Irvine Times, 16 October 2018

Last weekend I attended the SNP’s Annual National Conference in Glasgow, which had ‘Hope’ as its central theme.

Conference provides a wonderful opportunity to engage with party members, academics, businesses and charities. I was particularly pleased to chair a fringe event sponsored by Charities Aid Foundation and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, which discussed how the public uses charities within Scotland. We explored many possible ways in which the Scottish Government can work further with the charitable sector, with the Deputy First Minister John Swinney giving a superb keynote address.

Conference also offers opportunities to help shape party policy, and I was delighted that a motion which I co-sponsored with Gillian Martin MSP, on the need for paid leave for the victims of domestic abuse, was passed overwhelmingly. This followed the passing of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill earlier this year, and was inspired by recent developments in New Zealand, where victims can now receive paid time off to leave a violent partner and to seek a place to live. I believe this could benefit victims in Scotland enormously, but whilst employment law unfortunately remains reserved to the Westminster Government, we can still draw inspiration from our international partners and make the case for change.

Westminster is sadly not a place from which to draw inspiration itself, with the Tories lurching from one Brexit disaster to another, and with Labour having forgotten that it is an opposition party. By contrast, the SNP Conference displayed an overwhelming sense of optimism and self-belief. Much of this was conveyed in the First Minister’s closing speech, in which she reminded us that we must never give in to despair, and that we must always make hope possible.

On employment, for example, she outlined our commitment to a new ‘Fair Work First’ approach, with new criteria for public sector contracts employees, including skills investments, no zero hours contracts, action on gender pay inequality, and payment of the Living Wage. To tackle homelessness, she announced an increased investment in Social Bite’s Housing First scheme to £6.5 million, to help a further 600 people affected, and she detailed how a new Victims Task Force will seek to help victims deal with the judicial system, especially those traumatised by rape and sexual assault.

For EU citizens there will be a new advice and support service to assist on immigration issues, whilst a new Financial Health Check will be established for older people and low-income families, with a £3.3 million investment over the next two years.

The First Minister also announced that the Scottish Government will increase grants for care experienced student nurses this year to £8,100, to the same level for all student nurses next year, and to £10,000 a year thereafter. And she fired a warning shot to those who want to privatise our NHS – “Prepare for the political fight of your lives”.

In closing, the First Minister implored us to spread the message of hope that will deliver an independent Scotland. We are a rich and resourceful nation, a renewable energy powerhouse, with the best universities, food, drink and tourism industries. We are a resourceful people, with big hearts, and not afraid to show love.

In the current chaos of Brexit, we have a lot to be hopeful for.