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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
2nd October

Diary of a politician


Sometimes the end of the Parliamentary week has a feeling about it which has an echo of catharsis.  After the high drama of the debates and the strained emotions of questions and the tensions of the votes showering the frenzy out of the chamber and into the offices of the political press corps the empty chamber seems more empty than it was at the start of the week, drained of all its energy, emptied of the passion and the spark.


At the close of business on a Thursday evening MSPs make off in different directions.  Some head straight from the chamber to the train station, some stop for a coffee and a chat, some are off to do media interviews, some go into meetings, and some head back to their offices to do a bit more work before heading home.


Me?  I head up to a meeting on education, making sure members of the SNP group are aware of issues we’re finding and raising any concerns we have from the week as well as discussing what’s coming up.  Then I’m back to my office to do a bit of work, write this diary, and check I’ve got everything I’m going to need for my appointments over the weekend.  About nine o’clock I’ll be heading home, driving back through the central belt to Glasgow.


Looking back at this week is a bit strange, though.  On Monday I got the news that Aleke Banda is to retire from frontline politics in Malawi.  He’s been involved with the work we’ve been doing through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and he was one of the people I spend some time with on my recent visit to Malawi.  I submitted this motion in Parliament:


S3M-02620 Christina McKelvie (Central Scotland) (Scottish National Party): Aleke Banda— That the Parliament notes the decision of Aleke Banda to retire from frontline politics in Malawi at the next election; recognises the role that he played in the campaign for independence for Malawi, helping to build a new country, and his 55 years in active politics; congratulates him on his achievements during his career, and wishes him well in his retirement, hoping that he will, in his own words, “find the time to read some bedtime stories, to learn to kick a football or fly a kite”.


While MSPs might take time on a Thursday evening to think back over the week and consider what’s gone well and what didn’t quite work, to mull over small triumphs and little defeats (or to relish great days or lick the wounds inflicted, I suppose), Aleke must be looking back over his 55 years in active politics and doing the same thing on a much larger scale.


This is a man whose career spanned the retaking of his country’s independence, who helped guide his country through some hard times, who has been responsible recently for the efforts to restructure his nation’s finances, and who has always made sure that he made friends abroad for his country.


Aleke Banda has been in the deep desponds of a seemingly impossible struggle and has had the chance to stand on the sunny heights of great success.  He has been through historic times for his country and with his country, and he has come out the other side still with his sense of humour and his sense of humility intact.


The catharsis he’ll be feeling at the end of his career will be immense and his memories incredible – almost like a who’s who from Kwame Nkhurumah and Jomo Kenyatta through Dr Azikiwe and Julius Nyerere to Nelson Mandela and Haile Sellase.  He turned down a scholarship to Harvard University in order to serve his country in its time of need in the 1960s, turning down that golden chance for himself so that he could remain part of the liberation movement for Malawi.


A founder member of the Malawi Congress Party in 1959, he was expelled from that party in 1973 when Kamuzu thought Aleke would become a threat to his own position.  He was detained in prison for twelve and a half years during the reign of Hastings Banda (no relation to Aleke) and house arrest for another couple of years under a ‘preventive detention clause’ in the Malawian constitution.  Aleke, though, doesn’t appear to have any bitterness about this – a truly remarkable man.


After time in Government with the UDF Aleke joined the People’s Progressive Movement and became President of that party.  He’ll be leaving the PPM in fine fettle, a party dedicated to accountability, transparency and integrity in public life.  He’ll be looking back at his career and smiling at the fond memories.


I hope his retirement is just as pleasant as his career has been.




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