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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
8th January 2009

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a wonderful time and youíre feeling refreshed.  I had a marvellous time, including climbing Birnam Hill where the photograph was taken.

It was a gentle return to Parliament this week, but the news is still dominated by the economic disaster, every day seems to be bringing more bad news, another business failing, more people losing their jobs, and there doesnít seem to be any end to it.  There will, it would seem, be much more pain to come before we start to see some recovery.  I know that John Swinney is doing what he can to ease some of the pressure on Scotland, but without the full economic powers itís very difficult.  Weíll see in the Budget Bill in the morning what rabbits he has managed to pull out of the hat.

First thing back was a debate on how weíre going to reform the National Qualifications offered in Scotland.  Fiona Hyslop has brought forward some radical and far-sighted ideas and itís interesting to see that some people are looking forward to a better education system while some are just determined to fight the battles that they have been fighting for years.  The plans include the Baccalaureates that were in our manifesto and a renewed flexibility in exam timetabling, allowing pupils to sit exams earlier if theyíre ready for it.  Thereís a lot to be done and a lot of thinking to get us there, but Iím fairly confident that testing will be used as a diagnostic tool in the future rather than as a means of ranking schools and consigning far too many youngsters to a perceived failure.  Fionaís right to take us down this path, it wonít be easy but it is right, and it will help make our education system fit for the purpose we need it to serve.

That debate was followed by Sandra Whiteís Memberís Debate on the proposed job cuts at the Herald newspaper stable.  Newsquest, the owners of the Herald, the Evening Times and the Sunday Herald, seem determined to push ahead, constantly cutting the staff back, cutting back the resources, but still expecting a quality newspaper to be produced.  I wonder whether they realise what they bought or whether they think that the Herald is just another regional title.  Thereís a long way to go in that dispute yet.

In the evening there was a reception for the venison industry - both public and private sector - with the organisations involved being the Association of Deer Management Groups, British Deer Farmers Association, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Deer Commission for Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Gamekeepers Association and Scottish Quality Wild Venison.  Excellent samples on offer and a cooking demonstration going on in one area of the Garden Lobby while a butchery demonstration was going on in another.  The Presiding Officer made sure that Iíll be off for a day up the hills stalking followed by an exploration of how the meat gets to the plate Ė itís going to be interesting, I think.

Thursday rolled around and we got to First Ministerís Questions.  I finally, finally, won through in the contest to ask a question and prepared to ask the First Minister how the Treasuryís decision on funding the new Forth Road Bridge would affect other capital spend in Scotland.  Of course the opposition leaders get to ask their questions first, and Iain Gray asked about the bridge, followed by Annabel Goldie asking about Ö the bridge.  There was me sitting with my question (you canít change the subject matter) and watching the Labour and Conservative leaders chewing away at the possible routes for me to ask my supplementary question.  I had to keep changing where I was going until I finally got it down to whether we need more borrowing powers (councils have borrowing powers but the Scottish Government doesnít, bizarrely).

The answer from Alex Salmond Ė that Iíd hit exactly the right point.  Does that mean Iím better than the leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties?  My tongue is firmly in my cheek, of course.

Thereíll be more to tell next week, but thatís all for just now.

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