Palestinian Dabka Folklore Dance Troupe – and Civic Reception

Last night, I had the great honour of giving a welcome address to the Palestinian Dabka Folklore Dance Troupe from Bethlehem as they performed to a large audience (see right) at the Dundee West Church Halls.    
 
It was very kind of Tayside for Justice in Palestine, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Action Palestine to invite me to give the welcome address and I took the opportunity to thank all for their support for the people of Palestine and their right to self-determination, nationhood and a positive future.    
 
The Dabka Folklore Dance Troupe performed in the City Square last year and are hugely talented.   Here’s a photograph below of the troupe with me last night:
Later yesterday evening, I attended the Civic Reception in honour of Bailie Ian Borthwick, as Ian celebrates his 50th anniversary as a city councillor.   It was very fitting that there was a large turnout to recognise Ian’s immense contribution to his constituents and the city over 50 years, including councillors and other elected representatives of all political persuasions.

Supporting the people of Palestine

I have today written to the MP for Dundee West in the following terms:
 
From: Fraser Macpherson 
Sent: 27 November 2012 08:44
To: Jim McGovern MP
 
Dear Jim
 
As you will be aware, the Palestinians are seeking recognition of sovereignty by applying for Observer status at the UN on 29th November.   This is a fundamental step towards having long term peace in the region and moves the two state solution closer to reality.   Unfortunately the British government is planning to abstain in this vote.   However, it is expected that the Palestinians are likely to win this bid and gain recognition by the UN.   There are a number of senior members of the government like Nick Clegg that are actively lobbying fellow MPs to vote in support of a yes vote.   Can you please advise what your position on Palestinian sovereignty is?
 
It is important that we demonstrate our international outlook by supporting this initiative by impressing upon both the Westminster Government and indeed all MPs the need to support the Palestinian bid.   The government has openly stated that all parties should work together to achieve the two state solution and supporting this bid would demonstrate that the government genuinely believe in this solution and are prepared to work towards creating political, diplomatic and trade encouragements for doing so. 
 
This vote is due to take place this Thursday (29th November 2012) and I look forward to hearing your views on this matter. 
 
Best regards
 
Fraser
 
Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Liberal Democrat Councillor for the West End
Dundee City Council

Busy Saturday …

It has proved to be a busy Saturday, starting with giving the Bonnie Dundee team a hand with tidying the garden of Dundee West Church at the top end of Roseangle:
Trudy Cunningham and me in gardening mode at Dundee West Church this morning!
Thereafter, I attended the Blackness Primary School Jubilee Fete, which was hugely well-attended!   Here’s a couple of photos from the fete:
The Fete stalls were really busy!
And yet again, Mr Ferrier, Head Teacher, was a good sport (and rather cold and wet!)
At lunchtime, I had the pleasure of addressing the Justice for Palestine Festival in the City Square – here’s a couple of short videos from the event:
This afternoon, I had the pleasure of dropping in on the Tullideph Place Jubilee Party!   A good time had by all:

Supporting the people of Palestine

I have, over the years, made no secret of my support for the people of Palestine.    I am therefore pleased to have been invited to address an event in support of the Palestinian cause, taking place in the City Square on Saturday.

The Justice for Palestine Festival takes place between 12 noon and 4pm and is part of a Scotland-wide series of events – see below:

Monday, Tuesday

* At last night’s City Council meetings, despite the support of petitions signatures from hundreds of Dundonians and the powerful and compelling case made by delegations in support of my motion on the plight of the Palestinian people in the Gaza strip, I was heavily outvoted by a cobbled-together Labour/Nationalist amendment that represented the lowest common denominator of standing up for nothing.   As I am reported in today’s Courier, it is sometimes better to lose the vote but do what you consider to be morally right.

* I raised questions about the City Council’s poor performance on re-letting of council houses and on the provision of controlled entry systems at the Housing, Dundee Contract Services and Environment Services Committee.

* Tonight, at West End Community Council, there was a very interesting presentation by Lisa Toon of the Association of Scottish Neighbourhood Watches.   In response to one of my questions, Lisa said that the number of Neighbourhood Watches in Dundee is lower than average and it would be good to see the number increase across the city.   Lisa outlined ways the Association of Scottish Neighbourhood Watches can support Neighbourhood Watch initiatives and I am keen to encourage neighbourhood watch schemes in Dundee that can assist local communities prevent crime in their local area.

City Council motion on Gaza

Earlier this week, I mentioned some of the criticism by certain propagandists of the motion I have placed on the City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee next Monday, expressing concern about the plight of the people of Gaza.    There’s been something of a predictable campaign by these people, who have a few things in common – few (if any) live in Dundee (most e-mails, some with very inappropriate content, emanate from outwith the UK) and most writers are in a state of denial about the behaviour of the Israeli government and military over the Gaza blockade.

The letter in today’s Courier continues this theme of denial and I have responded to the Courier as follows:

Subject: Letter to the Editor

Dear Sirs

In meddling in the affairs of a local authority outwith her own area of Fife, Flora Selwyn (Courier Letters 11th June) claims that I should “leave foreign affairs to the Government.”

She fails to appreciate that local authorities procure goods and services and it is the responsibility of councillors to ensure they do so in an ethical manner.

Best regards

Cllr Fraser Macpherson

Dundee City Council

Tayside House

Dundee.

It is interesting – and extremely heartwarming – to note the huge outpouring of support for my actions by local Dundee people.   On Monday, I will collect a petition in support of my motion to the City Council, signed by hundreds of local people.   I am very grateful to those who have organised the petition for all their efforts and to everyone who has signed it.

The people of Dundee have a reputation for fair-mindedness and the city has a proud record of supporting what is right.   Of all the e-mails and letters I have received, perhaps the most telling quote made was originally said by Archbishop Desmond Tutu : “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Wednesday …

Today’s “Courier” covered the criticism by “Scottish Friends of Israel” of the motion I have placed on the City Council’s Policy & Resources Committee next Monday.    As I said to the Courier:

“I have raised this issue in light of my concerns over the continuing plight of the Palestinian people and of the humanitarian situation caused by Israel’s continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“The Gaza blockade by Israel has brought terrible hardship to Gaza’s one and a half million citizens.   I agree with the International Committee of the Red Cross which has made clear that Israel is in violation of its obligations under international humanitarian law.

“I am rather concerned by the use of some selective quotes by Stanley Grossman of Scottish Friends of Israel to suggest there is not a humanitarian crisis in Gaza when this is far from the case.    There has been a huge level of concern shown by people across the world about the plight of the people of Gaza and I would draw Mr Grossman’s attention to the concerns raised by respected organisations such as the Red Cross and Oxfam.

“I have raised this matter as it is important that Dundee City Council, as with other local authorities, has an ethical procurement policy.    It is very clear from feedback from many constituents that they too are concerned for the plight of the people of Gaza and it is to be hoped that, with international pressure, Israel will lift its blockade of the Gaza strip.”

Tonight’s Evening Telegraph covered the efforts made at the weekend to clean up graffiti in the West End and my praise for all who got involved in removing graffiti on Saturday.

Monday activities

In addition to the launch of Barney’s Fund that I mentioned last night, yesterday :

* The Courier covered the background to the motion I intend to bring to the City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee on 13th June.   This surrounds the plight of the people of Palestine, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the issue of the boycott of Israeli goods.    I am hoping that cross-party discussions prior to 13th June will achieve a cross-party consensus on this matter.

* The Courier also highlighted my view on the forthcoming Scottish Liberal Democrat leadership election.

After my two Monday surgeries at Harris Academy and the Mitchell Street Centre, I attended City Council committee meetings yesterday evening at which :

* I sought assurances that local suppliers in Dundee would benefit from a new Housing Department Decoration Card Scheme.

* I welcomed a new food waste collection pilot scheme, but asked how the number of separate collections to households can be avoided by collecting different collections at the same time.    As things now stand, there is potential for some households to have 5 separate collections – general waste, blue bin (paper/cardboard), brown bin (garden waste), green box (plastics, bottles etc) and now the new food collection.   It is clear from the reply given that the Waste Management Department has given thought to rationalising the number of collections, which is to be welcomed.    Given  the likely requirements on local authorities by 2013 to collect food waste, it is good that the City Council is moving this pilot forward now.

* I questioned the Chief Executive about progress on shared services, during discussion of a report on an overview of local government, undertaken by the Accounts Commission.

* I sought assurances that the City Council will work with residents across the city who are keen to form new Community Councils.

* I welcomed a report that will result in a new cremated remains section in Western Cemetery.    Having worked with the Western Cemetery Association to move this forward, I paid tribute to the Director of Leisure & Communities and his staff for all the work done with the design proposal.

Gaza commemoration in the City Square

Earlier today, I spoke in the City Square at the Commemoration Event of the dreadul events in Gaza in 2008/9 in which, during Israeli bombing, many innocent Palestinean civilians were murdered, including 357 children.   

The event was organised by Tayside for Justice in Palestine and included an art installation by Dundee artist Pat Donachie that depicted deaths of the 357 children – an installation of shoes and coffins to which he has added all the names of the children who perished.

As well as being a commemoration, the event also saw the launch of fundraising for a Scottish ship to take part in a flotilla to break the ongoing blockade. The fundraising is going well – as I said in my speech, Dundee people are always generous supporters of worthwhile causes and it was good to learn that nearly £1000 was raised yesterday outside the mosque in Brown Street in the West End.

 Above : Edith Constable of Tayside for Justice in Palestine addresses the commemoration event

Above:  Pat Donachie’s art installation

Supporting the people of Gaza – an update

In July, I updated residents on my actions in trying to move forward the City Council’s support for the people of Gaza – see http://tinyurl.com/dundee-gaza.

As reported in yesterday’s Courier, there has been some progress and I paste below the content of a letter to the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign Dundee from the Lord Provost.   Having spoken with the City Council’s Legal Manager last week about the legal aspects surrounding a boycott of Israeli goods, I am continuing to pursue this matter.

Petition to Lord Provost and Meeting of 27 July 2010

 

I refer to the meet we held on the 27 July 2010 and the Petition that was handed over at that meeting. I would apologise for the delay in responding to you, but Officers of the Council have been liaise with other Scottish Local Authorities who you advised us were considering approving a boycott of Israeli companies and goods.

Not buy products from Israel

The City Council’s Legal Officers have considered this proposal, and are firmly of the opinion that the City Council could not agree to boycott the purchase of goods and services from Israeli companies. Further, our Officers contacted Legal Officers in Glasgow, Edinburgh and West Dunbartonshire Councils and the first two Councils have firmly confirmed that they would strongly advise their Councils that any such boycott would be unlawful. West Dunbartonshire Council has not replied, despite numerous reminders. In conclusion, I believe the City Council could not agree to your proposal. I would wish to point out that the City Council has not made any payments to Veolia Waste or Eden Springs since 2008.

Fly the Palestinian Flag

At the meeting I advised you that the Palestinian flag has been flown within the City Chambers for many decades. I agree with your compromise suggestion that the Twinning Flags shall be flown in the City Square as soon as arrangements can be made.

The next flotilla

In the event of the next ship leaving Dundee, I would support efforts to deliver supplies and goods to the people of the Gaza Strip.

I would close by offering you my best wishes and hope that your cause will be furthered by the support I am offering on behalf of Dundee City Council.

Yours sincerely

John R Letford

Lord Provost of Dundee

Dundee supporting the people of Gaza

As reported in today’s “Courier”, yesterday, along with two of my West End constituents who had contacted me about how the City Council can further support the people of Gaza, and Ali El-Awaisi, who was on board the Mavi Marmara when it was illegally stormed by Israeli commandos, I met with the Lord Provost, the City Council’s Chief Executive and the council’s Legal Manager.It was also agreed that they would informally make contact with West Dunbartonshire Council who unanimously agreed recently to reaffirm its existing boycott of Israeli goods

and also two other authorities who have also been approached along with other authorities by supporters of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign on the matter. This will enable the City Council to be acquainted with the approach being taken elsewhere in Scotland – and particularly in relation to legal advice and conformity to correct procedures in relation to procurement and Best Value they have considered.

I have written today to the SNP, Labour and Conservative group leaders and to the Depute Lord Provost to request their support for a boycott. I am anxious that this matter is progressed in a spirit of co-operation between the various political groups and that we recognise the strength of feeling of the people of Dundee, as evidenced by the growing petition.

Specifically, my constituents wished to raise the possibility of flying the Palestinian flag in the City Square (or the flags of the countries of all our twinned cities) and the City Council implementing a boycott of Israeli products or services, given the suffering caused by their blockade of Gaza and the illegal action against the aid flotilla that the City Council has already unanimously condemned at its meeting on 14th June. Ali handed the Lord Provost a petition calling for such a boycott. It already over 2500 signatures of local people on it – and more will be collected – showing the strength of feeling Dundee people over this issue.

I am very supportive of my constituents over the boycott issue but appreciate that the officers of the council will have to be satisfied of its legality and conformity to procurement and Best Value regulations. Thus far, the Chief Executive and the Legal Manager have raised issues they believe do not make a boycott permissible, but, given that one of my constituents brought with him information from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

that outlines the legal basis for excluding Veolia from public contracts (this company has a contract with Dundee City Council’s Waste Management Department) and a number of other local authorities have now implemented a boycott, it was agreed that the officers would look at the legal basis for excluding Veolia provided yesterday.

Ali El-Awaisi

My thoughts tonight are with the family of Ali El-Awaisi, the 21 year old from Dundee, caught up in the massacre of the flotilla taking much-needed aid to the people of Gaza. Ali’s family have been, as yet, unable to make contact with him following the disgraceful and unlawful actions of Israeli commandos.
I know Ali’s father – Professor Abd al-Fattah El-Awaisi – well, from his period as Principal of the Al-Maktoum Institute in Dundee. Ali was part of a humanitarian relief effort and I hope and pray that he is safe and well.