Congratulations Hillary, but you can’t and won’t end sexism alone

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 00.54.47I’m supposed to be happy. As a woman, and a woman involved in politics no less, I’m expected to applaud Hillary Clinton for securing the Democratic nomination. But I can’t help feeling that just as Thatcher and May smashed glass ceilings in becoming Prime Minister and just as Obama smashed the race barrier in becoming President, this latest victory doesn’t hold the promise that many hope. Continue reading

Campaign Diary – Week #16

  • Best bits: Three great hustings in the Borders and getting out in the sun winning votes from Kelso to Dumfries to Fenwick
  • Worst bit: Coming to terms with the fact that there’s only a week left!
  • Folk of note: Rob from Dumfries and Galloway College for being so welcoming; Debbie from Borders Carers Centre and Rutherfords’ micro pub and Susan Rae for raising a tonne of money for a great cause and managing to keep 100 sci-fi and fantasy fans happy at GeekFest!
  • Miles travelled: 1,358
  • Things I learned: There’s 25 million tonnes of coal in proposed and agreed sites for opencast mines in Scotland, yet last year just 1.3 million tonnes were dug out and the last 5 coal-fired power stations are due to close by 2025.
Outside Duns Parish Church with fellow candidates from the constituency and region
Outside Duns Parish Church with fellow candidates from the constituency and region

This monster week started in beautiful Gatehouse on the Solway coast at Danny and Lusi’s house. After breakfast (with singing), I headed homewards and got ready for a hustings in Duns. With 8 candidates, it was the biggest panel I’ve been part of and it was a really fun night. Set in the stunning parish church, we had questions on independence, wind power, tax policy and much more. You can see the Southern Reporter’s coverage of it here.

Speaking at the SCDI hustings in Edinburgh where we talked infrastructure investment, tax and GM crops amongst other things
Speaking at the SCDI hustings in Edinburgh where we talked infrastructure investment, tax and GM crops amongst other things

On Thursday morning I went through to Edinburgh for an early hustings with SCDI (8.30 start compensated with bacon rolls). I was the only woman on the panel – one assumes because it was about “serious man stuff” like economics and business (come ON other parties!). There was a beautiful moment where Magnus Linklater asked me from the chair whether my stance on GM crops wasn’t a bit anti-capitalist. I think he was rather taken aback when I said yes of course.

A *very* excited doge enjoying John Muir Country Park
A *very* excited doge enjoying John Muir Country Park

After the hustings I headed back to Dunbar for a photo call to celebrate John Muir Day. I met a group of local activists at John Muir Country Park to launch our policy on creating new national parks to protect our beautiful natural landscapes. While taking pics there was a *very* excited dog rampaging along the river underneath us. Ah doges.

After an afternoon of writing, the evening was spent at a hustings in Peebles in the Burgh Hall. I had a little time beforehand so decided to take the scenic route over the hills by Gorebridge and go for some really delicious dinner in Osso in Peebles where I was joined by local MP Callum Kerr. Callum’s dad was the head teacher at Peebles high when I was there – a nice reminder that Scotland really is a tiny wee village. The hustings covered energy, Trident and the controversy over the Great Tapestry of Scotland.

Backing NUS Scotland's campaign for better student support
Backing NUS Scotland’s campaign for better student support

Friday started with a hustings in Borders College in Gala where we talked about student support and transition between work, unemployment and study and how to best support people to learn and work. Like the rest of my party, I’m backing NUS Scotland’s campaign to improve student support, particularly at FE. From Gala I went up to Peebles for my lunch where I filmed an interview with Joe Pike for ITV Borders.

After filming I headed home for tea and then back out to Edinburgh to help host the amazing Geekfest – a fundraising pub quiz with a twist.

The enormous crowd at Geekfest
The enormous crowd at Geekfest

Organised by the brilliant Susan Rae, the comic book, sci-fi and fantasy themed quiz had about 100 folk at it and raised hundreds of pounds to paint the Leith Walk Tardis Green, complete with Stewart Bremner murals, as well as raising money for the Holyrood campaign.

On Saturday I headed over to Glasgow for a morning with the Scottish Opencast Communities Alliance for a conference

At the SOCA conference on opencast mine restoration
At the SOCA conference on opencast mine restoration

focusing on restoration of opencast mines. I was shocked to hear the finance director of Hargreaves – the biggest firm involved in mining and now “restoration” – brazenly celebrating his company’s failed attempt to wriggle out of paying carbon taxes.

With fab Green campaigners getting ready for canvassing in Fenwick
With fab Green campaigners getting ready for canvassing in Fenwick

After the conference, I picked up Brenna and headed to Fenwick in Ayrshire for an afternoon of canvassing with a great team of fellow Greens. Fenwick was home to a weavers cooperative – revolutionary for its day. We had a pretty positive reception on the doorstep but a really worrying number of people still don’t know they have two votes.

On Sunday, Brenna and I met up with fab Borders Green stalwart Tim Clancey and leafleted the whole of Cardrona near Peebles.

With Tim and Brenna in Cardrona
With Tim and Brenna in Cardrona

On the way there, Tim had warned of sleet and snow but we managed to bring the sunshine and had a great morning. Of course the best bit was meeting all the doges (apart from a very irate Alsatian) and friendly cats.

After a great breakfast in Nashy’s cafe, we took a gorgeous route over the hills to Preston near Duns where we found brilliant Beth’s house by the VOTE GREEN poster in the window and picked up a heap of newsletters to leaflet Kelso with.

Hitting the streets of Kelso with Brenna
Hitting the streets of Kelso with Brenna

An afternoon in sunny Kelso followed, with a wee visit to Rutherford’s – the micro pub that I wrote about in the newsletter we were delivering. They won a great award recently and are up for another. Definitely worth a visit! After delivering a few hundred newsletters, we went over the Border and back again to drop in at Brenna’s mum’s house. There we had cuddles with Alfie doge and a very welcome cuppa, before heading to Eyemouth for fish n chips at Mackays.

Chatting with students at D&G College
Chatting with students at D&G College

Monday brought a trip to Dumfries to meet students at D&G College. I had some great conversations with students, including some business students putting on a fundraising gig for D&G SANDS and a group of guys who were really interested in talking about jobs and transition from fossil fuels. After an all too brief chat, I headed up through the hills past Moffat to Gala to meet with Debbie from the Borders Carers Centre.

With Debbie from Borders Carers Centre (and Rutherford's!)
With Debbie from Borders Carers Centre (and Rutherford’s!)

In a beautiful karmic moment, it turns out she runs Rutherford’s in Kelso so was singing our praises for mentioning them in the newsletter! We had a great chat about what support carers need and particularly how her organisation helps them. Find out more about our policies on care here.

From Gala, Brenna and I went up to Innerleithen and bumped into an old school friend in the Traquair Arms and prepped for the hustings organised by the Tweeddale Action Group (TAG).

Innerleithen hustings organised by TAG
Innerleithen hustings organised by TAG

About 70-80 folk turned out on a gorgeous sunny evening for a really well organised hustings. You can see my answer to a question about TTIP here. My old English teacher Ian Jenkins was in the audience. He left teaching to become an MSP in the first Parliament so it meant a lot to me when he said I did really well in the hustings.

On Tuesday I was back down the road in Dumfries, this time with my pal Blu who I’ve known for half my life. We packed our bikes in the car (before a friendly cat tried to stow away with us) and headed down the road through snow and sleet.

Me and Blu on our wee cycling tour of Dumfries
Me and Blu on our wee cycling tour of Dumfries

In Dumfries the sun came out just in time for us to get some leafletting in with the wonderful D&G Greens before hopping on our bikes. We were meeting with Cycling Dumfries who are campaigning for better integrated cycle paths and routes to school and college across the town.

With Finlay Carson, Joan McAlpine and others for Cycling Dumfries
With Finlay Carson, Joan McAlpine and others for Cycling Dumfries

Sally from the group led the tour of the town with assorted politicians, pointing out all the places where things like developers pulling out of housing developments has an impact on the infrastructure and where the lack of ongoing funding for paths means they’re built and then not maintained. Check out our policies on active travel here.

That’s all for this week. And who knows if I’ll manage a diary next week! Over the final week of the campaign I’ve got a couple of hustings in Prestwick on Friday and Ayr on Monday; an action day in Kelso on Saturday, leafletting, door knocking and stall on Sunday and a giant tour of the South on Tuesday and Wednesday before the big day. Get in touch if you want to help out!

In the meantime, here’s all the doges and cats I’ve met this week 🙂

Alfie doge - he's basically the best dog in the universe
Alfie doge – he’s basically the best dog in the universe
Obligatory happy cat photo
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Campaign Diary – Week #15

  • Best bits: Getting some really positive feedback at hustings, especially from folk who were previously undecided or had thought they’d be both votes SNP but who’d changed their mind when they heard me at a hustings whether in Kilmarnock, North Berwick or Castle Douglas
  • Worst bit: Not seeing nearly enough of Nat after spending much of my time away or travelling
  • Folk of note: Shona, Carl and the amazing team in Cockenzie, battling to protect and enhance their beloved greenspace by buying it out, despite knock backs.
  • Miles travelled: 1,074
  • Things I learned: The situation with broadband rollout in rural Scotland is even worse than I feared. Only half of homes have the promised super fast broadband, while the target is 95% coverage in just two years time.
With some of the amazing folk from the bid to take over lands around Cockenzie and protect the site of the Battle of Prestonpans
With some of the amazing folk from the bid to take over lands around Cockenzie and protect the site of the Battle of Prestonpans

A busy week started on a dreich day with a trip to Cockenzie, site of the former coal-fired power station whose towers famously came tumbling down last year. Since the closure of the plant, various proposals have been made for what to do with the East Lothian site, including an enormous energy park. Whilst well intentioned, that proposal would have seen the destruction of much loved and well used green space and threatened the site of the historic Battle of Prestonpans. As soon as they heard of the proposal, local people got together to fight the plans which were soon rejected.

But they didn’t stop there. The new Coastal Regeneration Alliance consulted with the whole community and rallied nearly 8,000 people to defend the coastal lands and decide for themselves about what future awaited the vacancy left by Cockenzie. With detailed plans for what they wanted to do with the land, they submitted a request to buy the land. In a devastating blow, it was rejected by Scottish Ministers. Now they fight on, taking their cause to the courts.

Some of the Enable crowd after our speed dating hustings
Some of the Enable crowd after our speed dating hustings

After a freezing morning in Cockenzie, I travelled to Kilmarnock for a hustings with learning disability charity Enable. Unlike any other hustings of the campaign, this one worked a bit like speed dating, with the four candidates answering questions at separate tables and never debating one another. Round each table were people with learning disabilities, sometimes on their own and sometimes with support workers or carers. The questions ranged from the deceivingly simple “why should we vote for you” to “how would you help learning disabilities to make friends”. It was a refreshing change from the hostile top table rabble rousing of some hustings but it was challenging in its own way, forcing me to think about how I worded answers in a straightforward way.

Answering a question on Trident at the North Berwick churches hustings
Answering a question on Trident at the North Berwick churches hustings

Thursday brought a team meeting in Edinburgh and a hustings in North Berwick in the evening. You can see my answer to a question on Trident here. After the hustings, a young woman came over saying “I turned up without knowing who to vote for but I’m definitely voting Green now!”

On Friday I went to visit Lothian Broadband over at Humble to hear about the challenges of delivering fast, reliable broadband in a rural area. Nick, Ian, Patrick and David were very patient, explaining the difficulties caused by BT’s monopoly over the broadband rollout and the challenges facing communities trying to do it themselves. Across the country there are communities trying their best to install good broadband to local people, but coming up against tech problems as well as all the problems that come with an essential service being delivered by stretched volunteers. It’s pretty clear to me that we need to radically rethink the way the rollout is being done and provide more money and hands on support to communities.

Me explaining the causes and consequences of fuel poverty before chatting with South Lanarkshire folk about how we fix it
Me explaining the causes and consequences of fuel poverty before chatting with South Lanarkshire folk about how we fix it

On Friday evening I went down to Biggar to give a talk on fuel poverty. Rather ironically it was snowing as I arrived and the hall was definitely not energy efficient (!) but we had a really good discussion about the need for bold new ideas on energy.

That night I stayed with my dad just up the road and on Saturday we went into Lanark for a day of campaigning with South Lanarkshire Greens. When I was wee, we’d go to Lanark almost every Saturday to visit the library and then get a cheese toasty at the Woodpecker.

A much more common set of voting intentions than one folk might let on
A much more common set of voting intentions than one folk might let on

This time we chatted to loads of friendly folk through a mixture of gorgeous sunshine and snow. A fair few SNP voters told us they’d be voting Green on the list and one guy even went off with two party badges on.

On Sunday, Nat and I went adventuring down in the southern Borders, visiting the amazing Hermitage Castle and the fantastic Whitrope heritage centre.

At Whitrope railway heritage centre in the deep hills between Hawick and Newcastleton
At Whitrope railway heritage centre in the deep hills between Hawick and Newcastleton

The centre is home to relaid train track along the old Hawick to Carlisle route and during the summer months they run trains along a mile or so of the track. I had a great chat with Andy, one of the volunteers, about whether he thought a reopened line was feasible. He was certainly hopeful about an extension to Carlisle but had his head in his hands about the single track for the existing line.

On Monday I was back in Kilmarnock for another great hustings, this time with the Royal College of Nursing.

With Michael and Julie, chair and organiser from the RCN who hosted a great hustings night in Kilmarnock
With Michael and Julie, chair and organiser from the RCN who hosted a great hustings night in Kilmarnock

We had some great discussions before the hustings (over a buffet no less!) and the questions during the event covered pensions, trade union and workplace rights, Trident and how to put an end to austerity. I was relieved to find that what I said seemed to strike a chord with many of the folk there.

And so to Tuesday, an epic adventure in Dumfriesshire and Galloway! Brenna and I travelled to Johnstonebridge, not far from Moffat where

Visiting the community owned land which is starting out life as allotments and raised beds in Johnstonebridge with organiser Dave
Visiting the community owned land which is starting out life as allotments and raised beds in Johnstonebridge with organiser Dave

we met with Dave and Jackie – two local activists who played a leading role in developing the new community centre, playground and all weather pitch. They were previously part of the community council but now help run the community development trust. They’ve worked for years to get money from the Lottery for a new village hall – a brilliant facility – and now have their sights set on redeveloping a plot of land they’ve bought out, creating community allotments. The biggest struggle for them now seemed to be getting folk to use the new hall. Despite it being a really top notch place, it seems local folk either can’t afford to use it or simply aren’t up for it.

In Castle Douglas with the totally wonderful D&G Greens (and the littlest Greens Kester and Veya)
In Castle Douglas with the totally wonderful D&G Greens (and the littlest Greens Kester and Veya)

After Johnstonebridge, we headed south to Castle Douglas for a stall with the wonderful D&G Greens in the sunshine. A reassuringly large number of folk said they were already voting for us. It may have helped that we had a ridiculously cute two year old with us, but folk seemed pretty genuine in their positivity.

From CD, we went on to Cream o Galloway along the road. The home of amazing ice cream that I failed to eat and a very exciting looking adventure playground that I failed to play on,

With David Finlay at Cream o Galloway
With David Finlay at Cream o Galloway

it’s an organic farm practicing sustainable farming, much to the amusement and/or annoyance of other farmers around. Co-owner David Finlay showed us around, introducing us to some very cute pet lambs and young calves as well as showing us the anaerobic digester which not only gets energy from the slurry produced by the cattle but which produces a fertiliser to go on the fields that doesn’t smell. Amazing.

The Cream o Galloway trip was well timed as that night we went back to Castle Douglas for a hustings with the NFU Scotland.

Obligatory post-hustings photo with the NFUS in Castle Douglas
Obligatory post-hustings photo with the NFUS in Castle Douglas

Despite being talked over repeatedly by a pretty belligerent UKIP candidate, I kept my cool enough to talk about whether farmers should be allowed to shoot beavers (nope) and whether we should stay in the EU (aye).

After a pretty full on week, I was super grateful for a bed for the night with the very wonderful Danny and Lusi Alderslowe in Gatehouse. Think I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!

Anywho, that’s all for now. Until next time!

Campaign Diary – Week #14

  • Best bits: Introducing Save Broomfield campaigners to Lesley Riddoch for some welcome advice and support on the next stage of their campaign and then getting a shout out on her podcast
  • Worst bit: My car making horrid sort of broken noises and needing to go into the garage
  • Folk of note: Elise and the team in the national campaign who worked really hard to pull off a great manifesto launch this week!
  • Miles travelled: 535
  • Things I learned: The minimum wage can be worked around if you employ agency workers from other EU states, so long as you pay them *their* minimum wage – according to the folk building the new waste to energy plant in Dunbar. Needless to say Unite were out in force protesting this week.

 

Speaking at the Unite rally
Speaking at the Unite rally

The week began at 6.30am at a freezing picket line just along the road from me. Unite (my union) were out in force to protest the decision of local employers building a waste to energy plant to go against agreed terms with the union and employ foreign workers for far less than local workers. The decision goes against promises that the new plant would employ local people, including in the construction phase, and is clearly a violation of the spirit of the minimum wage.

On the platform at Kilmarnock hearing about the community rail partnership and heritage group
On the platform at Kilmarnock hearing about the community rail partnership and heritage group

After a quiet morning, I headed over to Kilmarnock to meet the very wonderful Jen and Yvonne and some fab folks running a community rail partnership. The big idea is to involve local people in the railway and the stations, inputting into discussions about train times and the like. In another partnership around the Stranraer line, the partnership produced fantastic walking maps with routes beginning and ending at train stations. A great idea that needs to be replicated across the country.

Me with Lesley Riddoch and (l-r) Allan, Peter and Jennifer from the Save Broomfield campaign
Me with Lesley Riddoch and (l-r) Allan, Peter and Jennifer from the Save Broomfield campaign

From Kilmarnock Yvonne and I went to Cumnock to meet with Allan, Jennifer and Peter from the Save Broomfield campaign, fighting to keep their playing fields free from the development of a proposed super school which they believe could go elsewhere. Lesley Riddoch was speaking in Maybole that evening with the local Common Weal group. As she’s always interested in stories of communities fighting the good fight, I invited her over to Allan and Jennifer’s house for a chat! She listened to where the campaign has got to so far and pitched in some great ideas for next steps before heading off for the evening’s event. It was really encouraging to hear that the team were thinking along the right lines and I think it gave everyone a wee boost. You can hear Lesley’s great podcast featuring the campaign here.

Lesley Riddoch speaking at the South Ayrshire Common Weal meeting in Maybole
Lesley Riddoch speaking at the South Ayrshire Common Weal meeting in Maybole

After going down to Maybole to hear Lesley’s fantastic talk, I tootled home to Dunbar and bed! Thursday and Friday were quiet, although my car was not. The exhaust was making some pretty sad noises to the extent that I cancelled a trip to Dumfries for, ironically enough, an event about roads and transport routes.

On the beach in North Berwick with Eurig Scandrett and Isla Aitken at the spot where the council wants to build a car park
On the beach in North Berwick with Eurig Scandrett and Isla Aitken at the spot where the council wants to build a car park

Saturday brought the sunshine and with it, the perfect day for chatting to voters on Dunbar high street and later in North Berwick. Eurig and Isla, fellow list candidates and North Berwick natives joined me for a look at the spot on the beach in North Berwick where the council’s proposing a ridiculous extension of the car park *onto* the beach! Sign the petition here to put a stop to it.

With fellow candidates at the launch of our manifesto in Edinburgh on Tuesday
With fellow candidates at the launch of our manifesto in Edinburgh on Tuesday

A day of writing followed, with a whole day in the national campaign office on Monday preparing for our manifesto launch on Tuesday. I’m really proud of our manifesto and of all the work that’s gone into crowdsourcing it from members and experts around the country. Find it here.

On Tuesday evening, I met up with Michael Gray from Common Space who’d asked to hang out with me on the campaign trail.

With youth group volunteers in North Berwick
With youth group volunteers in North Berwick

We went to North Berwick where we went along to the local youth group to chat voter registration, exams and how important the space is for young people. There was a point in the car driving to the next event in Haddington where Michael asked “what’s the point of doing visits like that?” I had to pause to find the right words, but said that ultimately it’s about making sure I understand the views, needs and experiences of as many people in the region as possible in order to be able to speak for them in parliament.

With East Lothian candidates at the FSB hustings in Haddington
With East Lothian candidates at the FSB hustings in Haddington

The evening was spent in Haddington at a really interesting hustings with the FSB and the local chamber of commerce. I’d been a little nervous beforehand as I wasn’t sure what kind of questions we’d get, but when I read the FSB’s manifesto, I soon realised that we agree with them on pretty much everything they’re asking for. We spent the first hour of the debate discussing broadband and how totally crucial it is for businesses. Luckily, David Walls from Lothian Broadband was on hand in the audience to confirm my arguments that BT’s monopoly in the broadband rollout and their control over the infrastructure is holding back community and smaller providers from reaching homes and businesses that are crying out for connections.

Some great discussions on citizens income, a new enterprise agency for the South and the need for business support for small businesses finished off the night.

This week I’ve had a couple of hustings already (more on that next week) and I’ve got two action days and loads more hustings. Until next time!

Campaign Diary – Week #13

  • Best bits: Knowing I played even a small part in saving buses in Dumfries and Galloway, alongside a fantastic bunch of Green campaigners
  • Worst bit: Being totally floored by stomach cramps all weekend.
  • Folk of note: Maggie, Amanda and Pip from the Scottish Rural Parliament who’ve been travelling around the South gathering views from rural folk on what should go in a manifesto to be decided in October.
  • Miles travelled: 538
  • Things I learned: Farm incomes in Scotland have halved in five years, just 12% of farmers are under the age of 45 and the proportion of land available to rent has halved in my lifetime.
On our way to hand in our #haudthebus petition in Dumfries
On our way to hand in our #haudthebus petition in Dumfries

This week, I’ve been out and about in Dumfries, the Borders and Midlothian talking rural economy, transport, farming, regeneration and creative industries as well as launching a new crowdfunder. On Wednesday, after just getting back to Dunbar from a few days away in Galloway, I hot footed it back down the road to Dumfries to help hand in the 1,675 signature petition calling for Sunday and evening buses to be saved.

The meeting of SWestrans on Friday agreed a new proposal to scale back the cuts by a third. It’s far from perfect and there will inevitably be folk who lose out because of it. But I’m proud to be part of the team that made sure SWestrans didn’t get away with just rubber stamping cuts to vital services.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 15.54.08After handing in the petition I spent the rest of the afternoon in The Stove, eating delicious food and writing last week’s campaign diary. There are many reasons to love The Stove, but bumping into pals like Graham from Lateral North and Lucy Brown who helped get The Lowland Clearances back in print is one of them. Having spent the previous weekend in Stranraer, I’d love to see something like The Stove opening up there and breathing new life into the town.

With the rain falling in Dumfries, I drove back up the road through bursts of sun over Moffat and black clouds at Tweedsmuir to Lamancha, a few miles south of Penicuik. I was attending my second Scottish Rural Parliament event – one of a series of consultation workshops seeking input into a manifesto for rural Scotland. The energetic folks running the show – Pip Tabor from the Southern Upland Partnership, Maggie Gordon who farms in Galloway and Amanda Burgauer who wears many different business and community hats around Crawford – are doing similar events almost nightly right across the South.

Maggie talks through the workshop attendants' thoughts on what rural issues need tackling while Pip plays glamorous assistant
Maggie talks through the workshop attendants’ thoughts on what rural issues need tackling while Pip plays glamorous assistant

With a wee crowd of community activists and farmers, conversations centred around local democracy and diversifying farming. I especially enjoyed the response of one guy when I asked how his farm was diversifying – “Och well nowadays o course the wives even go out tae work away frae the farm. That’s diversity for ye”. Amazing. You can find out more about the Scottish Rural Parliament’s project here.

After Lamancha I popped into Edinburgh for tea with Adam Ramsay and pals and recorded a wee podcast on tax. You can find it here on Bright Green.

Looking South(-ish) from near Gorebridge
Looking South(-ish) from near Gorebridge

After an admin day on Thursday, Friday was mostly spent in Penicuik. Midlothian is split between Lothian region which includes Dalkeith, Wallyford and Pathhead, and the South of Scotland region which includes Penicuik, Gorebridge and Newtongrange. I took the opportunity to avoid the bypass and go cross country to get there from Dunbar, wandering up into the moorland around Gorebridge. I’ve cycled up there a couple of times but never driven or really stopped. It’s stunningly beautiful.

Midlothian Greens braving the icy chills of April
Midlothian Greens braving the icy chills of April

In Penicuik an icy wind was raging which meant our street stall didn’t last very long. After some very cold leafletting and conversations around the market, I got the chance to get a guided tour, out of the wind, of a fantastic new project which could transform Penicuik.

The Storehouse is a huge building on one of the main streets in the town.

Me and Rodger in the Storehouse envisaging what comes next
Me and Rodger in the Storehouse envisaging what comes next

Having been the old Coop building, a pound shop and various other things over the years, the community has now raised enough money to rent it and is slowly transforming it into a bakery, cafe, shop and workshop.

Rodger showed us around and told us about the vision for local produce being promoted, sold, baked and enjoyed in the space. If you can spare a few pennies to help them complete the project, please chuck them in this direction.

Debbie Zawinski from Haddington Spinners and Weavers demonstrating a bit of spinning. She wrote a fab book on the sheep of Scotland and the socks that come from them!
Debbie Zawinski from Haddington Spinners and Weavers demonstrating a bit of spinning. She wrote a fab book on the sheep of Scotland and the socks that come from them!

On Saturday I went down the coast to St Abbs for the annual wool festival which brings together spinners, weavers and knitters from all across Scotland and the north of England.

I met a brilliant woman from Haddington Spinners who’s written a book about her travels round Scotland getting wool from all our native breeds and making socks. I love the idea of creating whilst travelling, particularly when it involves a skill that so few people have nowadays.

Frustratingly I only managed an hour at the wool festival before my body decided it had had enough. A weekend of stomach cramps and a wooly brain followed.

At the NFUS hustings in St Boswells (this is my listening attentively face!)
At the NFUS hustings in St Boswells (this is my listening attentively face!)

By Monday I felt much brighter and ventured down to the Borders through Duns and Kelso for an afternoon and evening focused on farming. I visited Born in the Borders – a brewery, restaurant and shop selling produce from the south of Scotland and north of England – and met with their manager Nicola.

In the evening I was in St Boswells for a hustings with the NFU Scotland. I’ll write more about both farming events in another blog, but the bottom line is that farming is in crisis and we desperately need to address it as a country. If we don’t, we won’t have much of a country left.

Campaigning for better buses with Patrick and gang
Campaigning for better buses with Patrick and gang

Tuesday was all about the buses, doing a wee photo call and interview with Patrick Harvie, followed by a day of admin in Edinburgh and a visit to the brilliant student occupiers in Edinburgh University who are trying to get the uni to divest from all fossil fuels. The day ended with the launch of our new crowdfunder. Please chip in what you can and help make this wild journey worth it!

With Andy Wightman and Patrick Harvie supporting the brilliant P&P campaigners calling on Edinburgh University to #divesttherested
With Andy Wightman and Patrick Harvie supporting the brilliant P&P campaigners calling on Edinburgh University to #divesttherested

Coming up this week; transport things in Dumfries, an action day in East Lothian, our manifesto launch and a week of hustings! Until next time…

Beyond fishing and farming – what rural Scotland needs to flourish

Biggar in rural South Lanarkshire
Biggar in rural South Lanarkshire

Fishing and farming. If you believed the Tories, you might think that’s all that rural Scotland is. The publication last week of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s plans for rural Scotland admittedly contains some positive aspects – universal broadband for all, for example – but its focus and its omissions show just how out of touch the party is with the every day lives of most folk in the South and across rural Scotland. Continue reading

Campaign Diary – Week 12

  • Best bits: Hearing local people talk with huge enthusiasm about their local community and its future, whether in Stranraer, Wigtown or Gatehouse of Fleet; and camping under the stars in the shadow of Orchardton Tower with my partner.
  • Worst bit: Struggling to find the time to write my campaign diary!
  • Folk of note: Danny and Lusi in Gatehouse, saving buses and enriching young people’s lives with outdoor classrooms and youth groups.
  • Miles travelled: 540 (+120 having fun visiting castles!)
  • Things I learned: That Loch Ryan is the only place in the UK where you can find native Oysters

I’ve spent most of the last few days immersed in Galloway’s past, present and future, speaking at the Stranraer Festival of Politics, listening to local folk there trying to secure a future for the town and discovering the rich history of Galloway.

My chuffed face at my "new" car :-)
My chuffed face at my “new” car 

Week 12, the first week of the short campaign, started with getting a new car on Wednesday! It’s one of the great frustrations of the South that it’s near impossible to get around without a car as public transport is either non existent, intermittent or unintegrated across much of the region. I’m really grateful to Alison MacLeod who drove the new wheels down to Edinburgh from Applecross!

On Wednesday afternoon I put the new car to the test and drove over to Strathaven where I met some of the brilliant team behind the Avondale Beekeepers. Aily, the powerhouse of a woman behind the project spoke with passion about the impact that even a small group of people can have in connecting a community with the landscape around them.

Visiting the Avondale Beekeepers
Visiting the Avondale Beekeepers

From introducing children and young people to bees and how they fit in the ecosystem to persuading farmers that allowing hives on their land will increase their crop yields, the project is making a hugely positive impact around Strathaven.

After some delicious pasta bake and bee chat with Aily and Moira we popped up the road into Strathaven for a cross party discussion on food poverty. Hosted by Who Cares Talks, the event started with a talk from Nicola Simpson who works at a local food bank. She told the audience some of the personal stories of folk who’ve no other choice but to use the food bank.

Speaking at the Who Cares Talks event on food poverty in Strathaven
Speaking at the Who Cares Talks event on food poverty in Strathaven

People who have had one tragic, unavoidable thing happen in their lives only to discover that the safety net they thought was there to help them, has some massive holes in it. Aside from the local Tory who claimed that food banks weren’t such a bad thing and who seemed very confused about the difference between the minimum wage and the living wage, there was broad consensus on the panel that failures of the benefits system, low wages and high costs of living were to blame for food banks.

Patch the goat nuzzling/nibbling my ear. They'll eat anything!
Patch the goat nuzzling/nibbling my ear. They’ll eat anything!

After the debate, Brenna and I stayed over at my Dad’s near Biggar and had a great morning feeding goats and ducklings and helping Dad with some heavy lifting. In the evening I went into Edinburgh for a sneak peak at our upcoming party election broadcast before zooming home to catch the tail end of the leaders debate on the BBC. Friday was spent trying to wade through emails and prepare for a weekend in Stranraer. For the first time this year I sat out in the garden in my bare feet and hung the washing out to dry in the sun.

Speaking on democracy at the Politics Through Our Eyes festival in Stranraer
Speaking on democracy at the Politics Through Our Eyes festival in Stranraer

On Friday night, Nat and I drove 170 miles to Stranraer to the Harbour Lights B&B for a weekend at the festival of politics. The festival, Politics Through Our Eyes, was launched by local folk who were fed up of political discussion being concentrated in the central belt and of Stranraer being consistently overlooked, even within Dumfries and Galloway region. I was speaking at two events over two days. In the first, on the future of democracy in Scotland, I spoke about how political debate in Scotland seems to have died down since the referendum, with fewer people engaging in discussion about big ideas. For me, the level and content of today’s political debate is failing to inspire people and that’s really dangerous for democracy. Similarly, the lack of power in local democratic structures means that many people are left wondering why they’d bother putting themselves forward to stand as a councillor or why they’d go to the effort of joining their community council. If nothing’s going to change, why bother?

Me with some fabulous D&G Greens who were out collecting petition signatures for the Haud the Bus campaign in Stranraer
Me with some fabulous D&G Greens who were out collecting petition signatures for the Haud the Bus campaign in Stranraer

Sunday’s debate was interlinked in many ways, focusing on who owns Scotland. Much of the discussion was on land reform so I spoke about Green proposals to tax vacant and derelict land and raise up to £300m a year, bewilderingly voted down by the SNP Government. We also spoke about who owned the means of production, beyond the land itself. The wide ranging discussion concluded with a feeling that we need to put far more faith (and money) into communities to own their own assets, whether land and property, businesses or energy production.

Stranraer was pretty windy but a great wee place to visit
Stranraer was pretty windy but a great wee place to visit

Outwith the events I was speaking in, I attended a couple of other discussions – one with Robin McAlpine from Common Weal and another on the local economy. Both discussed the desperate need for investment and regeneration in the South in general and Stranraer in particular. Since the ferries left several years ago, the town has seriously suffered. Coupled with a persistent feeling that Stranraer is overlooked by the “local” council (headquartered 75 miles away in Dumfries) and by national government, folk are worried about what the future holds.

Romano Patrizio of the Stranraer Development Trust tells a local economy discussion about his hopes for the town
Romano Patrizio of the Stranraer Development Trust tells a local economy discussion about his hopes for the town

But thankfully, there are local people who are determined to see their town flourish. Romano Patrizio told me about his efforts to get the Stranraer Development Trust established and to bring investment into the area. Having just missed out on getting the town designated as a Business Improvement District, he’s intent on trying again and on expanding the Trust’s ambitions. Apparently Loch Ryan, on which Stranraer sits, is home to the UK’s only native oysters, marketed in the Hebrides at £78 for a half dozen. Romano’s ambition is to launch an oyster festival to bring people to the town and celebrate one of its natural assets. I’d definitely come to that!

Nat and me on our travels round Galloway
Nat and me on our travels round Galloway

From Sunday night to Tuesday night I took some much needed time away from the campaign to spend time with my partner Nat. It was his birthday on Tuesday and as a history geek, he was really excited to visit the castles and abbeys of Galloway. We camped for a couple of nights, narrowly avoiding getting totally soaked and taking in an unfeasibly large number of historic sites. From Carsluith to Cardoness and Caerlaverock, we saw *a lot* of towers and even camped in the shadow of Scotland’s only round tower house at Orchardton. After being a bit sceptical at first, he told me in the car on the way home that he could see where I was coming from – the South West was a pretty impressive place.

This coming week I’ll be supporting the final steps of the Haud the Bus campaign, trying to save D&G’s evening and Sunday buses; chatting to folk at a street stall in Penicuik; meeting weavers and artists in St Abbs; and taking part in a hustings with NFU Scotland in St Boswells amongst many other things! Until next time…

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…

Our Parliament is at its best when it is bold

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 18.33.36I had the privilege of delivering two speeches at the Scottish Green Party Spring Conference last weekend. Here’s the first…

Like many of you here today, I’m pretty new to party politics. And like many of you, it was the referendum that helped me see my place in politics.

It was a time when we were part of something bigger. A time of big ideas. The referendum made us realise that the status quo was not inevitable and that those big ideas on how Scotland can change were not just possible but necessary. Honestly, I miss it.

Today, 18 months on, it feels like many in Scottish politics have retreated from those ideas. They’ve retreated to the same old party politics, the same bland, middle of the road, lowest common denominator stories about what life in Scotland could be.

But that is simply not good enough.

This morning we’ve heard from Isla O’Reilly that 1 in every 7 school leavers in our most deprived areas never make it out of poverty and into positive destinations. Scotland CAN and MUST guarantee a future for our young people – our Scotland Guarantee ensures that every school leaver who wants it will be given a place in work, education or training.

We’ve heard from Ross Greer that tens of thousands of us spend our lives caring for others – for our partners, parents, sisters and brothers – for pittance. Scotland CAN and MUST afford our carers the dignity and respect they deserve. That’s why we’re pledging a 50% increase in carers allowance.

And we’ve heard from Andy Wightman that our austerity ridden councils have ever less power to provide vital public services and our communities are shut out of decision making. Scotland CAN and MUST unlock the power in our communities and end the austerity status quo.

And let me be clear. The the SNP’s council tax has got to go!

Like you, I joined this party because I refuse to accept the status quo. I refuse to accept that we can afford to write off generations of young people; I refuse to accept that care work isn’t work that’s worth supporting; and I refuse to accept that our broken system of local democracy can crawl on unchanged.

Together, we CAN and we MUST do better.

In the face of middle of the road politics, it can be hard to imagine that this better Scotland really is possible. But think back to what our parliament has achieved since our first Green MSP walked through the doors nearly 17 years ago.

The Scottish Parliament is the parliament that abolished tuition fees; that stopped prescription charges; that made marriage equal for everyone. Our parliament is at its best when it is bold.

So let us, the Scottish Green Party make it bold again and create a better Scotland!

Campaign Diary – Week #8

  • Best bit: Two inspiring days in Dumfries with artists, Greens and family
  • Worst bit: Not realising *just* how far Ayr is from Dunbar and being really late (twice)
  • Folk of note: Beth, Tim, Cat, Charles, Pauline and Jody from Borders branch who organised the brilliant action day on Saturday + local members and my wonderful pals Claire and Blu who were fantastic first time canvassers
  • Miles travelled: 913 (!)
  • Things I learned: Some dairy farmers in Scotland are getting just 13p or 14p per litre for their milk whilst the cost of production is around 26p per litre.

What a week! It’s been a great few days of campaigning and I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, the Borders and South Lanarkshire and meet some really inspirational people. Continue reading