders Greens and Pip Tabor from Southern Upland Partnership in Kelso
With the fab Borders Greens and Pip Tabor from Southern Upland Partnership in Kelso

He explained the journey that various community groups had gone through in the quest for decent broadband. It’s clearly an enormous uphill struggle, with BT’s monopoly and a lack of coordinated and driven effort across the region holding up progress and having a serious economic impact.

After dropping Brenna off in Edinburgh, I got home at about 11pm, shattered after 330 miles and ready for bed. Needless to say, a quiet day of demolishing the latest series of House of Cards and some awesome chocolate resulted in much needed rest!

This coming week is relatively quiet. A campaign meeting, the return of my Dad from looking after aged parents for 3.5 months down south (and the subsequent return of his car), a meeting of Scottish Green Party council, some community things near Dunbar and a hustings in Carluke. Maybe I’ll find the time to make those videos I’ve been talking about…

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