For much of the last ten years I have been involved in community activism and politics. Everything I witnessed during that time made me passionate about standing to become a councillor to represent my community and to help address some of the chronic problems facing people. I was delighted to be elected to North Lanarkshire Council during May’s elections and to be able to start that work. The people who most rely on local government services and facilities have long known about the brutal impact a decade of cuts has had, but so wide ranging are those cuts that people from all walks of life can now see the results.
The so called ‘cost of living crisis’ is too bland a description of the situation people are experiencing just now, because behind it lies a heart-breaking reality of pensioners choosing between heating and eating and of mothers regularly missing out on meals to make sure their children are fed. To some people that level of hardship can sound unbelievable in modern Scotland, but I can assure you that it is the very real life experience of hundreds of thousands of families. Many of these families have one or more person in work. Often the work is hard, with long hours, but with poor pay and conditions. A number of foodbanks serve my ward, all of them are busy and are helping hard working people who are struggling to make ends meet at a time when the price of essentials like food and energy is rising far beyond their means.
Throughout our election campaign, and now as Councillors, my colleague Cllr James McPhilemy and I have spoken to thousands of people in our ward asking them what priorities they had for the area and to share any problems that they would like us to focus on if we were elected. The responses were remarkably consistent, with people citing: unaffordable housing, declining standards in social care services, anti-social behaviour, a lack of public bins and increasing levels of litter.
I am not naïve and know that amongst the thousands of people we spoke to there will be many who support Scottish independence, and there will be those who want a referendum as soon as possible. Whilst I would not pretend to speak for everyone on this issue, our campaign feedback indicated that the vast majority of people want the Scottish Government to focus on helping society recover from the once in 100 years trauma of a global pandemic, protect people from the generationally high rate of inflation and invest in our communities.
Such is the need in my community, I would far rather the vast sums of money and political energy that would be spent on a referendum was instead invested in creating the solutions needed to improve lives right now.