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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
12th June

A Busy Time

It’s been a busy time, from meetings with Scottish Enterprise to look at a business in East Kilbride which has gone from strength to strength to today’s debate in chamber.

Ecebs is a company that started out about eight years ago with a set of plastic garden furniture and an ambition to be the best.  Since then the company has been built up to be a world leader in Smartcard technology – you might even be using some of their technology every day in a chip-and-pin card.  It’s an exciting journey for a wee company in East Kilbride to be taking and I’m delighted that I was able to go and visit to see what they’re getting up to.  Their website is worth a wee look as well -

It’s good to see success stories like that one coming out of Scotland’s business community.

From there to the blunt end of justice – joining the Hamilton Citizen’s Advice Bureau for a day to see how the In Court Team work.  The CAB team does court representation for people who can’t afford their own lawyers and who have found themselves up in court to answer debt calls like rent arrears and council tax arrears.  CAB has some serious concerns about the reforms to Housing Benefit due to come in later this year which would limit Housing Benefit claims older than three months at the time of decision no matter whose fault it is.  That could cause some real problems – some people are waiting for up to nine months after making a claim to get a decision – this new rule would leave them with six months of rent arrears to pay off.  People who claim Housing Benefit don’t have that kind of money hanging around; this is an issue which will have to be fought all the way.

More Justice immediately after that as well with a meeting with Councillor Rooney of Strathclyde Joint Police Board for a wee chat about how the police service is facing up to the challenges that lie ahead.

Then there were visits to schools, Standards Committee meetings and Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee meetings to attend.  Nothing terribly exciting in the Standards Committee, but an interesting chat with Blair Jenkins in the ELLC Committee.  Mr Jenkins is the chair of the Broadcasting Commission set up by the SNP Government which comes under Linda Fabiani’s Culture remit and is looked at by the committee on that basis.

He’s a broadcaster of quite some experience and a fantastic communicator.  In the committee meeting it was he who held the floor and made sure that his points got across.  An excellent choice for the chair of the Broadcasting Commission – well done the Scottish Government!

We’ve had a few wee receptions as well – a visit from some Ugandan politicians from their Standards Committee; the Freight Transport Association coming to make it clear that the high cost of fuel was threatening their very livelihoods; a reception for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations; Carers Scotland; the Association of Scottish Colleges; and Marie Curie Cancer Care, all seeking to get their messages across, all very worthwhile events to go to, and all providing some very useful information.

There’s a couple of events I really want to tell you about, though, one is an awards ceremony which was held in Parliament for Amnesty International’s Media Awards.  I was delighted to be introduced to Fiona Walker, a BBC documentarist (is that the right word) who produced a film called From Congo to Motherwell about the plight of refugees and how some of them have managed to settle into Scotland – Motherwell, to be precise.

The glaikit-looking one on the left is my dear colleague Jamie Hepburn MSP – it was his bad joke that had us all grimacing.

I’m fascinated by how someone sets out to make a documentary and how they decide what to use and what to discard, and I wonder how Fiona and people like her can keep focused on making the film when they’re covering such heart-rending stories.

I hope I’ve been helpful in trying to address some of the issues around asylum seekers as well.  I’ve been trying to highlight just how bad a practice it is to house children in Dungavel Detention Centre.  In spite of the hard work and the dedication of the staff who try to do what they can, it’s still a prison and children shouldn’t be in prison.  Additionally, some of the people incarcerated at Dungavel are actually foreign prisoners who, having finished their sentences, are being sent back to where they came from.  That means that children are being locked up with murderers, rapists, and sundry other people who shouldn’t be allowed near children.  I’ll keep campaigning to change the way the system works – it can’t carry on as it does.

The other event I really want to tell you about is the Lancastria ceremony I attended in the Garden Lobby just this evening.  The Lancastria sinking was an enormous loss of life – it was helping evacuate members of the British Expeditionary Force from France in 1940 and was sunk by bombers.  4,000 people died and Churchill ordered it to be kept quiet to protect public morale.

It was kept quiet for 68 years but in a very moving ceremony in the Scottish Parliament tonight, First Minister Alex Salmond handed out medals to survivors and bereaved families.  It was a move that attracted cross-party support and it’s something that I’m proud the Scottish Government has done.  It might have taken far too long but at least that sacrifice has been recognised now.

You can read some more of the story on the BBC website at

I’ve also had a few visitors through to Parliament to see us in action – it never ceases to amaze me how much people like it when they see us working and how impressed they are with the building.

Motor Neurone Disease is something that is close to my heart.  My father suffered from it for many years – much longer than is usual – and I remember just how hard it can be for a family to try to cope.

I’m working now with the Scottish Motor Neurone Disease Association to see if we can raise awareness of the disease and its ramifications.  The Association does a lot of good work, and I’m seeking to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of it so they can do more.  I’m also chivvying my colleagues in Government to see what more they can do, and, to be fair, there is some movement and some improvement.  Keep going, I say!

Something else – I spoke in the education debate today.  The Official Report will be on the website tomorrow (look here - ) but I should tell you that I managed to get myself a telling-off from the Presiding Officer.

Labour MSPs have been claiming that the SNP Government has been cutting funding left, right and centre, even claiming that the organisation of Scottish local government, COSLA, had figures which showed how bad we were.  COSLA denied it all (best to read Robbie Dinwoodie’s blog for a fuller story - ).

Anyway, I mentioned in the Chamber that Labour had been ‘peddling lies’ and you’re not allowed to do that, so the Presiding Officer gave me a telling off.  Interestingly enough, though, Labour never denied that they’d been telling lies.

One more thing before I go – something I never thought I’d ever do – I had lunch with a couple of Sinn Fein members.  A few years ago that would have been absolutely unthinkable, and it’s an indication of how much things have changed over the water.  They’re in government in Stormont now, along with the DUP – a very welcome development, and they’re excellent company at lunch as well.

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