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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
7th August
2008


When you get back from a wee break, feeling refreshed and with the batteries recharged, there’s nothing better than heading towards the office to sort through the mail that’s come in while you were away – honest.

That’s been my week this week, just catching up and getting back into the swing of things – gutted to have missed polling day in the Glasgow East bye-election, but delighted to be able to revel in the aftermath of what was a tremendous victory.  It also gives us great hope for the future.  I think it shows further and almost conclusive evidence that no party in Scotland can ever again take the voters of any area for granted.  I think it shows that Scotland’s voters are all now starting to think about their votes, about what their votes mean and about what their votes can do.  It’s going to make for some interesting times ahead.

The scale of the task facing us is outlined in some degree by a couple of reports which have been published.  Firstly, there’s the Scottish Household survey showing that a fifth of Scottish households are subsisting on less than £10,000 a year and another fifth are getting by on between £10,000 and £15,000 a year.  That’s not delivering a decent standard of living, surely?  We’ve got to be looking at measures to address poverty in Scotland, to start lifting everyone’s expectations and lifting the standard of living of the least well-off people in society.  We’ve got to give people a fighting chance of having a life that can be enjoyed.

Part of the problem is that most of the important tools for changing the economy, improving the economy and thereby offering the chance to improve the lives of Scots are not in Scottish hands.  Too many of the economic levers are still held in the Treasury in London, and the Scottish Government doesn’t have the control it should have over Scotland’s tax and spending.  John Swinney, Jim Mather, et al will do what they can to improve Scotland’s economic prospects – of that I have no doubt – but until they can get full control they will, no doubt, be feeling a bit like Sisyphus as the UK rock keeps rolling back down.

I’m backing John and Jim to deliver, though, they’re not the kind of people who would give up, and they’re just the kind of people who would understand the need to find alternatives in order to deliver real change.

The other report which gives pause for thought is the report by the Scottish Government which showed that there were 455 drug-related deaths last year – half of them people under 35.  It’s an incredible waste of human life and an incredible waste of the potential of the Scottish people.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do feel that there has to be some degree of raising hope, raising the sights of the people of this country.

We need to have people believe that there is more to their lives than mere existence, that there are improvements that can be made, and that life can be an exciting journey rather than a drudge.  That won’t solve the problem of those for whom drugs are an adrenaline rush or a status symbol rather than an escape from misery and it won’t cure anyone of addiction, but it might just help some youngsters of today avoid getting involved in drugs in the first place.  There are other issues to examine in this sphere, but that’s one aspect we should be looking at – addressing the three Ds – Drink, Drugs and Deprivation – giving people a reason to hope and a reason to think that they can improve what they see around them.  Hope might be the neatest weapon we have in improving Scotland and the diminution of hope might be the worst thing some politicians did to Scotland in the past.

I don’t want to be fatalistic about things, though, the Scottish Government’s new drugs strategy which has been applauded and may deliver benefits has yet to get into the swing of things.  At least we’re doing something now.

On the employment front as well, Jim Mather recently announced £13.5 million worth of grants for employment purposes under the Regional Selective Assistance scheme and this, allied to things like the cutting of business rates for small businesses, should have some effect on improving the employment prospects of Scots and in building the economy across the country.

Scotland isn’t a small country (in spite of what some people say), we’re a medium-sized country in terms of the nations who are members of the UN and we can have the economic clout that goes with being a country small enough to be nimble and large enough to find economies of scale.  We’re also an inventive and ingenuous people, the cradle of the modern world, and we should be able to rekindle some of that pioneering spirit which has made Scotland have such an impact over the years.

Onwards and upwards – I can’t wait to get back into the business of making things happen for Scotland.


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