After the trials and tribulations of 2016 it is a proper time, I feel, to reflect.

In such a turbulent year, there were many things that will have caught our attention; the sad loss of many gifted performers & visionary scientists, the horrendous scenes seen on our televisions of Aleppo and Yemen; the unedifying conduct seen in the presidential elections in the USA and of course the UK’s Brexit vote, where Scotland voted to stay, yet may well be dragged out of Europe by politicians in London who seemingly lack a coherent plan of how to do so!

However, it was also a year for celebration; many of you will not have heard that the Ebola outbreak which the World Health Organisation (WHO) feared would become an epidemic was declared over in March 2016. Likewise, the Americas are now completely free of measles, a deadly disease which has killed 200 million people. Closer to home, Scotland was able to boast that for the first time ever, renewable energy provided over 100% of our electrical needs.

In the political arena, like many I was overjoyed to see the SNP returned as Scotland’s Government for an unprecedented third term.
Looking forward to 2017, I am filled with hope that we may see the SNP take control of more local authorities, and bring the vision & leadership we have seen on the national level to every town & community across this land. The local government elections in May will give people a chance to choose to elect SNP councillors for their community, and along with my fellow Councillors & activists, I will fight hard for every vote.

However, it is with a heavy heart I must sadly announce that I shall not be standing for re-election in Inverclyde.

As many readers will be aware, one of the causes I had for celebration in 2016 was the news that my fiancee Angel and I are to become parents. We shall hopefully be welcoming our first child into the world this spring. Like many prospective parents we required to find a new home to accommodate our new child and after much debate we have decided to move across the water to Rosneath, in order to be closer to our child’s future grandparents.

I would like you to know this decision was not taken lightly. My entire adult life I have lived in Inverclyde and I have never been prouder than the day in 2012 when the people of Greenock chose me to be one of their elected representatives. But I must do what is right for my family, and this new year sees a new start for Angel and myself in Argyll.
Whilst I am no longer a resident of Inverclyde, it is a place that will remain dear to my heart, and I am passionate about her future and my professional work as a graphic designer will remain in Greenock. For the remainder of my term of office I shall work tirelessly, as I have for the last four and a half years to improve the lives of my constituents and the community, but after then I shall be passing the baton on to others within my party who I know shall take it up with all of the passion and vigour I have. To them I wish good fortune and offer my full support.

I would like to thank all those who since we discovered our joyous news have offered their support & parenting advice, sage wisdom, and occasional jokes about sleepless nights!

Finally, I would like to wish all my constituents, friends and colleagues in Inverclyde all the very best for 2017. May the year bring you all health, happiness & success.

Ward 3 Councillor Math Campbell-Sturgess today welcomed news that the Scottish Government are introducing legislation to tackle the scourge of Payday Lenders and Bookmakers in our town-center.

He said “I very much welcome the news that Scotland’s Planning Minister Kevin Stewart MSP is introducing legislation to give local councils the power to reject new gambling and pay-day lending premises.”

“Along with my colleague, Greenock & Inverclyde MSP Stuart McMillan, I have campaigned to get these powers for several years. This is a brilliant early Christmas present for the hundreds of gambling charities and support organizations across Scotland who help pickup the pieces after people fall into debt and problem gambling after playing FOBT (Fixed Odds Betting Terminal)’s in bookmakers.”

He added “With these new powers, local councillors and communities will get a say on whether they wish a payday lender or bookmaker opening up shop in new premises or not.”

The Scottish Government press release can be found at the following link:

http://news.gov.scot/news/new-controls-on-pay-day-lending-and-betting-shops

After a spate of accidents occurring in Greenock’s West End over the last week, town Councillor Math Campbell-Sturgess has written to the Council’s new Chief Executive demanding answers.

He said:
“After there was an accident last week in the west-end, I had written to our Roads Department asking what the situation is. Numerous constituents had contacted me, letting me know about the bad state of the junctions in the area.”
He continued:
“Ironically, I am currently learning to drive myself, and have witnessed first-hand the confusion the temporary signage and lack of markings appears to be causing across the west-end.”
“When I received a response from our Roads Department, they said they would have a roads-services manager look at the quality of the markings in the area, and if they needed refreshing, they would “build them into future maintenance work”.

The Ward 3 SNP Councillor added:
“Clearly the Roads Department are aware of the problems; they resurfaced the roads and erased the markings! On Thursday following two of the incidents they put temporary “give-way” signs in place, so even they acknowledge work needs done.”
“Following this response from our Roads Department, I am concerned there does not appear to be recognition of the urgency with which the situation must be addressed. I have written to Aubrey Fawcett, our new Chief Executive, asking for officers to arrange a meeting to discuss the situation and to get some answers on what exactly the road engineers have done, and more importantly, what they are going to do to fix this serious problem.”

He concluded:
“I worry that unless we take very prompt action to fix the markings and signage in the west-end, it will only be a matter of time before more accidents, potentially more serious, will occur.”

As part of my Save-Our-Shops campaign to save Greenock town-centre, I’m undertaking a retail-survey.

The survey is aimed primarily at shoppers and traders in the town-centre, but I’m keen to get everyones views.
I will be going door-to-door in the town looking to talk to managers and owners in all our shops, as well as shoppers, but as well as the paper-version, you can fill out the survey right here:

imageWard 3 SNP Councillor Math Campbell-Sturgess today announced he was launching a campaign to save Greenock Town Centre. The town has recently seen a spate of retail locations closing, with speculation that more may follow. The campaign will seek to stop businesses fleeing the town and get shops re-opened and new companies to relocate to Greenock.

Councillor Campbell-Sturgess said:
“We need to urgently do something about the town centre. I have watched several high-profile shops closing in the last six months, and despite agreeing to SNP demands to setup a Town Centre Regeneration Group which has been regularly meeting, so far nothing has been done.

“It cannot have escaped even the Labour administration in Inverclyde Council that our town centre is in serious trouble. Without prompt action by the Council and our partner agencies, Greenock Town Centre may experience irrevocable decline, with companies moving away and staying away.”

The Ward 3 Cllr is proposing that the Council host a Retail Summit for shops and retailers across the town, and invite relevant partner agencies and retail specialists, to see if solutions can be found and problems investigated. He also suggested that the Council should give serious consideration to introducing a rates reduction scheme for affected parts of the town.

Commenting on this he said:
“Since last year, the SNP Scottish Government have given Councils in Scotland the ability to vary rates in particular areas to help town-centres suffering under the Tory austerity agenda. To date Inverclyde Council has not chosen to use these powers, despite Greenock’s rates being particularly high. As a result, numerous shops that have closed or are considering closing have cited rates as one of the major factors. I feel a retail summit aimed specifically at addressing these problems and working with our retail companies is essential ”

He added:
“None of this will impinge on the Town Centre Regeneration Group, which I was the principal proponent of, calling for it to be established as part of the last budget process. The group recently had a design charrete which was well attended by residents and businesses alike, and its work continues. But we need to look specifically at retail in the town right now and the challenges it faces such as the town-centre parking situation which has had so many revisions and changes it is hard to keep track of.

“For all their talking and meetings, the Labour group don’t seem to be aware that our town-centre is under severe pressure, and if we don’t act fast, it may be too late.”

Ward 3 SNP Cllr Math Campbell-Sturgess has today hit out at Inverclyde Council’s Labour administration for a scandalous waste of money on various projects after it came to light during Thursday’s Environment and Regeneration Committee that the Council would be spending over £204,000 on a statue for a roundabout in Port Glasgow, and a further £87,000 on refurbishing two toilets within the Greenock Municipal Buildings.
Commenting, Cllr Campbell-Sturgess said: “It is quite staggering to me that these sums of money are being spent by Labour on vanity projects whilst we have such deep problems in Inverclyde.”

“When I challenged the administration on this, Council Leader Cllr McCabe said it was a £200,000 investment for Port Glasgow.”

“With shops closing all around us, one-in-four of our children in poverty, and serious matters like depopulation and a lack of local employment, I am baffled why Labour feel it is appropriate to spend almost £300,000 on a statue in the middle of a roundabout and two toilets in the Council buildings. They are literally pouring money down the toilet.”

I recently sent the following letter to Tracey Crouch MP, the UK Government Minister with responsibility for Gambling, calling on her to devolve full control over Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to Scotland, to allow the Scottish Government to grant Scottish local authorities powers to control the spread and use of them.

Dear Ms. Crouch,

As Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for Gambling, I am sure you will be aware of the tragic case of Lee Murphy, who committed suicide last May after racking up debts of over £30,000 in a year gambling on Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals, and whose story was recently featured in the Daily Record (1st November 2015).  His case is sadly not unique, with gambling charities estimating at least one in four gambling addicts will attempt suicide.

As you will also no doubt be aware, my party, the SNP,  has repeatedly called for the power to regulate the number of FOBT’s permitted in bookmaking premises be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, as well as the ability to regulate the maximum stake allowed. Sadly, the recently announced amendments to the Scotland Bill only provide the power to regulate some aspects of new FOBTs, in new premises – not those already in use.

As the Member of Parliament for Chatham & Aylesford, you will be aware of the problems that problem gambling & FOBTs can cause – the violent incident in Chatham in March 2014 being but one example – and you will know your own local authority, Medway Council, is a member of the Medway Partnership, the first scheme of its kind in the UK to allow self-exclusion from all bookmakers within the scheme – and I am investigating bringing such a scheme to Inverclyde.  Clearly this is a problem that affects local authorities all over the UK – but I would point out that Chatham, a town with a population of some 70,000, has just 8 bookmakers – whereas Inverclyde with a population of around 80,000 currently has almost 20 bookmakers and estimates show that over the last year almost twice the amount of money was gambled away in Inverclyde as Chatham, some £2.7 million. I am aware of the politics surrounding the Scotland Bill and of the complexities of the legislation and amendments to it – but I simply wish to do the job I was elected to do and serve my constituents and my town – a town which in its centre has 10 bookmakers within a 1 kilometre radius, some of which have 5 FOBTs each.

I write to you today, not as politician to politician, but as one human being to another, please, allow these powers to be devolved, in order that Scottish local authorities can regulate the usage of these machines not just in future applications, but in those licences already granted.  Without these powers, I fear we shall read of more tragic cases in our newspapers of gamblers taking their own lives after losing everything gambling on FOBTs.

Yours sincerely

 

Cllr Math Campbell-Sturgess

75445_QPA661_IMG_00_0000_max_656x437Fantastic news ahead of the Scottish Cabinet visiting Greenock today, CVS Inverclyde are set to benefit from £60,000 of funding from the £1.7 million Scottish Government’s “Town Centre Communities Capital Fund”, which will be used to a town-centre Greenock Community Hub, with office space, training facilities and advice centre.
This is brilliant news for the town-centre especially at a time when the retail environment is causing many to worry.  Hopefully this will help kick-start a new wave of development in Cathcart Street and the wider town.
You can find more details on the Scottish Government website here.

So I turned on my phone this morning and was browsing social-media (as many of us do), only to be confronted with this photo:
CQER45BWcAAW1dE.jpg-large

For those unaware, that is Knocknairshill Cemetery in the east-end of Greenock.  And someone’s fly-tipped bed and filthy mattress.
A member of the public visiting a relatives grave last night saw this, and took a photo, but couldn’t contact any staff due to the time of night.

Knocknairshill is actually not that far from where I live; my ward is Greenock central, the west end and broomhill, but I currently stay in the east end, and regularly walk my dog on the cycle path that passes by the bottom end of the cemetery, so I know it well.  The place is truly beautiful and on a quiet summer’s evening the sense of tranquility is lovely.  All the more disgusting that someone should think the pace suitable to flytrap their unwanted rubbish and furniture.

The cemetery is open-access which allows people to visit when they wish – but in my opinion it shows a fundamental lack of character in the perpetrator of this act.  They clearly have no respect for the feelings of those who visit Knocknairshill to grieve lost loved ones, for their community, or for themselves.

I contacted Council officers this morning to report the mess and ask if it can be dealt with, and I’m pleased to report that it had already been removed and the site cleaned first thing this morning.  Community Wardens will be asked to check in when they’re doing their usual patrols of the area.

If you know who might be responsible for this wanton act, please report them here: http://dumbdumpers.org

IMG_3915

And so a year has passed since Scotland’s referendum on independence.
We’re all a year older, and what a year..

And yet despite all that has happened, I find myself pausing now and looking back.  As a co-founder of English Scots for YES I found myself flung far and wide across our land last summer; I gave speeches in St.Andrews, raised our banner in Dundee, debated with Tories in the far north-west where Fort William is a distant memory on a long bus-trip…

IMG_3403

I visited places I’d not even heard of before; met so many people, made new friends along the way.  It was an amazing time.  Last summer to me, summed up one thing above all else though.  Hope.

Those readers who attended any of the many thousands of events the YES campaign organised could not have missed it – the feeling of anticipation, of growing wonder at an idea whose time has almost come.
That idea is not a new one – it is as old as that of Scotland herself – the idea that we can govern ourselves for the betterment of all, that we can see to our own affairs, run our own welfare state, collect our own taxes, fund our own social projects, invest the resources from under our seas; in short, rise and be that nation once again.

That feeling grew slowly over the months that saw the National Conversation, the formal launch of the independence campaign and finally it blossomed last summer.  We saw our towns and cities blanketed in saltires and YES banners; outpourings of such positivity and hope that you could literally see it painted on their faces.  A movement that saw the once pariah word of “freedom”, so long derided in Scottish politics thanks to “that film” reclaimed for future generations yet unborn, and saw the square of an oft-forgotten King named anew in that summer of hope.

That hope did not die on September 18th.  Over the autumn of 2014 and into 2015, much of Scotland woke up to politics anew, when their hopes were seemingly dashed by a narrow majority against independence, only to rise from the ashes like a phoenix.  It saw them flock towards the SNP in droves so large now some 2% of the entire Scottish population are counted in its ranks.  It saw the people of Scotland return an SNP MP in 56 out of 59 constituencies.  It also saw many sit back and wonder what might have been had they voted differently.  Many now seemingly would – polls are showing support for independence at an all time high, at 53% (IPSOS 1st Sept 2015).

The year saw other developments – as many of us predicted, despite “The Vow” which likely won the referendum for NO, not a single power has been devolved to Scotland thus far.   And it looks increasingly likely that any powers that are devolved will be significantly less than those promised.

This betrayal of trust will, I predict, not go down too well with the voters.  Indeed, those polls are testament to the reaction it is provoking.  People confronted by doubts and economic uncertainties who decided to give this Union one last shot are now ruing that decision as once again London is showing it is unwilling, uninterested and unable to deliver real change.  With the Tories re-elected for another 5 years, this time without even the slight restraint offered by their once-partners, austerity is marching across these isles, checked only here in Scotland where the Scottish Government has a few powers to delay if not defeat the deadly tide that has seen services reduced, schools & hospitals closed, welfare provisions removed and misery inflicted upon our poorest and most vulnerable.

But hope does not die.

Last week, I attended the unveiling of a monument to commemorate the 8 victims of the 1820 massacre here in Greenock; protestors in the oft-forgotten Radical War whose participants fought to govern Scotland themselves – not as subjects by feudal absentee-landowners, or by the uncaring rich and powerful in London, but by fellow citizens, selected by democratic mandate.
12052658_1630857237167956_2545735836047973281_o
Ultimately, their murderers were never brought to justice.  But the dreams of those Radicals were realised, though it took one hundred years and more.  Universal suffrage was won for the people and democratic change is possible in Scotland not through bloodshed but through the ballot box.

Now Scotland stands once again at a crossroads, as the hopes and dreams of the People are pitted agains the entrenched interests of the rich and powerful in London.  Times have changed; our protests peaceful, relying on the power of a cross on a piece of paper, but some things do not change.  Those entrenched interests will not go quietly into that bright tomorrow; will not relinquish power willingly, and they will continue to fight with both fair means and foul to resist the will of the 1.6 million Scots who dared to dream last summer.

But it matters not.  Because no matter what they throw at us, what lies they use their media to tell us, we shall not give in.  In the words of our former First Minster, “the dream shall never die”.  I do not know when the next referendum will come; whether our wait shall be short, or like those long-dead martyrs to freedom a long long wait whose end some of us shall not see.

But I do know this: the hope we saw last year is real.  And hope doesn’t die.

The next time, Scotland WILL vote YES.