Monica Lennon on the Holyrood baby at one
Labour equalities spokesperson Monica Lennon on how Scotland’s parliamentarians are faring as Kirsty’s aunts and uncles
Monica Lennon - credit Kate Shannon/Holyrood
It’s one year since the current crop of MSPs was elected. And it’s also the first birthday of Kirsty, the Holyrood baby. Kirsty’s poster adorns the wall of many MSPs, including the Children’s Minister, but have the life chances of Scotland’s babies been improving on our watch?
Are we the distant aunt or uncle who shows up for the birthday party with an oversized cuddly toy and tucks into the cake? Or have we been there through the teething problems too? Let’s face it, babies are hard work.
Sure, there are lots of nice aunts and uncles in the Scottish Parliament. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think any of us have being doing quite enough for Kirsty and other babies like her this past year. After all, Scotland’s lawmakers haven’t been passing any laws.
My first speech in the Scottish Parliament was during a Scottish Government debate titled ‘Creating a Fairer Scotland’.
I had just been appointed as Shadow Minister for Inequalities. This, coupled with the ‘arrival’ of the Holyrood baby, inspired my preparation for the debate, so much so that I based my entire speech around Kirsty and making Scotland fairer for her sake.
“Let’s all resolve that, when this parliament dissolves five years from now, we’ll be able to say we’ve done everything we can to give all of Scotland’s young people the best possible future.”
Not my speech, but words spoken by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, shortly after the 2016 election.
And who would disagree with this? It’s exactly the sort of test by which political parties should be judged.
As we reflect on ‘Kirsty at 1’, my verdict is that the Scottish Government and indeed the parliament is ‘not doing everything we can’ for her. The evidence for this includes:
- The gap between the rich and poor in Scotland is increasing, as the wealthiest continue to prosper at a faster rate.
- More than 260,000 children live in poverty but the powers of the parliament have not been used to increase Child Benefit.
- Around 400 children die each year in Scotland and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reports a significant number of these deaths is potentially avoidable.
- Neonatal services in Scotland are lacking enough doctors and nurses and services are struggling to give parents practical support, such as overnight accommodation to be near their babies, according to Bliss Scotland.
- Local budgets have been cut by over £1bn since 2011, with serious consequences for the community services the poorest people rely on.
I’ve used parliamentary questions and debating points to champion children’s mental health, more investment in schools and early intervention to tackle health inequalities. I’ve had some cut-through, particularly in pushing for a review of CAMHS. However, with a decade of underinvestment in classrooms, we are seeing education standards slide.
Despite this, the Scottish Government insists it has given local government a fair settlement. Local services are being decimated across Scotland and it’s making life tougher for Kirsty and her family. This is not fair or progressive, in my view.
The austerity agenda of the UK Government is undeniable, but the Scottish Government must come clean about the choices it has made too.
You can’t expect communities and families to be resilient when local libraries are closing, schools are losing teachers and there aren’t enough affordable homes for people to live in.
Before politics I was a town planner, so it’s no surprise that I believe that place has a big influence on health and wealth inequalities.
As such, I’m disappointed that the Scottish Government is timid on planning reform. When the Planning Bill comes to parliament, MSPs can choose to take a more progressive and public health-orientated approach. Treating communities as an equal partner in the decision-making process would be a step towards redistributing power. Families like Kirsty’s would benefit from this.
In my experience, there are some similarities between becoming a parent and a parliamentarian (and perhaps even a town planner).
There is no manual, so you learn on the job. The hours are long, you’ll lose sleep and will rarely feel appreciated. But if you try your best, learn to ask for help and live with and learn from the odd mistake, then you will get better at it. And the rewards can last a lifetime.
In politics, it’s easy to become distracted, complacent and to play it safe. One year goes by quickly. It is time we used every power at our disposal to make our country fairer, for Kirsty and all of Scotland’s children.
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