Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
12th February 2009
This has been an emotional week and a very difficult week to get
through. On Friday evening we had the news that gave us all
pause for thought my good friend (and a good friend to many,
many people in the SNP), Bashir Ahmad MSP had died. Hed been
at work during the day, gone to prayer in the afternoon, out
campaigning in the early evening and then home to his family
where he suffered a fatal heart attack and died.
That was one of those experiences you get from time to time
where events thunder through you, when news you hear almost
takes on a physical presence. On Saturday afternoon I made my
way to be one face in the massive crowd that turned up at
Glasgow Central Mosque for Bashirs funeral. I think its a
mark of the respect in which he was held that politicians from
across the spectrum came to pay their respects and that the
funeral had to be delayed for half an hour to let people get to
Bashir was a very special man, a kind, decent, honest and
generous man, always carrying a smile and a gentle word, always
giving happiness to those he met. He gave a lift to all of us
with his presence and he leaves a large gap with his absence.
Ill miss him and remember him fondly.
trailblazing role that Bashir played and the genuine fondness
which people had for him was evident in the tributes that were
paid to him in Parliament on Wednesday, with the Presiding
Officer saying, for example:
suspect that he harboured not one ounce of malice towards anyone
else, politically or otherwise, and it was clear to me that that
absence of malice was accompanied by modesty that was anything
but false. Yet, that gentle, modest and unassuming man has
blazed a trail in becoming the first Asian MSP to grace the
benches of our Scottish Parliament. Those who will follow his
lead will do so in the certain knowledge that their forerunner
set the finest of examplesone that they would do well to
goodbye to Bashir, Parliament is saying goodbye to a good friend
who made a great mark on this place in a sadly curtailed term of
office. Our thoughts and prayers are very much with his wife and
family, many of whom we are honoured to have with us in the
of the First Minister included these lines:
years, it was my privilege to know this man. He did no one
knowingly any injury, harm or hurt; rather, he left everyone who
met him feeling that bit better about themselves and about life.
That is a major quality for any human being to have, but in a
politician, it is priceless.
Bashir launched Scots Asians for independence at the Scottish
National Party conference in 1995, he developed a phrase of
which he was so fond that he worked it into every available
speech since. He said: "It isn't important where you come from;
what matters is where we are going together as a nation."
stand as his epitaph.
Such feelings were shared by the leader of the Labour Party:
Bashir Ahmad took his oath as an MSP in Urdu, he wove into that
tapestry of "who we are" another of Scotland's
authentic voices, which had been missing until that moment. Its
cadence was never stridentindeed, Bashir's was perhaps the
gentlest voice in this placeyet it will echo through the
chamber for as long as men and women meet here to seek a better
future for the country that Bashir clearly loved so much. That
is a fine legacy for a good man.
leader of the Conservatives:
was a diligent, conscientious and effective MSP and his service
on cross-party groups in the Parliament illustrated his wide
span of interests in political and parliamentary activity, but
it was the way in which he conducted that activity that
attracted universal respect and affection. He was the embodiment
of dignity and courtesygentle in demeanour and gracious in
attitude. He was a man who, on meeting me on the Glasgow
underground, was more concerned with carrying my suitcase than
with getting himself to a formal dinner to meet the First
leader of the Liberal Democrats:
Minister has called Bashir Ahmad a great patriotI do not doubt
that he was. We are a stronger Parliament, country and people if
we can revel in our Scottishness but reflect it in the diversity
of 21st century Scotland.
Bashir Ahmad epitomised that. From the Liberal Democrat benches,
I express my sorrow at his passing, our condolences to his
familywho join us todayand our hope and desire that that
genuine gentleman will be, in memory, a beacon of hope across
politics and throughout the country. Scotland is a sadder place
for his passing.
leader of the Greens:
speakers have reflected on Bashir's gentleness and politeness
and his quiet nature, which are characteristics that are perhaps
not found in politics as often as they should be. However, as
the First Minister reminded us, before his contribution to
Parliament, local government or business, Bashir Ahmadthat
polite and quiet manwas on the Glasgow
buses. I would never want to question the character of bus
drivers in my city, but even those whom I know well might agree
that Bashir's qualities of quiet courtesy would be as remarkable
in that field as they are in the political arena.
Work goes on, of course, and on Monday I was at a meeting with
Tapestry Partnership which is rethinking Scottish education
outside of the constraints of government and is doing some very
interesting work. Ill be back to see them again. While I was
doing that Linda Fabiani MSP was announcing support for the
Scots Language that she had wrung out of her Culture budget.
Its amazing what Linda has managed to do in her portfolio in
the short time since being appointed she made a real
difference both to the sectors she interacted with and to the
way in which Government interacts with them. She created a new
form of dialogue between politicians and the public.
was a bit of a shock, then, to hear on Tuesday that Linda had
been relieved of her Ministerial duties and was returning to the
backbenches. I was desperately disappointed for her and sad
that she wouldnt be there to see all of her work through now
that shed got past the difficult stage and sorted out the mess
that had been left behind by the last lot. Having said that,
she is leaving a tremendous legacy. As she said herself:
I'm disappointed to be leaving the Government and returning to
the backbenches, but it was a great honour to serve as a
Minister in the Scottish Government and I can look back on some
quite significant achievements in the Europe,
External Relations and Culture portfolio.
particularly pleased that we started the Traditional Arts
Working Group to create a new framework for supporting
Scotland's traditional arts; with the work we've done on
improving support for the Scots Language; and with the Festivals
Expo Fund to showcase, promote and tour Scottish artists. We
also started the first refurbishment of the National Portrait
Gallery in its 130 year history; we improved funding for our
National Companies; brought in the Scottish Broadcasting
Commission and launched MG Alba with the BBC.
expanded our international development role beyond Malawi and
increased funding - which meant that we were able to help with
humanitarian efforts in Gaza recently, and we've cemented
Scotland's friendships across Europe and made sure that
Scotland's voice is heard in EU negotiations.
Scotland has changed enormously since May 2007 and we now have a
confident Government standing up for Scotland and looking
forward with a positive agenda to make Scotland a better place.
I'm proud of the part I played in that and I'll be proud to
continue to support the Government as it brings forward the
Referendum Bill, improvements to student support, measures to
address climate change, and action to protect Scotland against
the recession, amongst other things, and I look forward to
continuing to represent people across the Central Scotland
region including East Kilbride and Strathaven."
the plus side, of course, with Linda laying down the enormous
load shes been carrying over the past while and moving back
over to our side of the building, Ill be able to see a lot more
of her, have coffee, go for dinner, have a natter, take her
advice, and just generally enjoy more of her company. Shes
currently ensconced in our Central Unit while shes waiting for
her office stuff to be moved across and theres great hoots of
hilarity coming out of there as she entertains the staff with
tales and jokes. Shes a good person, modest and friendly, with
a smile for everyone and a listening ear not your usual
politician, shes something special.
Another item of note on Wednesday was when John Swinney
announced to Parliament that we wouldnt be pressing to
introduce Local Income Tax in this Parliament, wed take it back
to the country for next time. I was disappointed, of course,
like every SNP member, that we couldnt manage it, but the truth
is that we didnt have a Parliamentary majority (Labour and
Conservatives want to keep the Council Tax, the Greens want Land
Valuation Tax), the money we were going to use to pay for the
introduction is being taken away by London in Alistair Darlings
£1 billion grab of Scottish money and Darling was also
threatening to withhold another £400 million that currently gets
paid to prop up the Council Tax.
quite fancied taking the Bill to Parliament and forcing the
opposition to vote it down but, on reflection, that takes up
Government resources and do I want the SNP Scottish Government
wasting resources on what amounts to posturing or do I want it
to govern in the best interests of Scotland? I think the
resources we have should all be directed towards making Scotland
a better place. Id like to know what other people think of
that analysis would you drop a policy you truly believe in
with that background or would you force it to the vote?
Wednesday evening saw me hosting the launch of the Middle East
Festival and an exhibition by photo-journalists. The exhibition
is good and if you squint at my photographs you might be able
to catch just a little flavour of the exhibition itself. You
can read more about the festival at
Thursday lunchtime I was at a
reception and met Kenny Dalglish - that should make my brother
and some of my friends a bit jealous.
so to Thursday and a special event for another one of my
friends. Shes been an active member of the SNP for a couple of
decades (from her early 20s shes 42 now) and was the Campaign
Co-ordinator for the famous Glasgow East victory that sent John
Mason to London as an MP
(I wonder if hes forgiven her yet?) This time round, it was
her stepping up to the plate, not in a manner she would have
chosen nor any of the rest of us Anne McLaughlin came
forward to take the place of Bashir Ahmad as a Glasgow MSP. It
was sad news just six days ago and it will have been with mixed
emotions that Anne swore in, but this evening shell be getting
down to work as Anne McLaughlin MSP.
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