Archive for category Holyrood

Coulda, shoulda, woulda

SPOILER ALERT AND FULL DISCLOSURE: I love the FM and am also a Scottish Green


chamberSo, boom – that was the week in politics, or more or less anyway. It always feels a little bit like the balloon is letting out the last of the air after FMQs, and that’s not a reference to any one individual.

Notably, this week, our wonderful First Minister (non-ironic: see disclosure clause) gave evidence to the Convener’s Committee of the Scottish Parliament. It’s basically parents’ evening for the FM and an opportunity for supposedly influential MSPs from across the parties (except the Greens and the also wonderful Patrick and Alison who get dingied) to scrutinise the Government. The opportunity to do so is, clearly, vital, and an opportunity for a sit down with the FM herself is a perfect opportunity to hold the Government to account.

Not that you would know it from any of the questions – or not really. Conservative Murdo Fraser, rightly, worked to get clarification from St Nicola on her exact reasons for opposing some zero-hours contacts. Her inability to answer will possibly leave a staffer with a flea in their ear, but it marked out the one question the FM seemed to struggle with. Which begs a question – what is the point of our committees at the moment? It felt a little like they had all got a shared deal on Groupon for collective dental extraction and only Murdo missed the deadline.

As much as I love our FM, I expect the person – any person – in her job to be subject to serious and intense scrutiny. Not only did it fail to happen this week in Committee Room 2 with the Conveners, but it fails to happen on a weekly basis at First Minister’s Questions. Today, Head Girl Kezia Dugdale and Tank Commander Ruth thought the most important pressure faced by Scottish people was the case of Michelle Thompson MP, who is caught up in a police enquiry and has resigned the party whip and been suspended from the SNP as a result.

The allegations against the MP aren’t pretty and since I can’t afford a lawyer, I’ll let you google them. But I’m not sure what the FM can actually be held responsible for. I would like to know why our NHS is failing on mental health though. Or why hate crime is still appallingly under-reported – particularly by people who represent the most vulnerable communities. I’d also like to know why it’s all too prevalent in the first place and what the FM is going to do about that. I’d also like to know more about the Government’s position on fracking.

But most of all I would like a Parliament that’s more willing and able to hold the Government to account on its policies and actions. It isn’t coming from the Committees, it isn’t coming from the opposition and it sure as hell isn’t coming from the SNP backbenches. It’s hard to have faith that it will come from the Presiding Officer’s review of the committee structure either. Fingers crossed – but any review that gives us another system supporting a bunch of patsies, or people who oppose on command rather than principle, won’t work. And a First Minister’s Questions without on eye on the next council by-election is more necessary than ever as we head into a year of likely budget cuts.

(Sorry Nicola – I love you!)

pic copyright Scottish Parliament as per here

Elections 101

3d36f095-c244-4701-9235-6f99c2129911There has been some very optimistic chatter about Green collaboration with RISE recently. I understand why, superficially, given there will be some things we’ll definitely agree on with them (ending the monarchy, opposition to Trident etc).

If another referendum takes place we would of course be on the same side again. On other issues, though, we don’t know whether RISE will follow the SSP line, so it’s too early to tell whether we’ll disagree with the platform they’ll offer in May.

Despite the high number of lower-income Edinburgh households that don’t have access to a car, Colin Fox lined up with the Tories to oppose a congestion charge for Edinburgh that would have funded public transport. Is that still RISE policy? Do they still want to replace a flawed wealth tax (i.e. council tax) with another tax on salaries, even though it’d let share income and other wealth go untaxed? Will they support decriminalisation of sex work, as Greens do? Or will they, like the SSP, keep pushing the failed Nordic model, which exposes sex workers to more violence? Are they still for an impractical free public transport policy, which we wisely voted down last year?

Anyway, Adam Ramsay wrote an optimistic (to be generous) piece about cooperation with RISE yesterday, setting out a list of options from full merger (heaven help us) through to dividing up the list and constituencies between us. If this were a preferential election system, like STV, then we could consider a mutual recommendation for second preferences, although it’d be more beneficial to talk to the SNP about that first.

Until that point, we have only ever won list seats for Holyrood, and the only way RISE can win any seats is by competing with us for votes and slots on the list. Like all other parties in Scotland, we’re in competition with them. Like all other parties in Scotland, we’ll work with them if they win seats and where we agree (for example, even the Tories used to be reliably against ID cards, so we voted with them on that). The fact that there will be many policies we share doesn’t make them a major opportunity, it makes them a threat, albeit a minor one.

But don’t take my word for it, it’s time to listen to Colin Fox instead. He understands how the electoral system works, and that parties have to compete for votes. We’re not just a target for him, we’re his number one target.



That’s their right, much as his baseless nonsense about independence irritates me. It’s called democracy. But we need to point out that we have first class MSPs and excellent prospects of electing more, unlike RISE, and we need to illustrate why the Green vision for Scotland is so important and worth voting for. Let’s not kid ourselves that we can do that by promoting a rival party. Of course, though, as Adam says, let’s not spend our time attacking them – the people worth critiquing are the SNP for their failure to redistribute downwards, the Tories for their war on the poor, Labour for their inability to oppose, and all three for their lamentable positions on climate change and the rest.

Punching a black dog in the face (metaphorically)

Another in the sequence of personal guest posts from Malcolm Harvey, one of the founders of this blog. Many people in similar circumstances have found his openness helpful, and I’m most grateful to him for continuing to write about it. Also, even if actual black dogs aren’t always as cute as the one below, please don’t punch them.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 16.59.39At the end of October, I wrote this piece about my diagnosis of depression.  Five weeks later, I wrote a follow-up, a note of progress and developments.  Five months on from that, I’m writing another update.  There are several reasons for this.

That first piece contains the line:

I have depression and I’m dealing with it.

While this was and is an accurate and admirable sentiment, I do wonder if it might have been more accurate with the addition of the word “badly” at the end of the sentence.  Because here’s the thing: recognising depression for what it is is hard: fixing it, well that’s a whole other challenge, and one I’m probably not doing as well as I could be at.

Let me back up a bit.  After I wrote that last piece in December, I resolved to change a few things.  From 1 January, I made contact with one of my friends every day – usually via an email – which got me talking a bit more, socialising, and let me get back in touch with lots of people I hadn’t spoken to in years.  This coincided with what appeared to be progress:  I was having “down” time, but it was less frequent, I was (generally!) more pleasant company (I think) and I thought I was getting better.

I managed to keep that going until the end of March (and I still have a backlog of emails to reply to…) but then work got busy (there was an election on, dontcha know?!) and I had some conference papers to write, and just ran out of time to do these kinds of things.  As a result, I haven’t written any of these emails since then.

Since the beginning of April, I’ve pretty much been in a crater.  Lots more down time, low moods, no energy, irritability… in short, pretty much everything that was the case prior to my first GP appointment was back.  The medication seemed to have stopped working and I’d regressed significantly.  I got frustrated (and continue to be frustrated) by it which really doesn’t help improve the situation.

So back to the GP, a change of medication (which, I’m just starting this week: expecting side-effects, but I’m happy to persevere, because whatever the side-effects, they are better than snapping at everyone constantly) and enrolment on an online CBT course.  On the latter, I’ve done two of the eight sessions thus far, and while I understand the rationale and logic, and I’ve tried to do the activities set, it feels a lot like a waste of time.  Sure, I’m learning more about depression – though I’ve read plenty around it – but the methods it is teaching don’t really seem likely to work for me.  I understand them, but I can’t tell my brain not to think a particular way.

Writing this on a “good” day seems a bit counter-productive: I should really use the good days to do other things.  But if I left this to a bad day to write, I wouldn’t write it, and I think writing is helpful.  If nothing else, it helps me clarify some of the thoughts I’m having about depression.  I said the last time that I wasn’t just writing for myself, that I wanted others to read it and to recognise some of the symptoms within themselves, and to do something about them.  While that’s still true (really: don’t suffer in silence) I have to be honest: this is a much more selfish piece.  I’m writing this one for myself, to try to identify more of the issues I’m experiencing and to think through better mechanisms for coping.  In some senses, it doesn’t matter to me if this one gets read as much – though if you’re reading it, and recognise some of these things in yourself, do get in touch.  Talking helps.

I should try to end on a positive note (at least, I think that’s part of the CBT talking).  Once again, those around me have been fantastically supportive: family, friends, work colleagues, casual acquaintances who got in touch after reading the earlier posts.  I’ve grateful for that support, and I’ll resolve once again to get in touch with people more often.

Finally: this video about depression is really very good, and helps to provide more of an understanding as to how you see things when the black dog is in town.

Latest Holyrood poll

The latest monthly Record/Survation poll (formerly in partnership with this blog) is out, and it’s a corker. As per previous polling posts here, the vote share is the change on last month, and the seat change is since 2011.  And as usual, the ‘kippers would win some seats, but the Scotland Votes model doesn’t include them. I’ll run this again with a better predictor when I can fish it out.

Parties Constituency Region Total
Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Vote share (+/-) Seats (+/-) Seats (+/-) %
SNP 48 (-2) 65 (+12) 39 (±0) 2 (-14) 67 (-2) 51.9
Labour 28 (+2) 5 (-10) 22 (-1) 22 (±0) 27 (-10) 20.9
Conservative 13 (+1) 1 (-2) 12 (-2) 13 (+1) 14 (-1) 10.9
Liberal Democrats 5 (-1) 2 (±0) 7 (-1) 4 (+1) 6 (+1) 4.7
Scottish Greens 0 (±0) 13 (+3) 15 (+13) 15 (+13) 11.6
UKIP 0 (±0) 7 (+1) 0 (±0) 0 (±0) 0
Others 7 (+1) 0 (±0) 2.1 (+1.2) 0 (-1) 0 (-1) 0

There’s two substantial changes here, and two only. First – Labour would see their worst ever Holyrood result by some margin, reduced to barely a fifth of the Parliament. Second – this is the best poll I’ve ever seen for the Greens. We’d be up from 2 to a massive 15 seats, and would be narrowly the third largest party. Bear in mind the UKIP caveat, which would probably hit Labour hardest but would also chip one or two off the Greens and Tories.


Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 21.39.03

10 pictures that will make you realise how amazing Edinburgh is.


Someone’s day started badly this morning. Outside my flat on the street was the footprint of a trainer in dog shite, the thinnest of a progression from the corner where the offending pile sat.

As the footprints fade on the way up Leith Walk they are replaced by discarded receipts and an empty packet of Pannini football cards thrown on the ground by someone who had ripped open their purchase from one of the newsagents on the east side. The partially revamped street is flanked by jeeps and Mercedes in the customer parking outside the shops, whilst the road surface is starting to come apart again under the weight of the traffic. The landmark investment hailed by the Government and the Labour-led council is running slowly, the promised bike lanes are nowhere to be seen and people scrum on the corners waiting to cross the road.

Further up still the window of Harburn Hobbies has a model train display of the highlands and the classier cafes and tiny restaurants of Haddington Place seem at odds with the Greggs packets and bins littering the street. The maps show the top of Leith Walk as being a well organised roundabout, but in fact it is a loosely segregated square fed by four different roads. In other places such a huge expanse in a city centre might be a public square, but in Edinburgh people are shepherded in to pens to cross the road as cars take the  corners at forty.

Further up the hill the situation is identical. Crossing the street can take five minutes depending on which of the four main roads pouring into the area has priority. You can smell the fumes hanging in the air in rush hour and Leith Street, the main route for people crossing to the Bridges or Princes Street, does not even have a complete pavement up one side. Instead it is easier to cut through the big John Lewis, where small men in ill-fitting grey suits wait for people to buy the Nespresso machines they stand watch over. Sometimes, when the air is bad, the ventilation system of the St James’ centre pulls in the smell of diesel fumes from the street outside. The world heritage site most people struggle through every day looks blackened and cracked in the November grey.

North Bridge offers a prime view of Arthur’s Seat overlapping with the Crags like the layers of a theatre set before it dives into the canyon between the Scotsman hotel and the equally ornate Pizza Express. In the stair entrance next to one of the tartan and whisky tourist shops a figure lies in a foetal squat, his unconscious face hidden by a hoody. Beyond Hunter Square another Scotland shop pumps out bagpipe hits as people cluster around the bus stop and cyclists nervously eye the taxis on their tail. The regeneration project of an Ibis hotel, Sainsbury’s and Costa Coffee have already been tagged.

On the far side of Old College a group of first year students wearing 2014 leavers hoodies from English private schools look uneasily at the Gaelic scrawled on the walls and pavement. ‘Our language’ it says. Ironically, Edinburgh has just finished covering its entire campus in tokenistic Gaelic signage for the purposes of overseas students. It is one of the few places in Edinburgh where you really can see the language in public view. For Edinburgh though, the dismal urbanism is a bigger issue than what language you complain about the dog shite in.