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.
30 September 2009
A Long Month
They say a week is a long time in politics. This last month has felt like a really long one in a variety of ways. On the home front it has been tough, watching Maria suffering and often hearing her screaming through the night. The recent news article which said that scientific evidence could prove that looking after young children produced more stress related hormones than any other job is one I can totally agree with - and that was for children who are well. The conference was good on a number of levels, politically and socially, and back in the constituency my final "rural tour" is coming to an end. The final countdown is now well underway, with the four shortlisted candidates out and about doing all they can to convince the members they would be the best bet to be my successor. They all have strong points and I will be happy to back whoever is selected by the members. At the end of next month it will all be decided and the next phase will begin.
29 September 2009
One of my outside interests, which is unpaid, is to serve on the Microfinance Advisory Board of the Royal Bank of Scotland. This is to help steer their involvement in microfinance, which has increased in recent years. The meeting was held in the RBS headquarters in the constituency and was linked by video-conference to London, Washington and India. Before the meeting started, I remembered back to being in the same room one Christmas for festive drinks with Sir Fred Goodwin and other top bank officials. How times have changed, since then the bank has recorder the largest corporate loss in history and is now predominantly owned by the UK taxpayer following a Government bail-out. Many bank employees in the constituency are really worried about their jobs and the future. Hopefully the years ahead will see a rapid turn-around and an end to the recession for everyone's sake.
28 September 2009
After a day of advice surgeries in the morning and home visits in the afternoon, it was back out in the evening with the team in Corstorphine. Helping individuals and sorting out their problems and fighting their battles with the system has been one of the most satisfying aspects of the job. I am glad that I have kept a file of hundreds of "thank you" letters that have been sent in over the years. The best news of the day was the headline in the Scotsman, which had the Lib-Dems ahead of Labour in an opinion poll for the first time since Michael Foot was their leader. We are moving ahead at the expense of both the other main parties. A good start to the week.
26 September 2009
Queensferry and Dalmeny
Out and about in Dalmeny and in the rural areas around it delivering my Annual Report. Still meeting up with lots of people wanting a final chat about my reasons for standing down and my plans for the future. Everyone I speak to is still very understanding and supportive of my decision and wishing me well for whatever I do in the future. After lunch in Queensferry, we went into the Queensferry History Group's exhibition and the Queensferry Art Club's show before spending the rest of the afternoon delivering. Out and about on the streets there were lots of tourists, as a giant cruise liner had berthed just off the coast. They disembark about 2,500 visitors, but most head straight into the city centre for a tour. Lots of locals stopping me for a "quick word" and they always make to feel like a local mini celebrity in the Ferry. During my time as MP, Queensferry has continued to develop into a small town with a great village atmosphere and a great place to live. The local community spirit takes some beating.
25 September 2009
Back to catch up with a backlog of mail, messages and email, although I was able to keep my parliamentary email in check while at the conference. Taking some time to reflect on the fact that I would not have another major federal conference as an MP, I am still in no doubt that the time is right for a change. I am looking forward to going back to future conferences to enjoy the social side and to keeping in contact with good friends. Hopefully I will also be able to help out in the General Election campaign in seats where colleagues and friends are fighting to hold and win new seats. After that I will deserve and take a well earned break. Spoke to the Party President, who did not touch a glass of wine during the entire conference, to confirm that she should now sit back and relax with her husband and a bottle of bubbly. She was one step ahead of me.
24 September 2009
Conference Week and Shirley Williams
The conference week has moved in recent years to cover more of the weekend and to allow those unable to get time off work to attend more of it on Saturday and Sunday. The end result is that it now ends on a Wednesday afternoon with the leader's speech. I almost missed day one as on Saturday morning I was trapped in my office by the Tour of Britain cycle race and had to be escorted out of Whitehall with an escort. Monday was my busiest day for speeches with three planned and prepared. Two, on Torture and International Development in a Downturn, were called and delivered, but my third on the Military Covenant was not, as the debate was heavily oversubscribed. Tuesday was full of meetings with disability groups and preparing for the fringe event I was the main speaker at. Wednesday was quieter with Nick Clegg's speech closing the day. I turned down a few media requests about the referendum as this had become something the press were trying to build up into a more controversial story. My favourite quote of the week was from when I was chatting to Shirley Williams, who said, "When I heard you were standing down, it broke my heart." I will never forget it - she is a real star. On the way home I visited two colleagues, in Romsey and Southport, and it was a great chance to discuss the forthcoming election. This was the final autumn conference before the next election and the temperature is rising. Back home on Friday 25th, it was great to see that Maria had got out of hospital at last and she was looking much improved. What a week.
14 September 2009
Last of the interviews this evening and then the short-listing went on to 11pm. Having been through similar processes before, when there are high stakes, it is absolutely vital that there is no margin for error in the decision making process. At the end of the day there will always be winners and losers. The next difficult task is to decide whether I should stick to my plans for later this week and on Saturday still go to the party conference. It is a difficult one, but in the end I decided that now the worst is over in hospital and because it is my last conference as an MP, and because I have a full schedule of meetings and speeches arranged, that I should still go.
12 September 2009
All day interviewing from 9.30am to 5.30pm. At the end of it I felt pleased that we had seen some very good people with a wide variety of abilities, skills and experience. Round two is on Monday. It was a very hot day and by the end of it we were all "frazzled" and I was tempted to join Dave, when he announced he was heading to the pub for a cool pint or two, but decided that an evening visit back to the Sick Kids would be best. Still in intensive care, with needles and tubes everywhere, it was great to see Maria's face at last showing some sign of recognition of her visitors including her little sister, Hope. Still struggling and wanting out of her cast and out of the hospital, it looked like the stronger painkillers were working and she had also managed to get some sleep through the night. Hopefully things are on the road in the right direction, although I suspect there will be a few false dawns before this nightmare for her comes to an end.
11 September 2009
The best way to clear the head is to get out and about in the countryside, meeting people while delivering Annual Reports on my final "rural tour". Every summer I visit the farms and cottages in the constituency and have been doing this every year. This is my final year and I look forward to introducing my successor to the many people I have got to know, next year. After an afternoon of advice surgeries at the office, it was back to hospital in the evening for the most harrowing experience of the week. Seeing someone in pain and just wanting to get out of where they are, while all around they see people are in uniforms and with no end in sight, was a struggle. Although everyone was doing all they could to help, it was obvious that Maria could not understand why this was happening and she just wanted it to end. It felt like I was watching someone who felt they were being tortured and all they were wanting was the pain to stop. My stomach was churning as I left. Got a text in the early morning saying she hardly slept all night. What a nightmare.
11 September 2009
It is hard to believe that it was eight years ago today that the September 11th Attacks took place on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. Nearly 3,000 people died, mostly civilians and from over 90 countries. I can remember the day clearly, where I was and what I was doing, when I got the call to turn on the TV news. The world has not been the same since. The "War on Terrorism" was launched and Afghanistan was invaded. Our troops are still there, there is no end in sight, people are being killed on both sides regularly and the world is probably much more dangerous as a result. In the years ahead we will probably see further outrages in different parts of the world. Only history will be able to tell if and how it all ends.
10 September 2009
The Sick Kids Hospital
Not since I decided to stand down have I received so many texts in one day. This time they have been asking for an update from the Sick Kids Hospital. Am glad to say it all looks like it is going well. It would be good to be able to say Maria is comfortable, but it looks anything but that. With a flat cast from chest to her feet, she will be flat out for about 6 weeks, which will not be at all easy. For the next four days she will be on an epidural to numb the centre of her body and then on other painkillers for a while. It's a lot for a five year old to go through. When I spoke to the surgeon he explained what had happened in layman's terms. Bone was shaved from her femur and grafted on to her pelvis to form an improved socket. Then her leg was broken and pinned to make it into a new shape, to better fit into that socket. After all this, and 6 weeks on her back, she will still not be able to walk, but they are hopeful it will significantly reduce the pain she suffers from her hip. A genuine thanks go from me and everyone who knows Maria, to all at the Sick Kids.
9 September 2009
The Dower House
Out and about in the village of Corstorphine, I popped in to the Dower House, which is a historic building, the home of the Cortstorphine Trust, the history of the village and lots more. At their coffee morning I ended up meeting with lots of locals and holding an impromptu advice surgery. I picked up lots of casework and was invited to many events in the weeks and months ahead. As a life member of the Trust and someone who has worked in the village for well over 25 years, it will be a major change next year, when I step back from such a high level of involvement, but I am convinced that the time is right to move on and pass the baton to my successor. Progress towards finding that successor has moved on and the long list will be reduced to a short list next week. They will have a heavy responsibility to ensure that the level of community involvement and support I have established is maintained in the years ahead. If he or she does it, they will deserve to be the next MP. Missed tonight's canvassing, as it was back to the Sick Childern's Hospital again - fingers crossed this time.
8 September 2009
Carrick Knowe Church
Spent the evening at the Jubilee Project, based at Carrick Knowe Church. It was chaired by Donald Gorrie my predecessor as MP, the Treasurer was an old neighbour, the new board member they elected on the night was a friend and the secretary was one of my distributors. It was like home from home. The large hall was packed with volunteers and supporters, and it was an excellent example of the local community at its best. It was good to meet up with loads of supporters and have a chat when the business was over. The Church also had a lot of memories for me, from my brother's wedding to the best Christmas service in town. It is always very welcoming to someone like me, who is not religious, and the minister is larger than life.
6 September 2009
The Edinburgh Festival ended tonight with a spectacular firework display over the castle in the city centre. The last time I went in to see it, some years ago, it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale. After a delay, the event was cancelled and thousands of people went home disappointed. Tonight was a perfect, mild and clear evening and the display looked great. It was nice to be able to show our Welsh friends Edinburgh looking so good.
5 September 2009
Barnton Park Lawn Tennis Club
Spent the morning at a Scottish party executive meeting, which did not drag on too long into the afternoon and it was also a good opportunity to catch up with friends from all over Scotland. The executive committee of the party do a lot of hard work for little thanks and no reward. I suspect it is the same in many other organisations. This left me time to go to the Barnton Park Lawn Tennis Club, to meet up with some members as it is their centenary year and to see some surprisingly high quality tennis being played. With the growing popularity of tennis in recent years, many clubs are thriving and this is one of the best in Edinburgh. Not only did it provide good tennis facilities on all weather courts, it had a good family friendly atmosphere where old and young could enjoy a day out.
4 September 2009
With Annual Reports going out more people are contacting me and both the morning and afternoon surgeries were packed out. In the middle of the day I had a meeting, along with Councillor Charles Dundas, to meet up with some key staff and to visit the new Tesco Finance office, which has created 200 new jobs at Haymarket in the constituency. With all the doom and gloom in the financial sector and more job losses to come in Edinburgh, it is good to see some new high quality jobs being created. After a long day it was good to meet up with friends from Wales in the evening for a relaxing Indian meal and a drink. They were loving their visit to Edinburgh and have extended it to take in the fireworks over the castle on Sunday.
3 September 2009
Ended the evening at a Hearts football club supporters and shareholders dinner. Had not been to one before, but was assured by my "little" brother that it was worth going along to. It was interesting to hear that he thought his shares were currently worth so little that the certificate was actually worth more than the shares on e-bay. It's not only the banks that have seen their share price fall. Like the banks, some football clubs appear to be paying salaries and bonuses that cannot be sustained by the financial performance of the clubs. My prediction is that some clubs will go exactly the same way as the banks, but without a bale out they will go under. After the dinner the evening was thrown open for questions to the manager, Csaba Laszlo. He was having a tough time on the pitch and had some tough questions on the night following a poor start to the season, but his commitment was evident on the night.
2 September 2009
Edinburgh's Own Edward Scissorhands
Met up with today with Michael Kaplan, a renowned author and corporate video producer, who lives in a beautiful part of the constituency. I worked with Michael many years ago, when he was directing a corporate production for the Royal Bank of Scotland. His not so widely known ability is creative topiary, like nothing I have seen before. He told me his giant illuminated heads (which have an Easter Island look) have given joggers a fright, but fortunately with no lasting effects. He is Edinburgh's own answer to Edward Scissorhands. Another talented and well known constituent that I had a chat with this afternoon at his home, was Phil Cunningham, one of Scotland's most talented musicians. There are clearly lots of talented constituents out there in Edinburgh West. Got a surprise phone call in the evening to say that our friends from Wales, who were disappointed when we had to cancel our holiday and our visit to see them, have decided to make a surprise few days visit to Edinburgh, starting tomorrow.