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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
3rd December 2009

A week of tumult

You won’t have missed the week just past if you watch Scottish politics – a time of upheaval and tumult, a time of change and a time of ambition.  We had the launch of Your Scotland, Your Voice – continuing the National Conversation on the way to the Independence Referendum followed closely by a mini-reshuffle which saw Fiona Hyslop MSP move from being Cabinet Secretary for Education to become Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture and a debate on education.  My speech in that debate, which you can read in the Official Report at, was used to mark some of the successes that Fiona Hyslop had while Cabinet Secretary and to point out that the record of Labour and the Lib Dems on education was terrible.

Here’s a few of the things Fiona achieved in two and a half years that Labour and the Lib Dems couldn’t manage in eight:

  • In 1999 Jim Wallace said that the abolition of university tuition fees was non-negotiable.  In 2007 Fiona Hyslop abolished them, restoring the principle of free education – access to education based on the ability to learn, not on the ability to pay.
  • She introduced the Baccalaureate to Scottish education and was in the process of reforming the whole examination system to help it finally recover from the chaos which ensued when Labour managed to run it into the ground in 2000.
  • The Treasury wouldn’t change the rules on student loans to allow the SNP Scottish Government to pay them as grants instead of loans but Fiona still managed to find an extra £30 million for student support.
  • She delivered the smallest ever class sizes
  • She delivered the legislation for free school meals for every pupil in primaries 1, 2 and 3 beginning in the next scholastic year.
  • She extended the provision of free school lunches to children whose parents or carers are in receipt of maximum tax credit.
  • There’s a massive increase in nursery provision.
  • There’s more money for teachers’ professional development.
  • There’s extra support for apprentices.
  • Fiona Hyslop made sure that the SNP Scottish Government built more new schools in two and a half years than Labour and the Lib Dems did in four years.
  • 21 more new primary schools were announced at the end of November to add to the 14 new secondary schools announced in September.
  • There was money for universities to help them clear the backlog of capital works that had built up under the last administration.
  • The Schools Consultation Act will give communities more control over whether their schools get closed.
  • The SNP Scottish Government delivered the Curriculum for Excellence that the other bunch just talked about.

All of that in just two and a half years.  It’s a record to be proud of and a record that stands as a testimony to the hard work and dedication of Fiona Hyslop.  The afternoon session on Thursday was another education debate as well, Getting it Right for Every Child – the Scottish Government’s strategy for ensuring the very  best possible service for children in need of social services.  Adam Ingram MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years, has been leading on this and doing an excellent job.  He’s a man with a sound grasp of the policy and a desire to make a difference for the children of Scotland.

Also coming up in the chamber this week was an issue which keeps getting raised, which has a lot of cross-party support and which we’d like to see a lot of progress made on – it’s the detention of children in Dungavel.  Dungavel is a removal centre for people who have failed to make their cases as asylum seekers, it used to be a prison and it still carries the aura of a prison.  Scotland has raised its voice several times in protest at the way asylum seekers are treated, especially over the detention of children prior to repatriation.  That is in no way a criticism of the staff at Dungavel, people who are caring and trying to do the best they can in a framework imposed on them by the UK Government.  There has been some progress but not a great deal; children are now detained for no more than three days but there is still the argument that children should not be detained at all in what remains a prison.

Dungavel Dungavel

Dungavel Dungavel

Dungavel Dungavel

I visited Dungavel itself on Sunday and met with a small group from Justice and Peace – they’re there regularly, not just when the media are on hand.  It’s small, dedicated bands of people like this who really make the difference – they keep the protest going.  Justice and Peace maintain a vigil outside Dungavel in the same way as the Scottish Parliament vigil kept that issue at the top of the agenda.  It is these “watchers after democracy” who keep the country moving forward, acting almost like the conscience of the nation.  I salute them for their efforts at Dungavel and similarly the other groups elsewhere who keep that flame of conscience burning all the time.

I’ve been added to the Equal Opportunities Committee as well, so Tuesday mornings are filled every second week as well as the Education Committee being on every Wednesday morning, meaning more time spent in Edinburgh and less time spent out and about in Central Scotland.  Then there’s the fundraising events for the election coming (Rutherglen this week) which will, no doubt, keep going right through 2011 and the events for constituency organisations – the Kilbryde Hospice Appeal was this week.  It’s going to be a busy time, but an exciting time; it’s a real privilege doing this job and I’ve got to do it the best I can.

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