Saturday, 26 September 2015

Shaking our a gentle way

" In a gentle way you can shake the world" Gandhi

Last weekend was a maelstrom of mixed emotions and experiences. On Friday I formed part of a panel in Dunfermline to discuss Scotland a year on. We discussed everything from local to international politics and it was a fascinating evening. The YES signs were out and we revisited the days a year ago when we were so full of hope and also inevitably discussed the possibility of another referendum. The discussion was an almost painful mix of grief and hope. 

Again on Saturday, Leith hosted a great afternoon spent looking forward over what we have learned and what we can do now and in the future.
We agreed that Scotland a year on is changed but also that in spite of our renewed confidence as a nation, the challenges for many of our most vulnerable haven't changed -in fact since the re-election of a Tory government it has got worse.
That  was so obvious to me the next day as I collected for the food-banks in Edinburgh, outside the Scottish parliament. In Edinburgh a rich city, in a rich United Kingdom we collected for food in the streets for our poor and hungry. We need things that can be cooked quickly as fuel costs money too - and even food that needs no cooking as some who seek help have no fuel at all. Not only do we collect food but recently we collected for school uniforms and sanitary towels. Yes that's right. Let's pause for a moment to think of how it feels to be unable to afford sanitary protection as a woman or not be able to buy your child's school uniform. This reality not only robs people of their dignity but of the joy of being a parent too. I'm ashamed to stand by and watch this happen.
We rightly question the UK's attitude to refugees but if we look at how we treat our own vulnerable we really shouldn't be surprised. Welfare changes, punitive assessments with an approach that suggests guilty until proven innocent, benefit sanctions all combine to appear to treat our most vulnerable as an undeserving group not worthy of our compassion. I am ashamed to stand by and watch this happen.
Our doctors and teachers are now trained to look out for signs of malnutrition in our population in one of the richest nations on the earth. Just this week a court agreed the cause of one man's suicide was a direct result of his benefit being stopped. His case is not isolated. It's just the one that hit the courts. I am ashamed to stand by and watch this happen.
Like many I not only want to understand how to achieve a fairer, more equal healthier Scotland in the future but also what we can do now to do our best work towards it.

So I developed this short plan for my talks last week which I think can help now. Some of it we are already trying to tackle and some of it is huge given our current constitutional settlement like reducing inequality but not all of it is and so i believe we can all play our own part

1.    Be bold with the powers ( new and old ) we have to show the difference we can make eg with new welfare powers. We need to do things differently in health and social care and respond to the national conversations on a healthier and fairer Scotland with our thoughts and proposals. Although its a meagre 14% of the welfare bill we will have devolved with the Scotland bill, within that we can and must shape a different approach that treats people with respect and dignity.
2.    We must continue to build our confidence as a nation setting out our own stall eg for refugees and on human rights. The road to a different Scotland is a psychological journey too, we need to build a positive narrative along the way and ensure the experience is of a confident  Scotland unafraid to plow it's own furrow.
3.    We must increase our gender equality; this will improve and increase women's role in society, reduce domestic violence and build confidence and resilience. Our greatest untapped potential is our women and others who are treated unfairly in our culture; Scotland has a bright future if all our citizens can thrive and realise their full potential.
4.    Build a healthier Scotland with a focus on wellness ( see more in theWEL; reduce inequality where we can, build affordable homes for people,give all people access to meaningful work, give our population access to real food not just processed food loaded with sugar and do all we can to get our people to be active and get access to this beautiful land of ours.
5.    Support communities to connect and care; we need to live our lives with care and purpose. Our fastest growing long term condition is loneliness. The impact of this on our health is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Our lives disconnect us and we are social animals. We have prised independence above connection, we have more and more single households and we are now seeing the impact on our health and services too. Let's invest instead in ways to connect in our communities. Approaches like community gardens and community choirs are showing the benefits for people, so what else might we do that includes our most isolated and vulnerable?
6.    And finally my suggestion is that we build a mindful Scotland in our schools and across institutions to help us improve our attention and resilience, as well as improving  awareness of ourselves and others. Through mindfulness we will build compassion and empathy in our population too.

Let's work do our part and ensure we live now in a better Scotland, more ready to take the bold steps to realise our full potential as a nation.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

With heart and head

That cool air this morning tells me summer has gone- almost before it has begun- here in Scotland. It's been a busy one for me. We have celebrated weddings, birthdays and there was the not so small issue of standing for selection as a constituency MSP. I wasn't selected so it was hard not to feel a sense of deflation in the exhaustion that a campaign leaves you with. So many talented people want to represent their people and I always knew it would be hard. But I'm glad I tried. I learned about what people care about and are awake to, I found I enjoyed the challenge of the hustings and meeting people across Edinburgh. It's a great way to reaffirm what matters to you and not surprisingly for me it's especially around what makes us well not just as individuals but in organisations and as a nation too. And those are the things I know I will focus on in my work. But one of the questions that remains for me is how I integrate my political knowledge and passions with my work. All things are connected after all and I'm a gestalt practitioner....gestalt means that together we are more than a sum of all our parts.

Last week I had a break with the family in Austria, it was a fabulous break full of beauty and laughter and the Sound of Music too! 

It was timely and therapeutic and full of family memories. But as this week has unfolded the refugee crisis has deepened in Europe and I couldn't help compare their plight to my own situation. As we sung and laughed and toasted each other, they struggled across seas, across unwelcoming borders, they walked up autobahns, they tried so hard to give their families a different life. The lifeless body of the three year old Alan has symbolised the desperation and danger of their plight. I know I'm not alone in having a sleepless night after seeing that little boy dead and abandoned; a sense of guilt, distress and powerlessness the cause....but anger too. I'm pleased our own First Minister has shown compassion and leadership but the British government has been slow to respond all summer. 
Again social media has played it's part with the refugees welcome hashtags and banners. Like many I have signed petitions, donated to local and international response charities and I'm looking out warm clothes to send over too but it doesn't feel enough. The Germans and Austrians especially are reminding us what a human response looks like, it's uplifting to see the many examples of their kindnesses. May we all learn from that. This article highlights how we can collectively tackle this crisis and reminds us importantly of the part the British government and others have played in creating it too.
As we approach the anniversary of the referendum this month, the memories flood back and that sense of loss of hope for a different Scotland can be overwhelming. Although my own political career since then may have been short-lived I know there are still ways to make a difference. The crisis in Europe reminds us that staying active politically is also about holding governments to account, to ensure their actions engage both head and heart. Social media has changed our lives in many ways but it has also changed politics. We can collectively make our voices heard and help to shift public opinion; speaking the truth to power.
So I plan to stay active; to stay engaged, to blog, to let my values shape my choices in life and in work. I leave you with this quote and the knowledge that we can turn our powerlessness into action..

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead