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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
5th November 2009

I left you last week to go to the Ecumenical Service of Remembrance for the Armed Forces in Motherwell Cathedral, the first such large service in the UK. It was an extremely moving occasion, which powerfully highlighted the bravery of our servicemen and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the scale of the sacrifice that has been made by so many of them. Regardless of what we think about the rights and wrongs of those conflicts, they deserve our gratitude. A big part of the respect that we owe them has to take the form of adequate care and support for veterans. Thanks to the SNP Government the support that our Scottish veterans now receive is streets ahead of where it was a couple of years ago and by some way the best in the UK.

Last week ended with a double-header of fundraising for good causes, albeit while enjoying myself at the same time. On Saturday night, MND Scotland’s Cornflower Ball raised an astonishing £35,000 to help fund research, treatment and care for people with motor neurone disease. As regular readers will know I am proud to have a close association with MND Scotland, and no matter how many of their events I attend, I never cease to be inspired afresh by the stories I hear and people I meet. This time, Martin Sherry made a huge impression with a short film about his life with motor neurone disease. Martin said that being given a diagnosis of MND felt like being on a plane, being told the plane was going to crash but not when it would happen – then being told to enjoy the in-flight meal in the meantime. It was an incredibly striking metaphor for the emotional havoc that diagnosis of an unpredictable progressive condition like MND wreaks on sufferers and their families.

Halloween on Saturday was an excuse to raise more cash for another excellent cause, this time Ochil SNP! As you’d expect, I looked to a strong female role model in my costume choice – Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, complete with asp. (She seldom gets the credit she deserves for having been a strong and able ruler of Egypt from the age of just 18, you know.) There are apparently pictures of this momentous event in existence, but I do not intend that they shall ever see the light of day.

Back to serious politics with continued campaigning in the Glasgow North East by-election and a lively hustings on Tuesday, organised by the PCS union, with a good turnout of trade unionists and ordinary voters. I am glad to report that the BNP were not invited to participate, with organisers and candidates united in agreement that they should not be given a platform to air their poisonous creed. The SNP’s candidate David Kerr gave a quietly assured performance and was particularly effective in his analysis of the UK government and Royal Mail management’s shared agenda of running down the value of the Royal Mail as a business in order to flog large sections of it off to the private sector. I also enjoyed the funny and passionate contributions of Mikey Hughes of Big Brother fame (there was no sign of John Smeaton, the other “celebrity” candidate in the race). Labour’s Willie Bain fared less well – the audience treated his claim that, if elected, he would just march up to Lord Mandelson and tell him not to privatise the Royal Mail with the derision it deserved!

An eclectic week in the Parliament Chamber, with debates on everything from national parks to minimum alcohol pricing. We ran out of time before I could ask my question on Fiona Hyslop’s Ministerial Statement on Making Skills Work for Scotland. I hate having to let my incisive and salient points go to waste, so I’ll just ask it now: “The Cabinet Secretary has focused on some specific sectors, such as energy, life sciences and health and social care. Can she tell us why these were selected and give us some more detail on the wider benefits of this focus and its impact on Scotland at this time?” I would never put words into the Cabinet Secretary’s mouth, of course, but my guess is that her answer would have explained the part that the skills strategy plays in the cross-Scottish Government focus on economic recovery, supporting job creation, making sure that the necessary skills are there to build those sectors of the economy that are still growing, and getting Scotland out of the recession as quickly and strongly as possible.

Highlights in the Chamber included a storming speech from my colleague Sandra White in Labour MSP Bill Butler’s Member’s Debate on GARL (a curiously partisan choice of subject for a Member’s Debate, which are usually about non-party political topics). Sandra got stuck right in and annihilated Labour for their hypocrisy and political opportunism in demanding that John Swinney use a major chunk of his drastically cut budget to fund GARL - refusing to say what they would cut in its place – and falsely claiming that the SNP is short-changing Glasgow, when under decades of Labour rule poverty, unemployment and health inequalities were allowed to become endemic in parts of the city. Their cheek is breathtaking, and Sandra received hearty cheers from the SNP benches.

A definite lowlight was the Tories’ contention that single parent families are the primary source of social decay in their motion for their ironically-titled debate Supporting Families. Is anyone else having unpleasant flashbacks to the glory days of John Redwood, Peter Lilley and John Major’s infamous Back to Basics campaign? Remember how well that worked out for them? Maybe Annabel and crew should give themselves a wee refresher course in recent political history: The Conservative Party in Government, 1992-97 – The Idiot Years.

Back to Glasgow North East for the final big campaigning push to polling day. Maybe see you there!

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