Thursday 17 May


05.18 Nakba Whole GroupOn 15 May 1948 an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled, with hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages depopulated and destroyed – this is the Nakba and those who fled and are alive are still waiting to return.

On 15 May 2018 I marked the 70th anniversary of this atrocity by leading a member’s debate in Parliament and hosting an event in the evening to both mark the Nakba and celebrate Palestinian culture.

My contribution as with the majority of those that participated condemned the actions of the Israeli Government and its allies in the USA and UK Governments in their oppression and utter disregard of the Palestinian people.

However, what we witnessed this week in Gaza was nothing short of a massacre. Whilst members of Trump and co opened the US Embassy in Jerusalem, Palestinian’s including children were killed and injured by state sponsored violence.

From the time when Britain administered Palestine after the first world war until it abandoned it in 1948 resulting in the Nakba, UK involvement in Palestine has been quite shameful, from the promises of an independent Palestinian state to refusing to support UN efforts for a two-state solution, leading to the 1948 war and the subsequent loss of Palestinian land.

Let us be clear, regardless of the history, the way forward and the only way to achieve a lasting peace is to recognise a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one. That was not possible in 1947 but, for me and many others, it is the only viable option. Let us also be clear that the time is now—not tomorrow, next year or some point in the future. People are dying every day. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand.

You can read the full debate here: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11533&i=104617

05.18 Nakba Ghazi HusseinDuring the Naka evening event we heard a very moving poem by acclaimed Palestinian poet Ghazi Hussein now living in Scotland.

Ghazi was born to a family in exile from Palestine, and was first imprisoned at the age of 14. He was never charged but was ‘guilty of carrying thoughts’. Repeatedly imprisoned and tortured over the next 20 years, he says that poetry saved his sanity. ‘If I still remained in my place of birth…..my voice would be silenced. Here in Scotland I have the opportunity to tell my story, one which I believe is important and relevant to what is happening across the world at this time’.

05.18 Nakba Graham WattGraham Watt from Medical Aid for Palestine (MAP) gave a very comprehensive presentation of the work MAP carry out in Palestine to support the health and wellbeing of Palestinians despite the blockades imposed by Israel. They are however entirely supported through the generosity of donors and I would urge those of you who support their efforts to commit to donating at https://www.map.org.uk/donate/donate

Everyone was mesmerised by the very talented Omar Saad, Tibah Saad and Ahmed Dwiddar.

05.18 Nakba Omar and Tibah SaadThese young musicians entertained the Nakba event guests with their performance of some very moving and beautiful traditional Palestinian music.

Omar and Tibah are currently studying at the Royal Conservatoire. Whilst they would have preferred to stay at home to study music the opportunity to do this is not available at home for them. Whilst financially this can be crippling they have managed to secure funding from various sources but still find following their ambitions a huge financial struggle.


The Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, has called on the UK Government to listen to concerns from across the Scottish Parliament and respond positively by amending the EU withdrawal Bill to protect devolution following the vote in the Scottish Parliament to withhold consent for the Withdrawal Bill.

The Scottish Government has put forward two proposals to ensure the bill respects devolution – remove the legislative constraint on the Parliament and proceed on the basis of mutual trust, or amend the bill so the Parliament’s consent is required before any orders restricting its powers are made. It is now incumbent on the UK Government to amend the bill in line with the principles of devolution.


Thousands of parents will no longer have to pay expensive upfront childcare deposits under a pilot scheme.

Families who use either a childminder or nursery before their children become eligible for publicly-funded childcare, usually at age three, can be asked to pay a deposit of as much as £900.

In Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Government will cover that cost for eligible families until December 2019 through a deposit guarantee. Almost half (44%) of parents in the pilot areas with a child under two who are taking up childcare for the first time can benefit from the scheme.

Epilepsy Connections 

03.18 Epilepsy ConnectionsI was delighted to sponsor a drop in session for representatives of Epilepsy Connections at the Scottish Parliament this week. I am pictured with the team from Glasgow when I visited them earlier this year.

The event was led by Shirley Maxwell Epilepsy Connections Director with area representation from Glasgow, Forth Valley and Ayrshire and Arran. MSPs from across the parties took time to drop in and chat about the issues facing those diagnosed with epilepsy and in particular the damaging effects of changes to the benefits system with the replacement of DLA with PIP. 

Funeral Costs

An extra 2,000 people will be eligible for financial support to help pay for a funeral, under Scottish Government plans.

Improvements to Funeral Expense Assistance will also see an annual increase to the contribution for other funeral costs as well as quicker processing times – within 10 working days.

A public consultation is now open, seeking views on proposals including how to consider difficult family circumstances which you can access here: https://consult.gov.scot/social-security/funeral-expense-assistance/

With Kids

05.18 With KidsChild mental health is a topic that everyone can support and I took time to talk to representatives from WithKids who were exhibiting in the Parliament this week.

WithKids has supported over 3500 children across Scotland. They specialise in working in some of the most fragile communities and working alongside families that often struggle to engage in other services.

They use Play Psychotherapy as their main approach to supporting children aged 3 – 11 as well as providing a comprehensive package of support for families and the wider community.

As we know a child’s early experiences are crucial to healthy development and those who experience childhood difficulties are more likely to suffer mentally and physically and adopt harmful behaviours.

WithKids deliver interventions that have been proven to reduce the impact of difficulties on children and help build resilience and self-esteem in families.


Thousands of parents will no longer have to pay expensive upfront childcare deposits under a pilot scheme.

Families who use either a childminder or nursery before their children become eligible for publicly-funded childcare, usually at age three, can be asked to pay a deposit of as much as £900.

In Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Government will cover that cost for eligible families until December 2019 through a deposit guarantee. Almost half (44%) of parents in the pilot areas with a child under two who are taking up childcare for the first time can benefit from the scheme.



Thursday 10 May

Europe Day

05.18 Europe Day Estonia 100On Wednesday, with the support of the European Commission Office, Glasgow’s George Square played host to stalls, exhibitors and musicians to mark Europe Day and I was privileged to attend the event.

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop MSP, and the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Cllr Eva Bolander, opened the celebration with Stuart McMillan MSP making an appearance as Scottish Parliament’s piper with his rendition of “Ode to Joy”.

Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain were all there to promote their country, culture and language. Scotland and Member States also showcased their countries through musical and dance acts.

Europe Day remains an opportunity to bring various communities together and to celebrate peace and unity in Europe.

05.18 Europe DayI’m pictured highlighting the Erasmus Plus programme. Thousands of Scottish students have had the opportunity to live, study, work and make lifelong friendships all over the EU through the Erasmus programme. However, the UK leaving the European Union puts the programme in jeopardy.

Youthlink Scotland are spearheading a campaign and I’ve signed their petition asking the UK Government to commit to maintaining participation in the Erasmus programme after Brexit.

I’d encourage everyone to pledge their support and sign the petition at Youthlink Scotland https://www.youthlinkscotland.org/press/keep-erasmus-plus/

Community Fund

Following on from our Europe Day celebrations the Scottish Government announced this week new support to ensure community organisations, charities and other grassroots groups are listened to during the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

The £150,000 stakeholder engagement fund will provide grants to Scottish organisations who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to gather and promote the views of their members on preparing for the UK leaving the EU.

The new fund will focus primarily on enabling community and third sector organisations to consider the impact of Brexit, highlight their concerns and plan for the future  – giving them a greater platform to be heard at a Scottish, UK and EU level.

The Scottish Government fund will offer organisations and networks targeted financial support, as well as welcoming suggestions and ideas from local community groups around the country.

Year of Young People

05.18 Princes TrustWhat a great atmosphere in the Parliament as we celebrated the Year of Young People last week.

The Princes Trust held a reception with some extremely talented young people as they highlighted their Youth Can Do It campaign.

It’s hard to believe that it was as far back as 2013 when the decision was made to have 2018 as the Year of Young People.

Year of Young People 2018 aims to inspire Scotland through its young people, celebrating their achievements, valuing their contribution to communities and creating new opportunities for them to shine locally, nationally and globally.

As well as the Scottish Government Year of Young People have also partnered with Young Scot, Scottish Youth Parliament, Children in Scotland, Visit Scotland, Event Scotland, Glasgow 2018, Creative Scotland and Youthlink Scotland.

There have been countless events and projects marking Year of Young People since the beginning of the year and we’re not even halfway through yet. You can find out about the latest events and news at www.yoyp2018.scot

Refugee Support

Refugees can now organise financial support for family members before they are reunited in Scotland.

Up to £100,000 in Family Reunion Crisis Grants will smooth the path for new arrivals, bridging the gap before they can be assessed for benefits entitlement.

The grants provide assistance with initial living costs as well as essential items, such as beds, for those arriving in Scotland under family reunion rules.

Walking and Cycling

The Scottish Government have announced plans to more than double the Community Links Fund which supports the introduction of new walking and cycling infrastructure.

£36m will be available through the Community Links Fund in 2018/19, the highest amount since it was launched in 2010.

The fund has previously helped projects like the cycling and walking path between Elgin and Lhanbryde, locally a cycle path linking Glasgow City Centre with its southern suburbs, and plans to redesign Stirling Road in Dunblane.

You can find out more here: https://www.sustrans.org.uk/scotland/community-links

Human Appeal

05.18 Human AppealFor 27 years Human Appeal has been delivering aid and development programs that transform lives in the world’s poorest nations. I was delighted to meet representatives of the organisation at their reception in the Scottish Parliament to launch Human Appeal Ramadan.

Human Appeal has had a presence in 25 countries around the world and has become the global agent of change for a just, caring and sustainable world. They have also delivered and supported many projects across the UK including the Wrap up Winter campaign, distribution of food to the homeless, provision of Qurbani meat to the needy and supporting the victims of the Manchester arena attack and Grenfell Tower fire.

You can find out more about Human Appeal and their work here: www.humanappeal.org.uk

Plastics Consultation

The Scottish Government are currently consulting on the addition of secondary legislation under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to introduce a ban on the manufacture and the sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds.

The proposed bans aim to further protect our seas from plastic pollution.

If you would like further information or would like to participate please go to https://consult.gov.scot/marine-scotland/cotton-buds/



New figures show that the Scottish Government’s business rate relief scheme saved businesses in Glasgow £801m between 2009-10 and 2016-17.

Across Scotland, this scheme has saved taxpayers around £4.5 billion between 2009-10 and 2015-16 by reducing their rates liability and taking many firms out of business rates altogether.

And across Glasgow the latest figures show that 12,388 local firms benefitted from this flagship Scottish Government policy in 2016. This figure does not, however, include premises that qualified for the new 100% reliefs introduced, including Day Nursery Relief and the Business Growth Accelerator.

Commenting, local SNP MSP Sandra White said:

“The Scottish Government is delivering the most competitive business rates relief package in the whole of the UK, saving businesses in Glasgow £801 million over the last seven years. The Scottish Government will also spend an estimated record £720 million on rates relief across Scotland in this year alone. 

“Since coming to office, the Scottish Government has taken strong action to support business growth and jobs in Glasgow helping to keep money in our neighbourhoods and boost our high streets. 

“Only this Scottish Government are taking the necessary action to help our local firms – and it is great to see over 12,000 firms benefitting from rates relief in 2016, a figure that will likely rise with the new measures introduced in this year’s budget.”



Thursday 3 May 2018

Breast Cancer

04.18 Breast Cancer CareI was honoured to sponsor the launch event of the recent Breast Cancer Care Report in Parliament – Moving Forward “Living Well with and Beyond Breast Cancer in Scotland”.

As well as healthcare professionals we had a very moving account of one person’s experience of their treatment for breast cancer and the impact of the Moving Forward course.

Breast Cancer is still the most common cancer with around 4,600 diagnosed each year in Scotland alone with the number of breast cancer cases rising by over 30% since 2001. However, with the advances in treatment and care over the past few decades more people are surviving breast cancer and living with it than ever before.

Moving Forward is a free four-week programme which provides information, support and professional guidance on how to cope with and adjust to life after treatment. Topics covered may include: healthy eating, exercise, managing menopausal symptoms, lymphoedema, cancer fatigue, intimacy and relationships, and adjusting and adapting after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

For more information please go to https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/information-support/publication/moving-forward-people-living-beyond-breast-cancer-bcc197

Refugee Dentists

Dentists are to be included in a scheme that has already helped 37 refugee doctors begin to re-train to work in Scotland.

Following the success of the scheme, dentists will now be given the same training, language support, professional mentoring and work experience necessary so that their qualifications can be recognised by the General Dental Council.

The New Refugee Doctors Project is run by the Bridges Programme and provides the most comprehensive support for refugees who were doctors in their home countries. It is expected 50 doctors and 10 dentists will be supported by the programme over the next year.

Traditional Building Skills

05.18 Traditional Building EventIt was great to catch up with representatives of the building trade in Sauchiehall Street this week at the traditional building skills demonstration.

The highlight of the event was the opportunity for High School pupils to be introduced to four traditional building skills by local apprentices and tradespeople. Each pupil had the opportunity to have a ‘hands on’ taster session of each skill.

05.18 Trad BuildingThere was also the opportunity for visitors and members of the public to have a go too and I jumped at the chance to improve my birdbox building skills from last year!

The traditional skills included, stone masonry, slating, roof leadwork, joinery and painting and decorating and there was plenty of information and advice from representatives on careers and training.

The event was very successful, helping raise the profile of traditional building skills, inspiring young people and also raising their awareness of the career opportunities which are available in this field.

NHS Finances

Health Secretary Shona Robison has put in place additional scrutiny around NHS finances in Scotland.

The Scottish Government will provide monthly information on NHS Boards financial performance to the Scottish Parliament following the boards first submissions for this financial year, which are due in June.

The Health Secretary also confirmed that the first quarterly financial report on Health and Social Care Integration Authorities had been provided to the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport committee and that medium term spending plans for the health service would be set out later this year.

She also repeated commitments to work with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to implement any recommendations following their investigation of the use of endowment funds by NHS Boards.

Knit and Natter

05.18 Knit and Natter 1What a brilliant afternoon I had at the Annexe Communities on Monday meeting up with the Knit and Natter group who make blankets for refugees and you can see one of their lovely creations in the photograph.

This is just one of many groups and activities this amazing centre offers the local community. The Annexe run a varied programme of regular events and activities for older people from walking groups to art classes to meditation to dancing and much more.

05.18 Knit and Natter 3With their successful application to the Big Lottery Fund they now have a grant of £628,000 by which will support their Connects Project which has been successfully running for three years and was recently runners up at the Evening Times Community Champions Awards for North West Glasgow.

This further funding for west Glasgow will support 900 isolated and vulnerable older residents, age 60 plus, over a five-year period. The initiative will help older people to re-connect with their community, meet new friends and stay healthier longer.


People considering stopping smoking are being urged to get support to help them through the first 72 hours, and beyond.

A campaign signposting the support available from the Quit Your Way service has already resulted in a 136 per cent rise in helpline calls and webchats in the first three weeks, compared with the same period in 2017.

The campaign acknowledges that for some people the first 72 hours of quitting can be particularly tough as the body craves nicotine, but that with the right support smokers are twice as likely to stop smoking for good.

New research highlights that almost three quarters of smokers (73 per cent) have attempted to quit in the past, with one in five (22 per cent) currently trying.

Three quarters of those surveyed (75 per cent) agreed that the first 72 hours of giving up smoking are the hardest, with 82 per cent stating that the mental cravings can be harder to overcome than the physical cravings when quitting.

Quit Your Way Scotland is the national stop smoking service from NHS 24 and provides people who are thinking about quitting with individually tailored advice, either over the phone or online.

Find out more at www.quityourway.scot

Mental Health

05.18 Brothers in ArmsBrothers in Arms were exhibiting in the Parliament this week and I took the opportunity to have a chat with them about their work.

It is a project based in East Dunbartonshire aimed at providing information, support and advice to men of any age, who are down or in crisis. They are dedicated to preventing male suicide which is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK.

They have a website and social media platform that is aimed primarily at the 16 to 45 demographic most at risk and is designed as a ‘gateway’ to enable them or their partners, family and friends to seek help and advice and to feel that they are not alone.

More information can found at https://www.brothersinarmsscotland.co.uk/

Criminal Responsibility

The age a young person can be held responsible for their actions in the eyes of the law is to be examined by Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee.

Although Scotland’s current age of criminal responsibility, the lowest in Europe at eight years old, is set to be raised by the Scottish Government, the Committee is seeking views on the new proposals.

The Committee is looking to hear from academics, people working in the criminal justice sector, victims of crime, and crucially young people and former young offenders. A toolkit for teachers and youth group leaders will be produced to help this to happen.

The Committee is asking not only for views on raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12, as the Scottish Government has proposed. It also wants to look at the disclosure of offences committed by under-12s; whether the new rules achieve an appropriate balance for victims; and the suitability of police powers to deal with behaviour by under-12s.



Thursday 26 April

Social Security Bill

In a major milestone for devolution the Scottish Parliament has backed the establishment of a Scottish Social Security System with dignity and respect at its heart.  Holyrood has this week passed the Social Security (Scotland) Bill at Stage 3, giving the Scottish Government the powers to deliver eleven benefits devolved as part of the Scotland Act 2016. The design of the Scottish Social Security System was informed by widespread public consultation with those with direct experience of the benefits system.

The Scottish system will be different. It will be rights based, with a right to independent advocacy for those who need it; fast-tracked arrangements and no arbitrary timescale for people with terminal illness; the right to have a supporter and the right to challenge decisions without having your money instantly cut.

I am very proud of this Bill particularly as the former Convener of the Social Security Committee steering the Bill through its Stage one process.

Colleges Scotland

04.18 Colleges ScotlandRepresentatives from Colleges Scotland were displaying in the Parliament last week and I took the opportunity to stop by and chat with them about the work they are doing particularly with regards to STEM.

On the back of this I lodged a motion in Parliament recognising the work colleges across Scotland are doing in collaboration with the Scottish Government supporting and encouraging STEM.

The motion reads:

That the Parliament welcomes what it considers the excellent work that colleges across Scotland are doing to inspire young people into STEM subjects; considers that they are working closely with schools and employers to simultaneously tackle the gender imbalance and encourage more women to consider STEM careers; notes that there are almost 70,000 students studying STEM in colleges, and commends the support offered by the Scottish Government through its collaboration with colleges to increase the number of full-time college places in STEM subjects, as well as its STEM Strategy for Education and Training.


Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe Michael Russell has said the UK Government’s amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill make it “crystal clear in terms never seen before that the Scottish Parliament can be over-ridden by the UK Government”, if the parliament decides not to give consent to an order constraining its powers.

The amendments allow the UK Government to stop the Scottish Parliament passing laws in devolved areas for up to seven years without securing its agreement, undermining devolution.

Blue Cross for Pets

04.18 Blue Cross PetsI met with staff from Blue Cross for Pets in Parliament this week who are campaigning for a clampdown on the online sale of pets, a registration and licensing system for all sellers, regulation of animal sanctuaries and rescue centres and comprehensive care and advice for potential buyers.

Blue Cross for Pets want to ensure pets are bred, sold and rehomed responsibly which I would certainly support.

Blue Cross for Pets carried out extensive research and they recorded that there were 4000 ads online selling pets in Glasgow alone over the past year. None of these sellers would be subject to any checks and I would support the campaign by Blue Cross for Pets to protect these pets and those who are looking to buy a pet.

Gender Based Violence

New practical guidance for universities to tackle gender-based violence on campus has been published.

Guidance and training for staff, better data collection and well-publicised support information for students are some of the recommendations set out in the toolkit, which has been produced by the University of Strathclyde and funded by the Scottish Government.

The toolkit, which will be adapted for colleges, takes forward the principles set out in the #emilytest campaign set up by Fiona Drouet, in memory of her daughter Emily.

An additional £396,000 of Scottish Government funding will support the roll-out and implementation of the toolkit.

You can find out more here: https://www.strath.ac.uk/humanities/schoolofsocialworksocialpolicy/equallysafeinhighereducation/eshetoolkit/

MS Awareness

04.18 MS AwarenessThis week marks MS Awareness and with over 11,000 people diagnosed with MS in Scotland this makes MS more common in Scotland than most other countries in the world.

Kiss Goodbye to MS an international campaign has been up and running with proceeds from funds raised being directed towards the MS Society research programme and 10% going to the MS International Federation (MSIF) to support their work on international research collaboration, and access to better treatments.

If you would like to find out more about MS or this campaign or even ways in which you can raise much needed funds please visit the website here https://signup.mssociety.org.uk/page/21227/data/1

Disclosure Law

Proposals which would require all sports coaches working with children and other vulnerable groups to undergo mandatory disclosure checks were published this week by Disclosure Scotland. The consultation will review Scotland’s disclosure regime, including the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme, which covers those working with children and the vulnerable.

You can access the consultation here: https://consult.gov.scot/disclosure-scotland/protection-of-vulnerable/

Achieve More

04.18 Achieve More ScotlandIt was great to catch up with Paul Fletcher this week in Parliament. Paul is the Deputy Chief Executive of Achieve More Scotland which was established in Glasgow to deliver a programme of diversionary activity to young people from areas of high social deprivation.

These activities take the form of sports, physical activity, groupwork, volunteering, employability and personal development sessions.

Their programmes have proven to contribute to improving the lives of young people as well as affecting community safety and reducing the numbers of young people going through the criminal justice system.

For more information go to http://aandm.org.uk/

International Workers Memorial Day

04.18 HazardsI attended and chatted with representatives from Scottish Hazards to mark International Workers Memorial Day this week in Parliament.

The event was an opportunity to remember those who have died at work and refresh the resolve to fight for fairer, safer and healthier working conditions both here in Scotland and across the world.

The Scottish Hazards Centre provides free and confidential information, advice, support and training to workers on workplace health and safety issues.

You can find out more about their work here: http://www.scottishhazards.org/

Landlord Consultation

The Scottish Government are currently consulting on Landlord registration. The proposals are intended to strengthen the system of landlord registration in a proportionate way that will help to ensure that homes rented to private rented sector tenants are of good quality and are managed professionally.

Evidence suggests that the current application process is not robust enough to ensure that all landlords understand and comply with their legal responsibilities. The consultation therefore seeks views on proposals to ask for additional information about compliance with legal duties relating to letting houses.

You can participate here: https://consult.gov.scot/landlord-registration/registration-fee/