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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
25th March 2010


Conference Call….

Local Champions

Last weekend we all scooted up the A9 for SNP party conference it was a smashing weekend where we got to hear from some of our fine Westminster candidates. We have a fine bunch fighting hard for Scotland and seats in the upcoming election whenever that will be!!! It seems Brown is running out of time and he will need to gird his loins and show some courage. He will have to face the people at some point most likely early May and he will be judged on things like our failed economy caused by his negligence when regulating the banking system. He will be called to account for his complicity with Blair on taking our forces into illegal wars. His performance at the Chilcot enquiry left me cold and sick. He will have explain his inability to defend jobs, his failure of the vulnerable and disabled in our country by withdrawing DLA and he will have to take it on the chin from the people of Scotland for the waste on Scotland's oil and renewable energy. He will have to justify the disgusting amount of money committed to Trident and Son of Trident and he will have to tell our pensioners that they are not important as ID cards. A shameful record as a chancellor and a shameful record as Prime Minister….roll on Independence that’s what I say.

On Monday I was back in familiar territory at the STUC in Glasgow. I was a guest speaker at the Making Power Work for Women Conference along with other International speakers. We heard about a report called Women in Power which took a look at women ministers in the Scottish Government and their feelings on the power they had. The report was very narrow in that it only detailed the thoughts and feelings of labour party women, I felt it could have went a bit further and certainly could have widened its analysis to women convenors of the parliaments committee's. och here's the speech for you to look at.

When I was writing my remarks for today I was thinking about my own experiences as an MSP in the context of the Women in Power report that was discussed earlier on, and reflecting on what has changed and what remains the same. I am one of the band of MSPs who were elected in May 1997 so am just coming up to my third anniversary in the job. Coming into a Parliament that was already well established, past its teething troubles and settling down as a mature legislature provided, I suspect, a somewhat different experience to that encountered by some of the older hands – a term I use strictly with regard to electoral longevity, I must add!

In addition, although I don’t think that today is an appropriate forum for party politicking and it’s not my intention to make party political points, it is the case that the Women in Power report does represent a very narrow – indeed, almost a single – party political perspective, and I’ll come on to say a wee bit more about how that means that it doesn’t necessarily reflect my own experiences or those of my sisters in the SNP or other parliamentary groups.

It’s a pity, I think, that the report largely equates political power in Scotland with being a government Minister. That seems to me to be a rather dated as well as an unnecessarily narrow definition. The power of Holyrood’s committee system can be exaggerated sometimes, but it is certainly true that the committees have a significant influence not just on the content of policy and legislation but on the tone and tenor of the way that business is conducted in the Scottish Parliament. In their capacities as committee members and, particularly, conveners, women MSPs have over the past eleven years undoubtedly not only wielded power and influence but also often used that power to advance important debates about gender issues. A number of prominent women parliamentarians of all parties have made considerable impact in committee rather than government – examples such as my SNP colleague Christine Grahame, Labour’s Karen Gillon and the Liberal Democrats’ Margaret Smith come to mind, but there are plenty of others. Focusing only on Ministerial power excludes a potentially very valuable perspective on women and power from the report.

Nevertheless, there are elements of the report that continue to ring true. Politicians blaming the media when they don’t like the coverage they get is something that, quite correctly, hacks off the public – we all chose to do this after all, knowing what the job entails in terms of media scrutiny – but, although I think things have improved since 1999, the Scottish press pack remains a very macho creature which tends automatically towards an old-fashioned view of what a serious politician looks like: i.e. very much like a man. Many women MSPs are now treated with the seriousness and respect that they deserve in media coverage of the Parliament – but it has arguably taken far longer for them to secure that status than it would have done for many a man of equivalent, or even lesser, talent. I doubt there is a single woman MSP who can’t think of at least one instance where media criticism directed at them has gone beyond fair comment and strayed into sexist invective. No matter how thick a skin you try to develop it can still be, as the comments in the report say, personally hurtful.

There is also still a dismissive tendency on the part of the Scottish media to assume that when women MSPs advance debates about gender issues, these can safely be fenced off into a women-going-on-about-women ghetto, where they can be either ignored or mocked. I thought about this recently when the Scottish Government Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, spoke out about the way that women are treated by the justice system and the reasons for women’s over-representation in our prisons. This has been a long-standing professional and political conviction of Kenny’s and he argued, from the basis of his own experience of working in the system, that a strong thread of institutional sexism runs through Scotland justice system. He is absolutely right of course, and the defensive and complacent reaction of the legal establishment was no surprise. The debate was covered fairly prominently in the press, but I did wonder whether the same level of serious discussion would have been applied if Kenny’s remarks had been made by a woman politician. I suspect that they would have been accused of special pleading or identity politics or even that old chestnut, “reverse sexism”.

Equally, while nothing moves very quickly in the civil service and I’ve no doubt that there are still pockets of old-school Sir Humphreys who are threatened by women Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries and respond by patronising and attempting to marginalise them, my impression is that that era is passing, as the colonial Scottish Office fades into history. The Scottish civil service as a whole now expects to work with female Ministers, and my woman colleagues who have served in the Scottish Government since 2007 have largely found themselves able to build relationships of mutual respect with their private office staff and other officials as well as, when called for, stamping their Ministerial authority on their departments as effectively as their male colleagues. I’ve never known Roseanna Cunningham or Nicola Sturgeon, for example, to ever put up with being patronised and I’m sure they had no intention of starting to put up with it once they entered government! As a backbench Parliamentary Liaison Officer, I work closely with the education ministers and their officials and have generally found the relationship to be a productive one.

One observation in the report that I was very struck by was that many of the politicians interviewed said that they would have been much less likely to put themselves forward for selection and election without the 50/50 gender balance mechanism employed by the Labour Party for the 1999 elections. Again, this is an area in which the representation of voices from other political parties in the report might have given a much more rounded picture, because that experience certainly doesn’t reflect my own or that of other women in the SNP parliamentary group. The SNP never adopted any formal gender mechanism in 1999, but women were nonetheless supported to stand for selections, were elected and have continued to be so at each Scottish election; indeed, throughout its history, the SNP has always prominently featured women among its leading ranks, who have served as a living example to younger activists. I say this not to argue that the SNP is more woman-friendly than the other parties – I don’t think it is - just to show that a discussion about how the different cultures of the different parties and movements variously encourage or block the political ambitions of their women activists would give us a fuller picture than the mono-party one provided in the report.  That might be a productive area for future research.

Mention of gender mechanisms brings me to the issue of representation and, while I don’t want to dwell very long on this as it will be well covered elsewhere today, I share others’ concerns that the numbers of women MSPs fell back in 2007 and is in danger of doing so again in 2011. The SNP certainly bears some responsibility for that. It is something that women activists in the party are very aware of and there are lively discussions taking place about how, as a party, we can make sure that women are strongly represented in our 2011 intake of MSPs. I know that it’s a matter of concern for all the Scottish parties and I think women MSPs can and should seek to work together across party boundaries in the interests of gender balance.

Having said that, it is clear that the debate about gender representation has changed since1999. Firstly, because it has been matched and in my view overtaken in urgency by the issue of ethnic minority representation. It remains a source of great sadness and concern that, in the eleven years of devolution, only one Asian Scot has been elected as an MSP. This is a subject that deserves a conference of its own, but I will say that I strongly believe that it is no longer enough for any of us who stand for equality to campaign exclusively for representation of just one group or another. As the writer Gary Younge observed recently, representative democracies that exclude significant sections of the population are not worthy of the adjective. Scotland’s Parliament should represent Scotland’s people in every respect and the campaign for equality must now reflect that and recognise that the continuum of inequality and prejudice as it operates in Scottish politics applies to more than gender, whether it focuses on formal mechanisms or on informal ways of supporting and encouraging individuals from under-represented groups in society within our political parties and wider political system,

Secondly, we can I hope now all agree that representation itself is only the start. Examples from across the world show that there is not necessarily a correlation between gender representation and gender equality. South Africa, for example, has the third highest level of women’s parliamentary representation in the world, but the highest per capita rate for rape. Bangladesh has its second female prime minister in a decade but, according to a global gender gap index compiled by the World Economic Forum, ranks 94th in the world for gender equality. What really matters is how representation translates into tackling inequality.

The report covers in detail some of the advances in policy and legislation relating to gender equality that took place under previous administrations and I’ll finish up by talking a little bit about how the Scottish Government is continuing and building on that work. Firstly though, I know I said I wasn’t going to be party political today – although I couldn’t help but notice there are a few party political assertions with no balancing comment offered in the report - but I do have to take polite issue with a comment that Susan Dalgety made in an article that she published in Scotland on Sunday about the Women in Power report, where she wrote, “Scotland's constitution has dominated our political landscape for the past two years, but nowhere in the national conversation has the topic of equality been raised.” That’s a straightforward misrepresentation - just a very brief glance at the Scottish Government’s National Conversation discussion papers reveals a significant section on equalities, which discusses how action for equality could be enhanced within the contexts of both devolution max and full Independence. It says:

“Scotland is an increasingly diverse nation and its people have differing needs and experiences. Taking responsibility for equal opportunities within an independent Scotland would allow equality legislation to be promoted and enforced. Equality legislation would be developed in the Scottish policy context and to ensure coherence with legislation in other areas such as health, education and housing. In an independent Scotland, it would be possible to establish clear lines of accountability, and to determine distinct mechanisms for securing, promotion and enforcement of equal opportunities.”

It commits an independent Scotland to abide by international best practice on equality, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Now Susan Dalgety and others are, of course, entirely entitled to take different view from me and my party on the question of Scotland’s constitutional future and to argue against Independence or increased powers for the Scottish Parliament. But they should make those arguments on their own merits. To suggest that support for constitutional change is somehow incompatible with support for gender equality, or that discussion of the constitution has to mean that equality is sidelined is nonsense, and militates against opportunities for women to work across political lines in pursuit of a shared goal of gender equality.

It also traduces the SNP Scottish Government’s ongoing work on gender equality. There’s too much of that to discuss in detail and I’m not going to bore you with lists and lists of government actions, but I’ll talk a wee bit about the two areas identified as high level priorities under the public Gender Equality Duty.

The first of these is tackling violence against women, which builds not only on the very good work that was carried out under previous administrations but also on the considerable breadth of expertise and commitment of those taking this fight forward across Scotland. The Safer Lives: Changed Lives strategy published jointly with COSLA last June provides a blueprint for a shared approach, with mutual pursuit of shared aims, across the whole public sector and our third sector partners to tackling violence against women. It aims to increase the focus on prevention and improve support for those experiencing violence and abuse, including the most marginalised women and children. Crucially, it is informed by a definition of gender based violence which is based on that developed by the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and which goes beyond the usual dictionary definition of ‘violence’ to include physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, within the general community or in institutions, including: domestic abuse, rape, incest and child sexual abuse; sexual harassment and intimidation at work and in the public sphere; commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, pornography and trafficking; dowry related violence; female genital mutilation; forced and child marriages; and honour crimes. It gives us the widest possible basis for understanding and preventing violence against women as it manifests itself throughout our society.

The second high level Ministerial priority for gender equality is occupational segregation. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that girls and boys no longer face barriers to subject and career choice at school, and that women and men no longer face barriers to subject choice in colleges, universities and other training providers as well as to employment and earnings opportunities. We all know that gender stereotyping, inflexible working practices and the undervaluing of the types of work often done by women all contribute to keeping the gender pay gap alive and well. It’s an area that’s crying out for concerted government action.

Those are just a couple of examples, but I hope that they illustrate that the kinds of policies and actions to promote gender equality that are discussed in the Women in Power report certainly didn’t come to an end when that particular group of women were no longer in power. Equality remains not just a duty, nor even just a policy priority, but a clear ideological conviction for the members of today’s Scottish Government – of both genders!]

Two fantastic guest speakers where Professor Ishita Mukhopadhyay from the department of Economics and Director, Women's Studies Research centre, University of Calcutta, who presented her research findings on women in local office in the state of west Bengal. She told us that India amended its constitution in 1994 to reserve one-third of its seats in panchayats and municipalities for women.

The other speaker was Bertha Sefu who managed the 50:50 campaign in Malawi which sought to ensure more women ran and where successful in the general election of May 2009, she explained how women made the breakthrough to win 42 parliamentary seats that year.

I was then off to Coatbridge College for an update on the refurbishments and the launch of the new Personal Development Award for Resilience and hot off the press Coatbridge has won an award for addressing a specific and specialised skills gap in a large orthodontic practice at the Scotland's Colleges Business to College awards for 2010. Well done John and all his fantastic team at Coatbridge.

    It was then a quick jump home to put on my frock and head to the Hamilton Sports Performers of the Year 2009 awards. I presented the Adult Female award to golfer Pamela Pretswell and cheered on the other winners, who were:

    Junior Female: Kirsty Gilmour (Badminton)
    Junior Male: Ross Inglis (Rugby) 
    Adult Male: Daryn Duncan (Tae Kwon Do)
    Senior Team: Peter & Stephen McGuire (Boccia)
    Junior Team: Hamilton Academicals Girls Football U17
    Club of the Year: Blantyre Miners Amateur Boxing Club
    Coach of the Year: Jim Ross (Karate).

And I even got some pictures too...

Pamela Pretswell receiving her award from Christina McKelvie MSP and South Lanarkshire councillor and chair of Hamilton Sports Council, Graeme Horne, presenting the Team of the Year. Graeme is also our Westminster champion in Rutherglen and Hamilton.

It was back through to Edinburgh on Wednesday for equal opportunities committee and I was the proud host of the Scottish Social Services Council reception in honour of the new CHILDHOOD PRACTICE AWARD – DELIVERING BRIGHTER FUTURES. It’s a smashing award and 600 people have taken the plunge since 2008, upskilling themselves to better serve society, developing a highly qualified workforce delivering services that give children the best start in life. Its qualifications like this that are world leading and will ensure the we really do Get it Right for Every Child. I wish SSSC every success in this new venture and I am sure that it will enable parishioners to deliver a fantastic service to our kids and help them along the road to a really bright future.

More Education committee on Wednesday and chamber duty on Wednesday afternoon led on nicely to the Rathbone Scotland Achiever of the Year in the garden lobby where a wonderful man called Junior Robertson won an award for the amazing work he does with young people who need some extra support to access the world of work and training. This is me a Junior at the awards event.

Thursday was a full day in the chamber to vote on 100 amendments to the stage 3 of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill it was an extraordinary experience as most of the votes where 62 - 63. We won all of the votes today and passed a piece of legislation that will tidy up and reduce the number of quangoes in Scotland. Another example of this SNP Scottish Government fulfilling a promise to the people of Scotland. It also set up Creative Scotland and I am delighted about that as my good friend Linda Fabiani MSP had worked very hard to bring this particular body to fruition.

There has been so much this week that I could fill pages but I will keep some of that for another time. I will speak to you again after recess but don’t be thinking I am off on a holiday I have a full constituency programme and two fantastic Westminster Champions to campaign for over the next few weeks.

Have a wonderful and peaceful Easter.

Christina McKelvie MSP
Central Scotland


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