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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
26th November 2009

Dancing with the People

First things first, I want to point you to the worlds biggest virtual ceilidh and invite you to join in.  You’ll be joining in with notable dignitaries like our very own Linda Fabiani MSP I haven’t searched for other MSPs and politicians yet, but I’m sure they’ll all be lining up to get on there.

Friday past I had the honour of attending the Showmen's Guild Annual Luncheon in the Thistle Hotel in Glasgow, a lovely occasion, lots of good humour –including a delightful speech from Conservative MSP Jamie McGregor.  His politics may not be the same as mine (though there’s always hope for a conversion of even the most ardent Eton-educated unionist Highland laird), but he’s a well-mannered chiel and gives strong support to various causes.  His speech on Friday had some excellent humour in it and plenty of compliments for me so he can’t be all bad.  You can see some photographs of the event at

I was delighted to be invited to the screening of “Rethink Afghanistan” at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on the Saturday, it’s a moving film documentary on Afghanistan and some of the background to the current conflict, explaining in greater detail some of the internal politics and pressures of that country.  The site of the film’s producers will offer you some insight into their take on things -  and you can see the actual film at - completely free of charge.  Part of the film covered the question of whether the country is now a better place for women than before we invaded – my opinion probably won’t be a surprise to anyone, especially with the recent alteration of the law to give men far in Afghanistan the right to beat and starve their wives if they feel they’re not being provided with enough sex or food.  I think we’ll look back on Afghanistan with some shame in years to come and we’ll question whether we made anything better there.  98 of our soldiers have been killed there this year, 235 in total.  There are 9,000 service personnel in that theatre of war, 9,000 people standing in harm’s way, 9,000 people who deserve our utmost support and respect, 9,000 people who are facing another Afghan winter in our service and another 500 are being lined up to join them.

Our soldiers deserve all the respect we have for them but the politicians who sent them there need to say why and they need to be telling us what the task actually is – the mission isn’t clear, and they have to be making it clear just exactly what the plan is for ending that conflict and bringing those troops home.  They deserve nothing less than that.  The film is worth watching, I recommend it, and I hope you watch it.

I left the Filmhouse and picked up my sons who wanted to go to (I should have known) the cinema to see 2012 – not a film about the next local authority elections, this was entertainment – and we were out in time to share in the nation’s joy as Scotland romped away with the match against Australia, beating them by a massive margin of nine points to eight.  Worth waiting a couple of decades for!  Bring on the Pumas I say!

Back to work on Monday – more fun, though.  I was at the celebration of Scotland & Me which was a Year of Homecoming initiative by the SQA that encouraged the creativity and fired the imaginations of school pupils the length and breadth of the country.  Artwork, short stories, poems, videos, music – this country is, quite clearly, full of creative geniuses who hide quietly in our schools most of the time and only come out to impress when we give them the encouragement.  Fantastic work, excellent quality, and I hope we’ll be seeing these youngsters continue to impress in the future.

Chamber this week was interesting, a debate on whether we should teach Scottish history and culture in Scottish classrooms.  It’s not a proposal that I could see being opposed in any other country – “shall we teach our children about their own country?” – but it was in Scotland.  What kind of politician doesn’t think that it’s a good idea?  I’ll let you judge for yourselves by reading the debate online on the Official Report at but the bit you really must read is my speech:

Christina McKelvie (Central Scotland) (SNP): There is an awfy temptation for Scots to ask, "Wha's like us?" and to answer by saying, "Damn few and they're a' deid." That is the knee-jerk reaction of a people who have felt disfranchised and have reacted with a prickly pride.

We can reel off lists of Scots who have done marvellous things and we are, quite rightly, proud to be associated with them. What we do not seem to be able to do easily is place those characters in the period in which they lived. We have no sense of the nation in which they lived and no taste of the air that they breathed. Many of us will punt the greatness of the Scottish enlightenment by quoting Voltaire, who said: "We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation."

We will praise David Hume's "A Treatise of Human Nature" and argue about whether Adam Smith was a socialist. However, few of us can place those people in the stretch of history. We have a pantheon with no walls—an unfinished monument to mirror the national monument on Calton Hill.

Surely our duty is to ensure that coming generations have a context for their heroes, know what social forces in Dundee helped Mary Slessor to choose her life as a missionary and understand how difficult it was for Elsie Inglis to practise medicine and how Mary Fairfax Somerville came to write influential scientific tomes in the first half of the 19th century.

Delivering a view of the past that explains the country that they inherit is essential for a child in any nation and it is no less so in Scotland.

Johann Lamont: I wonder how Christina McKelvie imagines that a greater understanding of Elsie Inglis and Mary Slessor would be gained by a visit to Culloden.

Christina McKelvie: The member will know better than I do that Culloden is just one choice of all the things that children can visit. My son is going to visit something in Glasgow during the week, which is subsidised by the local authority, too. Whether it is coming from the Government or the local authority, it is all coming from the one pot. It is great learning for our kids.

Delivering a view of the past that explains the country that they inherit is essential for a child in any nation and it is no less so in Scotland. I have repeated that sentence, because it needs to be repeated. Scottish pupils should be aware of the Glasgow rent strikes; the radicals who echoed the calls of the French revolution; how the Church of Scotland made Scotland the most literate nation in the world; how Scottish merchants seized the opportunities of empire; and why Scots cannot walk away gently from the wrongs that were committed in building and maintaining that empire—they should remember that Scots, too, were involved in the slave trade and they should remember, with pride, that they were involved in its abolition.

Margo MacDonald: The member has just given a very good example of history being written by the winners. She said that Scottish merchants took advantage of the opportunities of empire, which can be interpreted in two ways. I submit that it is impossible to have an unbiased view of history.

Christina McKelvie: I cannot add anything to that.

Perhaps if there was a better general understanding of Scotland's history and our links with Ireland—viewed with a less jaundiced eye—we might step along the road to addressing some of the irrational itches of sectarianism.

When our children can easily access the treasure troves of art and architecture from Scotland's past and present, mark our nation's remarkable role in the development of modern medicine, banking and commerce and be inspired by the exploration and adventures of Scots who criss-crossed the world, they will have more chance of becoming bigger people than we currently imagine.

We have a remarkable country with a remarkable history. We have made an incredible contribution to the world and we have an incredible contribution still to make. We should help Scotland's children to celebrate that.

There is great strength in a nation that can look at its own history, mark it well, bask in the reflected glow of achievement, note its downfalls and learn from all of it. We do not own the past and we cannot prescribe or narrow it. That is not our job. We set a framework and we let the teachers teach. We do not tell them what to teach and we do not check their jotters. What is taught in Scottish history classes will be the decision of those who set the classes, those who set the exams and those who inspect them. Politicians cannot and will not interfere.

I have some respect for Murdo Fraser and I suspect that he wrote his amendment in haste. I imagine that he did not mean to insult our history teachers by suggesting that they would promote a political agenda through their teachings. I am sure that he knows as well as the rest of us do that Scotland's teachers are professional and dedicated individuals who will ensure the best possible scholastic results for pupils and who would resist strongly any attempt by any politician to interfere with that and with how they teach children in the classroom.

Likewise, I am sure that Margaret Smith did not seek to disparage the good work and professionalism of our teachers with the empty phrase in her amendment "history should be taught without political interference".

I am sure that she will make it clear at the earliest opportunity that she does not suspect that Scotland's teachers would impose their political beliefs on their pupils.

I am sure that the framers of all the amendments—I include Ken Macintosh, of course—know that the Government reports to Parliament regularly and is scrutinised by Parliament every sitting week, and particularly at noon on Thursdays. I look forward to Parliament continuing to follow the progress and improvements in Scottish education that the Government is bringing about and I look forward to members welcoming those improvements.

The subject is important not because studying history lodges facts, names and dates in young Scots' minds but because it gives them a panorama of time and a vista of the nation's experience that can inform their thinking and their concepts about the nation and the world in which they live. If memory serves, it was Ken Macintosh who said that in the chamber a while back.

History belongs to the nation. [Interruption.] I am pleased to support the motion.

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