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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
5th February 2009


Welcome to the new Scotland where all political parties coexist peacefully in harmony and mutual respect – except the Greens!  Scotland’s budget, presented by Finance Secretary John Swinney, passed through Parliament this week like a galleon under full sail.  It is essentially, indeed almost exactly the same budget that fell last week on the casting vote of the Presiding Officer.  This week it passed by 123 votes to 2.  The two who voted against were the two Green members, although it seemed to me that Robin Harper – the elder statesman of the Greens – was uncomfortable with the position that they were taking.

That’s the second time in eight days that the Greens have voted against a budget that contains excellent provision for addressing climate change, for insulating houses, for creating lots of renewable energy sources, and so on.  I find their position a bit difficult to understand and many of my colleagues feel the same way.  The other parties, though – the question that raises itself up to be answered is why they changed around over the space of a week?

The Conservatives were already on board, they’d come in with a sensible negotiating position and got some stuff from the budget, so you can see that they were going to be content to hang fire, vote with the Government and bring home the bacon on what they had already secured.  Labour and the Lib Dems were the two parties who did the old Dick Whittington number and I believe it’s because they stared into the abyss of public disapproval of their actions and their stomachs churned at what they saw.

No-one likes to see politicians playing petty party politics for the sake of a few newspaper headlines, they want to know that we’re getting on with our jobs and getting the work done.  That’s why the stern frown of disapproval was on the collective face of the Scottish electorate and that’s why the opposition parties were not keen to keep pressing.  That’s the reason why they turned and supported the budget.

Speaking of Dick Whittington, the budget vote forced me to cut short my attendance at a conference in London.  It was a conference on trafficking – a horrendous crime, but one that seems to be committed fairly regularly across the globe.  Organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the conference brought together people from around the globe to Westminster.  I was particularly impressed with the Swedish attitude to prostitution – they simply do not accept prostitution as being socially acceptable – a massive reach from where we are, but they changed societal attitudes and we can do the same.

Cutting off the customer demand would reduce the economic incentive for these criminals to traffic women across borders.  Changing society is a long-term aim but we need, in the short term, to be examining the way we treat the victims of trafficking.  There’s a Bill going through Westminster just now that would criminalise the victims for not having travel documents – hardly helpful.

There’s a lot of work to be done there yet, and the UK Government is travelling in the wrong direction, so we can expect this to remain an issue for quite some time to come.

In a strange parallel, there was a debate on trafficking in Edinburgh on the day I got back.  It was Member’s Business and followed the budget debate so there was little publicity on the debate but it is important and I’ll be doing what I can to keep it in the public eye.

The Westminster Parliament has an impressive building, by the way, but the atmosphere is awful with MPs getting a preferential treatment wherever they go and most of them loving it.  I much prefer our Parliament at Holyrood where you get the same treatment whether you’re the First Minister or part of the cleaning staff.  MSPs take their place in the queue for lunch alongside security staff, our parliamentary staff wait for coffee beside committee clerks, and so on.  The egality is a part of Scotland and so much more comfortable than the fluff and flummery in London.

This week ended with a debate on the Early Years Framework, another one of our election pledges being fulfilled.  It’s quite clear that it’s vitally important to reach children at a very early age if you want to improve their life chances and to improve the contribution they make to society.  Most parties were behind the sentiment of the motion and the Framework, except Labour who felt they had to make a point about the number of nursery teachers.  Interestingly, their facts were wrong – teacher numbers are increasing and we’ve stopped the double-counting that was going on before, so their chance to make a positive contribution to a worthwhile debate was lost for the sake of incorrect information.

One other note of interest from the week – I had a question to ask of Kenny MacAskill this week, so I asked about the case of the former police officer who was convicted of rape and is now suing to have his pension rights reinstated.  He’s using public money through Legal Aid to try to get more public money in the shape of the pension rights that were withdrawn from him when he was convicted of a terrible crime which was committed while he carried the trust of the public in the uniform of a serving police officer.

I think that that’s just wrong and I asked Kenny to look at changing the Legal Aid rules to try to stop this kind of thing happening in the future.  Kenny agrees with me that the rules should be looked at, and he’s promised to do that.  He’s a good and caring politician is Mr MacAskill – in spite of his gruff reputation – and I’ve got a lot of respect for what he’s doing in the Justice portfolio.

Talking about portfolio – Scotland’s art port6folios were swelled this week when the purchase of the first Titian was finally completed.  A lot of money - £50 million – that some people are saying would be better spent elsewhere and some other people are saying should not have been given to the Duke of Sutherland, but I think the truth is that you should take these opportunities when they are presented to you.  Our Culture Minister, Linda Fabiani MSP, was quite right to lead the charge to secure these paintings for the nation.  Not only do they bring a lot of visitors here and help keep earnings up, they enrich the culture of our nation and help keep its pride up.  One or two paintings won’t do that on their own, but they help.  In terms of artistic value these paintings are right up there with the Mona Lisa – can you imagine France allowing the Mona Lisa to go?  Perhaps it’s time to look at marketing them more, there’s no reason why the Scottish National Galleries shouldn’t rival the Louvre, is there?

Should we have paid the Duke of Sutherland?  Well, he owned them so, unless we were going to appropriate them without payment, yes.  I’ve had emails in from people calling him some names and I can see where the anger comes from but it’s misplaced.  The current Duke is not the man who cleared Sutherland and whose statue looks out over Golspie – and he doesn’t live in Dunrobin.  I don’t think that he’s even a direct descendant of that first duke, cousins having inherited the title on a few occasions (which is why the castle is owned by someone else).  He’s a borders farmer – wealthy, obviously – who is simply rejigging his assets.  I believe we might have got a bargain.

Linda’s other big thing this week was an announcement on the way forward for Scotland’s creative industries – well worth a wee read and you can find the announcement on the Scottish Government’s website - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2009/02/05125752

I’m off now to get some fish and chips in the canteen before I head homewards.


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