Racist abuse I received really was a Big Issue

NO matter where you live in Glasgow, you will walk past a Big Issue vendor almost daily in your local community.

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Some might see people selling the Big Issue as beggars, however they are not, it is important to be aware that by selling the Big Issue, vendors are generating an income for themselves responsibly and have the opportunity to make a better life for themselves.

The Big Issue offers people who are homeless a hand up, rather than a hand out. When the Big Issue and the International Network of Street Papers approached me about taking part in this year's International Street Paper Vendor Week, I had no hesitation in saying yes.

I learnt a lot from my experience selling the Big Issue last year and I was up for the challenge of this year's event - the Big Sell Off - where I would compete with fellow Glasgow politicians to see who could sell the most copies of the Big Issue and raise the most money for INSP and The Big Issue.

I met my mentor and vendor Anakin, who is originally from Bucharest, on his pitch outside Queen Street Station on a chilly Friday afternoon and started to work on my patter.

I was thrilled to sell over 50 copies in a little over an hour, the most copies sold by any politician, however the experience was about so much more than just selling a magazine.

During my time selling the Big Issue, I encountered three types of rejection.

The first type was very polite, people would just say 'no thank you' and walk on.

The second type was to just ignore me - it is quite eye-opening to have people treating you as if you are invisible.

The third type was the worst and was open aggression, as a man approached me and my mentor Anakin and I was subjected to racist abuse.

While we were being filmed by the Big Issue team, the man pointed at the camera and shouted 'You're not from my country' at me before launching into a tirade about Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants in Scotland.

I have often spoken out against the UK Government's 'Go Home' campaign, and being told Scotland is not my country is the worst insult to have thrown at me as I was born and bred in Glasgow and represent the city in the Scottish Parliament - I don't have another home.

It was shocking that this man was not deterred by the presence of cameras, and it is deeply upsetting that someone would assume Glasgow is not my home because of the colour of my skin.

Luckily I can stand up for myself against racists and the abuse he shouted at me - I am used to standing my ground in the Scottish Parliament's lively debates. However, the experience brought home to me what vendors must go through week in, week out. By selling the Big Issue they are just looking for a way to improve their lives and are causing no harm in the process, yet they are often easy targets for disrespectful behaviour.

What I will take away from my Big Sell Off experience is that for every ignorant racist or bigot there were many good, generous Glaswegians who stopped to buy a copy of the Big Issue.

Even if people couldn't afford to buy the magazine, they gave the change in their purse or wallet, and those who couldn't even afford that stopped to smile and chat.

This was truly heartening and I'm very glad I could help raise awareness of the Big Issue, INSP and the issue of homelessness.

So next time you pass by your local Big Issue vendor why not buy a copy, stop off for a chat or at the least give them a smile - trust me they'll appreciate it.

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