Before entering a new year – and a new decade – I’m reflecting on a very busy month both at the Scottish Parliament and in Renfrewshire South. It would be difficult to begin anywhere other than last week’s General Election, which saw an overwhelmingly positive result for the SNP in Scotland.

I am delighted that my outstanding colleagues Mhairi Black and Gavin Newlands for Paisley and Renfrewshire North were reelected with overwhelming majorities in Renfrewshire. And I am ecstatic that Kirsten Oswald – SNP is back as MP for East Renfrewshire. I’m very much looking forward to continuing to work with each of them and our brilliant local councillors in 2020 and beyond. It’s an honour to work alongside them as part of the SNP team representing the communities of Renfrewshire South and I wish them all well at Westminster.

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Towards the end of last month, the Finance and Constitution Committee began scrutiny of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, which reached Stage 3 this week. I voted in favour of an amendment that would give the Scottish Parliament the ability to choose to extend the life of a question assessed by the Electoral Commission from one parliamentary term to two.

I was happy to appear on Politics Scotland later on and discuss the Bill. It is clear that, while the SNP strives to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands, the Tories are intent on denying giving people the right to choose their own future.

They know support for independence is growing, and they know that in a future referendum people will vote yes. They want to deny the people of Scotland that democratic choice.

On 3 December, I spoke in a debate on Scottish Government support for veterans and the armed forces community in Scotland, during which I took the opportunity to commend all those involved in the Remembrance Sunday services across Renfrewshire South last month, as well as the work of Scottish War Blinded at their Hawkhead Centre.

The contribution that veterans make transcends any one particular time period and it is vital that that everyone continues to work in partnership across the Scottish public, private and charitable sectors to ensure that the Armed Forces community receives the best possible support and access to services across Scotland.

I was delighted to convene a busy meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Social Enterprise at the Scottish Parliament on 4 December.

We had an interesting discussion on the topic of “Scotland’s next Action Plan for Social Enterprise 2020-23”, and I’m very much looking forward to continued work with Social Enterprise Scotland. That week, I also convened CPG meetings on Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses and on Music. While the following week, I chaired the most recent meeting of the CPG on Carers.

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Also on 4 December, it was great to meet with Headway – the brain injury association at their Scottish Parliament exhibition to find out more about brain injury and hidden disability and to discuss the Cross-Party Group I convene on Carers.

A brain injury can have devastating consequences, affecting every aspect of life. Headway does vital work to improve life after brain injury – promoting understanding and providing information, support and services to people with a brain injury, their families and carers. Find out more here.

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Later that day, I had a productive meeting with Leonard Cheshire in Scotland to catch up on their recent project developments. The organisation supports individuals to live, learn and work as independently as they choose, whatever their ability, and I’m looking forward to supporting their employment and digital skills programmes across Renfrewshire South.

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That Friday, I held a festive coffee morning in his Johnstone constituency office on Friday afternoon, with visitors helping money for local charity St. Vincent’s Hospice. I also presented Carol-Anne Lamont, Fundraising Manager at the Hospice, with a cheque for £100 I had previously raised.

St. Vincent’s is a specialist provider of care for people and families in Renfrewshire and beyond who are affected by life-limiting conditions. The sum will help the Hospice continue providing the best possible specialist palliative care and support across the community.  

Each year, the Hospice relies on voluntary donations and fundraising efforts for more than half of their funds to make this possible.

It was great to get so many people from the local area together in aid of such an important cause. I’d like to thank everyone who came along to offer kind donations and delicious home baking, and my staff for all of their hard work in arranging a great event. I’m very grateful to everyone who supported us, everything raised will go towards supporting the Hospice’s vital work.

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On Wednesday afternoon during Portfolio Questions, I asked Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government Aileen Campbell MSP to join me in thanking Auchenback Active, based at Auchenback Resource Centre in Barrhead, for the power of work they do to tackle inequality in the local community – including distributing Christmas presents so that children across the area receive a gift over the festive period.

I was delighted that the Cabinet Secretary also accepted my invitation to visit the centre next year to see the brilliant work first hand, and look forward to getting this arranged soon.

This Thursday, we had some adorable visitors at the Scottish Parliament to help promote the need to eradicate the illegal puppy trade. People in Scotland are increasingly buying puppies online despite the risk of purchasing from illegal breeders, according to new research.

Almost half (45%) of people who bought a puppy in 2019 did so online, up from a quarter (25%) the previous year. One in five puppies bought through online advertising websites, where most illegal dealers operate, get sick or die within the first year, and one in four die before their fifth birthday.

As an owner of two pugs and, most recently, a Tibetan spaniel puppy, I’m saddened to see this new research. The scale of pets being sold online is a real cause for concern, and it is important to work to ensure sellers are not prioritising profit over animal welfare.

Puppy farms breed misery, and that misery is being fuelled by the huge demand for puppies and facilitated through online adverts and sellers.

All year round but particularly around Christmas, I would urge my constituents to do their research, make the key check to ensure you are buying safely, and never rush into buying a puppy. Most importantly, if something doesn’t feel right, walk away and report your concerns to the Scottish SPCA.

I also recently met with Dogs Trust to discuss the key issues surrounding dog welfare in Scotland and am now looking to host a Responsible Dog Ownership event for my Renfrewshire South constituents in collaboration with the charity next year. A date is yet to be announced, but the event will focus on promoting all aspects of responsible ownership, as well as offering free microchipping, nail clipping and a general assessment of a dog’s health from a Dogs Trust Veterinary Nurse.

Finally, I hope that everyone in Renfrewshire South has a lovely Christmas and is looking forward to welcoming a New Year filled with joy and opportunity.

As well as a time for celebration, this is also a time to reflect and to help those who may be alone at this time of year. I would encourage all in Renfrewshire South to offer compassion and support to vulnerable neighbours and those who are without their loved ones this Christmas.

We are lucky to have so many groups and organisations across Renfrewshire South working tirelessly all year for the good of our communities, and I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who gives their time to these positive causes.

I’d like to thank everyone from who took part in my 2019 Christmas card competition, which this year had a theme of “what Christmas means to you”. It was great to receive so many responses and I was hugely impressed by the wealth of talent and creativity on display in our local primary schools.

As we move into another period of wintry weather it is also important to thank members of the health and emergency services, postal workers and everyone working over the festive period doing everything they can to serve our communities – especially in difficult conditions.

So, as we enjoy the festivities and look to the future, let’s start the decade as we mean to go on – with a spirit of inclusivity and optimism – and come back ready to hit the ground running.

Wishing you all the best over the festive period!
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