Please enjoy reading my blogs about areas of interest.
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Today I received an endorsement from the MSP for Clydebank & Milngavie, Gil Paterson. It said:
“I recall Michelle campaigning for me as a young student. She is someone I trust as a committed and dedicated campaigner for independence. I really hope she is selected to represent Falkirk East as she would be a real asset to the Scottish Parliament”
It is lovely to get these endorsements and I will be posting up multiple ones, most importantly from branch members as we progress through the campaign.
The most important word used by Gil was ‘trust’. Trust is the single most important commodity we have. Learning to trust develops early in human beings and it is extremely difficult to replace if it is lost. I was delighted that Gil said he trusted me and further qualified it by noting he has known about me campaigning for the SNP since I was a student which was around 38 years ago.
It is not enough to claim to be trustworthy: this must be demonstrated by consistent behaviour over time.
The role of an elected member is extremely complex. Always juggling multiple priorities, there are no circumstances where all of the people will be happy all of the time. An elected member must be a leader and communicate as such.
Where there is a lack of trust is often where there has been a lack of communication. Communication is tiring and time-consuming – but absolutely essential to bring people with you. It requires honesty and mutual respect. We all understand that difficult decisions must be made – but the rationale for them should be set out, ideally on a personal basis. For SNP members this must mean attendance at branch meetings.
I have had considerable experience in communicating changes and issues throughout my business life. The last change programme I ran in a corporate setting impacted 86,000 staff. I always bore in mind that change is delivered ‘through’ people and not ‘to’ people.
I cannot be clear as to what exactly Gil meant in using the word ‘trust’ in his endorsement – but the use of this word, rather than the fact he is one of Scotland’s longest serving parliamentarians is worth its weight in gold.
I had another busy week spanning both national and local considerations.
I was the guest speaker at Aberdeen Independence Movement (AIM) early in the week. I enjoyed catching up with the former MSP and MEP Christian Allard – he indulges my attempts at French and corrects me with weary patience!
I was asked to write a blog for the website of former MP Roger Mullin. I chose to write about our financial system and choices we can make. There is much more we could and should be doing:
I also wrote an article for IScot magazine – I announce the launch of the next Momentous Change project – this will be a very exciting piece of work on a national scale. The article will be out around mid-October.
I had 2 trips last week – to Slamannan for a chat about some of the local issues such as replacement heating in off-gas areas, and waste issues. We also discussed flooding with existing problems caused by a single combined water and sewerage pipe and also with local burns and water courses. Scottish Water will have their part to play in future investment. Aged infrastructure and complex supply chains are all contributory factors and I believe the Scottish Government will need to further revisit their flood risk management strategies as the effects of climate change are felt more frequently.
I noticed that Bo’ness Recreation centre was still shut. This is a really important local resource. The updates from Falkirk Community Trust did not make clear what the plans were. I think most people understand there is a great deal of preparation required to re-open resources particularly as the Covid-19 ‘R’ number moves upwards – but there were no parameters explained as to how the decision would be made.
I was also back once more to Grangemouth and am building up my network of key connections across the community – people really appreciate the confidential nature of meetings. They can be open and honest about some of the issues they see. Putting effort into building relationships based on trust and mutual respect always yields dividends.
I noted an article in Business Insider concerning the arrival of 6 purpose-built fermentation vessels for Celtic renewables at Grangemouth. These are intended for Scotland’s first biorefinery and are intended to produce around 500,000 litres of Biobutanol biofuel. I offered a “cautious welcome” noting that the world was slowly adopting battery or hydrogen fuel cells which produce no greenhouse gases. However, I am looking forward to hearing more and understanding the detailed strategy.
The 18th September saw another anniversary of the first independence referendum. I posted a picture of the former First Minister, me and various other business leaders prior to the vote. My reaction to each anniversary is one of increased determination not stoic acceptance. I made the point that many people would now vote yes having previously voted no. English votes for English laws (EVEL), Brexit, the power grab and the complete disregard for the rule of law have all made a difference. So too has the handling of the Covid-19 crisis – contrast the shambolic U-turns offered by Boris Johnson and compare it to the calm efficiency and excellent communication offered by Nicola Sturgeon.
In the national news my great concern has been the so-called internal Market Bill. This is a significant risk to the continued operation of the Scottish Parliament. For example, section 32 gives a Tory Government the power to refer legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament to a UK Government Department. This is an affront to our democracy. Only today we learn that the proposals could lead to lower standards in our buildings that could have led to similar issues such as with the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Read more here:
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I have had a varied and interesting set of meetings this week.
Some must remain entirely confidential – but what I can say is that I have been heartened by the honesty I have been shown. People really want to start moving forward and engage with me. They are looking for a fresh perspective that can challenge the ‘way things have always been done’.
I would like to highlight a few areas.
You may have seen the kind tweet from Alex Fleming who will be known to many of you from the Falkirk Business Improvement District (BID). She, and others are setting up a new charity and Community Interest Company called ‘4 the benefit of all’. It will be based in Grangemouth and they are developing the key support services such as learning, well-being, employability and business-focussed tourism. This latter area is in particular worthy of further development and discussion.
Alex was pleased to hear about the extent of my existing relationships with senior figures who could help her develop her proposition further. It clearly has the possibility of growing into many other locations in Scotland. On 08/09/2020 she tweeted:
“As we work to get our Impact Centre open in Grangemouth and listen to what those in the area would like us to focus on, I had a great chat today with @MichelleThomson about the issues and opportunities for business and the wider community around Grangemouth. Thanks Michelle”
I had some great questions about what specifically I would intend to do to address the inequality in local Council spend between Falkirk West and east of Falkirk across the constituency.
We know this has been an historic grievance over many years. Although some great work has been done to develop the town centre and other areas there is the perception that east of Falkirk has received less. I have been in touch with the Chief Statistician for Scotland to find out the exact details of what has been spent over the last few years.
There must be a delicate balancing act of what we call a push and pull strategy. The push part of it requires a strong voice who can analyse the issues, set them out clearly and challenge what has been done thus far based on real evidence. The pull strategy must be one of working together and persuading others to one’s point of view. Clearly both will be required, and an active role undertaken. There are also other ways of influencing by involving key stakeholders and ensuring they also make their voices heard. Consideration could be given to ensuring the proposed new 5-star hotel is located in the constituency known as Falkirk East.
Tourism should be developed and enhanced in a number of areas. The rich historic traditions and sites such as Airth Castle and the remarkable views of Blackness and Bo’ness offer ready appeal if a compelling plan can be developed.
Scotland has the largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) outside London and the South East of England. I have been asked to outline some steps I would take to increase FDI into the constituency. The Scottish Government, under the auspices of Ivan McKee the Minister for Trade, Investment & Innovation is currently developing the Scottish Government strategy for FDI. You may have noticed the very favourable endorsement he gave me for my campaign. I have ensured I have an invite to the launch of this strategy and can directly map the key elements of it to the benefit of various areas in Falkirk East.
I also posted up a bit more information about who I am, my background and some emerging of Falkirk East – you can check these earlier posts out on my Facebook page.
Week 1 of my campaign was busy.
On Monday 31 August I launched my introductory video, there was an article in The National and I launched my website and Facebook pages.
I was delighted to receive an endorsement from Ivan McKee, the Scottish Government Minister for Trade, Investment & Innovation. He said, “To win our nation’s independence we will need to be determined in the face of adversity and resilient to overcome the forces ranged against us. Michelle has demonstrated these qualities in spades. We need her on our Holyrood team.”
That was the public face of it. In private I had already had discussions with the branch/CA convenors and local councillors, the MPs Martyn Day and John McNally, and the MSP Michael Matheson.
I consider this approach to be the polite, appropriate and respectful thing to do – I have seen too many people launch their campaign on social media without reference to local members.
Local members are who it is all about. It is local members who wear out their shoe leather campaigning for elected representatives. It is local members who convince communities of the merits of independence.
I wrote to all the branch convenors and the constituency Convenor to confirm I was seeking selection. I hope this was circulated to all members – but in case it wasn’t I will be publishing an open letter.
I have already had contact from people asking questions. I would like to highlight a couple:
From Braes branch asking, “what is my view of independence?” As I confirm on my video – I will put independence front and centre of all that I do, as well as the betterment of Scotland.
From Grangemouth branch asking, “how will you manage the relationship with the various INEOS companies?”. We know that INEOS makes a huge contribution to Scotland’s economic output. It is also a major employer. However, the relationship with the Grangemouth community has not always been good. If selected (and then elected) I will be seeking community representation on the proposed new Grangemouth Future Industry Board.
From Bo’ness branch asking, “if I understand why they sometimes feel disconnected from the constituency?”. It is apparent to me that the name of the constituency is unhelpful. I would like to propose that the name is changed to Bo’ness, Grangemouth and the Braes (or some version of this) – but whatever it is that it should reflect the places within the constituency.
I also had a few meetings last week. The first was with Ross Martin, the former Chief Executive of Scottish Council for Development & Industry (SCDI) who is now an advisor to the Scottish Government on regional economies. He is passionate about how economic benefit can be spread beyond towns and cities.
I also met with Professor Iain Docherty of Stirling University who is an acknowledged expert in transport strategy. We discussed the issues with the (lack of) transport in the constituency and the proposals for a new train station in Grangemouth. A lack of effective transport infrastructure builds in wealth disparity which is a clear issue for much of the constituency.
I will be in the constituency regularly and will be posting days and times on my website/Facebook page.