How are we doing on gender discrimination?

Last week I learnt from Marsha Scott, chair of Engender, that the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) will, in July 2013, be reviewing the UK’s work on women’s rights and UK progress on commitments under the CEDAW convention.

This convention defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.  Engender have created a wonderful 2-minute animated film about it – very watchable in spite of its totally serious message which is to explain what CEDAW is and why it is needed.

Looking to a post-referendum Scotland, Engender is asking ‘should Scotland enshrine CEDAW in law?’  I will watch that discussion with interest.

Tomorrow’s Stars Need Us Right Now


In case you missed my column in yesterday’s Sunday Mail on the need to capitalise on the wave of enthusiasm for youngsters doing sport post-Olympics and pre-Commonwealth Games, here’s what I had to say…

Scotland’s Olympic medal-winners will undoubtedly inspire a new generation to get into sport, and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in two years’ time mean we have a real opportunity to capitalise on our gold rush.

From Jess Ennis to Victoria Pendleton, from Chris Hoy to Andy Murray, our young people have witnessed inspirational sporting performances by role models who thoroughly deserve the plaudits they receive.

Like many others, I look forward to welcoming our medal winners as they proudly parade their medals in our cities and towns.  But I hope that we’ll see a commitment that remains long after the cheering crowds have gone home.  We need to end the short-sighted closures of local pools, and the on-going loss of playing fields.  After all, local grass roots facilities are where it all starts.

By 2014, our Commonwealth Games year, the Government wants our high school pupils to have an hour and forty minutes of physical education each week.  We need to be more ambitious than this.

We need to make it fun and inexpensive for the next generation to stay fit so we can reduce the burden on the overstretched NHS. Let’s cut speeds on residential streets, encouraging walking, cycling and the outdoor play I took for granted growing up.

My message to Alex Salmond, if he is serious about a healthy legacy, is to build the footpaths and cycle lanes we are crying out for.  Mark the achievements of McColgan, Wells et al with photographs and plaques at Meadowbank Stadium, not the threat of replacement with a far smaller venue.  Nowadays basic maintenance like weeding is a luxury in this great Edinburgh landmark.

By pumping much more money into safe walking and cycling routes, investing in experienced coaches and protecting and enhancing our green spaces and sports facilities we have a chance of winning a prize even greater than gold medals – long, healthy lives for our children and grandchildren.

Porty Shops Will Be Squeezed As Sainsbury’s Moves In

After people in Portobello succeeded in fighting off an earlier supermarket development that would have ruined High Street trade this sneaky takeover is galling. I’m sure many people in the area will continue to support the superb range of local, independent retailers that directly benefit the area’s economy.

Sadly, across Edinburgh, we’ve seen the creeping presence of corporate interests that restrict choice by squeezing independent traders out of business. Are we not at saturation point?

Shop local!

Retail giants like Sainsbury’s have too much power, pushing small and medium sized retailers to the wall. Supermarkets are also in the dubious habit of donating large sums to the big political parties who conveniently do nothing to challenge their dominance.

As an Edinburgh councillor I successfully moved a motion to investigate whether we could ask for planning permission to be sought before this sort of sneaky takeover takes place. Last I heard the council had written to the Scottish Government and were waiting for a response.

The White Stuff

Fresh, wholesome milk is something we tend to take for granted. The recent dignified protests by farmers around the country has helped remind us all that there’s price to be paid for getting a cheap pint of the white stuff in a supermarket.

The shop round the corner from me in Edinburgh stocks Fairfield-Bonaly Farm Dairy milk, so the other day I paid the dairy a visit to hear first-hand about the issues the sector is struggling to cope with.

On the way to the dairy, at Loanhead, I couldn’t help noticing how many huge supermarkets have sprung up south of the Edinburgh city bypass. And when I arrived at the dairy one of the first things the owner, Donald Laird, showed me was adverts from last week’s newspapers in which the big retailers were blatantly flogging milk for pennies to lure customers in.

Donald’s operation is a great example of how the price the customer pays can be kept low without penalising the farmer. He is producing 40,000 litres of milk a day, selling direct to local shops, hotels and restaurants with no big processors or supermarkets creaming off profits. He also supplies Luca’s of Musselburgh – ensuring those famous ice creams are truly local as well as truly tasty!

It was fascinating to see the production process and understand the issues faced by small businesses like Donald’s, including red tape. We should regulate and inspect businesses where appropriate but must do more to recognise the benefits small firms bring to local economies and help them rather than treating them the same as the big corporate operators.

This week we’ve seen a number of processors and supermarkets caving in to pressure and postponing planned cuts to the price they pay suppliers but it’s clear to me only fundamental reform will end the crisis.

I’m afraid supermarkets and discount stores will continue to view staple items such as milk as loss leaders. We must be prepared to use legislation if the proposed voluntary code of practice fails.

The dairy crisis is part of a wider problem with our food chain, as my Green Party colleague Caroline Lucas has pointed out.

While I welcome SNP ministers’ funding to help dairy farmers collaborate, the current crisis demonstrates the Scottish Government’s failure to prevent supermarkets becoming so commonplace and powerful in our communities. Greens will always champion more localised economies – it’s a shame with others it takes a crisis for the penny to drop.