Campaign Diary – Week #15

  • 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.
With some of the amazing folk from the bid to take over lands around Cockenzie and protect the site of the Battle of Prestonpans
With some of the amazing folk from the bid to take over lands around Cockenzie and protect the site of the Battle of Prestonpans

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.

Some of the Enable crowd after our speed dating hustings
Some of the Enable crowd after our speed dating hustings

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.

Answering a question on Trident at the North Berwick churches hustings
Answering a question on Trident at the North Berwick churches hustings

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.

Me explaining the causes and consequences of fuel poverty before chatting with South Lanarkshire folk about how we fix it
Me explaining the causes and consequences of fuel poverty before chatting with South Lanarkshire folk about how we fix it

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.

A much more common set of voting intentions than one folk might let on
A much more common set of voting intentions than one folk might let on

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.

At Whitrope railway heritage centre in the deep hills between Hawick and Newcastleton
At Whitrope railway heritage centre in the deep hills between Hawick and Newcastleton

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.

With Michael and Julie, chair and organiser from the RCN who hosted a great hustings night in Kilmarnock
With Michael and Julie, chair and organiser from the RCN who hosted a great hustings night in Kilmarnock

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

Visiting the community owned land which is starting out life as allotments and raised beds in Johnstonebridge with organiser Dave
Visiting the community owned land which is starting out life as allotments and raised beds in Johnstonebridge with organiser Dave

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.

In Castle Douglas with the totally wonderful D&G Greens (and the littlest Greens Kester and Veya)
In Castle Douglas with the totally wonderful D&G Greens (and the littlest Greens Kester and Veya)

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,

With David Finlay at Cream o Galloway
With David Finlay at Cream o Galloway

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.

Obligatory post-hustings photo with the NFUS in Castle Douglas
Obligatory post-hustings photo with the NFUS in Castle Douglas

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!

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…

Beyond fishing and farming – what rural Scotland needs to flourish

Biggar in rural South Lanarkshire
Biggar in rural South Lanarkshire

Fishing and farming. If you believed the Tories, you might think that’s all that rural Scotland is. The publication last week of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s plans for rural Scotland admittedly contains some positive aspects – universal broadband for all, for example – but its focus and its omissions show just how out of touch the party is with the every day lives of most folk in the South and across rural Scotland. Continue reading

Campaign Diary – Week #8

  • Best bit: Two inspiring days in Dumfries with artists, Greens and family
  • Worst bit: Not realising *just* how far Ayr is from Dunbar and being really late (twice)
  • Folk of note: Beth, Tim, Cat, Charles, Pauline and Jody from Borders branch who organised the brilliant action day on Saturday + local members and my wonderful pals Claire and Blu who were fantastic first time canvassers
  • Miles travelled: 913 (!)
  • Things I learned: Some dairy farmers in Scotland are getting just 13p or 14p per litre for their milk whilst the cost of production is around 26p per litre.

What a week! It’s been a great few days of campaigning and I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, the Borders and South Lanarkshire and meet some really inspirational people. Continue reading