Campaign Diary – Week #13

  • Best bits: Knowing I played even a small part in saving buses in Dumfries and Galloway, alongside a fantastic bunch of Green campaigners
  • Worst bit: Being totally floored by stomach cramps all weekend.
  • Folk of note: Maggie, Amanda and Pip from the Scottish Rural Parliament who’ve been travelling around the South gathering views from rural folk on what should go in a manifesto to be decided in October.
  • Miles travelled: 538
  • Things I learned: Farm incomes in Scotland have halved in five years, just 12% of farmers are under the age of 45 and the proportion of land available to rent has halved in my lifetime.
On our way to hand in our #haudthebus petition in Dumfries
On our way to hand in our #haudthebus petition in Dumfries

This week, I’ve been out and about in Dumfries, the Borders and Midlothian talking rural economy, transport, farming, regeneration and creative industries as well as launching a new crowdfunder. On Wednesday, after just getting back to Dunbar from a few days away in Galloway, I hot footed it back down the road to Dumfries to help hand in the 1,675 signature petition calling for Sunday and evening buses to be saved.

The meeting of SWestrans on Friday agreed a new proposal to scale back the cuts by a third. It’s far from perfect and there will inevitably be folk who lose out because of it. But I’m proud to be part of the team that made sure SWestrans didn’t get away with just rubber stamping cuts to vital services.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 15.54.08After handing in the petition I spent the rest of the afternoon in The Stove, eating delicious food and writing last week’s campaign diary. There are many reasons to love The Stove, but bumping into pals like Graham from Lateral North and Lucy Brown who helped get The Lowland Clearances back in print is one of them. Having spent the previous weekend in Stranraer, I’d love to see something like The Stove opening up there and breathing new life into the town.

With the rain falling in Dumfries, I drove back up the road through bursts of sun over Moffat and black clouds at Tweedsmuir to Lamancha, a few miles south of Penicuik. I was attending my second Scottish Rural Parliament event – one of a series of consultation workshops seeking input into a manifesto for rural Scotland. The energetic folks running the show – Pip Tabor from the Southern Upland Partnership, Maggie Gordon who farms in Galloway and Amanda Burgauer who wears many different business and community hats around Crawford – are doing similar events almost nightly right across the South.

Maggie talks through the workshop attendants' thoughts on what rural issues need tackling while Pip plays glamorous assistant
Maggie talks through the workshop attendants’ thoughts on what rural issues need tackling while Pip plays glamorous assistant

With a wee crowd of community activists and farmers, conversations centred around local democracy and diversifying farming. I especially enjoyed the response of one guy when I asked how his farm was diversifying – “Och well nowadays o course the wives even go out tae work away frae the farm. That’s diversity for ye”. Amazing. You can find out more about the Scottish Rural Parliament’s project here.

After Lamancha I popped into Edinburgh for tea with Adam Ramsay and pals and recorded a wee podcast on tax. You can find it here on Bright Green.

Looking South(-ish) from near Gorebridge
Looking South(-ish) from near Gorebridge

After an admin day on Thursday, Friday was mostly spent in Penicuik. Midlothian is split between Lothian region which includes Dalkeith, Wallyford and Pathhead, and the South of Scotland region which includes Penicuik, Gorebridge and Newtongrange. I took the opportunity to avoid the bypass and go cross country to get there from Dunbar, wandering up into the moorland around Gorebridge. I’ve cycled up there a couple of times but never driven or really stopped. It’s stunningly beautiful.

Midlothian Greens braving the icy chills of April
Midlothian Greens braving the icy chills of April

In Penicuik an icy wind was raging which meant our street stall didn’t last very long. After some very cold leafletting and conversations around the market, I got the chance to get a guided tour, out of the wind, of a fantastic new project which could transform Penicuik.

The Storehouse is a huge building on one of the main streets in the town.

Me and Rodger in the Storehouse envisaging what comes next
Me and Rodger in the Storehouse envisaging what comes next

Having been the old Coop building, a pound shop and various other things over the years, the community has now raised enough money to rent it and is slowly transforming it into a bakery, cafe, shop and workshop.

Rodger showed us around and told us about the vision for local produce being promoted, sold, baked and enjoyed in the space. If you can spare a few pennies to help them complete the project, please chuck them in this direction.

Debbie Zawinski from Haddington Spinners and Weavers demonstrating a bit of spinning. She wrote a fab book on the sheep of Scotland and the socks that come from them!
Debbie Zawinski from Haddington Spinners and Weavers demonstrating a bit of spinning. She wrote a fab book on the sheep of Scotland and the socks that come from them!

On Saturday I went down the coast to St Abbs for the annual wool festival which brings together spinners, weavers and knitters from all across Scotland and the north of England.

I met a brilliant woman from Haddington Spinners who’s written a book about her travels round Scotland getting wool from all our native breeds and making socks. I love the idea of creating whilst travelling, particularly when it involves a skill that so few people have nowadays.

Frustratingly I only managed an hour at the wool festival before my body decided it had had enough. A weekend of stomach cramps and a wooly brain followed.

At the NFUS hustings in St Boswells (this is my listening attentively face!)
At the NFUS hustings in St Boswells (this is my listening attentively face!)

By Monday I felt much brighter and ventured down to the Borders through Duns and Kelso for an afternoon and evening focused on farming. I visited Born in the Borders – a brewery, restaurant and shop selling produce from the south of Scotland and north of England – and met with their manager Nicola.

In the evening I was in St Boswells for a hustings with the NFU Scotland. I’ll write more about both farming events in another blog, but the bottom line is that farming is in crisis and we desperately need to address it as a country. If we don’t, we won’t have much of a country left.

Campaigning for better buses with Patrick and gang
Campaigning for better buses with Patrick and gang

Tuesday was all about the buses, doing a wee photo call and interview with Patrick Harvie, followed by a day of admin in Edinburgh and a visit to the brilliant student occupiers in Edinburgh University who are trying to get the uni to divest from all fossil fuels. The day ended with the launch of our new crowdfunder. Please chip in what you can and help make this wild journey worth it!

With Andy Wightman and Patrick Harvie supporting the brilliant P&P campaigners calling on Edinburgh University to #divesttherested
With Andy Wightman and Patrick Harvie supporting the brilliant P&P campaigners calling on Edinburgh University to #divesttherested

Coming up this week; transport things in Dumfries, an action day in East Lothian, our manifesto launch and a week of hustings! Until next time…

Campaign Diary – Week 12

  • Best bits: Hearing local people talk with huge enthusiasm about their local community and its future, whether in Stranraer, Wigtown or Gatehouse of Fleet; and camping under the stars in the shadow of Orchardton Tower with my partner.
  • Worst bit: Struggling to find the time to write my campaign diary!
  • Folk of note: Danny and Lusi in Gatehouse, saving buses and enriching young people’s lives with outdoor classrooms and youth groups.
  • Miles travelled: 540 (+120 having fun visiting castles!)
  • Things I learned: That Loch Ryan is the only place in the UK where you can find native Oysters

I’ve spent most of the last few days immersed in Galloway’s past, present and future, speaking at the Stranraer Festival of Politics, listening to local folk there trying to secure a future for the town and discovering the rich history of Galloway.

My chuffed face at my "new" car :-)
My chuffed face at my “new” car 

Week 12, the first week of the short campaign, started with getting a new car on Wednesday! It’s one of the great frustrations of the South that it’s near impossible to get around without a car as public transport is either non existent, intermittent or unintegrated across much of the region. I’m really grateful to Alison MacLeod who drove the new wheels down to Edinburgh from Applecross!

On Wednesday afternoon I put the new car to the test and drove over to Strathaven where I met some of the brilliant team behind the Avondale Beekeepers. Aily, the powerhouse of a woman behind the project spoke with passion about the impact that even a small group of people can have in connecting a community with the landscape around them.

Visiting the Avondale Beekeepers
Visiting the Avondale Beekeepers

From introducing children and young people to bees and how they fit in the ecosystem to persuading farmers that allowing hives on their land will increase their crop yields, the project is making a hugely positive impact around Strathaven.

After some delicious pasta bake and bee chat with Aily and Moira we popped up the road into Strathaven for a cross party discussion on food poverty. Hosted by Who Cares Talks, the event started with a talk from Nicola Simpson who works at a local food bank. She told the audience some of the personal stories of folk who’ve no other choice but to use the food bank.

Speaking at the Who Cares Talks event on food poverty in Strathaven
Speaking at the Who Cares Talks event on food poverty in Strathaven

People who have had one tragic, unavoidable thing happen in their lives only to discover that the safety net they thought was there to help them, has some massive holes in it. Aside from the local Tory who claimed that food banks weren’t such a bad thing and who seemed very confused about the difference between the minimum wage and the living wage, there was broad consensus on the panel that failures of the benefits system, low wages and high costs of living were to blame for food banks.

Patch the goat nuzzling/nibbling my ear. They'll eat anything!
Patch the goat nuzzling/nibbling my ear. They’ll eat anything!

After the debate, Brenna and I stayed over at my Dad’s near Biggar and had a great morning feeding goats and ducklings and helping Dad with some heavy lifting. In the evening I went into Edinburgh for a sneak peak at our upcoming party election broadcast before zooming home to catch the tail end of the leaders debate on the BBC. Friday was spent trying to wade through emails and prepare for a weekend in Stranraer. For the first time this year I sat out in the garden in my bare feet and hung the washing out to dry in the sun.

Speaking on democracy at the Politics Through Our Eyes festival in Stranraer
Speaking on democracy at the Politics Through Our Eyes festival in Stranraer

On Friday night, Nat and I drove 170 miles to Stranraer to the Harbour Lights B&B for a weekend at the festival of politics. The festival, Politics Through Our Eyes, was launched by local folk who were fed up of political discussion being concentrated in the central belt and of Stranraer being consistently overlooked, even within Dumfries and Galloway region. I was speaking at two events over two days. In the first, on the future of democracy in Scotland, I spoke about how political debate in Scotland seems to have died down since the referendum, with fewer people engaging in discussion about big ideas. For me, the level and content of today’s political debate is failing to inspire people and that’s really dangerous for democracy. Similarly, the lack of power in local democratic structures means that many people are left wondering why they’d bother putting themselves forward to stand as a councillor or why they’d go to the effort of joining their community council. If nothing’s going to change, why bother?

Me with some fabulous D&G Greens who were out collecting petition signatures for the Haud the Bus campaign in Stranraer
Me with some fabulous D&G Greens who were out collecting petition signatures for the Haud the Bus campaign in Stranraer

Sunday’s debate was interlinked in many ways, focusing on who owns Scotland. Much of the discussion was on land reform so I spoke about Green proposals to tax vacant and derelict land and raise up to £300m a year, bewilderingly voted down by the SNP Government. We also spoke about who owned the means of production, beyond the land itself. The wide ranging discussion concluded with a feeling that we need to put far more faith (and money) into communities to own their own assets, whether land and property, businesses or energy production.

Stranraer was pretty windy but a great wee place to visit
Stranraer was pretty windy but a great wee place to visit

Outwith the events I was speaking in, I attended a couple of other discussions – one with Robin McAlpine from Common Weal and another on the local economy. Both discussed the desperate need for investment and regeneration in the South in general and Stranraer in particular. Since the ferries left several years ago, the town has seriously suffered. Coupled with a persistent feeling that Stranraer is overlooked by the “local” council (headquartered 75 miles away in Dumfries) and by national government, folk are worried about what the future holds.

Romano Patrizio of the Stranraer Development Trust tells a local economy discussion about his hopes for the town
Romano Patrizio of the Stranraer Development Trust tells a local economy discussion about his hopes for the town

But thankfully, there are local people who are determined to see their town flourish. Romano Patrizio told me about his efforts to get the Stranraer Development Trust established and to bring investment into the area. Having just missed out on getting the town designated as a Business Improvement District, he’s intent on trying again and on expanding the Trust’s ambitions. Apparently Loch Ryan, on which Stranraer sits, is home to the UK’s only native oysters, marketed in the Hebrides at £78 for a half dozen. Romano’s ambition is to launch an oyster festival to bring people to the town and celebrate one of its natural assets. I’d definitely come to that!

Nat and me on our travels round Galloway
Nat and me on our travels round Galloway

From Sunday night to Tuesday night I took some much needed time away from the campaign to spend time with my partner Nat. It was his birthday on Tuesday and as a history geek, he was really excited to visit the castles and abbeys of Galloway. We camped for a couple of nights, narrowly avoiding getting totally soaked and taking in an unfeasibly large number of historic sites. From Carsluith to Cardoness and Caerlaverock, we saw *a lot* of towers and even camped in the shadow of Scotland’s only round tower house at Orchardton. After being a bit sceptical at first, he told me in the car on the way home that he could see where I was coming from – the South West was a pretty impressive place.

This coming week I’ll be supporting the final steps of the Haud the Bus campaign, trying to save D&G’s evening and Sunday buses; chatting to folk at a street stall in Penicuik; meeting weavers and artists in St Abbs; and taking part in a hustings with NFU Scotland in St Boswells amongst many other things! Until next time…