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 tag “#SLB”

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!

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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.

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