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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
21st February 2008

Last week was excellent – I took a few days off and took my boys up the hills.  I find it an excellent way to relax, just getting away and being in a really peaceful place.  It also reminds me of what’s important in life and why we all work so hard to improve the lives of Scotland’s people.

I cam back this week rejuvenated, refreshed, and ready to re-engage.  I’ve been fascinated by just how much each of the MSPs keeps going, even when the tank is empty, and they only really notice just how exhausted they are when they stop.  We do work hard, honest.

I’ve got enormous respect for our Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries who carry on through every recess, hardly getting time for any kind of break at all, never mind a proper rest and a chance to recuperate.  Our friend, Linda Fabiani, for example, who was off on Government business to Malawi during recess.  A fantastic workload they are all carrying for Scotland’s benefit.

I have to admit to a guilty secret – I took my blackberry on holiday to keep up to date.  I logged on up the Ptarmigan and had a wee peek at what was going on – only to receive emails from both my staff telling me to turn it off and have a break.  How did they know?  I got them back later – I sent them mobile phone pictures to make them jealous.

Anyway – back to this week and back to work.  We were taking evidence in Committee on the Scottish Government’s proposals on Culture – part of Linda’s portfolio – from the five national companies – National Theatre of Scotland, Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, Scottish National Orchestra, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra who all appeared to be agreeing with Linda and with the Scottish Government that you can’t put culture in a box and deliver everyone’s share to them, culture has to be allowed to grow and thrive by itself.

The background to this is that the previous administration put in place a lot of box-ticking on culture so there are “cultural entitlements” (if anyone can explain this concept I’d be delighted to see the explanation) and “cultural co-ordinators” in schools.  The SNP believes that there are better ways to support our unique culture and that we should examine them – this is what Linda is doing.

We also heard from the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Glasgow School of Art, HI-arts (a highlands and islands arts journal), and Voluntary Arts Scotland.  They made sure that the voice of the other parts of Scottish culture were being heard – it’s not just about the ‘high-brow’ arts.

It was interesting to hear the different takes on what is happening, all; generally supportive of the Government, but each with different points they want to emphasise.  I’m looking forward to continuing looking at what Scotland needs to do to make sure that our unique culture survives, thrives and expands.

Wednesday evening saw me handing out the awards at a reception for Rathbone, which is an organisation which helps youngsters who have faced problems in the past.  The success stories were fantastic – young people who had taken control of their lives and got themselves back on track, moving from not engaging to making a valuable contribution to society.

It was a privilege to be handing out those awards to those learners who had excelled as well as to staff, volunteers and employer partners who help make it happen.

Back on Thursday for a day sorting out funding issues for a Rape Crisis Centre (I don’t know if we’re there yet, but at least the Minister is now aware and is acting), arranging contacts with unions, and working through some constituency cases.

Throughout all of that news has been filtering in of one council after another throughout Scotland setting imaginative and forward-looking budgets in response to John Swinney’s excellent deal.  Freeing up the councils to make their own decisions appears to be paying dividends as they re-order their finances to take account of their local circumstances – operating as a local government in reality as well as in name.

The SNP has always had faith in the ability of local councils to rise to the challenge when they could, and freeing them up to do it seems to be working.  As I write, 30 councils (I think) have frozen their council tax, and we just wait for two more.

Scotland is changing – and getting better!

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