I am deeply concerned to learn of some of the projects that have been granted funding in 2012/13 in order to tackle sectarianism in Scotland.
I asked this question as we must be proactive in tackling the scourge of sectarianism. We must look beyond the football stadium and acknowledge that the way to break this societal cycle is to educate young people from an early age in its ills. I was disappointed that rather than outlining educational programmes on offer the Minister directed people to a website. I believe this approach is wholly unsatisfactory and does nothing to comprehensively tackle the underlining societal problems which allow sectarianism to flourish.
It is incumbent on the Government to provide a comprehensive agenda to tackle sectarianism, with education at its heart. Sectarianism is not an innate quality, it is learned and can with proper educational programmes in place, be eradicated from our society. The administration is complacent on this issue; by directing anti-sectarian resources through the internet, teachers are missing out on the classroom resources to tackle the problem.
Further to this point, I submitted a question, which can be viewed on the link below at 34 minutes and 52 seconds:
On 15 March 2013 I asked the Government to break down which projects it has funded to tackle sectarianism in each of the last two years, the written answer from Roseanna Cunningham MSP can be found below:
It is clear that education is not the priority of the Scottish Government. Nearly £800,000 has been awarded to the Football Co-ordination Unit Scotland (FoCUS) clearly demonstrating that this Government thinks that sectarianism originates in the Football Ground. We will never tackle the scourge of sectarianism in our society with such an approach. This is not only worrying but highly depressing.
Further to this some of the organisations that have been awarded funding in 2012-13 have no proven track record in this field. I hope that the Scottish Government will now provide an answer as to why substantial amounts of money were awarded to these groups in favour of those who have been working in this field, with success, for years.
I believe the Government is guilty of complacency on this issue. The Offensive Behaviour Act does not make any attempt to address the underlying societal problems which lead to sectarianism. Government must redirect resources to the classroom to stamp out this problem as quickly as possible.
In May 2010 a group of pupils from Airdrie Academy spent 10 days staying with local families on the Spanish island of Mallorca, as part of the Comenius school exchange project.
Last week I visited the school to talk to Lauren, Alison, Jordan, Sara, Ben and Ross about their experiences. They staged a powerpoint presentation featuring information and photos, and took it in turns to explain what they had gained from the project, both as individuals and as a group.
The pupils gained a working knowledge of Spain’s language - performing well above average in their Spanish Standard Grade exam - traditions and culture, and forged close bonds all with their Spanish peers. Despite initially struggling to adapt to staying with a strange family in a strange land, the pupils made a swift transition and, by the end of their stay, with many new friends and a wealth of new experiences, were reluctant to leave.
In just 10 days they had experienced the “real mallorca”, visiting many different villages, eating Spanish food and learning about Spanish music. They left emotionally, educationally and culturally enriched, determined to make the most of their experiences.
In January 2011 they returned the favour, inviting their former hosts to experience at first hand the joys of a Scottish winter. In playing host themselves, the Airdrie pupils were able to learn from their own experiences of travelling abroad, and do their best to ensure that their guests were not afflicted by loneliness or homsickness, as some of them had been. This in itself showed an impressive level of maturity, and throughout the presentation I was struck by the poise and composure on display.
The pupils all took different things from the project, and it was an absolute pleasure to talk to them. I would like to congratulate them on a first class presentation, and to wish them all the best for what I am sure will prove a very successful future.
I was delighted that I was able to use my first Members’ Business Debate in the Scottish Parliament to highlight the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) “Heartstart” campaign to introduce Emergency Life Support training in schools throughout Scotland. Coverage of the debate can be viewed on Democracy Live, and the speeches can be read in full on the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report. I would like to thank Ben McKendrick, of the British Heart Foundation, and Charles Fawcett, of Healthy Lifestyles Scotland, for helping to organise the debate.
The debate was well attended by fellow members across all parties, and there was a large degree of consensus regarding the general principles of the motion and the BHF’s campaign.
Thanks to a lot of hard work by a number of individuals, there are already some excellent examples of ELS training models in Scotland, and, as a Central Scotland MSP, I am proud to say that at the vanguard of these is the North Lanarkshire Heartstart scheme, led locally by the Healthy Lifestyles Coordinator Charles Fawcett.
Established in 2008, the North Lanarkshire programme provides ongoing support and advice for schools on ELS training, with support from, amongst others, the British Heart Foundation and St Andrew’s Ambulance Association.
A model piloted in St Ambrose High School in Coatbridge and other North Lanarkshire schools provides instruction in ELS techniques and trains pupils to act as peer tutors. I was fortunate enough to meet some of these pupils, namely Vicky McDowell, Monica Berry, Gemma Daly, Lauren Owens, and Kerryn Breen, at the event in Holyrood last month, hosted by my colleague Helen Eadie MSP. They exhibited great skill and knowledge in demonstrating a range of ELS techniques, including how to use a defibrillator, a vital piece of life saving equipment.
Thanks to the hard work and commitment of a number of partner agencies, not least North Lanarkshire Council, Emergency Life Support training is now available in 90% of North Lanarkshire’s schools – a shining example to the rest of the country.
Emergency Life Support training is hugely popular with pupils, parents and teachers; adheres with the aims and spirit of the Curriculum for Excellence; it is cost-effective, and, crucially, it can, it will, save lives. I hopethat other councils will follow North Lanarkshire Council’s lead and ensure that ELS training is available in schools throughout Scotland.
Langlees Family Centre works with a range of partner agencies from both the statutory and voluntary sector to deliver effective services to help children and families reach their full potential. It provides a wide range of formal and informal services, including parenting groups, informal drop-in groups for parents, babies in infant massage and ante/post natal support.
The Centre is jointly funded by Scottish Children’s Charity Aberlour and Falkirk Council.
I was delighted to hear that Aberlour, which provides help and support to over 40,000 children throughout Scotland every year, has received a grant of £650,000 from Microsoft, and I have tabled a parliamentary motion in recognition of the award, and of the excellent work Aberlour conducts throughout Scotland.
During my visit I enjoyed the privilege of speaking to staff and parents. Most people think of Aberlour as a children’s charity, but it is really a charity for the whole family. The closeness of the bond between the staff and parents was very heartening.
Parents can attend classes and receive advice, or gain a few hours of valuable respite. More importantly, however, they can share their problems with others who have had similar experiences, and the door is never closed, even after their children have left.
I have pledged my support to Mental Health charity See me, ahead of Scottish Mental Health Week (10th-16th October). See me is a Government funded charity which campaigns to end the stigma that surrounds mental health illness, and to alter public attitudes and behaviour towards those with mental health problems.
Around 1 in 4 Scots will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives, and over 3 quarters of us know someone with a mental health problem. However, despite these figures, over half of those with mental health issues continue to suffer stigma and discrimination, some at the hands of friends and family members.
Mental health problems are the cause of great misery and suffering in our society, yet they remain dogged by stigma and prejudice. The factors that can affect an individual’s mental wellbeing include physiology, age, gender, and social, employment and financial status. Stress, anxiety and low self-esteem are also contributing factors, as are substance addiction and alcoholism.
The burden of mental health problems is not divided equally across society, but borne disproportionately by those who live in areas of social deprivation. This includes many communities in Central Scotland. We all want to live in a caring and compassionate society; and recent evidence shows that the healthiest and most equal societies are also the happiest. So if we are to address the issue of mental health we must also address the chronic inequalities present in society.
There are many different approaches to tackling mental health, but they all have the same starting point: recognising the reality and severity of the condition. That is why the educational work undertaken by See me is of critical importance; by promoting greater understanding we can help end the stigma that surrounds mental illness and to empower those with mental health issues to become full and active members of society.
I recently visited the First Scotrail Training Academy in Glasgow to learn about their new Modern Apprenticeship in Customer Service.
The apprenticeship lasts for 18 months and consists of three six month blocks, one for each of the 3 areas of customer service: hospitality, ticket examination, and station service. There are currently 11 trainees aged between 17-21 on the scheme, selected from a total 128 applicants from across Scotland.
I was extremely impressed by the facilities and the excellent standard of training. There was an open and friendly atmosphere, and great camaraderie between staff and trainees. However, what stood out most was the high calibre of the apprentices. They exhibited a confidence and composure beyond their years, and are a credit to themselves and their communities.
They are also an excellent example of what can be achieved through commitment and hard work, and I am sure that they are all destined for successful careers within the rail industry.
With so many school leavers choosing to attend university, Scotrail’s Modern Apprenticeship is a timely reminder that there are other ways to get on in life and, given the Scottish Government’s stated commitment to apprenticeship schemes, I expect to see evidence of similar schemes operating throughout Scotland.
I am was very disappointed at the decision to withdraw preferred bidder status from St Philip’s Secure Unit in Plains, Airdrie. Not only will this lead to the closure of the unit, it may also render the other two facilities on the St Philip’s site, the residential school and St Francis Day Unit, financially unsustainable.
St Philip’s was only opened five years ago, at a cost of £15 million, £5 million of which was borne by the taxpayer. It has an excellent record of providing first-class care, and staff have been praised for their commitment and dedication. However, in this instance, and to the detriment of both staff and children, cost has been placed before care.
With the decision unlikely to be altered, the priority moving forward is to ensure the appropriate transitional arrangements are in place to ensure continuity of care for the vulnerable children who are facing considerable upheaval. Additionally, St Philip’s highly trained should not be abandoned.
I was surprised to hear that, despite assurances to the contrary from both local MSP Alex Neil and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, Skills Development Scotland were not immediately informed of the situation. I understand that PACE (Partnership Action for Continuing Employment) is now involved, but at the request of St Philip’s management, not the Scottish Government.
It is disappointing that the Scottish Government have failed to back their words with action, and I fully appreciate the frustration and anger felt by staff and children alike. If the Scottish Government is serious about providing the best care and guidance to vulnerable young people, it must realise that this comes at a cost. Cutting corners now will only store up problems for the future.
I am pleased that Alex Salmond has extended the consultation period for the proposed Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill for an additional 6 months.
Sectarianism has been a serious problem in Scottish society since the influx of Irish-Catholic immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Whilst I applaud the Government’s determination to take swift action, the delicate and longstanding nature of the problem suggests it is unlikely to be solved by a piece of legislation rushed through in two weeks.
I spoke about the problem of Sectarianism during a recent Member’s Debate, and was at pains to point out that any legislation must be backed by educational initiatives. It is not enough to punish those guilty of Sectarian abuse; we must eradicate once and for all the narrow and jaundiced attitudes that provide such fertile ground for bigotry and prejudice.
There is nothing wrong with having pride in a particular set of religious or cultural values; however, we must recognise this as a right that everyone is entitled to.