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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
2nd December 2010

Let it snowÖÖÖoh noÖbut on goes the show.

Last Friday I had the great pleasure of speaking at an event at Govan and Craigton integration network to help launch a new post card campaign. The card goes to Theresa May the UK Home secretary calling on the same rights for women asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence and rape. At present these women are not entitled to the right of medical help or justice and I think that is a travesty as I said in my speech Womenís rights are human rights.

Here is the speech; The postcard campaign that weíre all here to launch today has a fundamental principle at its heart and that is equality.

The campaign aims, of course, to raise awareness of the issues that face women asylum seekers, the reasons that have driven many of them to seek asylum, and the numbers who come to the UK having experienced domestic and sexual violence in their countries of origin.

What the campaign asks for is, quite simply, equal treatment for asylum seeking women. It asks that they receive the same levels of legal, healthcare and victim support that women who are settled in the UK are entitled to.

It would, I think, shock many people that equal treatment is not currently the norm in the UK and that a campaign has to be launched to seek it. It certainly should be shocking to us that only a few months after a new Equalities Act was passed in the UK, such a glaring example of inequality still exists in our society.  Rape and domestic abuse are found in all cultures and women from all backgrounds experience them. The pain and trauma they cause to women are not lessened because the initial experience took place in a faraway land.

So why, then, do we not automatically offer the same levels of support to asylum seeking women that we do to women who are settled here? If, as a society, we believe that the experience of domestic or sexual abuse requires a certain level of response from agencies, surely that response should be offered to all women who need it, regardless of their residence status in the UK? To do otherwise suggests that women who are seeking asylum are less worthy than those who, through the luck of the draw, were either born in the UK or have been granted leave to remain here.

The fact is, of course, that that is exactly what our current system does. It does treat asylum seeker women as less worthy and less deserving of the levels of support that we deem necessary for other women. The system not only discriminates against asylum seekers, it treats them with suspicion, casts doubt on their honesty, questions the veracity of their experiences and the realness of their feelings. It piles trauma upon trauma.

You might go so far as to say that the system treats asylum seekers like criminals Ė but, in fact, women in UK prisons are guaranteed a level of healthcare, for example, that asylum seekers are not.

So, todayís launch is not asking for special treatment or for something extra for asylum seekers, but simply for equality, to be given the same level of support and treated with the same degree of humanity that we would all hope for ourselves and our loved ones. 

If we believe in the principle of asylum and we believe that women who have been subjected to domestic and sexual violence are entitled to treatment and support, then we should not separate those principles and we should stop treating asylum seeker women as a group apart within our society, to whom we do not have to apply the same standards of care.

Letís send the message to Theresa May, loud and clear: Womenís rights are human rights for all women, and no government has the right to pick and choose who is entitled to those rights. Iím delighted to support this campaign, I wish it every success, and Iím proud to add my name to the fight for equality for our asylum seeking sisters.

The link below is a blog entry  did for the refugee council on the same issue.;

Following that event I hotfooted it across Glasgow the be one of the guest speakers at the Scottish Section of The Showmenís Guild of Great Britain & Ireland. I talked about the need to end discrimination and the need for a cross party group on the issues faced by show people. Below is a link to their website and a lovely picture of me with the president Mr Philip Paris.

I have some wonderful memories of the shows in St Andrews when I was growing up and every time I go to that luncheon it brings those memories back. I said in my speech;

Itís particularly appropriate that Iím speaking to the Showmenís Guild this week Ė if youíve been watching the events in the Scottish Parliament youíll have seen that it was the political equivalent of riding the waltzers through the ghost tunnel and finding yourself still spinning in the hall of mirrors.

There was a right fuss and bustle about whether the Government was right to stop giving the taxman money.  Personally, I think everybody in the country will be on the side of not giving the taxman money Ė none at all if possible.

Not that Iím advocating tax evasion you understand.  Although I would advocate simpler forms from the taxman Ė Iíve just finished doing my return and Iíd rather not do that again for at least another year.

On top of the fuss about John Swinneyís excellent mastery of Scotlandís finances and the excellent job he does as Finance Secretary, we passed legislation to update the Childrenís Hearings system and we carried on doing the work in our committees that never gets reported in the newspapers or on the TV news.  It never gets reported because itís consensual, we work together across party lines and we work hard to find common ground, find agreement and move Scotland forward.

Bizarrely, it works.  We really do have a lot of cross-party agreement and co-working.  The stuff youíll see on TV will be the set-piece gladiator battles but most of the work we do is cross-party.  As well as the formal work there are cross-party groups which address issues that MSPs are interested in but donít tend to come up all that often in the normal day-to-day business of the parliament.

From architecture to Tibet, sexual health to waste management, and funerals to the Scots language there are screeds of cross-party groups in Parliament, but there isnít one that deals with the issues that can face members of the Showmenís Guild.  Not even, as far as I can see, a more general one covering issues of travelling people Ė although Iím told by colleagues that there was one in the past on that issue.

I think there should be one.  I think we should be looking at setting such a group up to make sure that the needs of travelling show people in Scotland are examined and the issues brought before politicians.  The process of setting a group up is a bit of a guddle but Iíll look into how itís done.  Iím not sure whether there is time to get it set up before the election in May Ė or even whether it is worthwhile setting it up before then since so many Members of the Parliament will change.  I think you have to restart after an election in any case.

Iím not even sure that Iím the right person to be leading the creation of the new group, but Iíll look at it and see where we can go with it and Iíll keep in touch with Jane as we go so everyone can be kept in the loop.  I donít know how easy or hard it might be but you never know that until you take a look and weíll soon find out.

I know that Frank McAveety has been trying to set up such a group and has been having some difficulty getting it going, so Iíll work with him on that.  I can tell you why heís been having difficulties.  Iím not sure I should, but I think itís best just to get the truth out there.

Thereís a rule in cross-party groups in the Scottish Parliament that they must have at least one MSP from each of the major parties.  They donít all have to be active, but they do need to put their name on the membership list.

I asked Frank why he couldnít get the group going and he told me that every Lib Dem MSP he has asked has refused Ė he just canít get a Lib Dem to step up.  I think that if any Lib Dem MSPs are known to you that leaning on them to join the group might be a useful thing to do.  Iíll help Frank set it up if we can get it done that way.  If not, we might have to wait until after the election and see if the reluctant MSPs lose their seats.

Iím aware that Brian is co chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fairs and Show grounds at Westminster and that that group has been on the go for about a quarter of a century so I think, if he agrees, that the Scottish Parliament cross-party group, when it gets set up, should get in touch with Brian and, through him, his group so we can learn quick lessons about issues that will be common right across the UK.

Gathering fast information like that will be eth best way that we can get started quickly on addressing the issues and learning how to take things forward.

There will be, of course, issues which are particular to Scotland, to the issues handled by MSPs, and will have a harder focus in the Scottish Parliament, issues like access to education when children are moving around, access to health services, social work services, and so on. 

There will be justice issues as well, issues of prejudice on the part of non-travellers resulting in injustices being visited upon travellers as much as anything else.  Issues that we can take directly to the Cabinet Secretaries responsible and ask for them to be addressed.

Working with Brianís group, I think we can get a link-up across the jurisdictions that will work, that will help to serve people well, help to make this country a wee bit better, and will help to improve understanding across communities.

Iíll take the issue back, Iíll discuss it with Frank, weíll see if we can bully a Lib Dem, and weíll see what we can do to set the group up.

In the meantime, though, I like fairgrounds and I like politics but Iíd like to separate my politics from the sensation of being on three fairground rides at once Ė I could do without another week like last week.

That said, though, Iíll never turn down a shot on the dodgems if itís going Ė I like the collisions in my fairground rides as much as in my politics.

Thank you for inviting me and thank you for listening to me.

Now sometimes we get a result and I was delighted with this result;

The parents of these nurseries where in contact with me constantly and it was smashing to see some of them last week to tell them that their local nurseries where not closing the relive was palpable. Good luck to all those parents and children and if they need my help again next year Iíll be there for them.

So whatís the big deal about the snow apart from all sorts of things cancelled this week including my campaign fundraiser? Well maybe the 3 hour drive to Edinburgh or the cold would damped our spirits but the plain fact is that we have all coped extremely well from the people in our emergency services, to doctors, nurses and all health staff to social care staff to just friendly and caring neighbours Scotland has shown itself as a nation of folk who care and look after each other. So if you have neighbours who are poorly or frail then please make an effort to make sure they are ok. Offer a helping hand and you will get it back tenfold.

In the midst of all this Linda Fabiani MSP and myself joined Angela Constance MSP in her constituency for a wee fundraiser. The theme was of course yellow and black and Angela looked resplendent in her Livingstone football strip. The event was to raise funds for Angelaís campaign with the three of us as the star turns in an attempt at stand-up comedy. Now I know you are thinking bit is that not what they do every week in parliamentÖ..ha-ha.

It went down rather well and as it was reflections form Holyrood Ė a womenís perspective, I announced that we could go on tour with our very own version of Holyrood Vagina Monologues.

Let me know if you would like us to come to your area with our fantastic show. You will laugh because we are funny or you will laugh because we are rubbish but either way you will laugh.

Take care out thereÖ

Christina McKelvie MSP
Central Scotland

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