I'mNotAWriterBut…

I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Archive for the month “August, 2015”

Patience

compassion

In 1986 I got a job with the Manpower Services Commission. I worked in the old orange Jobcentres with the bubbly writing and the psychedelic chairs. My job was to find other people a job. By the time i worked there people no longer HAD to visit the Jobcentres, they went because that was where jobs were advertised.Through the years I moved onto be the ex-offenders officer, the Disablement Resettlement Officer, the Ex-Regs officer, the overseas workers officer – all these posts were about giving specialist help to certain people to help them find jobs.

I then became a Restart Interviewer- late 80s – loads of people out of work and I did 60 interviews a week to get through them all. This also meant new rules and new targets – stricter benefits regime targets – SBR. For the first time we could stop someone’s benefits for not Actively Seeking Work and they would not get their giro. Their money was stopped for the fortnight and an Adjudication officer would make a final decision. The training for this stressed the need to be careful when using this power, to remember that we are people’s last hope and to always take care that we were doing the right thing. In those days you had to issue a warning letter which said if the next time you come in you haven’t taken these steps to find work the you will lose your benefit for the fortnight. I remember saying to people “Do you understand? You have to do what you are supposed to do or you will get no money- is that clear?  Mostly people did what they were supposed to do, mostly we didn’t have to stop they money. But some people we did. It was, however, always the absolutely last option.

Time moves on and so did I. Claimant Adviser, Benefit Section Manager, Business Manager, Manchester, Caithness, New Deal. The rules changed, we saw integration of Unemployment Benefit Offices and Jobcentres and the targets changed, I did so much training – I could clerically assess benefits, I could work out tax rebates, I understood RITYs, Widows Running Start, share fisherman rules and I could even handle the importing and exporting of Benefits to and from the UK. I worked with Jean, a fabulous deputy who could rate a benefit claim in 2 minutes flat, took no nonsense and was respected by staff and claimants alike. Through all this work and all the changes the word used when discussing the rules was “compassion” – we were always told that we should apply the rules with compassion.

As a Jobcentre Manager, I became responsible for my office achieving these targets, and boy! were you aware if you didn’t. Performance was all. Monthly performance reports, quarterly reviews with your Disrict Manager, 6 monthly reviews, annual performance reviews. Daily or weekly contact wit District office if you were failing.  Make no mistake performance was everything but in those days targets were about getting people into jobs. SBR targets still existed but paled into insignificance beside the drive to find jobs for people.

During all this time, all this training, even during the Restart Interviews of the 80s, it was never deemed that we needed training in dealing with people who were suicidal because of what we did. The training taught us that if someone was angry, aggressive, then it was often because we were their last hope and we needed to be aware of that and make sure that we were thoughtful and compassionate when dealing with people. But we never had to think about causing their suicide.

In the 90s the service went big on Customer Service, aquiring Chartermark awards, dealing with folk like they were “customers”, making sure they had a great service from the people who dealt with them and compassion in applying the rules. People came first. Stopping someone’s money still happened but it was always a last resort and never ever done without warning.

Fast forward to today- I haven’t worked for DWP for a long time and I thank goodness for that. In all that time I found very few people who didn’t want to work. I remember them, i remember their faces, their stories and sometimes even their names. I can do that because they were so few and far between. Today, it’s ALWAYS the fault of the lying scrounging benefit claimant. Bus late? Funeral to go to? Interview that clashes with your signing on time? Sick? Disabled? Caring for someone? You are lying, it’s your fault and so you won’t get paid. Often no warning, often no consideration given to the reasons for YOUR failure to meet the rules, and definitely, definitely no compassion.

An organisation that is run this way, is being used to subjugate, denigrate and control the population. Does that sound like something out of a futuristic post apocalyptic movie? It does and it might make me sound like Citizen Smith, but it is happening  nevertheless. Jobcentreplus appears to have become the ideological sledge hammer of the Tory party. It is designed to smash the teeth of those out of work so that they have no voice. It is designed to frighten people into doing whatever they are told to do in order that the Conservative Party can achieve their ideological desire for a tiny welfare state where private companies run our social security system and the poor are out of sight and out of mind – left without  a voice and definitely without compassion. And with the Labour Party abstaining left right and centre, they are pretty much left to get on with it.

I used to think that this UK government had  no understanding of the consequences of their actions.  That they were oblivious to to the impact of their targets, their rules.  I used to think that because they had never had to sit with the curtains shut because they didn’t have enough to pay the milkman who was knocking at the door, they didn’t understand how it felt. I used to look at the front benches and wonder if any of them like me, had ever sat on the bed crying because they had no idea how to feed their boys, if any of them, like me, had not been able to afford to heat their home, if any of them, like me, had put cardboard in their shoes cos they were leaking and the kids needed shoes so mine had to wait. I used to wonder if any of them had ever stepped outside their lives for long enough to know the powerlessness, the desperation, the pain that comes from experiencing those things. Because I was sure that if they had then they would not be treating people the way they do. They would not be making the rules that they do, setting the targets that they do. They would find a better way, a different way to move people into work.

I used to think that they didn’t know. But they do. They know fine well. And that is why they are arranging suicide training for their staff. They KNOW how desperate their policies are making people. They KNOW the consequences of their policies. They KNOW it, and they don’t care.

That is disgusting, it  is cruel and it is immoral.

It is also a compelling reason for Independence. The ability to design our own social support system. To do something that works for Scotland. The ability to spend the money we have on moving people into work rather than spending millions on sanctions and appeals. The ability to refuse to put money into the pockets of shareholders of private companies who make their profits of the misery of the poor, running failing work programmes, getting people to work for nothing on pseudo “work trials”. These are the things Independence would give us the ability to do differently – to change. The chance, not simply to recognise when people are desperate but to prevent them becoming desperate in the first place. The crumbs falling from the table set out by Lord Smith are not enough.

And yet I know we need to be patient, our Scottish Government paying the bedroom tax for people  to protect them from having to bath their disabled son in a paddling pool in their living room, (did anyone not feel like crying reading that story?) providing crisis payments to people  when that has been abandoned in the rest of the UK, council tax reduction scheme, Scottish independent living fund all being supported in Scotland. We need to be patient, we need to speak up for the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice. We need to show that we can do things better – to those people on all sides of the political spectrum. To rush into a second referendum would be the worst thing we could do. Not simply because if we lost again it would mean independence off the agenda pretty much for ever and would break our hearts,  but because not winning, not getting it right condemns the people already struggling, those people that I have spoken about to being governed without compassion. If we don’t get it right then we fail them and we must not do that. That means we must have SNP for constituency and for list votes in 2016 and not get sucked into the attempts by others to garner support for their own personal ambitions. It means patience and good governance – working within the Westminster system to hold both the Tories and the Labour Party to account. It means all of us, MPs, MSPs, Councillors, Activists standing up for the people of Scotland. If we do these things then it will happen – Scotland will be Independent. Patience people, patience.

 

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This land is ours, This language is Ours (part 2)

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The Our Land Festival is a series of events taking place over the last two weeks of August.  Lesley Riddoch, Women for Indy’s Liz Paul  and others will be speaking at Abriachan on Sunday 30th August. There are other events around the Highlands which include events at Strathpeffer and Skye.

Abriachan was chosen because it was one of the first community buyouts of a forest and because the launch of the White paper which led to the Land Reform Act 2003 (1st attempt by Scottish government re Land Reform) was held at Abriachan around 1999. It will be a fun day with a walks, a treasure hunt and other activities and I hope it, and the other events  are well attended.

Land reform is one of the issues which the candidates were asked questions about during the hustings. It’s an issue which has enthused many people and worried others and yet which many people still think is nothing to do with them. People still say to me “Why does it matter to me who owns the land – it’s never going to be me-  I can’t even afford to buy a house never mind own land” and yet it is precisely those sorts of reasons that should mean we are more interested in land reform not less and why it should be of an interest to all of us, in towns and villages, rich or poor, old or young. It is said that Robert the Bruce insisted that he was King of Scots because the land of Scotland belonged to God. That might have been a bit disingenuous as quite a lot of it belonged to him and was passed around and given away as rewards for service to the crown. However at least we knew who it belonged to – today it might be some faceless billionaire channeling it through a Cayman Islands holding company, unidentifiable, uncontactable and unaccountable.

Why does it matter though?  Why should it matter to those of us who don’t own our own homes, can’t afford a plot of land, can’t afford to go grouse shooting, for whom the 12th is only glorious if it’s payday? Why should we care?

Well we should care because how land is used depends on who owns it. There are many landowners in Scotland who are excellent stewards of the land. These are landowners – Lairds – who recognise that for their land to be profitable, sustainable, and vibrant it must support communities, businesses (not simply their own), families and both population diversity and biodiversity.

But there ARE stewards of our land that prevent growth and fight improvements, that “museumise” our land so that it almost seems as though you are looking at it through the glass pane of an exhibit in the biggest outdoors museum in the world. Where this happens communities fail, our young people leave and we abandon the land to deer. The only human feet falling on it are those of the stalkers and the wealthy, paying a phenomenal amount to play a rich mans shooting game. There is nothing wrong with the business of stalking in itself, unless that is all there is.

We need land which supports our communities to grow, enables businesses to prosper and families to stay here and live healthy lives with a healthy income. And that is why Land Reform is so important. In order to ensure that we have those things we first need to know who owns this land, who the Cayman Island investors are. We need to be able to hold those who own our land to account and make them explain what they intend to do with the land, how they intend to support our communities, our people. Where land owners fail to do that, where they refuse to do what is needed,  we must be able to demand that they take action and we should be able to take steps to improve things when they don’t.

A study by Community Land Scotland showed that land owned by the community performed better than privately owned land across a whole range of indicators. Land was worth more, there were more houses built, there were more jobs created, more local businesses were supported, more people lived there, more people used and enjoyed the land. Surely that is what we want. Land that is ours to live on, to work; land which we can make decisions about; land that we look after for our children; land that we can use to provide our communities with energy through wind or hydro; land that we can use to provide us with food, places to live and space to breathe.

And it’s not just rural land either. These goals can be achieved in urban areas, in our towns as well as in our rural areas. Who decided that all the bits of ground around car parks, outside railway stations, on verges should be planted with prickly bushes and laburnum trees and not fruit bushes and apple trees, or tatties and carrots? Why do councils leave brown field sites empty rather than offer city allotments? In places like Todmorden, near to where I grew up, they changed that, the community planted edible crops in place of prickly bushes. In Harpurhey in Manchester – an inner city  area with “Coronation Street” type terraced houses, they used the ginnel between back yards to grow vegetables and fruit. These things can be done and if they can do them in the industrial North West of England then we can surely do similar things in our area too. Things that range from community poly tunnels, an exchange of skills, teaching stewardship of the land right up to enabling young people to choose crofting as a career, building affordable homes and homes for rent which mean people are included in our communities rather than excluded.

These are some of the things that Land Reform will enable us to do. No – not enable – empower. If you have been reading this blog over the last few weeks then you will know people are at the heart of the reasons that I want to be an MSP. Land reform is about people. For us to grow the sort of society we want we need to influence the decisions made about our land for the benefit of our communities. We must know who owns our land, we need to be able to influence the management of our land, to grow and develop the land in a way which supports the people who live here. Land reform is an issue for all of us. Go along to Abriachan, Skye or Strathpeffer on the 29th or 30th and find out more about Land Reform and how we can work together to make the most of Our Land for the benefit of all of us.

This land is ours, this language is ours – part one.

skye beaches

Land and language. It always saddens me when there is the suggestion  that somehow I lack the capacity to be a powerful voice for the place I live in, for the Gaelic language because I was not born here in the Highlands. I have come across this comment this week and whilst I know that this is not a majority view and we spoke loudly against the suggestion that the Independence debate was insular and anti english in its nature – I blogged here about it – it is still disappointing  to to have my commitment questioned.

So lets get a few things straight – in the nicest possible way.  I am English, I am from Lancashire, a small town in the foothills of the Pennines called Shaw. I grew up there and when I married my first husband, I moved precisely 3 miles away to another small town called Milnrow before moving to Caithness

I like being a Lancashire Lass  – I’m not ashamed of that – I am proud of it. I believe that growing up in that place, amongst those people, made me the straight talking,  no messing lass that I still am. I have lived here for almost twenty years and I brought my children up here, my youngest two were born here.

So, if there are people wondering how a proud Lancashire lass will stand tall for the people of Skye Lochaber and Badenoch, how can she speak up for the language and the land of this place, who think that somehow the only strong voices are those that come out of the mouths of those born here – then let me put your minds at ease.

I will stand up for this constituency and for its language and its land by caring about people – the people that live here and about the things that are important to them. Those things are important to me. I can stand tall and be a loud voice for gaelic speakers even though I don’t speak gaelic because it matters to people here in our constituency. It is because I love here, because I live here, because this is my home, that what matters to you – matters to me.

I also know very well that the gift of a second language is a fabulous gift to give to our children. My sister moved to France when her children were 8 and 3, my eldest niece went straight into school – a french school of course – and they didn’t speak french at home. She was fluent in three months. What I would give for all our children to have the opportunity to have a second language. Gaelic is part of our culture, part of MY culture, my families culture and I want all our children to feel that way.

There has been some great work done on increasing the use of Gaelic and the accessibility of Gaelic medium Education and I have much to learn but I know we struggle to get teachers, struggle in a land which is so rich with Gaelic words to find enough people to do for our children what my sister did for hers – give them that gift of a second language. We need to address that gap if we are going to make Gaelic part of the everyday life of more of the people living not just here in the Highlands or in our constituency but also throughout Scotland.

Every primary school in Highland should teach Gaelic. Not in a sterile and grammar based boring manner but in an inclusive, lets all chat together sort of way so that EVERY child who moves on to secondary school has conversational Gaelic. If a child decides to study Gaelic to exam level there is plenty of time to teach grammar and to write essays and its always easier to do those things  if you speak a language first. To be honest, I’d like to see French and German taught that way too. im sure there are lots of us who having studied a language to higher or A level have a dread of getting the tense wrong or saying la when it should be le or vous when it should be tu. IT seems to  me that these hang ups about grammar prevent us jumping in and chatting.  Speaking the language is what is important, having fun with it, learning rude words, feeling the words in your mouth and realising you can have a secret conversation with your friends which your mum can’t understand. I would love for all our children to OWN Gaelic as their language, regardless of whether they speak it at home.

That would need every PGCE in Scotland to include a Gaelic bolt on for students to choose. Every single one. Teachers who have Gaelic should  be offered incentives or a higher salary to teach Gaelic. In UHI I would expect that every degree course they offer should have a Gaelic module in every year – a module which people can choose to do alongside whatever course they are doing.   We should be offering that to every student – event those studying here from overseas. We have the amazing Sabhal Mor as part of the resources within UHI and so Gaelic should be accessible to every student – not simply those who want to study to a high level but for anyone who wants to understand and speak Gaelic. Only by increasing the accessibility of Gaelic will we increase its use.

And lets not forget Scots and Doric. The Scots language is often,  wrongly I belive, said to be a “dialect” rather than a language but it has its own rules and words and needs also to be protected and supported in addition to Gaelic. We have speakers of all these languages in our constituency – it gives us a rich and distinct culture but within that there is room for those that speak other languages, are from other counties, other countries. At our Burns party – John and I have one every year – it’s a riotous celebration of Burns but also of all sorts of languages in poems and in song  – Gaelic, Doric, Polish, German, and of course I do a Lancashire Dialect Poem every year (and occassionally do a twirling rendition of “Those were the days” but maybe the least said the better)

I  will stand up for Gaelic because I understand the passion of language, understand that wonder of words and I know that the language is part of our culture and our identity here  – a place that I live in and love and am proud of. A place which is now my place, my family’s place – my culture. I’m part of the fabric of our community and because of that, I’ll be the strongest loudest voice you could have. Just try to shut me up!

Homes and Phones

housing

The BBC reported this week that “Homes and Phones are the most important issues which need to be addressed in the Highlands for young people wanting to stay here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-33801732

Our young people indeed seem to want to stay here and we need to do as much as we can to enable that to happen through our infrastructure, through education and opportunities for further learning at all levels, through apprenticeships and through attracting business to our constituency and through housing.

But these issues aren’t simply issues for the young – for the under 30s. They are issues for the whole of our constituency. I have spoken to so many people over the years living here and traveling the length and breadth of the Highlands for whom housing particularly, is not simply a question to be answered on a survey but an issue which affects their lives, their business and their health, both physical and mental health. A safe, warm home where you feel secure is so important. Not having that causes a significant amount of stress. It can lead to depression and anxiety. Poor quality housing can make existing health conditions worse, damp can contribute to breathing difficulties and poor insulation can contribute to the fuel poverty many people in our constituency experience. The cost of fuel and energy can be higher here than in many other places, many people rely on solid fuel for their heating and this can makes it difficult to keep your home warm if you are existing on a pension or on benefits or even working and on a low income.

Housing is one of my biggest concerns. How do we make sure that we have enough affordable housing in an area where there are so many holiday lets and second homes? Where prices are so high that it’s impossible for people on ordinary wages to buy a home of their own. But it’s not simply one and two bedroomed houses for young families. I spoke to an elderly couple recently who would love to downsize but in their community there are few suitable houses for them to live in. When you look around the constituency for houses to rent, they are few and far between and quite pricey too. If you check out the Facebook page Skye/Lochalsh properties to Rent there are posts and posts of people looking for a home before you find a property advertised. Some of these posts seem quite desperate and it’s heartbreaking.

I want to make sure that we work within our communities to meet housing need. That we understand it and that we are innovative in using the legislation to make sure that we meet the needs of young and older people  and make good quality housing available whether that is affordable houses to buy, social housing to rent or private rentals.

Shelter Scotland have a private tenant forum that so far they have limited to the central belt but they have plans to take it to rural areas.  I am keen to make sure that they come to our constituency. My family lives in a privately rented house which I was really lucky to get and to be able to afford but there are so many issues around private rents. Lack of a secure tenancy is one. It’s the most terrifying thing to find that the place you call home is going to be sold. I was living in Wick when that happened to me. My marriage had ended and the flat I had escaped to with just my clothes and the  boys had been put up for sale.  I was on the waiting list for the council and on the homeless list but nothing was happening and even though I was working full-time, buying was not an option. I was tipped off by a friend that a house in the village where my children were at school was being handed back so I phoned the council and was told that it would take two weeks to make a decision about the house. I crossed the days off and then phoned them. I can still remember the poor man on the end of the phone saying to me ” I’m sorry Susan – we had to give it to someone else”. I was utterly devastated and felt completely powerless and I never want anyone else to feel like that.

So housing will be a priority for me. I want to see no empty homes in our communities. I want families to be housed and to be able to stay in their communities and keep their children in our local schools. We work now with organisations like the Highland Small Communities Housing Trust which does a fantastic job in supporting the provision of housing to meet an assortment of needs but we need to do more. We need to use the powers in the Community Empowerment Bill and other legislation to make sure that empty properties are upgraded and let or sold at affordable prices, and we need to build on community involvement in deciding what sort of housing our community needs in advance of planning so that objections are overcome before a lengthy planning battle. You will never please all the people all the time but I often  think that housing development is sometimes decided for a community rather than with it.

I would also like to see a bigger charge on second homes in places that have acute housing shortages, when those homes sometimes remain empty for months on end. One house I knew was owned by a Canadian family who came for a month every two years. That does nothing for our villages and communities. Holiday lets are at least bringing people to stay, to eat at local cafes, shop for local produce but second homes – empty for so long contribute little to our economies. I know people love them and often they gave been “grannie’s house” but we have to put our communities and its needs first. Money raised through an extra charge could be used to benefit the local economy and ensure that the place that people love so much remains viable. More charges may not be popular with everyone but we can’t grow vibrant, healthy, economically sound communities when people only visit once a year or less.

My story didn’t end with my going into bed and breakfast with my  boys, having to give up my job and having to leave the area to find somewhere to rent. I was lucky but many people aren’t so lucky. “Working tirelessly” is a phrase you have perhaps read many times this last week or so but I hope you forgive me for using it again. I will work tirelessly to ensure that people never have to feel the way I felt or face the fears that I had to face.  You, your families and your lives will be the focus of the work that I do and being a strong voice for our constituency is the way to do that – I will be that strong voice.

Social Care and Scotland’s Future

National Conversation

National Conversation

I talk a lot about people having the opportunity to achieve their potential. Achieving our potential is not simply about youngsters getting the chance for work or for college – it’s about everyone living the life they choose and getting the best support there is to do that – whether they are 9 or 99

The Scottish Government yesterday launched a National Conversation on the future of Health and Social Care in Scotland. You can see Shona Robison talking about it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFRnrH2CnQs&noredirect=1

Social Care is one of the biggest issues facing our constituency over the course of the next parliament. There are around 657,300 unpaid carers in Scotland and they save our government around £10 billion a year. During this parliament we have seen key pieces of legislation and some changes which lay the foundations of better care; the Self Directed Support (Scotland) Act, the Carers Bill and the Integration of health and Social care.

Whilst these are to be welcomed, they are only a foundation and still need considerable work done, building on the legislation to ensure that what is delivered on the ground – particularly in rural areas – lives up to the spirit of this legislation and actually delivers good quality care across both well and sparsely populated areas.

When I started working with unpaid carers I very quickly learned that carers and the people they care for have to fight for every single thing they get. Whether caring for a child, a parent, a spouse, a family member or a friend, people are having to fight from the minute they realise they need support, and then keep on fighting no matter how hard, how exhausting, how worried, how ill they are. I have met carers caring for now grown up children who are seeing the parents of young children fighting the same battles they thought they had won years ago. That can’t be right.

We have seen support reduce in rural areas and we still have people who are told that they must have a certain type of support at a time to suit the care provider not the person requiring care or the unpaid carer. This is completely against the whole ethos of person centred support where the need and opinions of those requiring care and giving unpaid care should be at the heart of what is delivered. We have seen respite reduced, cancelled and almost unavailable in several areas and we have seen the demand for unpaid carers to use a day of their respite to travel often many miles to deliver their loved one to their respite and then another day required to collect the person and bring them home. That turns a week of desperately needed break into five days and makes it difficult to go away or relax.

In Highland we need innovation in care, we need to look at ways to provide care for people in rural areas in a cost effective and compassionate way. We need to stop people feeling like they have to fight and we need better and more flexible care and respite. We can do that by looking at how we work together to use personal budgets to provide care in a remote location, by offering better support to those people wanting to employ their own personal assistants and by protecting the traditional services so that people who don’t want to manage their own budget also get the care they need tailored to their circumstances. Some of this happens in our areas just now and we need to build on that. We also need to improve the status of care work so that more people are attracted to it as a profession rather than as a stop gap job, leaving as soon as something better comes along. This means improving pay and conditions, offering a career path, qualifications and status. We did it with child care and the Scottish Government can do it with home care and residential care too using tools like the living wage and business support, offering training and qualifications to staff. Society needs to value the care people give and we need to invest in it – many of us are likely to have a caring role in our lives at some point.

As your candidate I will be getting involved with these conversations and I will work hard to improve the lives of carers and make sure that the support for those needing social care is better and more robust, that people involved in the assessing and delivery of care are supported to do a good job and that we explore community and innovative ways of delivering care in our rural areas. I will hold services that fail to deliver to account and support our vital Third Sector in delivering support to the most vulnerable in society. I said that people are having to fight – I do some fighting with them now – as your candidate I will continue with that – supporting people, supporting our communities and standing up for the best services we can get. That’s what I mean about making sure people have the opportunity for better lives.

Susan Lyons – Hustings address

Hello Everyone I am delighted – if not a little nervous to be talking to you here.

My journey and my relationship with the SNP as a voter began with the opening of the Scottish Parliament. Women for Independence taught me that I have the ability and confidence to influence policy and people and joining the SNP brought that into sharp focus. I spoke locally and nationally on behalf of WFI during the referendum campaign and I was elected to WFI National Executive earlier this year. I’m the National Policy lead on carers, speaking with ministers and civic Scotland leaders. I was involved in discussions with the Scottish Government following the referendum, meeting with John Swinney and Linda Fabiani to agree areas which should be included in submissions to the Smith Commission.

I have worked as a manager in the public Sector and in Business Development, I have helped my first husband run a small business. I have been a volunteer and on the boards of various charities. When I was a single mum I took whatever job I could find to make ends meet, delivering phone books, cleaning, call centre worker. I currently work in the Third Sector, supporting unpaid carers and travelling around the whole of the Highlands. My work has enabled me to have a real understanding of the way a variety of sectors operate in our different communities.

I believe passionately that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential, to have a safe, secure place to live, to work, and be supported to live a full and happy life.

As your candidate people – you – will be at the heart of the work I do.

For me, the job of an MSP is about being your voice in Holyrood, listening to you, reflecting your views and speaking on your behalf. I promise you I will be a loud, strong Highland voice – even with my Lancashire accent.

Many people look at the Highlands and say how lucky we are and indeed we are, But living here comes at a price, higher fuel costs to heat your home, to drive to the doctors or the hospital, lack of affordable housing and poor infrastructure like public transport and access to health and of course Broadband. Wages can be lower here, managing on Benefits here is hard and the tax credit cuts will plunge more of our children into poverty. People are struggling including carers, people with disabilities and those with mental ill health. There is plenty of work to be done to improve the support people get in rural areas and I promise to speak up for people on all these issues.

Housing is close to my heart. The pleasure of owning your own home remains sadly out of reach for many as it has been for me since my first marriage ended. In our constituency so many houses are holiday lets or second homes that it can be difficult to find somewhere to live. I understand how that feels. 12 years ago I was left with nothing except the children and my clothes. Although working I faced homelessness, when the flat I was renting was put up for sale. I felt powerless and desperate. I have never forgotten that feeling. I will work hard to find housing solutions which support communities and enable people to live, work and bring their families up here.

Running a business here can be difficult, Tourism, farming are vital parts of our economy and many issues can seriously affect the performance of these often small businesses – particularly poor connectivity, high postal costs and poor transport. Farming and crofting is a distinctive way of life and yet it can be difficult, even impossible for our young people to step into a life as a crofter. Businesses are often affected by decisions made in Parliaments which can seem distant whether they are in Brussels, Westminster or even Holyrood. As your candidate I will work with my colleagues – MPs, MEPs to bring your voices closer to all these places. I will hold those responsible for delivering services to businesses and individuals to account, seeking answers and demanding actions from them.

The creation of one job in our communities is as important to us as 1000 jobs in the central belt. It enables a family to live in that community, children to stay in school, parents to shop at the local shop and young people to stay here.

So I will do everything I can to support the creation of work and the growth of enterprise in this constituency, overcoming obstacles through encouraging innovation and investment I will work with whoever I can but especially with you, to address these issues and enable the development of healthy, vibrant and growing communities.

I will always passionately speak up for Independence and I am committed to reaching out to people across the constituency to convince them that Independence is the way to a better fairer society.

I chose to come to live here in Scotland 20 years ago when I moved from Rochdale to rural Caithness and then south to Inverness. My whole life is invested here in the Highlands, I have children grown up here, children born here. I will be committed to this constituency and if elected then my husband, John and I will live in this constituency, we will bring our family up here, the children will go to school here, we will be part of the fabric of the community. In doing that I will be the loudest voice, the best advocate, and the most accessible MSP you could have.

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