- Best bits: Getting some really positive feedback at hustings, especially from folk who were previously undecided or had thought they’d be both votes SNP but who’d changed their mind when they heard me at a hustings whether in Kilmarnock, North Berwick or Castle Douglas
- Worst bit: Not seeing nearly enough of Nat after spending much of my time away or travelling
- Folk of note: Shona, Carl and the amazing team in Cockenzie, battling to protect and enhance their beloved greenspace by buying it out, despite knock backs.
- Miles travelled: 1,074
- Things I learned: The situation with broadband rollout in rural Scotland is even worse than I feared. Only half of homes have the promised super fast broadband, while the target is 95% coverage in just two years time.
A busy week started on a dreich day with a trip to Cockenzie, site of the former coal-fired power station whose towers famously came tumbling down last year. Since the closure of the plant, various proposals have been made for what to do with the East Lothian site, including an enormous energy park. Whilst well intentioned, that proposal would have seen the destruction of much loved and well used green space and threatened the site of the historic Battle of Prestonpans. As soon as they heard of the proposal, local people got together to fight the plans which were soon rejected.
But they didn’t stop there. The new Coastal Regeneration Alliance consulted with the whole community and rallied nearly 8,000 people to defend the coastal lands and decide for themselves about what future awaited the vacancy left by Cockenzie. With detailed plans for what they wanted to do with the land, they submitted a request to buy the land. In a devastating blow, it was rejected by Scottish Ministers. Now they fight on, taking their cause to the courts.
After a freezing morning in Cockenzie, I travelled to Kilmarnock for a hustings with learning disability charity Enable. Unlike any other hustings of the campaign, this one worked a bit like speed dating, with the four candidates answering questions at separate tables and never debating one another. Round each table were people with learning disabilities, sometimes on their own and sometimes with support workers or carers. The questions ranged from the deceivingly simple “why should we vote for you” to “how would you help learning disabilities to make friends”. It was a refreshing change from the hostile top table rabble rousing of some hustings but it was challenging in its own way, forcing me to think about how I worded answers in a straightforward way.
Thursday brought a team meeting in Edinburgh and a hustings in North Berwick in the evening. You can see my answer to a question on Trident here. After the hustings, a young woman came over saying “I turned up without knowing who to vote for but I’m definitely voting Green now!”
On Friday I went to visit Lothian Broadband over at Humble to hear about the challenges of delivering fast, reliable broadband in a rural area. Nick, Ian, Patrick and David were very patient, explaining the difficulties caused by BT’s monopoly over the broadband rollout and the challenges facing communities trying to do it themselves. Across the country there are communities trying their best to install good broadband to local people, but coming up against tech problems as well as all the problems that come with an essential service being delivered by stretched volunteers. It’s pretty clear to me that we need to radically rethink the way the rollout is being done and provide more money and hands on support to communities.
On Friday evening I went down to Biggar to give a talk on fuel poverty. Rather ironically it was snowing as I arrived and the hall was definitely not energy efficient (!) but we had a really good discussion about the need for bold new ideas on energy.
That night I stayed with my dad just up the road and on Saturday we went into Lanark for a day of campaigning with South Lanarkshire Greens. When I was wee, we’d go to Lanark almost every Saturday to visit the library and then get a cheese toasty at the Woodpecker.
This time we chatted to loads of friendly folk through a mixture of gorgeous sunshine and snow. A fair few SNP voters told us they’d be voting Green on the list and one guy even went off with two party badges on.
On Sunday, Nat and I went adventuring down in the southern Borders, visiting the amazing Hermitage Castle and the fantastic Whitrope heritage centre.
The centre is home to relaid train track along the old Hawick to Carlisle route and during the summer months they run trains along a mile or so of the track. I had a great chat with Andy, one of the volunteers, about whether he thought a reopened line was feasible. He was certainly hopeful about an extension to Carlisle but had his head in his hands about the single track for the existing line.
On Monday I was back in Kilmarnock for another great hustings, this time with the Royal College of Nursing.
We had some great discussions before the hustings (over a buffet no less!) and the questions during the event covered pensions, trade union and workplace rights, Trident and how to put an end to austerity. I was relieved to find that what I said seemed to strike a chord with many of the folk there.
And so to Tuesday, an epic adventure in Dumfriesshire and Galloway! Brenna and I travelled to Johnstonebridge, not far from Moffat where
we met with Dave and Jackie – two local activists who played a leading role in developing the new community centre, playground and all weather pitch. They were previously part of the community council but now help run the community development trust. They’ve worked for years to get money from the Lottery for a new village hall – a brilliant facility – and now have their sights set on redeveloping a plot of land they’ve bought out, creating community allotments. The biggest struggle for them now seemed to be getting folk to use the new hall. Despite it being a really top notch place, it seems local folk either can’t afford to use it or simply aren’t up for it.
After Johnstonebridge, we headed south to Castle Douglas for a stall with the wonderful D&G Greens in the sunshine. A reassuringly large number of folk said they were already voting for us. It may have helped that we had a ridiculously cute two year old with us, but folk seemed pretty genuine in their positivity.
From CD, we went on to Cream o Galloway along the road. The home of amazing ice cream that I failed to eat and a very exciting looking adventure playground that I failed to play on,
it’s an organic farm practicing sustainable farming, much to the amusement and/or annoyance of other farmers around. Co-owner David Finlay showed us around, introducing us to some very cute pet lambs and young calves as well as showing us the anaerobic digester which not only gets energy from the slurry produced by the cattle but which produces a fertiliser to go on the fields that doesn’t smell. Amazing.
The Cream o Galloway trip was well timed as that night we went back to Castle Douglas for a hustings with the NFU Scotland.
Despite being talked over repeatedly by a pretty belligerent UKIP candidate, I kept my cool enough to talk about whether farmers should be allowed to shoot beavers (nope) and whether we should stay in the EU (aye).
After a pretty full on week, I was super grateful for a bed for the night with the very wonderful Danny and Lusi Alderslowe in Gatehouse. Think I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!
Anywho, that’s all for now. Until next time!