Superb afternoon at the Big Beach Busk at Portobello on Saturday. It was the sixth year of the sandcastle and yours truly was asked to be the judge. Forget the Tories welfare bill, arguments about power for Scotland, or even fox-hunting - decisions don't come any harder than this.
The sun shone and the beach was a hive of industry as more than 40 teams started to make sculpture from the sand. Most entered the family category with sometimes over enthusiastic dads taking the lead... but some kids did it all by themselves.
A change of pace on the tour today as I attended the White House tea dance. As well as tea and the legendary White House fruit scones, I had a bit of a dance and lots of chat with the locals. I also met Manager, Bob Giulianotti (driving the decks on this occasion!), and Head Chef, Richard Paton who outlined his emerging plans to combat food poverty in the area and help people enjoy, cook and generally reconnect with food. As we left I nipped round the back to see the crops in pots that form the basis of so much of the White House’s dishes– hugely impressed.
Without a shadow of a doubt one of the highlights of this Summer’s tour has been today’s trip to the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home. Like lots of people, I’ve been vaguely aware of driving past it on the Seafield Road but never given it a lot of thought. It was great to meet Howard Bridges the new Chief Executive – he lives on the premises with an uninterrupted view of the sea - and has been appointed to raise the profile of the Home.
Howard, and Operations Director, Lindsay Jardine, gave us a tour of the premises where we met lots of happy animals – so deserving of a forever home. Pictured here are Sasha – who, following cancer, has only three legs and is a big softy – and Miko - a boisterous collie who has gone from being very wary of strangers to forming a strong bond with his carer Vicky and will be snapped up when he’s ready. We also saw some adorable kittens and their young mum. The Home is particularly keen to promote their slightly older cats including Luna and April – two gorgeous torties and Andie a big, cuddly black and white charmer. My colleague fell in love with little stripey Mimi (pictured) who isn’t ready for rehoming yet. No wonder the staff here love their jobs!
The wealth of services and wonderful people doing great work in my constituency keeps astounding me. Today my tour took me to Crew 2000, who are a drug advice centre based in the central part of the constituency. They offer fantastic services including a drop-in centre and a welfare service, as well as doing outreach work in clubs and pubs. They offer direct help for festivals and events, and provide some addiction recovery services.
They were founded in 1992 by drug users themselves, concerned that the market was being flooded with dangerously cut drugs. They are based in the constituency of Edinburgh East, but they do work across Europe in the form of consultancy and working alongside other organisations.
Had a great visit to Drake Music Scotland – another hidden gem in the constituency. They offer musical opportunities to people with disabilities in the local community, the city and throughout Scotland. Everyone can make music and Drake’s vision to is to enable that to happen via the tiniest adjustments to musical instruments, through to developing and using the highest tech equipment. I even got to play harp using Thumbjam on the iPad with Equilibrium who were playing their own, lovely, composition using a combination of the latest software and a real viola. Then we nipped in to listen to Ceilidh Band who were rehearsing and they spontaneously struck up Scotland the Brave which I really enjoyed! They demonstrated how Figurenotes works - a music notation system based on coloured shapes that is much easier than normal music notation.
I visited the Thistle Foundation yesterday and met Mark Hoolihan, Diana Noel-Paton and some incredibly dedicated volunteers including Mags Hendry and Liz Deeming. They are an organisation based just off Niddrie Mains Road which supports people with disabilities and health conditions through health and wellbeing initiatives and supported living. They also work with health and social care professionals, offering training aimed at encouraging a cultural shift towards focussing on individuals needs rather than conditions or disabilities.
They are feeling very positive about the Scottish Government gaining more powers over welfare and hope that they will be able to use this change to greatly improve the work that they do.
I had the pleasure of visiting Craigmillar Books for Babies this morning and meeting Kara Whelan and Michelle Jones. They have been doing very important work with families in Craigmillar, Niddrie, Bingham and Magdalene for the last 17 years.
They aim to foster a love of books, rhymes and words both spoken and written, from a very early age.
I had a very moving visit to the Trussell Trust foodbank in Leith earlier. Ewan Gurr (Head of the Trussell Trust Team in Scotland), Rev. Iain May (Foodbank Chair), Arthur Mathieson (Project Manager) and all the volunteers work incredibly hard and offer a vital sticking plaster to our broken system. The most common reasons for people requiring the support of the foodbank are benefits changes, benefits delays and low income. It is imperative that we tackle food poverty and these systemic causes and I will be fighting for this in Westminster.
If you are in a position to be able to help, the foodbank is short of Smash, Jam, Sugar, Tinned Meat, Creamed Rice and Steamed puddings. You can find out more here.
On the 21st July, I backed the SNP's call for the Treasury to look again at exempting the Scottish Police and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service from a continuing VAT anomaly. Police Scotland is the only police authority in the UK unable to recover VAT and is liable to an annual cost of around £23 million. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is similarly disadvantaged, and is liable for an annual cost of around £10 million.
My support was added in the debate on the Finance Bill:
It’s been quite a week to finish the first term of the new parliament. On Monday the Tories’ welfare bill passed its second reading by 308 votes to 124, the majority exactly equal to the number of Labour MPs who didn’t vote against it. This is an odious package of measures. Choice highlights include reducing the work allowance people on benefit can claim so that their payments are reduced, removing housing benefit for anyone under 25, and the two child policy which will deny benefits to larger families
The bill also reduces the benefits cap which any one household can claim to £380 a week. Not many people get this level of benefits and where they do you can bet most of it will be to cover the cost of high private rents. The effect of the cap will be to force people to move into poorer areas where rents are lower, cleansing nice middle class Tory areas of claimants and creating ghettos of poverty where the chances of getting a decent job are even more remote than before. This is a restructuring of welfare to achieve social engineering on a grand scale.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to the Answer of 15 July 2015 to Question 5846, what (a) proportion and (b) number of applications for a passport for a child overseas take longer than eight months to process.
Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) must be fully satisfied that all appropriate checks have been completed successfully prior to the issuance of passport facilities. This is particularly important in relation to child applications as part of Her Majesty’s Passport Office responsibility to protect potentially vulnerable children, including those potentially at risk of child trafficking and to maintain the integrity of the British Passport.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to the Answer of 15 July 2015 to Question 5849, how many complaints she has received on slow service at HM Passport Office in each of the last two years.
I can’t be the only one who finds the Conservatives attempts to portray themselves as the workers’ party risible and ridiculous. I’ve sat opposite them in the House of Commons for the last two months and I can safely say I’ve never seen so much wealth and privilege in the one place. The only working people many of the Tories know are the ones who work for them.
It’s all a PR exercise and like any other brand you can’t sell it if it’s crap. So let’s take a look at what the workers’ party has planned. This week’s budget is nothing other than an all-out attack on working people. Millions of police officers, nurses, teachers and local government workers throughout the UK will have their pay pegged to a one percent increase for the next four years. On top of wage freezes and paltry rises over the past five years, this will drive down the standard of living for many, many people.
I have been asked to add my name to Diane Abbott's Early Day Motion 66, Supermarket Disposal of Edible Food. I have been delighted to do so as I believe that we can take some simple but firm steps that will both eliminate food waste and benefit charities and food banks.
In addition, the SNP Scottish Government is doing what it can with the resources and powers it has to tackle poverty and food poverty. We are investing around £296 million from 2013-14 to 2015-16 in anti-poverty measures, including our £1 million Emergency Food Action Plan which helps 26 Emergency Food Projects provide food aid and funds FareShare to redistribute food from retailers to community organisations.
We are finally getting down to business at Westminster. Two major bills are now in Committee stage and we have been putting down multiple amendments for each.
The SNP were the only party to vote against having a referendum on the EU. We said in our manifesto that we didn’t see any need for one and, as Alex Salmond pointed out in the debate usually (with PR, independence, etc) you only have a referendum when asking people to agree to a change. More than 80% of Scotland voted for parties opposed to having a referendum and polls consistently show that Sots as quite content with being part of Europe. In spite of our opposition the bill passed its second reading with the support of the Labour "opposition" and so we now move on to look at the detail.
Although it didn’t feature in the recent Queen’s Speech, Tory proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act have alarmed many of us.
The 1998 Human Rights Act is a fundamental means of securing the rights and liberties of citizens across the UK. It was written to ensure that UK legislation conforms to the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights. It is one of the most important expressions of post-World War II Europe’s commitment to human rights and it is shocking that seventy years after Europe said ‘never again’, the Conservative Party would even consider repealing the Act.
Time is running out for many of Edinburgh's small businesses. Today I've written to the Chancellor asking for additional emergency assistance for our hospitality sector through the COVID-19 epidemic.