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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
18th June 2009

Education week

Last Thursday we had visitors.  The Secretary of State for Education, Youth and Sports from Baden Wurttemberg visited Parliament to find out how we are addressing the issues that are facing our young people and to compare our efforts to theirs.  It’s always interesting to compare and contrast our way of doing things with that of our friends and colleagues from our European partners.  I have more confidence after each of these meetings that Scotland can and should rejoin the family of nations as an independent state, taking a full and active part in world affairs.

I was out and about in Glasgow at the weekend, just enjoying myself and having lots of chats about the forthcoming election in Glasgow North-East.  The rumours are that the bye-election will be almost exactly a year after the earth was shaken in Glasgow East with the victory of John Mason MP.  There will be plenty party activists the length and breadth of the country who remember that summer night in Glasgow – and some who remember the next morning less fondly …

I was delighted, too, to be the guest of the Royal Society of Edinburgh for dinner and a discussion on science in schools – how we train the next generation of scientists, how we make sure we stay at the forefront of innovation in science.  It was all subrosa, though, so I can’t go spilling the beans.

And it was refugee week this week, the topic being ‘Home’- launched in Parliament by the Scottish Refugee Council – find out more on their website at - and I was delighted to renew my acquaintance with Amal, one of the Glasgow Girls who won the Campaigner of the Year award a year or two ago.  As you can see in the photograph, Amal has become a beautiful young woman, and she is absolutely thrilled that the SNP Government changed the rules on asylum seekers which allowed her to go to university.  I couldn’t help thinking that simple human decency should just be expected rather than being a surprising turn of events – but I still revelled in Amal’s excitement!

She gets to move her education forward while we were moving Scottish education forward.  Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, has finished her careful consideration of capital funding for schools and she delivered a peach of a speech on Wednesday as she laid out how she’s going to wedge £1.25 billion into school building programmes.  There’s £800 million to go in starting as capital grants (or cold, hard cash) – a massive investment in the future of our education system – and plenty more to be levered in from elsewhere.  Having spoken to Fiona afterwards, it’s quite clear that she’s pleased that we’ve got to here but she’s not sitting back, she be chasing that investment into the school estate, keeping an eye on it, working with councils to get delivery, working to make sure that the investment delivers real and tangible long-term improvements.

It turns out, too, that the SNP Government has exceeded the pledge we made in our manifesto.  We promised to match the programme that Labour had, match it brick for brick, school for school – and we’ve done better than that.

Labour promised 100 new or refurbished schools by the end of 2009 – we’ve already done 150 – and we’re expecting to reach 250 by 2011.

At the time we won the election in 2007, there were around 260,000 pupils in poor classroom accommodation. By 2011, that figure will already be down to around 100,000, and with the new funding from the SNP Government, it’ll be down to 65,000.  The ambition of this Government is to make sure that no child in Scotland is sitting in a substandard classroom.  It’s an ambition no other party has aimed for because they thought it was impossible, we think it’s only impossible if you never try.

Labour’s response was predictable – Rhona Brankin claimed that this programme was woefully thin.  Surely that made Labour’s plans just woeful?  The another Labour MSP popped up to ask whether the schools would be built before the election.  Funnily enough, the SNP focus is on the school pupils rather than the voters – getting the schools built is what matters.

I had a wee exchange with Fiona as well:

Christina McKelvie (Central Scotland) (SNP): It is refreshing to have a Government that takes the time to get the right solution rather than rushing into a massive mistake. That brings me to PFI. Bad design, poor building and poor value for money have been the hallmarks of PFI and PPP. How will the Scottish Government ensure that Scotland's future schools are well designed, well built and environmentally sustainable?

Fiona Hyslop: Christina McKelvie raises an important point about the design of schools. We will work with Architecture and Design Scotland, the Carbon Trust and others to ensure not only that the designs are appropriate for modern-day learning in a 21st century environment but that they are energy efficient, which is essential to ensure that they contribute to the climate change challenges that lie ahead.

It is appropriate and important to involve the pupils themselves in the design to ensure that we get quality results. I have visited and, indeed, opened a number of schools that have been started since this Administration came to power. The architecture that could be delivered by listening to the pupils and teachers in those schools delivers results. I expect the SFT to draw on that talent, experience and expertise.

She finished it off by emphasising that this was new money – money on top of the money already allocated.  A good day for Scotland’s schools, I think.

You can tell that we closed it off, too, by the fact that Iain Gray chose to avoid the issue at First Minister’s Questions on the Thursday – they couldn’t even find a wee angle that would make it look like there might be a weakness.  Instead Iain led with his chin on the Climate Change Bill, demanding to know why the target for emissions cuts was only 34%.  He might well ask.  He might also want to ask his Labour MSPs who have been working on the Bill, only one of them submitted any amendment mentioning the target – and that was to fix the target at … yes, you guessed it, 34%.

It was an irony not lost on my guests from Hamilton who enjoyed First Minister’s Questions before joining me on a tour of the building.  They also agreed with the afternoon’s proceedings – legislation to end the massive compensation claims of criminals for slopping out caused by incompetence in the previous administration.  I’ve always thought that the people who should have our sympathy over slopping out were the poor prison officers who had to supervise it.

Also in the picture with my Hamilton visitors is Heather Whiteside who was on work experience with me for two days in the middle of visits to Roseanna Cunningham’s constituency office.  She’s an extremely intelligent and articulate young lady who will go very far in life, whatever career she chooses, and I hope to be following the path of that bright light for some time.

That rumbling you’re hearing isn’t thunder, by the way, it’s my poor tum.  There’s a big formal dinner in Parliament tonight so the canteen closed at 5 o’clock – I normally pop down about half past seven to get a wee hot meal to sustain me through the last couple of hours work before I drive home, I’m famished.  I see a chip shop in my future.

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