20th December 2019

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!

28th November 2019

Next month’s General Election is an opportunity to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands. Over the past few weeks, it has been an honour to campaign, along with local SNP branches, for the three outstanding SNP candidates across Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire.

There has been a positive response to the strong SNP message and I look forward continuing to work for the return of Mhairi Black, Gavin Newlands and Kirsten Oswald as MPs for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Paisley and Renfrewshire North and East Renfrewshire respectively.

I began the month by attending the Independence 2020 rally in Glasgow. The atmosphere was terrific and it was great to see so many people from Renfrewshire South attending, as well as hundreds of others from around the country.

Independence 2020 Rally

On 4 November, I held a Supermarket Surgery in Linwood where I was able to spend some time chatting with constituents and picking up casework.

November Supermarket Surgery

In the afternoon, I attended the premiere of the Lochwinnoch Arts Festival 2020 promotional film at Lochwinnoch Primary School created by the incredibly talented Primary 6s with the support of BAFTA award winning filmmaker Carol Cooke. Well done to everybody involved!

Lochwinnoch Primary School visit

In a report published recently, the Scottish Affairs Committee recommended that legislation be introduced to lawfully pilot a supervised drug consumption facility in Scotland.

Therefore, on 5 November, I asked Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, Joe FitzPatrick MSP, to join me in condemning the UK Tory government’s decision to continually ignore evidence in favour of such a facility.

These facilities can save lives and it is vital that the UK government take the necessary steps to either support a pilot facility or devolve the powers to Scotland so that this parliament can take these actions.

Glasgow Airport is in the early stages of its Airspace Change Programme and I recently met with AGS Airports Limited, which owns and manages the airport, for an update on how it is progressing and on opportunities for the local community to get involved.

I was glad to hear that this will be an extensive and transparent process with numerous opportunities to participate and share views. While the consultation itself is not set to begin until 2021, I encourage constituents to register their interest ahead of time in order to stay up to date with developments as they progress.

Meeting with Brian McClean of AGS Airports Limited

On 7 November, I had the opportunity to take part in my colleague George Adam MSP’s important Members’ Business Debate recognising nuclear test veterans.

Between 1952 and 1958 the UK carried out 21 atmospheric nuclear tests – 12 in Australia, 9 at Christmas Island, now called Kiritimati – in the South Pacific.

As many as 22,000 witnessed the explosions in the South Pacific, of which, around 1,500 survive today. Many have been battling since 2004 for compensation in relation to the health problems caused by radiation exposure.

The harrowing personal accounts from nuclear test veterans, including my constituent and friend Ken McGinley, deserve to be heard and recognised. No one could be subject to these experiences and not be profoundly impacted for the rest of their life – both mentally and physically. The UK is the only nuclear power to deny special recognition to its test veterans, and to continue doing so is shameful.

Later that day, I was pleased to speak in the Stage 1 debate on the Referendums (Scotland) Bill – particularly as a member of the Finance and Constitution Committee designated to lead on the Bill.

This Bill provides legal framework for the holding of referendums on any matters within Scotland’s control and aims to provide clarity on the process for voters, campaigners and those administering the process, to ensure all referendums are run to the highest possible international standards and the results are accepted by all parties. Now, more than ever, it is essential that we keep Scotland’s options open so that people have the opportunity to choose a better future.

On 8 November, I had a busy morning in Barrhead meeting with Kelburn Brewing Co before catching up with folk at Dunterlie Foodshare. It was great to chat with local Corra Foundation community co-ordinator Laura Mathieson, Barrhead Community Council Chair Rosaleen Reilly and the brilliant Rena McGuire before finishing the day off with a few monthly surgeries.

Visiting Dunterlie Food Share

To mark Remembrance Day 2019, I was deeply honoured to attend services and lay wreaths in Kilbarchan, Lochwinnoch, Johnstone and Barrhead. I would like to offer my thanks to all in our communities across Renfrewshire South who helped organise, participated in and attended the commemorations.

Paying Tribute at War Memorials across Renfrewshire South

On 12 November, it was a privilege to chair a panel session in Johnstone featuring First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Mhairi Black. Both gave excellent speeches and there was also an engaging question and answer session from a packed audience. Thanks again to everyone who came along and to staff at Johnstone Town Hall.

After Bonfire Night, I was made all the more aware that people across Renfrewshire South want to see a ban on the public sale of fireworks.

People are understandably calling for an end to the stress caused by inconsiderate individuals who, despite repeated public information campaigns, continue to use fireworks irresponsibly.

As such, I asked Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham MSP, as well as how the new Fireworks Review Group will ensure views of veterans are represented, if she agrees that if the UK government is not willing to take action on banning the public sale of fireworks, powers need to be devolved to this parliament so that we can.

Later that week, I took part in a debate on Artificial Intelligence and data driven technologies brought to the chamber by Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy Kate Forbes MSP.

AI has the potential to greatly benefit the Scottish economy, improve productivity and efficiency and attract new businesses and highly paid jobs. However, the challenges and concerns surrounding AI and automation must be addressed if we are to benefit from the opportunities that they present.

Following her statement on Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Ward Closures, I asked Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman MSP, to give an assurance that to ensure lessons are learned across Scotland’s NHS, the Scottish Government will consider fully the findings of the report on Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, material relating to which emerged last week.

I was proud to support Carers Rights Day on Thursday 21 November. The annual campaign aims to reach as many of the 6.5 million carers in the UK as possible by bring organisations together to help carers in their local community know their rights and find out how to get the help and support they are entitled to. Figures released recently by Carers Scotland show two thirds of adults in Scotland can expect to care unpaid for a loved one in their lifetime. The organisation’s Will I Care research is available here.

Celebrating Carers Rights Day at the Scottish Parliament

During FMQs, I asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon how the Scottish Government is recognising Carers Rights Day 2019, and how it supports Scotland’s nearly 800,000 carers, including 44,000 who are under the age of 18, to feel empowered and ensure they are treated with the dignity, fairness and respect they deserve.

It was encouraging to hear the announcement that the next payment of the Carers Allowance Supplement will be paid before Christmas.

In addition, the First Minister highlighted the Carer Positive Employer accreditation scheme, of which I am a proud advocate, as well as the fact that Scotland is also the first place in the UK where young carers are able to get financial support through the Young Carer Grant – a £300 annual payment for carers aged 16-18.

The following day, I was delighted to be asked to address Carer’s Scotland’s 2019 Carers Summit at Glasgow City Chambers in my capacity as Co-Convener of the Cross-Party Group on Carers.

Carers Summit 2019

This Monday marked the beginning of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence – an annual international campaign that runs from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women until 10 December, Human Rights Day.

Despite the progress visible as Scotland continues to strive for equality, violence against women is still alarmingly high, with more than one in three women experiencing violence in their lifetime.

Changing our attitudes towards how society treats women is essential. Organisations like Zero Tolerance and White Ribbon Scotland do an exceptional job in changing hearts and minds in the fight against gender-based violence and I will continue to support these efforts.

Earlier this year, I was pleased to join my colleague Gavin Newlands MP, who has done excellent work on this issue as APPG White Ribbon Chair and White Ribbon Ambassador, to celebrate the success of the White Ribbon campaign in betting shops asking men to sign a pledge “never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women in all its forms.”

This particular campaign has resulted in over 4,200 signed pledges being obtained from seven areas across Scotland with over 1,000 of these coming from the Renfrewshire Area.

On Tuesday, I attended a drop-in session hosted by HIV Scotland and Waverley Care at the Scottish Parliament. This World AIDS Day, Sunday 1 December, the two organisations are teaming up to launch the Getting to Zero campaign, calling on Members of the Scottish Parliament to commit to action to ensure that Scotland meets global targets to reach zero new HIV transmissions, zero HIV-related deaths, and zero HIV-related stigma by 2030.

With Dylan Morris and Nathan Sparling of HIV Scotland

On Thursday, I led a debate celebrating St Andrew’s Day 2019. Scotland’s national day is an opportunity celebrate the country’s heritage, culture and national identity both at home and worldwide in an inclusive and outward-looking way.

This year, St Andrew’s Fair Saturday falls on the national day itself, 30 November. This global movement encourages communities to follow the consumerism of “Black Friday” with a response through cultural activity in support of social causes.

As part of this initiative, All About Barrhead Business Improvement District is hosting the Awfy Scottish Winter Wonderland event. The festive fair featuring Scottish entertainment in aid of Barrhead Christmas dinner packs is taking place tomorrow between 12pm-6pm.

Also taking place tomorrow at 12pm-5pm is Johnstone’s Christmas Lights Switch On. Organised by Renfrewshire Council, this event is also part of the Fair Saturday initiative and will support St Vincent’s Hospice and Active Communities.

I’m looking forward to raising further funds for St Vincent’s Hospice with a coffee morning at my Johnstone constituency office on Friday 6 December between 11am-1pm. I’d be delighted if you could join me and hope to see you there!

My office is also a drop off point for this year’s Renfrewshire Christmas Toy Bank. This wonderful community campaign seeks to make sure no child goes without this Christmas, and I encourage everyone to support it if they are able by donating gifts at my office on Johnstone High Street or any of the other local donation points.

31st October 2019

We are now on course for a pre-Christmas General Election and I’m looking forward to a busy six weeks of campaigning to ensure that my two SNP colleagues, Mhairi Black and Gavin Newlands, are returned as MPs of their constituencies.

As well as the return of SNP MPs for both Paisley and Renfrewshire South and Paisley and Renfrewshire North, I look forward to campaigning to help Kirsten Oswald regain her East Renfrewshire seat.

Leafleting with the Johnstone & Elderslie SNP Branch

I’m also reflecting on a busy month both in the constituency and through at the Scottish Parliament.

On 3rd October, I invited Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham MSP, to join me in paying tribute to the work and legacy of my constituent Ron Ewing by commending the work of the Smokey Paws campaign.

Ron, who sadly passed away recently, was at the forefront of the campaign in Scotland and was responsible for the distribution of pet oxygen mask kits, which are now used by numerous fire stations across the country.

His legacy is one that his wife Carol, his family, friends and community can be proud of, as the passion and dedication he committed to the campaign over the years will continue to help the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service save the lives of pets in fires.

I started the following week with a supermarket surgery in Linwood before heading over to Barrhead to mark the beginning of Challenge Poverty Week with Helping Hand G78, a local charity providing affordable quality second-hand furniture and appliances across East Renfrewshire.

Challenge Poverty Week, which ran from 7-13 October, is a reminder of the need to turn compassion into action and its wide reach shows that Scotland is a country that believes in justice and compassion and in the need to solve poverty.

I was delighted to visit Helping Hand G78, whose ambitions are the perfect embodiment of local people making a real difference for those in our community who are most in need and I look forward to continue supporting their hard work as they continue to tackle poverty at its source.

With the Helping Hand G78 team in Barrhead

At FMQs, I then asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon how the Scottish Government was marking Challenge Poverty Week.

The First Minister highlighted that Scottish Government is determined to take action to tackle poverty, for example through providing support to low-income households, delivering affordable homes and increasing early learning and childcare support.

In addition, the new Scottish Child Payment will lift 30,000 children out of poverty.

However, the biggest danger to increasing poverty is the UK government’s continued welfare cuts and the risk of a No Deal Brexit, which could, in itself, push 130,000 people in Scotland into poverty.

I was glad to take part in my colleague Sandra White MSP’s Members’ Business Debate celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Charter of Rights for People with Dementia and their Carers.

The Charter introduced a human rights-based approach to health and social care based on the UN PANEL principles and, for the first time in Scotland, allowed people with dementia and their carers to participate in decisions, have accountability in their care and be empowered to access their rights without stigma.

I highlighted the important work done by both Dementia Friendly Lochwinnoch and the Johnstone Dementia Friendly Community Group, who are blazing a trail across Renfrewshire to improve the lives of people with dementia and their carers, as well as the Carer Positive Employer initiative delivered by Carers Scotland.

At the SNP Conference in Aberdeen, I had the pleasure of moving a resolution recognising New Zealand’s ground breaking achievement in delivering the world’s first wellbeing budget.

The wellbeing budget emphasizes happiness and believes that measuring GDP alone does not guarantee improvement to living standards and nor does it take into account who benefits and who is left out. The Scottish Government has committed to making wellbeing central to its next spending review, so it will be interesting to watch the results of this new approach unfold in New Zealand.

Conference also represented an opportunity to meet with various organisations, including Action on Hearing Loss Scotland.

I’m happy to be backing Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s service urging people to get their hearing checked and start benefiting from using hearing aids and assistive equipment.

The Hear to Inform and Connect service, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, aims to reach out via local groups to encourage older people to get their hearing checked and use a range of support to minimise the impact of hearing loss in everyday life.

I encourage community and social groups throughout Renfrewshire South to contact Action on Hearing Loss Scotland for free information talks to help raise awareness about the signs of hearing loss, how hearing aids and assistive equipment can help and the best ways to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Meeting with Eileen Clarkson, Senior Campaigner at Action on Hearing Loss Scotland

On Friday 18 October, I held an event as part of Macmillan’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning in my Johnstone constituency office with visitors helping raise over £86.

Celebrating the total raised

It was a great chance for people from across the local area to come together, while also raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. 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 truly grateful to all those who supported us, every pound counts and will make such a difference to people living with cancer.

Helping raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support

On 21 October, I was unexpectedly back in Parliament during recess to take evidence from Michael Gove MP as part of the Finance and Constitution Committee. I took the opportunity to highlight questions raised directly to me by local businesses surrounding Brexit. Unsurprisingly, Mr Gove offered no tangible assurances that Scottish businesses would not be put at a disadvantage following Brexit, particularly if a trade deal was not reached. He also confirmed that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal gives Northern Irish businesses easier access to the European Single Market than businesses in Scotland. I am sure nothing said in response to my questioning helped put the minds of my constituents at ease.

This Monday, I held a supermarket surgery in Barrhead. It is always a pleasure to chat with constituents and pick up some casework as well.

Barrhead supermarket surgery

At the Scottish Parliament, I chaired a meeting of the CPG on Consumer Protection and Energy Efficiency and co-chaired a meeting of the CPG on Sexual Health and Blood-Borne Viruses. I also spoke in a Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee debate addressing the Glasgow School of Art fire.

Following a ministerial statement on Scotland’s new firework action plan, I commended the work of emergency services who will be working hard to keep his constituents safe this fireworks season. I also invited Community Safety Minister Ash Denham to join me in welcoming the move from a number of supermarkets to either ban the sale of fireworks or restrict sales to low-noise fireworks as a step in the right direction with regard to keeping communities safe from fireworks misuse.

During General Questions, I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work Derek Mackay about what the Scottish Government is doing to support the economy of Renfrewshire South. I was pleased with Cabinet Secretary’s answer that the Scottish Government will continue supporting small businesses and the local economy through continued investment. However, we share the concern that the tremendous growth seen in Renfrewshire, particularly highlighted in the recently published Economic Strategy, is likely to be damaged by the Tories’ No Deal Brexit.

Today, I participated in a Members’ Business debate regarding the troubling state of Hong Kong. The 31st of October marks the 142nd day of continuous protest in Hong Kong and I am very concerned with the escalation of police violence used against the protesters. I fully support the rights of the people of Hong Kong to freely express their beliefs and to maintain their democratic philosophy. I support the push for a formal investigation into the situation in Hong Kong and strongly assert that the UK Government should stand with the protesters and call for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in which the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens are bolstered.

Finally, looking ahead to December’s election, I would urge everyone who is eligible to ensure they are registered to vote by midnight on Tuesday 26 November and are able to make their voices heard at this crucial time.

27th September 2019

The end of the summer offered plenty of opportunities to attend local events and make the most of the lovely weather.

It was a privilege to speak at the annual Wallace Day commemoration in Elderslie on 24 August. I am grateful to the The Society Of William Wallace for the opportunity to join constituents as well as people from across Scotland and beyond to mark the 714th anniversary of the death of one of the most significant figures in our nation’s history.

Commemorating Wallace Day in Elderslie

Johnstone Gala Day was another highlight of the summer, my Johnstone & Elderslie SNP colleagues ran a great stall and I had the opportunity to catch up with the fantastic Renfrewshire Women Against State Pension Injustice.

SNP stall at Johnstone Gala

The WASPI campaign is going from strength to strength and it is an honour to continue supporting them. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak at their packed public meeting in Barrhead on 27 August.

Supporting WASPI women at Barrhead Foundry

A massive thank you to everyone who came along to the afternoon tea I held at my Johnstone constituency office, it was a great chance to get people from across the local community together and we raised £130.50 for Breast Cancer Care.

The first few weeks back after summer recess have been anything but quiet, and it has been a tale of two governments. Whilst Boris Johnson unlawfully shut down Westminster, the SNP has continued to deliver progress, with the First Minister publishing her Programme for Government 2019-20.

In the face of the climate emergency and persisting uncertainty surrounding Brexit, ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change and securing a fairer country with a positive future for generations to come are the focus of this year’s Programme.

The ambitious set of proposals are proof that, even in the midst of persistent chaos, instability and even inactivity at Westminster, the Scottish Government is determined to get on with improving lives in Renfrewshire South and across Scotland.

For example, the £1.5 million Homelessness Prevention Fund will support housing associations and social landlords to work with their tenants to prevent crisis, and stop families from becoming homeless.

Having caught up with Barrhead Housing Association over summer recess to discuss a range of issues relating to their positive work in the local community, I was delighted to help them celebrate Scottish Housing Day on 18 September. I joined Barrhead them for a visit to their Neilston Road site, where Taylor Wimpey is delivering 12 new affordable homes, as well as hearing first-hand the positive impact the association has had on tenants.

Housing associations offer so much more than places for people to live – they support tenants through a range of services from financial and employment advice to linking up with health and social care – and it’s only fair that they too receive support.

With BHA tenant Robert Burns and Chairperson David McCready

I recently chaired meetings of the Cross-Party Groups on Social Enterprise and Music, as well as co-chaired the CPG on Carers. In the coming months, I’m hoping to encourage as many local employers as possible to accept my invitation to join the Carer Positive Employer Initiative, in the hope of kick-starting the process of making Barrhead a Carer Positive town.

I also visited the Battersea exhibition to pledge my support for an increase in the maximum sentence for animal cruelty to 5 years.

At present, Scottish courts can only punish the most serious acts of animal cruelty with up to 12 months in prison or a fine of up to £20,000 and a ban on keeping animals. While stronger than the maximum penalty of six months in England and Wales, it is still lenient compared to most European countries.

Battersea believes a five-year maximum sentence should be possible and indeed the SNP Government has included this intention in its Programme for Government.

Battersea’s Parliamentary Exhibition

I am always grateful for the opportunity to celebrate local achievement at Holyrood, whether it be through debates, questions or motions. During a recent debate on the importance of investing in Scotland’s Credit Unions, I was able to highlight the work of both Johnstone Credit Union and Pioneer Mutual in Barrhead – organisations that have played an important role in tackling financial exclusion and protecting people from predatory lenders and unmanageable debt for many years.

The debate coincided with news that, from next spring, a new £10 million Scottish Government fund will go towards supporting credit unions to develop their operations through the use of platforms such as IT and provide services to a greater number of people.

Research released last week revealed that EU citizens feel more welcome and safer in Scotland than they do in other parts of the UK and, during FMQs, I asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to reiterate that the Scottish Government will always stand up for the rights of EU nationals living in Scotland.

More information on the EU Citizen’s Rights Project, which provides information, advice and support for EU citizens in Scotland, is available here.

Over the summer, I presented a copy of my parliamentary motion to All About Barrhead recognising their fantastic inaugural All About Barrhead Awards held earlier this year, and was delighted to highlight their positive work again during General Questions last week.

I invited Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, Ben Macpherson MSP, to join me in commending the work of the All About Barrhead team on their Awfy Scottish Winter Wonderland event, taking place on Saturday 30 November, as well as the excellent series of events they organise in the town throughout the year.

There’s a positivity and self-belief in Barrhead that is palpable and the Barrhead BID are playing a big part in it.

Presenting my motion to BID Manager Andy Dunlop

I was delighted to attend the Corra Foundation’s reception on 24 September and hear inspiring stories from people who are changing their communities for the better.

It was a real pleasure to catch up with Barrhead legend Rena McGuire. I know the action being taken in Dunterlie is having a real positive effect as the project goes from strength to strength and I am looking forwarding to meeting up with everyone involved later in the Autumn.

When they are listened to and given flexible support, people can shape solutions that bring communities together, improve local areas and meet the challenges they face.


With Rena McGuire from the Dunterlie Corra Foundation project

On Friday 18 October from 1-3pm, I’ll be holding a Macmillan Coffee Afternoon event in my Johnstone constituency office. Everyone is welcome to join me for tea, coffee and some cakes later this month in aid of this great cause.

Macmillan provides financial, physical and emotional support for people living with cancer, and events like this help give something back, so I hope to welcome as many of my constituents as possible.

Macmillan Coffee Afternoon

SUMMER UPDATE

Parliament has been in recess for the past month and I’ve been busying myself here in Renfrewshire South. Before updating you on some of what I’ve been up to, I’d like to draw your attention to an Afternoon Tea I’m hosting in my constituency office this Friday (2nd August) from 1pm to 3pm to raise money for the charity Breast Cancer Care. I hope you can drop by for a tea/coffee, some cake and a blether. Please feel free to invite others along and help raise money for a very important cause.

Before Parliament wrapped up for recess, I was active in the chamber asking questions on veterans, climate change targets, cycling, trade unions, male violence against women, the Scottish Budget, productivity, education, the Citizens’ Assembly and the new Scottish Child Payment.

In my question on male violence against women, I took the opportunity to highlight the important work for White Ribbon Scotland, following my recent meeting with their Campaign Director, Davy Thomspson. White Ribbon Scotland campaign to promote positive change in men’s attitudes and I’m looking forward to working closely with them both here in the constituency and nationally.

With Davy Thompson, Campaign Director White Ribbon Scotland

Earlier this month I was delighted to welcome Christina McKelvie MSP, Minister for Older People and Equalities, to Lochwinnoch to see firsthand the work of Roar – Connections for Life. Roar operate across Renfrewshire to enhance the wellbeing of older people. Amongst their many projects are classes to help prevent falls and enhance mobility in older people. Their work has an important part to play not only in helping help older people remain independent but also in tackling loneliness and isolation. I was pleased that Christina had the opportunity to see one of their classes in action here in Renfrewshire South and look forward to seeing their services develop and expand in the coming years.

With Older People and Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie MSP and Roar

Across Scotland we’ve seen significant reductions in recorded crime since the SNP came to power 12 years ago. As constituency MSP I seek to engage regularly with Police Scotland. I was therefore pleased to meet with new divisional commander for Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, Chef Superintendent Alan Murray. We had a wide ranging discussion on a number of issues and I look forward to continuing to engage closely with our local police to support constituents.

With Chief Superintendent Alan Murray

Another key achievement of the Scottish Government has been been delivering a new generation of affordable homes to Scotland, with a target of 50,000 by the end of this parliament backed up by £3.3 billion of SNP Government investment. I was therefore delighted to welcome Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart MSP, to Kilbarchan for the ground cutting on new housing association homes and to Barrhead for the official opening of the first council houses in a generation, delivered in partnership with SNP led East Renfrewshire Council. 

With Kevin Stewart MSP, ERC Leader Cllr Tony Buchanan, Cllr Bamforth and Cllr Merrick

I’ve also been pleased to have the opportunity to meet with local organisations, including Barrhead Amateur Boxing Club where I had the opportunity to present them with a copy of my parliamentary motion congratulating them on their recent funding success. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet and discuss their work promoting fitness and inclusion in the local community.

With Volunteers at Barrhead Amateur Boxing Club

While the population of Renfrewshire South is overwhelmingly concentrated in the towns and villages, there is also a strong agricultural presence across what is a geographically wide and diverse constituency. I was therefore grateful for the opportunity to meet with the National Farmers’ Union Forth and Clyde Chairman, Willie Harper last week to discuss local farming and the wider agricultural sector in Scotland. I now plan to take forward a piece of extensive engagement with the farming community across the constituency and ensure that their views – including on Brexit – are clearly heard in Parliament.

With Willie Harper, NFU Forth and Clyde Regional Chairman

As well as getting out and about meeting groups over recess, I’ve also been holding my regular surgeries and working with my fantastic team of staff in my office in Johnstone to support constituents on a range of issues. If you or anyone you know in the constituency needs help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

July Supermarket Surgery in Barrhead

Later this week I’ll be having meetings with Police Scotland, the Scottish Contemporary Art Network, Barrhead Housing Association and a local business. As mentioned above, I’ll be rounding off the week with my afternoon tea in my office to which I hope you can make it along!

14th June

Saturday 1 June was another brilliant afternoon at Kilbarchan’s annual Lilias Day. The weather was (thankfully) lovely and there were many local organisations in attendance – it’s always great to see the whole community come together to celebrate this tradition.

Lilias Day Celebrations

On Monday 3 June I attended an emotional afternoon at the Impact Arts Creative Ageing Volunteering (CAV) Programme showcase in Linwood. This project aims to build a network of volunteers to combat loneliness and develop creativity within the communities of older people in Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire by creating safe, welcoming environments within their local areas for them to meet and enjoy arts activities together.

With CAV organiser Fiona Doring and programme participants

Over the past year, the project has involved recruiting and training creatives from a variety of disciplines to support delivery of Craft Café workshops in Linwood, Johnstone, Paisley and Barrhead. The showcase was an opportunity to thank volunteers while hearing about their personal journeys and the positive impact this excellent programme has had on both volunteers and older people in Barrhead, Johnstone and Linwood is inspiring.

At the Scottish Parliament, I hosted a productive of the Cross-Party Group on Consumer Protection for Home Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and welcomed Provost of Renfrewshire, Cllr Lorrain Cameron, to the most recent meeting of the CPG on St. Andrew’s Day. Provost Cameron addressed the group on Renfrewshire Council’s successful efforts to introduce a holiday on or around St. Andrew’s Day – which is now in its 10th year – and I look forward to welcoming her back as the group gathers momentum.

Chairing HELMS CPG meeting
With Provost Cameron after St Andrew’s CPG

I also caught up with the brilliant WASPI – Women Against State Pension Inequality during their demonstration outside Holyrood.

Attending the WASPI demonstration

10th-18th June marked the 25th anniversary of Carers Week. To celebrate this occasion, and to recognise the contribution of Scotland’s 759,000 carers, I was delighted to host a Parliamentary reception on behalf of Carers Scotland.

The event also celebrated the 5th anniversary of the Carer Positive employer initiative, and, having been an accredited Carer Positive employer with ‘engaged’ status since January 2018, I was honoured to be presented with my ‘established’ status award at the event.

with Director of Carers Scotland Simon Hodgson and Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey

We’ve seen some excellent local developments in terms of supporting carers too, with Renfrewshire Council passing Cllr Jacqueline Cameron’s excellent motion on the introduction of a Carers Passport.

I had written to Cllr Cameron following a constituent contacting me to suggest such a scheme. A passport of this kind could not only provide financial benefit, it could give carers the opportunity to access classes, which would allow them to take some time out for themselves, when possible.

I look forward to working alongside Renfrewshire Council SNP colleagues and Renfrewshire Carers Centre in developing more detailed proposals.

31st May

Last week, the SNP celebrated EU election success both in Renfrewshire and across Scotland – achieving the country’s biggest ever margin of victory at a European election.

I was pleased that the local turnout was up compared to previous years, especially given the short campaign due to the UK Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit. While we saw a collapse in support for both Labour and the Tories, the SNP celebrated an emphatic win in all mainland authorities plus Na h-Eileanan Siar.

Of course, while campaigning, I was still getting on with the job in hand.

At the Scottish Parliament, I asked questions on the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, mental health support and supporting fair work, as well as hosting a drop-in session with a representative from SOZAK (part of the Chamber of Labour in Vienna).

The event featured interesting conversation on collective bargaining, the links between trade unions and the Scottish Government, and activities to challenge the far right.

Ahead of Carers Week, I was delighted to convene a meeting of the CPG on Carers during which I was able to discuss the parliamentary reception I will soon be holding to recognise the important contribution Scotland’s carers make to our society.

CPG on Carers meeting

To end the week, I attended the first ever All About Barrhead Awards. Well done to everyone involved and congratulations to all the nominees, runners up and winners! The night was an excellent opportunity to celebrate excellence within the local community, and I hope it becomes an annual event in Barrhead’s calendar going forward. The success of the night was a real testament to the dedication of All About Barrhead BID, who have worked hard to ensure the event went off without a hitch.

Catching up with friends at the All About Barrhead Awards

17th May

With the EU elections fast approaching, I spent Saturday out in the sunshine in Johnstone with my colleague Mhairi Black MP and the Renfrewshire South SNP branch.

Campaigning with Ben Lomond looking bonnie in the distance

On Monday 13, I was honoured to be invited by New Music Scotland to attend the recent Scottish Awards for New Music and to present the Community/Education Project Award to Lost at Sea by the composer Scanner for Svend McEwan-Brown’s East Neuk Festival.


With Kate Whitlock, Event Producer at East Neuk Festival, photo taken by Iain Smart

I then had a busy week through in Edinburgh, with meetings of the DPLR and Finance and Consitution Committees, as well as the CPG on Basic Income and a discussion on devolved taxes legislation with Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy, Kate Forbes MSP.

After another campaigning session on Friday in Kilbarchan, I rounded off the week with my usual advice surgeries finishing at Morrison’s in Johnstone for a busy supermarket surgery. It was great to chat with constituents about everything from potholes to Brexit and pick up some casework too.

Morrison’s surgery

No appointment is necessary to attend any of my surgeries, so if there’s something I can help you with please don’t hesitate to come along or get in touch.

10th May

During a debate held by Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee, I was able to highlight the importance of supporting instrumental music tuition, arguing the case for free tuition for young people in Scotland’s schools.

As a former music tutor, member of the Musician’s Union and the founder and convener of the CPG on Music, I see instrumental music tuition as part of music education and indeed as part of the core curriculum.

It is reassuring that the SNP-led Council is demonstrating that delivering instrumental music services without charge is an achievable goal by making the commitment to maintain free music tuition in local schools for the next four years, supported by a £500,000 investment announced in their 2019/20 budget.

I hope that other local authorities will look to and engage with the example set by Renfrewshire Council, in the hope of understanding how services in the area have been successfully delivered without charge.

I also took part in my colleague Bruce Crawford MSP’s debate on Scottish Gigabit Cities.

Infrastructure development in Scottish Gigabit cities will support future 5G connectivity, help households unlock the benefits of smart technology, spark economic growth by opening up business opportunities and make them among the best-connected places in Europe.

However, when we discuss the fourth industrial revolution and 5G, it is incredibly important that mention not only the benefits and the transformative effects, but also potential abuse of the system.

I had a productive discussion with Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP during Finance and Constitution Committee on earnings, including the future of work.

The Climate Emergency is the biggest challenge facing our generation however it also presents an opportunity for Scotland to lead in the creation of highly paid, green jobs.

After that busy meeting, I took the opportunity to visit Poppyscotland’s exhibition at the Scottish Parliament and to hear about all the vital work they do to support the Armed Forces community.

Poppyscotland is best known for running the iconic Scottish Poppy Appeal, but the charity works all year round to help those who have served, those still serving and their families receive the care and support they urgently need.

Meeting with Poppyscotland representatives

Locally, I had a very interesting visit to the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, dedicated to preserving Scotland’s Jewish heritage, to hear about plans for a Scottish Jewish Heritage Centre supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

At the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre

Three new Bills were passed in the Scottish Parliament in the space of just one week.

On Thursday afternoon, the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill was passed. The Bill aims to minimise distress and improve the quality of evidence given, by allowing evidence from children involved in the most serious cases to be recorded ahead of trial.

The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill confirmed the decriminalisation of primary school-aged children, while the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill enables safe and high quality care and improved outcomes for health and care service users.

These recent developments show the SNP Government’s commitment to making tangible progress on matters that have a real impact on lives across Scotland.

26th April

While Parliament had a short Easter recess, I was able to focus my activity in Renfrewshire South, which recently included a meeting with Howwood Community Council regarding ongoing concerns on the A737.

Numerous constituents have contacted me about this issue, and it was good to attend a meeting to see these concerns expressed first-hand, as well as discuss what next steps can be taken to ensure everyone feels safe on the road.

I also met with White Ribbon Scotland alongside my colleague Gavin Newlands MP to support the launch of the organisation’s new campaign in betting shops throughout Renfrewshire. White Ribbon Scotland is a charity working to end male violence against women and has created a vital platform to engage men to help do so.

During the campaign, which ran from 29th April – 6th May, betting shop staff in 24 local shops asked men who entered to sign the White Ribbon Scotland pledge ‘never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women in all its forms.’ These campaigns are not about stigmatising men, the vast majority of whom would never contemplate violence against women, but rather encouraging men to take a stand against domestic abuse.

With White Ribbon Scotland and local betting shop staff

Back at Parliament, I’ve also been busy meeting with various organisations including Children in Scotland at their #25calls exhibition at the Scottish Parliament today and to discuss tackling child poverty, closing the attainment gap and mental health.

As the national membership organisation for the children’s sector in Scotland, Children in Scotland established the 25 Calls campaign to share Scotland’s hopes and ambitions for future generations and achieve real change.

As a roadmap for a future where children’s rights are protected, the campaign brings together diverse voices to propose how children can experience greater equality and strengthened human rights.

Supporting Children in Scotland

I’m looking forward to promoting #TheBigLunch in Renfrewshire South in the first weekend of June after meeting with Eden Project Communities Scotland.

The Big Lunch is about millions of people getting together to share food, have fun and get to know each other better. Every year, over 6 million people take to their streets, gardens and neighbourhoods to join in for a few hours of community, friendship and fun.

Finding out more about The Big Lunch 2019

At the Scottish Parliament, I was re-elected convener of the Cross-Party Group on Social Enterprise. Our most recent meeting was extremely well attended and I’m looking forward to working with Social Enterprise Scotland over the coming year.

The most recent CPG on Social Enterprise meeting