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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
20th November
2008


I’ve been terribly lax recently about getting my diary written.  Sorry about that, but I’ll try to make it up for it now.

We had a massive effort in Glenrothes a couple of weeks ago, the party proving once again that we are a formidable campaigning machine.  We fell short this time, though, and we had to take the pain of defeat.  Sometimes the tide just isn’t with you, no matter how strongly you campaign.

Well done to the whole campaign team, though, for what was a creditable result in difficult circumstances, and well done to Peter Grant for the dignified way he carried himself throughout the campaign.

That, of course, was closely followed by Remembrance Sunday when I was honoured to attend the service in Hamilton.  In remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms and rights we simply do what is right.  It’s sometimes easy to forget those who do come back, injured or traumatised from the wars which are still being fought around the world.  There are still Scottish servicemen and women dying overseas, and there are still people coming home from war zones with horrendous injuries.

We owe a duty, I believe, not only to remember the sacrifice of those who died, but also to honour the debt we owe to those who are still living.  We’re making some progress there and I hope we’ll continue to improve the services we offer them.

My colleague, Keith Brown MSP, was a marine during the Falklands conflict and served on those islands with 45 Commando.  He makes the case for the veterans well and his position as an MSP has helped to highlight some of the issues that have to be addressed.  I’ll let you know what he’s doing from time to time.

It’s awards season as well – I was delighted to get to the Scottish BAFTAs.  I wasn’t up for an award, not even for my Newsnight performance, but was there as a guest – basking in reflected glory as it were.  I wasn’t up for an award at the Politician of the Year Awards either – I think they’re not paying enough attention!  Nicola Sturgeon picked up the big award, of course, but she was run close by John Swinney and some chap called Salmond.  I think Labour must think of these three as some kind of terrible trio, the stuff of nightmares for the opposition; intelligent, confident politicians with a cause to win – a potent combination.

Whitcomm Co-operative was launched in Parliament as well, it aims to reduce the number of people who are excluded from the internet revolution.  Through Whitcomm, low income families will be able to access the services that the majority of people take for granted and delight in (like reading my diary, of course).  It will provide communication packages at reduced prices in Whitlawburn using top-notch equipment, and there are plans to create a ‘community portal’ for the area.  It’s a fantastic idea, and one that might be capable of being copied elsewhere in the country.  I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other areas that might be able to do the same thing.

On the same note, I was pleased to be invited along to an event at a primary school in Edinburgh to see the pupils using new ‘learn through play’ programmes like the Sports4life business game.  One or two future entrepreneurs there.

Keeping on the subject of learning, I was off to Motherwell College’s new campus being built on the Ravenscraig site.  I’m delighted to see this site being developed for proper community use and I’m delighted to be able to support Motherwell College in its ambitious development.

The white towers of the college are representative of the towers of the old steel mill before it was closed and demolished and the wee pods are the nursery where each age group will have its own pod.

There I was on site with the finest pair of wellies and a hard hat at a jaunty angle, finding myself fascinated by the plans for the college and the enthusiasm that the whole college staff have for the new campus.  I’m looking forward to going back for the opening.

That brings us right up to this week, and what a week it’s been.  Monday morning saw me on a visit to St Hilary’s in East Kilbride, filling in for Linda Fabiani who was in Poland on Ministerial business.  The funny thing about visits to primary schools is that they provide some of the toughest questions that politicians get asked.  Never mind Brian Taylor or Michael Crow, it’s the primary school pupils that are the real tough interviewers!

A funny wee thing about Linda’s trip was that one of the meetings she had in Poland was with a chap from Edinburgh.  They’d been trying to set up a meeting for months, discovered they were going to be in Warsaw at the same time, and so had the meeting there – see this Scottish Government, it never stops innovating.

Tuesday I was off to Calderside Academy for the opening of the new campus by Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop.  The new building looks fabulous and it seems to me that it will be an excellent learning space for the next few generations of Calderside pupils.  It’s good, sometimes, just to see that delivery happening, and good to see that we’re getting things done.

Wednesday was back into Parliament and the Education Committee.  We were considering a Statutory Instrument that would allow councils to provide free school meals to all pupils in primaries 1, 2 and 3.  Myself and the other SNP members on the committee – Kenny Gibson and Aileen Campbell – were supporting the SI (in spite of the grilling earlier in the week) because we’ve listened to and read the evidence that suggests that this will reduce stigmatisation of children, that the health benefits of ensuring at least one decent meal a day during the school term are quite substantial, that the education benefits might manifest themselves quite soon, and that the pilot projects went well.

We were, of course, also following the principle that we believe this policy to be the right one, and we were backed up by poverty action groups, trade unions, children’s charities, and head teachers.  I was amazed to learn that the other parties intended to vote it down in order to inflict a defeat on the Government.  Taking food from the mouths of children for the sake of a small political victory – and they didn’t think that this was a bad thing.

There was a fair amount of pressure applied to Labour MSPs by members of their own party who were shocked that their party could be considering such a thing and, in the end, the Labour MSPs abstained from the vote.  The Conservative, Liz Smith, and the Lib Dem, Margaret Smith, voted against.  Thankfully, the three SNP members were enough to see that the motion passed and that the SI passed the committee.  It will be interesting to see whether the opposition will try to vote the measure down in the plenary session next week, though.

Incredibly, when I mentioned the committee’s decision during my speech in the education debate on Thursday, I was heckled by Labour members – it seems they bear a grudge.

Today’s debate was on the needs of looked after children and care leavers and how we make sure that we’re giving them every possible chance in life.  It’s one of those areas where politicians have to be careful to deliver the right support to the frontline workers but don’t go stomping in with tackety boots.  I think we probably got it about right this week, and we’ll be coming back to the issue in the near future with the Additional Support for Learning Bill.

Justice and Peace Scotland have been asking people to ask their MSP to sign my motion on Dungavel:

S3M-02576 Christina McKelvie (Central Scotland) (Scottish National Party): Dungavel and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child— That the Parliament welcomes the UK Government’s opting-in to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the fact that this will mean the end of the practice of incarcerating asylum seeker children and child migrants without judicial scrutiny; further welcomes the fact that Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre will no longer hold children in close proximity to potentially dangerous adults; encourages the UK Government and the National Asylum Support Service to implement the convention now instead of waiting until domestic legislation is aligned with the convention, and congratulates all those who have campaigned to end child detention at Dungavel on the success of their campaign at last.

The campaign to support those who are being held at Dungavel continues, and I’ll be back outside the centre on St Andrew’s Day (30th of November – I know you know but the other people reading this might not… ) I hope you can join me there.  The day will probably be along the same lines as the Burns Day event, which you can read about on the Justice and Peace website at:

http://www.justiceandpeacescotland.org.uk/downloads/jpmagissueifeb08.pdf

I’m dashing off just now to attend the awards ceremony at Motherwell College – not at the new campus, of course, that’s not finished yet – I think it’s going to be an enjoyable evening, seeing people getting on with their lives having taken the effort to study a course.


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