The day I realised the true meaning of community...

THIS Sunday, we will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Stockline explosion.

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On May 11, 2004, there were approximately 60 people in the factory when it suddenly exploded and collapsed.

Miraculously, some people were able to walk away with relatively minor injuries. Others, however, were not so fortunate and dozens remained trapped underneath the rubble.

Rescuers from all parts of the city responded and from a fire service perspective we quickly had hundreds of firefighters on the scene. Over the next four days, in warm Glasgow sunshine, a rescue operation took place which was unprecedented in the country's history and saved dozens of lives. The operation involved a number of different agencies and also drew in firefighters from all over the UK.

The response from the local community was simply outstanding. People rushed to help, supermarkets opened their doors, and the Maryhill Community Central Hall acted as the focal point of the disaster. We often talk about community spirit and about how fantastic our communities are. On that day, I realised the true meaning of community, and felt it very strongly.

The bravery and resilience of so many members of the community faded into the background however, as the degree of the tragedy unfolded. The Stockline Disaster left its legacy. We remember the nine lives lost in the tragedy. We also remember all those who were so badly injured in the explosion, and all those left so terribly scarred by its memory. We stand shoulder to shoulder, particularly on such a poignant anniversary, with all the families that the disaster left behind, to pick up the pieces.

As a born Glaswegian, I have had many occasions during my fire service career to be proud of this great city. The 11th of May 2004 was one of those occasions. This Sunday, amongst the sadness and the memories of Stockline, will be another.


A NEW report has highlighted the attainment gap between children from poorer families and their better off peers.

The report, from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, written by the University of Strathclyde, makes grim reading. When it comes to the education of our children, it would seem that even before school age, the gap has begun.

By the age of five, poorer children are already 12 months behind. This gap widens further through primary school and into the secondary education system.

In early secondary school, 28% of children from poorer families are performing well in numeracy. This is compared to some 56% from an advantaged background.

Children from poorer families are more likely to leave school early and more likely to leave without any qualifications.

Similarly they are three times more likely to be unemployed after leaving school.

They are twice as likely to only work part-time and even if they are in full-time employment, they will only earn half as much as their wealthier peers.

Although these latest statistics are tragic, the real tragedy is that they are not new. We listen to politicians of all parties as they talk to us about closing the gap between the haves and have-nots, about creating a more equal society, a fairer, more inclusive country, with equality of opportunity. Educational inequality lies at the root of these problems, yet I hear little which would persuade me that it is being effectively tackled.

Whilst there are many strands to the problem, I do not agree that it is so complicated that it cannot be fixed. In the vast majority of cases, we understand who these children are, where they live, what schools they go to and what needs and demands they have.

It's about time we put some robust policies in place to break the cycle of educational poverty and fix it.

Unless we do, we will condemn another generation to the same social inequality that has affected their predecessors.

Ultimately, we will pay the price for depriving our children of the education they need to live lives that are fair and equal.

I SEE that Glasgow's enviable reputation for art, is again placing us in the national spotlight this week.

It would appear that three out of the four final nominations for this year's Turner Prize have links with the city.

The arts prize is well known for the contemporary nature of its art.

This year's finalists are no less contemporary and include narrated slideshows and YouTube clips. The Turner Prize comes with a cash award of some £25,000.

For those amongst us who may not fully understand contemporary art, I can highly recommend a good long look at some of this year's entries.

It would be fair to say that they push the boundaries of creative art.

Although, having to define, "why certain aspects of art, are in fact art," "what makes art" or "why don't we get it, as art" all say something to me - it's not art.

My son is going through his exams at the moment and National 5 Physics is truly stretching my logic, reasoning and understanding, of exactly how our universe functions.

It may not be art, but it's life.


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