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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
28th January 2010

Burns an a' that….

Friday night and what better way to spend it than at the Baillieston SNP Burns supper. Smashing speech from Roseanna Cunningham with the Immortal Memory, talking about what Burns would make of modern Scotland and the caustic remarks he would probably be saying about the Scottish parliament and politics in general, that he would be opposed to the war, outspoken about the asylum system we have imposed on us by the UK Border Agency - it's no way to treat people; Burns would be writing and protesting, he'd be scribing lines about Dungavel, he'd be puncturing the pomposity of arrogant and xenophobic politicians, and he'd be calling on us all to remember humanity, our responsibility to treat each other as human beings (a tad ironic that he was a step or two away from driving slaves himself).  Funny thing about that speech about Burns is I always quote a bit of Burns when I'm at Dungavel, it just seems to fit right, somehow.

Nicola Sturgeon who toasted Scotland (oh yes, a high-powered event this one) she talked about Scotland's aspirations, our aspirations for Scotland, and how far we have come in the past few years.  I couldn't help but contrast our great good fortune in coming this far on our road to freedom without the bloodshed and fear that so marked the journey of our friends in Northern Ireland - probably as a result of my visit to Stormont earlier in the week where I met some exceptional people who are trying to heal their country and find a way forward while having to deal with the lack of trust that remains.  It's not that they distrust each other, it's more that they still can't trust each other completely, but they deal with that and they keep moving the process onwards, they disagree on issues, disagree quite strongly sometimes, and they're united on some issues, but each and every one of them wants to make it a better place to live, a better society, a better future for their children.  They disagree about the eventual destination but they are all genuinely wanting to make it better and I wish them all the good fortune they can find along the way, it's a hard and uneven road with a destination yet to be decided but with politicians of decency, compassion and honour treading that road there must be hope that it will be fruitful.

The other speakers were Duncan Ross (toast to lassies) and Anne McLaughlin did the reply but I didn't get to hear them as I had to leave to attend my brother's 40th birthday party - I've often wondered why my mother left those two decades between him being born and me being born - honest ...

Equal opportunities committee this week had round-table sessions on the economic impact of migration and trafficking.  We had as our guests Gordon Smail, Portfolio Manager (Local Government), Audit Scotland; Mhoraig Green, Policy Officer, Cosla’s Strategic Migration Partnership; Chris Oswald, Head of Policy & Parliamentary Affairs, Equality and Human Rights Commission; Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary, STUC; Elaine Dougall, Regional Women & Equalities Organiser, Unite the Union; Inspector Brian Gibson, and Superintendent David Stewart, ACPOS; Jane Renton, HM Assistant Chief Inspector, HMIE; Heather Rolfe, Research Fellow, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research; Seonad Forbes, Project Coordinator, New Migrants Action Project, Positive Action in Housing; and Cathie Cowan, Director, South-East Glasgow Community Health Care and Partnership. It was a very interesting session, boosting my reasoning for a welfare-based approach to immigration and asylum rather than the enforcer-based approach that we've seen from UKBA in response to the calls of politicians for asylum 'quotas' and repatriations.  I'm hoping for an enquiry that will bust a lot of the myths that get peddled about asylum seekers by some media outlets and, more disturbingly, by some unprincipled politicians.

Education committee was an informal briefing to discuss the new Children's hearing's Bill with Adam Ingram MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years.  It's been 46 years since Kilbrandon reported, times move on, and the much-vaunted Scottish Children's Hearings system which has been praised around the world and has added greatly to the global sum of human understanding of the issues is being re-examined and refreshed.  We're blowing a few cobwebs out the windows and we're doing a bit of dusting and hoovering.  We have to be careful not to throw the valuables out with the rubbish, right enough, but we've got to clean those jewels and get them sparkling and make sure we're doing the very best we can for all of Scotland's children.

And so to the chamber where the Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Bill (I don't know who names these things) was passed on Wednesday - another piece of SNP legislation on the books.  As George Foulkes might say, we're making Scotland better again - on purpose!  Cigarettes will no longer be displayed in shops, cigarette advertising will be gone, and tobacco will be denormalised as a product for sale.  I think that that's a good day's work! 

After all that exertion (oh, go on, give me a little leeway), I was keen to get the glad-rags on and dash up to the Parliament Burn's Club Burn's Supper (try saying that in a hurry).  I have to compliment the chef and all of the staff hard at work while we MSPs were enjoying ourselves; the food was delicious, served with some class - and I got to stay until the end this time!  The politicians speaking were Mike Russell, Jackson Carlaw (who always reminds me of Ernst Stavro Blofeld for some reason) and Elaine Murray - but nobody wants to hear about politicians, do they?  So the rest of the entertainment will be the better part to remember. Campbell Gunn, political editor of the Sunday Post and long-time folk singer (of course, Campbell will protest that he is too young to be a long-timer at anything, but I've seen the photographs) sang a pro-Jacobite song then an anti-Jacobite song, demonstrating the intriguing paradox of Burns and the way in which Burns changed and perhaps had to change. Rob Gobson MSP joined in the singing as well, but he's a politician so we'll skip by him and get to the real star of the evening. Willie Anderson, one of the security staff at Parliament who do such an excellent job of keeping the building and all of the people who work in it safe without being intrusive in any way, did some recitations including the Selkirk grace and the henpecked husband - a brave thing for Willie to do, considering his wife was sitting close by.  We haven't seen him since ...

I'm dashing off just now, I've got a load of stuff to get ready for visits in Hamilton tomorrow, so I've run out of time to tell you about the newspaper debate this morning, my oral question this afternoon and my speech in the Skills debate.  I'll fill you in on all of that next week but if you really can't wait, the Official Report of today's proceedings will be up online tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock.  Here's the link to where it will appear -

Christina McKelvie MSP
Central Scotland

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