Welcome to my August Newsletter. Parliament has been in recess for the past month so this newsletter will focus on my work in Edinburgh East. Though of course, politics continues even when the Westminster parliament isn't sitting. And the mess that is Brexit continues unabated. Next week I head back to Westminster where we'll have the first vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill. Let's see if Corbyn and his parliamentary party are ready to work with us on this.
August is a great month for me - I'm able to be based at home (the joy of sleeping in your own bed every night cannot be underestimated!) and I get to catch up on all the goings on in the constituency. Though it does feature the toughest decision of my year - judging the Portobello Sandcastle Competition (winner above). It was a great sunny day with lots of people taking part in the Beach Busk along the prom. I'm already looking forward to next year.
This month I was honoured to be asked to give the annual Thomas Muir memorial lecture. Thomas Muir was a tireless campaigner for political reform in the late 18th Century and his actions radically changed the political landscape in our country and across the UK. In the lecture I focused on the parallels between our movement today and Muir's work and the lessons we need to learn from the General Election. You can watch my lecture here.
While parliament is in recess, I have I continued to challenge the UK Government on their treatment of constituents. As an example, I have written to Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke about the UK Government's continued treatment of people with chronic, degenerative and lifelong conditions. Last year his predecessor, Damian Green, promised that people with chronic, degenerative and lifelong conditions would no longer need to face repeated, unnecessary work capability assessments (WCAs) in future. Yet ten months on nothing has changed.
It’s disgraceful that constituents of mine who are living with chronic, lifelong conditions are being asked to go through the repeated stress of WCAs to claim the benefits they are entitled to. These conditions are not going to improve and in some cases are only going to get worse. And the medical evidence has been provided to prove this. It’s time the UK Government showed some compassion and humanity by introducing these much-needed reforms.
I had a great visit to Shaw Trust, Forth Sector and St Jude’s Laundry earlier in the month. It was lovely to meet Alistair Kerr, Gemma Hope and Annie Dell from Shaw Trust who told me all about their focus on employment and wellbeing - running projects which help people with disabilities get into work. You can read more about my visit here. Since visiting the laundry I have written to the DWP to express my concern about plans to cut their vital funding.
This month I took a look around Dunedin Canmore’s new development in Craigmillar’s town centre. It will provide 58 houses for social rent and 53 for midmarket rent - totaling 111 much needed affordable homes in Edinburgh East - the first houses will be ready to move into in January 2018. It’s great to see the cleared site finally being filled with quality affordable housing and Craigmillar’s regeneration coming to fruition.
I’m also in discussion with community organisations and council officials about how we protect and develop community facilities in the new town centre. And in particular to make sure the new Craigmillar High School is built.
I had a lovely morning catching up with Kelly and the day service users at Caring in Craigmillar. Already looking forward to visiting again and seeing the new garden - the plans look great.
I met with Bob Hope, Chair of Trustees at FOTA (Friends of the Award). They do fantastic work supporting delivery of the Duke of Edinburgh Award across Edinburgh and the Lothians.
The charity specialises in supporting young people with additional challenges in their lives whether that be a learning or physical disability, being a young carer, living in residential care or any other difficulty. Bob shared some of the impressive results they've had and I'm delighted that FOTA have received lottery funding to expand their service supporting young people with mental health difficulties. They also have what must be the biggest store of hire equipment for expeditions in the city!
I had a productive meeting with Sarah and Harry from OneKind to discuss animal welfare in Scotland, a cause close to my heart at Westminster.
The charity is currently working with Animal Aid and SNP members on a campaign to introduce mandatory CCTV in Scotland’s 35 operational abattoirs that will cover all key areas and is accessibly by independent experts. The Scottish Government currently recommends the installation of CCTV as best practise. However, it is on a voluntary basis and is not required by legislation.
OneKind believes in a compassionate, progressive Scotland that takes action for animals and I am happy to lend my support to their campaign. Find out more and sign their petition here.
I was incredibly impressed by my visit to the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh's Bioquarter. Hundreds of scientists from across the globe developing truly world leading research in stem cells and regeneration. Clinical treatment is at the forefront - developing treatments to some of Scotland's most challenging diseases including liver disease, MS and MND.
And they have an excellent outreach and community engagement programme, particularly with Castlebrae CHS. Nathana and Jayanti came along from the school to tell me about the mentors who visit Castlebrae and support pupils with their science coursework and the summer internship programme in the centre.
Thanks to all the team for taking time out to show me round - I'm already looking forward to a future visit as the new facility to house a Centre for Tissue Regeneration and Repair takes shape.
Finally, I had a very inspiring morning at the Jack Kane Centre where we were taken on a journey through the experiences of the young people who have been on the Erasmus+ plus programme with YouthLink Scotland. The MSPs who attended will be doing all they can to protect this funding which is at risk because of Brexit - find out more about it here.
Four weeks ago I was worried about writing this column on the eve of the last major parliamentary debate on Brexit. Anything could have happened, rendering my speculation obsolete by the time you read it. I shouldn’t have fretted. Anything could have happened but nothing did.
Here I am again. Groundhog day. It’s Tuesday. There’s a big debate tomorrow.
Tuesday. Another day spent discussing Brexit. Another day of my life I’m not getting back.
We are no further forward. As the clock ticks down to exit it’s only fair to ask: What the hell is Theresa May playing at?