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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
5th June 2013


It was Stonehouse Gala Day last Saturday. This is a great community event that has lots of competitions for the best decorated house, a scarecrow competition and a big parade down through the town to the Alexander Hamilton Memorial Park.

It’s amazing to see the amount of work people put into it all, and of course none of them gets paid for it. I am hugely impressed by that commitment and by the way the whole event brings people together.

Local children make up the Queen’s Court and get to ride in carriages drawn by traditional Riverndale Clydesdale horses. Then there’s a pipe band, fancy dress competition, even best-dressed bicycles, strollers and wheelchairs.

Two fantastic kids from John Ogilvie High School in Hamilton (http://www.johnogilvie.s-lanark.sch.uk/) came on a visit to the Parliament this week. Aidan and Megan, both heading off to university in the autumn, were full of praise for the Scottish education system, saying it had given them chances they could never have hoped to get anywhere else in the UK – and, as they added, they don’t have to pay the £9,000 a year tuition fees that English students do. The Scottish Government firmly believes that a first-class education should never be based on an ability to pay for it and should be available to everyone.

Delegates from the Congress of the Council of Europe who visited us last Friday were genuinely interested in what the future of Scotland as an independent country might mean. They were particularly pleased that Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has already set in motion the means to ensure that local government and civic society would be safe in an independent Scotland because their work would be enshrined in law.

I have been shocked and appalled by what goes on in the world when it comes to sexual violence against children. I have worked over the years to do anything I can to help crush it and all of the contingent behaviour that goes with it, such as human trafficking.

Many people think that this is a problem only in developing countries and that somehow Europe and the USA are free of it. Not true unfortunately.

When I was in Strasbourg on Monday, I was talking to some of the people in the Council of Europe’s One in Five Campaign who are seeking to stamp on this kind of behaviour. (http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/children/1in5/default_en.asp)

While reliable data is incredibly difficult to gather for such an underground activity, what is available suggests that about one in five children in Europe are victims of some kind of sexual violence, usually from someone they know. The real figure may be far higher.

The Campaign is seeking to get more effective implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. You can find out more here: http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/Commun/QueVoulezVous.asp?NT=201&CM=8&DF=&CL=ENG

It is driving to better equip children themselves, their families and carers, with the knowledge and tools to prevent and report such abuse, thus raising greater awareness. That seems to me a vital move forward if we are to wipe out this kind of abuse.

A different kind of abuse is dogging us more and more. It is Pay Day Loans. These loans are handed out to folk who are already struggling financially and are often available from high street loan shops – or loan sharks more accurately.

Citizens Advice Scotland http://www.cas.org.uk/news/payday-loans-%E2%80%93-scots-urged-report-their-experiences-cas-survey wants to hear from people who have had a bad experience with one of these companies and I doubt if they will be short of replies to their survey. Interest rates can be 500 per cent.

Citizens Advice Scotland spokesperson Lucy Manson says: “For some time now we have been very concerned about the way that many payday lenders operate. CAB advisers across the country have seen large numbers of people who are drowning in debt because of the actions of payday lenders – particularly things like high interest rates, poor background checks and harassment. 6 months ago the payday loans companies promised they would clean up their act. We have been running a survey to allow people to report whether they are sticking to that promise or not.

“Our CAB colleagues in England and Wales have today published the initial results of their part of the survey, which shows that many payday lenders have broken their commitment to the good practice charter they signed last year. They pledged then to carry out checks on the customer’s finances to ensure they could afford the loan, and agreed to freeze charges when customers are in financial difficulty. Stories from customers south of the border show that in many cases, lenders are falling short of keeping these promises. Unfortunately, our evidence here in Scotland shows that this echoes Scots experiences.”

The Scottish Government is watching you.


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