A healthier and happier Scotland must be the legacy of Glasgow 2014

In 1990, after watching the rhythmic gymnastics at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, I successfully persuaded my mum to buy me a ribbon. It was yellow and I loved it. I have fond memories of playing with it excessively at school playtimes and at home.

It will come as no surprise that that was the limit of my passion for rhythmic gymnastics. But I am sure there were others who watched the same Games and took it further.

The first four days of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games have been tremendous. Team Scotland sits third in the medal table, the sun has shone and the crowds have been lively, generous and supportive of all athletes.  

It has been inspiring stuff. Who hasn’t watched a momentous sporting event and then had the sudden urge to go out and pick up a tennis racket, kick a ball or take a dive at the local pool?

For some, it may go no further than that. But there will be those who find themselves starting to time their cycle around the block and then pushing themselves to go that little bit faster. For these people, the Games inspire them to learn, train and compete. It inspires them to be the Chris Hoys of the future. 

The legacy of the Games has to be a fresh commitment to Scots, particularly young Scots, leading healthy and active lives. But it is not just about physical health; it is also about mental health.

The benefits of exercise to mental well-being are well established. Healthier, happier kids grow up to be healthier, happier adults and have healthier, happier families.

Improving the health of our country’s children should be a priority for all politicians – whatever the party. We need an improved attitude to physical and mental health in this country that is instilled in childhood and lasts a lifetime.

In May, a report by Strathclyde University gave Scotland’s children an F for overall physical activity. I was shocked earlier this month to read that 100 Scots a month have amputations linked to obesity. In 2012, 17% of children in Scotland were at risk of obesity, a rise of 1% since 2003. We need bold and ambitious policies to tackle these problems.

I want to play my part in ensuring the best possible provision of physical education in schools and opportunities for all kids to get involved in sport. I want to play my part in ensuring great local facilities and support for coaches and community clubs so that the legacy of Glasgow 2014 is not just for Glasgow, but also for the whole country. 

The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome is an amazing addition to the nation’s sporting resources but unless we make daring changes in our approach to health and fitness the length and breadth of the country, the Velodrome won’t reach its maximum potential – and neither will our children.


The Commonwealth Games, Identity and the Referendum

I was a London 2012 naysayer. I was deeply sceptical about the Olympic Games and its impact.

That all changed with the opening ceremony. Within 10 minutes, I was a huge cheerleader for the games and Team GB. The next day, I had a sense of community in my city that I had not been aware of the day before. Strangers smiled at each other. We chatted on buses and over garden fences.

And this feeling continued for the duration of the games. At the end, we all wished it would continue. But in the same way as the closing ceremony failed to live up to the highs of the opening, our hopes of a lasting feel good factor ended in disappointed.

Fast forward two years and we are days from the Commonwealth Games. Twelve days to unite the country and bring some joy for all could not be better timed.   For many, the independence debate has been either bruising or boring. The official referendum campaigns will take their feet off the gas a little for the Glasgow games, so we can all cheer on these world-class athletes without politics getting in the way.

When the events start, I will be cheering (possibly screaming) on Team Scotland. But The Commonwealth Games are about a family of nations. And in that spirit, I will be supporting the other UK countries as well – and Guyana, another member of my personal family of nations.

My paternal grandfather came from Guyana during the Second World War, having joined the RAF. After the war he attended St Andrew’s University and became a teacher. This heritage is part of who I am, part of my identity.

The issue of identity has been, at times, problematic in the referendum, with accusations that some are second class Scots and that others have been petty and insular.

Given that identity was always going to have a place in a debate on the issue of national sovereignty, the best and only way forward is for everyone to acknowledge and respect the differences that exist. My sense of who I am, and why, deserves no more or less respect than any one else’s.

The games will allow people from across the Commonwealth to experience and express national pride and identity in the best sense: joy and magnanimity in victory; honour and solace in defeat. 

During the games, the sense of community and shared happiness we felt during London 2012 will surely return. And while the campaigns take a short hiatus, all involved would do well to look to Glasgow. There will be lessons to be learned about fair play and mutual respect for the next two months and beyond.

The impact of a Yes vote on Higher Education – published in The Orcadian, 17/07/2014

I have always felt exceptionally proud and lucky to have grown up and gone to school in Orkney. My teachers were creative, dedicated and hugely influential in my life. The great education I received on the Island, prepared me well for what I and many others did, and continue to do, upon leaving school: go to one of Scotland’s world-class Universities.

I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family, but it didn’t matter. I was able to benefit from free tuition, a student loan and travel expenses to come back to Orkney at holidays. These things make a big difference to whether you can fulfil your dream of going to university. You don’t have the luxury of living at home and commuting to uni in Glasgow, like many of my fellow students did, when you come from Orkney.

The impact upon universities, and the students going to them, has been a big part of the referendum debate and rightly so. Scotland has a long and proud history of providing first class education. It is important for those who receive it, as well as for our wider society and economy, that this continues.

Nobody believes that if Scotland was to leave the United Kingdom then our universities would shut and no students would get a degree ever again. But that doesn’t mean independence wouldn’t have an impact on higher education.

Scotland’s universities are consistently ranked among the best in the world. They contribute to research, creativity, invention, innovation and discovery and these Scottish institutions receive 13% of UK Research Council funding, about 5% higher than our population share of the UK. This higher level of funding allows our universities to achieve excellence in the fields of science, medicine and others. Being part of the larger UK, allows Scottish Universities to excel, to grow and to give back. The Principal of St Andrews University, Professor Louise Richardson, has warned that losing this funding would be “catastrophic” and could cause a talent drain among academics.

The prestige of our Universities throughout the world allows them to attract thousands of foreign students every year. They add experience and culture to our campuses and lecture halls; create friendships that transcend borders and, importantly, they pay fees – huge fees. In fact they contribute more than £336 million per year. And this cash is essential to University budgets. And this brings us to the second major problem for education in a separate Scotland: it would be illegal to charge rUK students tuition fees while Scots get them for free.

I am a qualified solicitor and as part of my degree I studied European law for three years and I remember what I learned.

The idea that an independent Scotland could maintain free tuition fees for Scots and discriminate against students from rUK by charging them is a non-starter. But don’t take my word for it. The former Director of Universities Scotland, experts in EU law, including Aidan O’Neill QC and even the European Commission say it would be illegal. As former SNP deputy leader, Jim Sillars said “English Students will be legally entitled to what a Polish student gets, which is free fees.”

So there it is, free tuition for Scots in an independent Scotland, means free tuition for those from rUK too. Just over 5000 students from rUK started courses at Scottish universities last year. Under the current system, they require to pay. The loss of this funding would have a huge impact, resulting in vastly reduced services unless the Government of the day made up the shortfall from an already stretched public purse. And with rUK tuition fees increasing, who could blame students from other parts of the Union for looking to Scottish universities for free places, with an inevitable squeeze for Scottish students.

In reality, the most likely result would be that instead of everybody getting free tuition, nobody would. What impact that would have had on my ability to go to university, I cannot say. What impact that might have on future generations? Who knows? But it is worthy of consideration.

Alex Salmond recently said that if he had to pick one thing that he was most proud of from his time in office (which was not related to the constitution) it would be “the restoration of free higher education to the people of Scotland”. The irony that the First Minister’s lifelong ambition of independence could very feasibly end what he sees as one of his highest achievements, should not be lost on anyone.


Welcome to my campaign site!

Welcome to my campaign page! Here I will post regular blogs and published articles as well as speeches from my campaign. 

To me, a politician is someone who finds solutions to problems; who delivers results through dedication and hard work. That is exactly what I have done in my job as a solicitor and in the many voluntary organisations I have been involved with over the years.

While always interested in politics, it was not until the independence referendum that I became actively involved. It made me aware of the importance of personal participation and I have been a constituency leader for Better Together in Edinburgh since the start of 2014.

I think that for the majority of people the independence debate is about social justice and how we can make their lives, and our country, fairer and better. I don’t believe we need independence to make the change that people want. We need people with passion and policies with a purpose to make this change. And I believe only Labour can deliver this. Only Labour reaches across social and economic groups and says, “We can make this better for everyone, for the benefit of everyone.”

From now until the Holyrood elections in 2016, Scottish politics is going to be exciting, challenging and, hopefully, engaging. I am confident of a No vote in September but the work of bringing the country together must start immediately. We cannot let those who say “No, thanks” to independence regret their choice and the faith they placed in the Union as the better choice. We need people to believe in Scotland in the Union again and this task falls on the Labour Party. This is a huge responsibility but it is one I believe the party is equal to.

We can make this a better country for all. Scottish Labour can be a party of a Government for all again. We cannot and must not go back to business as usual. If successful in the referendum, the Scottish people will have given us a chance, we must not squander it.

I am looking forward to meeting people and organisations in Edinburgh Western and listening to what they think the constituency needs to move forward. I am looking forward to working with my fellow Labour prospective candidates across Edinburgh to present the best offer to the electorate in 2016. I am looking forward to an invigorating and challenging campaign. I am looking forward to success at the ballot box for Scottish Labour in Edinburgh Western on election day!

Many thanks for your interest!