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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
12th February 2009


An emotional week

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.  He’d 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 Bashir’s funeral.  I think it’s 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 the mosque.

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.  I’ll miss him and remember him fondly.

The 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:

“I also 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 examples—one that they would do well to emulate.

In saying 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 gallery today.”

The comments of the First Minister included these lines:

“For 15 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.”

and

“When 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."

Let that stand as his epitaph.”

Such feelings were shared by the leader of the Labour Party:

“When 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 strident—indeed, Bashir's was perhaps the gentlest voice in this place—yet 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.”

The leader of the Conservatives:

“Yes, he 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 courtesy—gentle 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 Minister.”

The leader of the Liberal Democrats:

“The First Minister has called Bashir Ahmad a great patriot—I 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 family—who join us today—and 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.”

The leader of the Greens:

“Previous 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 Ahmad—that polite and quiet man—was 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.”

Those tributes can be read in full on the Parliament’s website at
 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/officialReports/meetingsParliament/or-09/sor0211-02.htm#Col14886

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.  I’ll 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.  It’s 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.

It 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 wouldn’t be there to see all of her work through now that she’d 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:

"Obviously 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.

"I'm 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.

"We 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.

"Government in 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."

On the plus side, of course, with Linda laying down the enormous load she’s been carrying over the past while and moving back over to our side of the building, I’ll 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.  She’s currently ensconced in our Central Unit while she’s waiting for her office stuff to be moved across and there’s great hoots of hilarity coming out of there as she entertains the staff with tales and jokes.  She’s a good person, modest and friendly, with a smile for everyone and a listening ear – not your usual politician, she’s something special.

Another item of note on Wednesday was when John Swinney announced to Parliament that we wouldn’t be pressing to introduce Local Income Tax in this Parliament, we’d take it back to the country for next time.  I was disappointed, of course, like every SNP member, that we couldn’t manage it, but the truth is that we didn’t 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 Darling’s £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.

I 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.  I’d 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 http://www.eicsp.org/

Thursday lunchtime I was at a reception and met Kenny Dalglish - that should make my brother and some of my friends a bit jealous.

And so to Thursday and a special event for another one of my friends.  She’s been an active member of the SNP for a couple of decades (from her early 20s – she’s 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 he’s 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 she’ll be getting down to work as Anne McLaughlin MSP.


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