This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.

Barrett’s Blog

From 1st January 2010 this site will no longer be updated, in accordance with Parliamentary rules.

The site will be kept online and can still be used to find information and to contact John, but the latest news will be posted on the West Edinburgh Liberal Democrats website.

This blog aims to give an insight into the day to day life of an MP, rather than being a political soapbox.

August 2008

29 August 2008

At last I have managed to find a flat to rent in London and can get my furniture out of storage. Surprisingly the removal company was the most efficient company I have dealt with in years. Everything worked like clockwork and after unpacking everything it was good to sit back and to know that I have a place to stay, not too far away from Westminster. At a time when the housing market is in turmoil it is amazing that even after I managed to haggle the rent down the cost of a very small one bedroom flat in central London is so high. There has been a lot of discussion about publishing MPs addresses in London, but this is something I have never agreed with. Looking forward to a family holiday for the next two weeks. As this diary is to give an idea of what MPs do outside life in Westminster, during the recess we normally head off for a fortnight and I am looking forward to going away from the phone and email for a break in the sun. There will be no entries for the next two weeks.

27 August 2008

Some good news

Reading the through the international section of the newspaper, the stories were from areas I have seen at first hand, and they all made grim reading. Child labour in the brick kilns in India where children as young as 6 mould the clay dredged from riverbeds. Thirteen year-old child workers in the same place, made pregnant by their employers, who also arranged the abortions. An orphanage in Orissa set on fire and the Christian woman who worked there killed by a mob inspired by religious hatred and 27 killed by Sudanese forces in the Kalma refugee camp I visited the last time I was in Darfur. Yet somehow in the face of real struggles, the determination to make a life shines through. Today I received an email from "shoe shine boy" from Ethiopia who is progressing through school despite living in a slum with no water supply or sanitation. He was following the Olympic games and told me of the Ethiopian successes on the track - I told him about our own golden boy - Chris Hoy. The second piece of good news was to hear that the family stuck in Beirut would get their visas later today. What a great result. At least the life of one family has been put back together.

26 August 2008

A new leader

The result of the leadership election was announced today at Murrayfield Rugby Stadium in the constituency. Tavish Scott won on the first ballot with about 60% of the vote, Ross Finnie was second and Mike Rumbles third. Following the announcement by Malcolm Bruce, we went out on the track to meet the media and for a press photo call. Tavish made the comment that he felt he had won the political gold medal and like Chris Hoy he was proud to be both Scottish and British. In the evening there was a party for Tavish's supporters and it was good to see the end of a successful campaign. In the press coverage the next morning I was lucky enough to be behind Tavish in all the best photos at the stadium.

25 August 2008

Another Manic Monday

Morning was busy with advice surgeries. One particular case left me feeling that I must work flat out to solve it - before the end of the week if possible. A family trapped in Beirut, having travelled from Iraq to Jordan then to the Lebanon to sort out their visa problems. A mother and three young children ending up stuck in Beirut alone and not knowing anyone. Waiting to join her husband who is studying in Edinburgh. I normally don't mention cases like this on the blog, but it's worth mentioning what some people go through on a daily basis, just to get what they are entitled to. Jumped into action immediately, contacting the Foreign Office and various individuals at the highest level. On a more local level had a meeting to update me on a long running project to get a buggy for disabled children into production. This also took a small step forward today, as Napier University and a buggy manufacturer are now interested in the project. Am not holding my breath. Might have to go on to Dragon's Den with this! Spent much of the afternoon replying to some of the many people who are now contacting me about Post Office closures. In the evening chaired a well attended public meeting in Cramond, with the Post Office representatives and Postwatch to make the case for keeping the Cramond Post Office open. The PO campaign continues. Just like a normal day at Westminster 9am -10pm.

23 August 2008

Olympic Games

Out and about with the team in campaigning different parts of the constituency. Now that the rain has ended (for a while I hope) and the sun is shining again people have time to talk. The weekends are as busy as the rest of the week, but in between everything else I have really enjoyed catching the Olympics on TV. Chris Hoy and others have made their sports, not normally given much coverage, compulsive viewing. As the games draw to a close I hope in four years time that London can do them as much justice as Beijing has managed to. The dedication of the athletes could teach us all a lesson. As expected the SNP call for a separate Scottish team is repeated. Maybe they should have a chat with Chris Hoy - who trains in Manchester or with some of the teams made up with people from all over the UK. How long will it take for the SNP to be rumbled, either in the Scottish Parliament or by the media ?

22 August 2008

A piece of history in my hand

On the bus into town I was able to again experience the latest road works, and diversions, caused by the new tram system. Nobody enjoys the disruption, but the end product of a 21st century tram system should be well worth it. I regularly meet up with the Council Leader, Jenny Dawe, the Lord Provost George Grubb, Margaret Smith MSP and a number of Councillors in the City Chambers to go over a range of issues. This Friday we had a heavy agenda, but we all had a good laugh as we had all seen the cartoon in the previous day's Evening News, which had the new council lighting system as a disco with Jenny and Andrew Burns (as John Travolta) disco dancing in the Council Chamber. Following this meeting, at long last I was able to visit and meet up with staff at the National Library for Scotland to hear about their digital library project and also to see some of the John Murray archive. This was absolutely fascinating and deserves a second visit. Murray published the works of Jane Austin, Lord Byron, Charles Darwin, Benjamin Disraeli and many more. To hold in my hand letters from Darwin about his new book "Origin of the Species" and to read the original notes from the explorer David Livingstone about when he was attacked by a lion, opened up a new world of these archives to me. In the months ahead I just hope the public share in this amazing world as well. Finished the day back at the office with more advice surgeries.

21 August 2008

Dalmeny Post Office

The public meeting arranged for Dalmeny was attended by representatives from the Post Office, Post Watch, Margaret Smith MSP and a number of residents who gave a variety of reasons for keeping the office open. The consultation period has started and we have asked the Post Office to consider a number of issues in relation to this office. I have spoken to George, the Posmaster, and he is well aware of the issues and problems faced by his office. He and the previous Postmistress were a credit to the post and the people of Dalmeny appreciate their work, above and beyond the call of duty.

20 August 2008

Some things never change

Most Community Councils meet mid-week and while Westminster is in session I cannot attend them, although I keep in touch on with many on a regular basis. After spending about 10 years as a Community Councillor in the constituency, many of them are pleased that I spent time in their shoes, understand what is involved and what they do. This evening I attended the Stenhouse Community Council and met up with many familiar faces. The first Community Councils were set up about 25 years ago and when I was asked to address the meeting, I was able to comment that some of the issues are exactly the same now as they were then. Some things never change.

19 August 2008

Post Office closures

With the Post Office closure list going public today, we delivered leaflets to those areas close to the offices under threat and publicised the pre-arranged public meetings. It was pre-monsoon weather and we were all soaked to the skin. As luck would have it the sun broke through as the last leaflet was delivered. As soon as I got back to the office there were the first phone calls and emails about the proposed closures. Ros and her husband Mark had returned to our house for the final day of their Scottish "meet the members", tour and in the evening we headed out to East Lothian for a supper club. Eat Lothian is one of those constituencies with a good active membership, well funded and with a dynamic Parliamentary candidate. In the future I have no doubt we will do well there. Elsewhere in Edinburgh the press are picking up on the fact that Labour MPs, who voted for the closure programme, are now out campaigning to save the Post Offices they voted to close.

18 August 2008

A sad day

John MacDougall's funeral in Burntisland, as well as being a family affair, was also a media event, as the Prime Minster, members of the cabinet, many Labour MPs and councillors, opposition MP's and a number of former MPs and MSPs also attended. As I arrived a bank of photographers and TV crews were positioned outside the church - I suppose they have to do their job. The readings during the service from a friend, his son and daughter then preceded a dignified contribution from the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The church minister asked everyone to remain standing at the end of the service for reasons, which he said would soon become obvious. When an American Trilogy and the voice of Elvis started to sound I was surprised at first, but as the words, "you know your daddy's bound to die" were sung, there was not a dry eye in the house, as we all knew that John had known the end was near and I wondered how any father in such circumstances could say goodbye to their own children.  During the quiet passage in the song the pallbearers stepped forward to pick up the coffin and as the music rose again, he was then carried from the church for the last time.

15 August 2008


Half way through August and it does not feel any less like being at work than when Westminster is sitting. Every day is busy.  Despite not having taken any time off yet, the amount of people who have assumed that because Parliament is not sitting MPs are all away on holiday, continues to surprise me - although it should not. I have yet to meet anyone who has said that they assumed I was on holiday and so they did not try to contact me. The phones in the office keep ringing and the mail and emails continue to arrive at a pace. It is a good thing I have a good team helping me deal with the volume of work that comes my way. It is good to be busy - I would not have it any other way. August is a good month to continue campaigning and working in the constituency, while being able to go home every night. Although this would be an option as an MSP, the range of issues devolved to Holyrood has never really appealed to me. Today I had a meeting with our deputy director of campaigns to go over a number of subjects relating to target seats and forthcoming issues. Although new in the job, I am sure he will bring a much-needed edge to our campaigning in the years ahead. A busy afternoon of advice surgeries. The total number of people who have now been helped must be in the thousands. Makes me think I should have counted them.

14 August 2008

Hat collection safe.

No need to eat my hat (6th August) as the Evening News exclusively reveals the entire list of Post Office Closures in Edinburgh. I phoned the Post office to say that while I was waiting for this city-wide list and the press are asking me to comment on the story, the Post Office are trying to say that they are not going public with the list until next week. They have clearly supplied it to someone, who has leaked the information to the press. They promise to investigate and get back to me. In the meantime I keep my comments to the hypocrisy of those Labour MPs who voted for the closure programme and are now campaigning against the closures. How stupid do they think the public is?

13 August 2008

John MacDougall MP

John MacDougall was a decent, down to earth Labour MP and I was really saddened to hear of his death this morning. I used to chat with John, either on flights to London, or at Westminster. He was a real gent and I remember when my wife was waiting for me in Portcullis House she mentioned that a really nice MP had been chatting with her while she was waiting on her own - it was John. He is the second MP elected in 2001 that has died of cancer, as well as Patsy Calton, who was also a good friend. The press will no doubt highlight the problems for Labour and Gordon Brown caused by the forthcoming by-election; hopefully they will also mention that his friends and family have lost a good man.

Presidential candidate Ros Scott

12 August 2008

The next President

It is not only the race for the White House in November; the Lib-Dems have a Presidential election in the same month. The two runners in the race so far are, Lembit Opik, famed for his GQ and Hello magazine interviews and Ros Scott, a former council leader (now a member of the Lords) and transport expert with a track record in Parliament and outside in the commercial world. I have arranged Ros's Scottish tour to meet the members, which starts tomorrow in Edinburgh and moves on to St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Inverness, Orkney, Glasgow and East Lothian. Ros arrived today in Edinburgh and was raring to go. Her fist members' meeting was to a packed Liberal Club, where she clearly showed why she will be the right choice for President. Cool and calm in a crisis, level headed, intelligent and articulate - she has got my vote. Lembit is possibly the front-runner as his media profile gives him more name recognition - not all of it, (or much of it), positive!

9 August 2008

David Steele - the other one.

With the resignation of Nicol Stephen as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats all three candidates were setting out their stalls today at a leadership hustings. Tavish Scott has my backing, but anything can happen when it is a one-member, one vote, contest. All three did well and I would not predict the result, which is due on 26th August. Carol and I spent the afternoon at the Ferry Fair and met up with David Steele, who is Mr Queensferry in many ways. He was beginning to panic early in the day as the rain fell, but the Ferry folk weathered the storm to enjoy the day, including listening to tribute band "Take This". For the avoidance of doubt, this is not the same David Steel who used to lead the Lib-Dems.


6 August 2008

Post Office Closures

A briefing today from the Post Office confirmed my thoughts about possible Post office closures in my constituency. MPs are given the information in advance, but asked to keep it confidential until it goes public on 19th August. If it has not been leaked to the Evening News by then, I will eat my hat - or at least one of them. Visited the postmasters and postmistresses involved and discussed how it would affect them. They too have had advance notice and have been involved in discussions about their future with the PO.

3 August 2008

Monkey business

Spent Sunday helping Carol set up at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, where she is exhibiting all week during an international conference on endangered primates. She has produced a lot of new work, which I hope the delegates appreciate. Everything from original paintings to prints and cards. Over 1000 delegates from all over the world will be at the event and Carol will be very much at home discussing conservation issues with other like minded people.

John visiting Edinburgh's Mosque with Menzies Campbell MP

1 August 2008

Festival City

Although Parliament is in recess, August is a working month like any other, except that instead of working in London part of the week I go home at night. All the fuss about MPs expenses gives the impression that living in a flat in London is some kind of perk of the job. The exact opposite is the case. For over 30 years I have had a home in Edinburgh, which I would much prefer to go to at the end of the day. I have no complaints about the accommodation in London, but it in no way compares to staying in Edinburgh. Today began with a visit and tour of the Central Mosque, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary in Edinburgh. It was good to hear of the efforts being made to open its doors to non-Moslem people in the city. The rest of the day was spent with constituents at the advice surgery, which is becoming busier each week. In contrast, the Saturday surgeries, which continue through the summer, are always much quieter during the school holidays and the Edinburgh Festival. Edinburgh is at its best in August and is the best place to be, even if we are currently experiencing monsoon weather. 

This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.