SCHOOL years – some people look back on them with fond memories of time spent with childhood friends, others shudder at the thought of having to step foot in a classroom ever again.
For me, I am reminded of my school days every time I drive down Glasgow Road toward my constituency office, or when I’m heading to my help and advice surgery on a Friday morning.
Usually if I have a passenger in the car, they’ll have the pleasure of me excitedly pointing and shouting at them “that’s my old school!” as we drive past the railings and trees that line the entrance of Bannerman High.
It’s a feeling somewhere between pride and nostalgia. Proud of where I have come from, of the school that I spent my formative years at and also the feeling of Bannerman High being “mine”. My school, my teachers, my classmates, my community.
Although I admit it’s strange to become so attached to certain landmarks like my old school, now that I represent the area I was born, brought up and went to school in, I’ve become all the more sentimental about the institution that shaped me into the person and Member of Parliament that I am today.
I mention this all because this week marked the 50th anniversary of Bannerman High School. An East End institution that has seen thousands of pupils like me from across Baillieston, Garrowhill, Mount Vernon, Carmyle and Swinton come through its doors.
As well as excelling in the performing arts, with its amazing dance, theatre and music curriculum – Bannerman High has come to embody the true sense of the word “community” thanks to the efforts of pupils, parents and teachers past and present. It is a community I am genuinely proud to be a part of.
From the moment I stepped into Westminster, I have carried a piece of the East End of Glasgow and Bannerman High with me. So much so that I wore my old school tie when I was sworn in as the Member of Parliament for Glasgow East.
Stood in the House of Commons and wearing it as a badge of honour, I remember at the time thinking what my younger self, the local boy from Cranhill, would make of it all.
Because of this, throughout my time as the MP for Glasgow East I have always maintained that the work I do is for the people living in the East End of Glasgow.
Like many MPs, my constituents are my utmost priority, not just because they elected me as their representative, but because I represent the community that raised me.
I represent the people I attended Bannerman High with, the neighbours that watched me play on the streets of Cranhill. I represent their children, their parents, uncles, aunties and grandparents – and it is something I have never once taken for granted.
Sometimes it can then feel like the weight of the world – or in my case the East End of Glasgow – truly rests on my shoulders. But it is this feeling that makes me work, day in and day out, to ensure they have a voice against Tory Westminster policy that so often harms them.
Over the last six years, I have visited the primary and secondary schools across the East End. Having conversations with pupils from P1 right through to S6, I’m sometimes left worrying what world will meet them after they leave school.
This week only consolidated this fear.
The contrast between the hope and optimism of our young people, versus the British government’s agenda could not be clearer.
We need a government that puts our young people at the centre of its priorities, not a Prime Minister that tears up years of work to tackle climate change because it’s electorally beneficial.
I want a government that provides a safety net for people, rather than one that pulls the rug from under them when they need support the most.
As the Tory-made cost-of-living crisis continues to run rampant throughout our community, as a constituency MP, I see the hurt and frustration that it causes the people I am elected to represent; the people I care most about when challenging the UK Government over its unrelenting austerity agenda.
Whilst the Scottish Government uses its limited powers to ensure our school children and young people are shielded from the worst effects of Westminster, they can only go so far without the full powers of independence.
For the pupils of Bannerman High and people across the East End, when I stand in Westminster, I am their voice. A voice to advocate on their behalf, no matter the cause.
I do this so that when I drive past Bannerman High on my way to work, the pupils inside can have confidence knowing that I will always advocate for the community that has raised me, and one that continues to thrive despite nearly 14 years of Tory austerity.