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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
11th July 2013

We had the pleasure of meeting up with some 58 US delegates of the National Conference of State Legislature (NCSL) this week. You can read the Parliament’s Press Release about the visit here:

The delegates made their first visit outside of North America at the invitation of our Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP, when she visited the US earlier this year. They came from New Hampshire to Hawaii and Alaska to Georgia for a two-day conference.

There was a packed programme of events, addresses and discussions across two days. As you would expect of us Scots, we offered a very warm welcome as well as a lot of information about our country, its structures, historical connections with the US – including handwritten letters by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin – the future for our economy, the constitutional debate, our work in international development, our part in the global energy market and what kind of legislative leadership works best in a democracy.

Christina addressing the NCSL delegates during the Conference

And that’s just a brief outline. As you can guess, we’ve all been working very hard. Recess isn’t all rest and recuperation, you know!

The legislative leaders included Speakers, Senate Presidents and House leaders and they met with a distinguished group of excellent speakers across the different sessions.

We featured Scottish Historian, Tom Devine (find his books here: , James Mitchell, who’s Professor of Public Policy at Edinburgh University, Barbara J Stephenson, head of the US Embassy to the UK, our own Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for External Affairs and International Development and several other very influential figures that I just can’t fit in here but you can find out more about all of them from the link in the first paragraph.

I chaired one session headed ‘The Global Economic Outlook and State Budgets’ – not what you’d call a small topic – at which Nigel Pain, who is the Head of the Economic Outlook Unit in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Economics Department. It’s his job to set out the global economic prospects and wider policy requirements. He is a hugely impressive speaker with a thoroughly awe-inspiring background in research and forecasting.

The session led into a Q&A with lots of lively and absorbing debate from intelligent, thinking, delegates who are all seeking to better the common good. It is the kind of debate I enjoy most – demanding, exhilarating and constructive.

I have been in and out of lots of the other sessions as well. It was great to have the opportunity to meet and listen to so many influential Americans and to hear the speakers presenting their research and forecasts. Here’s to continuing healthy debate, the heart of democracy, and something the SNP embraces whole-heartedly.

We had another of those non-stories that the No Campaign – known among its own members as project Fear, we recently discovered – this latest is about Trident. Readers will know that the SNP wants rid of Trident. So do many other non-SNP voters. We are weary of the wasted money and we don’t want nuclear weapons of any kind on Scottish soil.

I’d say it was barely worth mentioning because it’s such a scaremongering idea but I wanted to include it because it shows up, yet again, to just what depth Better Together will sink.

It all started here in The Guardian newspaper: with former Scottish MP and Labour chancellor Alistair Darling claiming that Westminster would make the Faslane base a United Kingdom sovereign territory if the people of Scotland vote Yes in the Referendum. That would make it a bit like Cyprus for example.

Clearly the idea was nonsense and even the Prime Minister’s office at 10 Downing Street had admitted that within a few hours of the original story.

Of course Scotland isn’t going to say yes to such a daft application. Trident belongs to Westminster. It’s entirely up to that Government, post-independence, exactly where and how they want to relocate it although a number of experts have said the whole process need take no longer than a few months.

I’ll leave it to our own Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to summarise the whole silly story:

“Downing Street may now be denying this preposterous threat from the Ministry of Defence, but the cat is out of the bag that that the UK Government must at least be examining contingencies for a Yes vote.

“Instead of dreaming up madcap scenarios in Whitehall bunkers to hang on to part of an independent Scotland, the UK Government should sit down with the Scottish Government in the light of day to discuss the range issues that will require to be negotiated if Scotland votes Yes – including removing Trident from Scotland as quickly as possible.

“The No campaign is in disarray – the MoD briefed an outrageous story about bullying Scotland into keeping Trident on the very day that Alistair Darling tries to pretend the No campaign isn’t negative, and David Cameron is forced into denying something that has come out of his own government.

“The No campaign are running scared of their own Project Fear – and people in Scotland are beginning to look and laugh at the absurdities that are coming out of it.

“This latest episode has left the No campaign looking ridiculous – and it confirms that only a Yes vote next September will empower Scotland to get rid of Trident, and the money saved help build a fairer society and stronger economy.”

Away from global politics, and thinking closer to Hamilton, I put up a Parliamentary Resolution seeking support for Millar Park Housing in Hamilton on its 40th anniversary. This housing project was developed by Trust Housing Association ( which is a solid backbone of social housing in Scotland. It has created more than 100 thriving communities for more than 2,500 mainly older people, allowing them to enjoy an active social life and to continue living independently.

Millar Park sheltered housing in Hamilton

These developments are vibrant and filled with local events so that residents can interact and enjoy making friends. Its key values lie in caring for the residents, providing excellent care and services as well as value for money and professionalism.

Reshaping our care for older people is a core concept for the Scottish Government and an area we are building and strengthening all the time. We introduced free personal care so that more people could stay in their own homes and we have just been awarded two three-star awards by the European Innovation Partnership for Active and Health Ageing, one of only three European regions to be winners of that accolade.

At the younger end of the age spectrum, and as a mother of two boys, I’ve learned that education really is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. By taking an interest in their development at school and beyond, we’re doing more than just helping them to pass exams.

That’s why I was so pleased and privileged to have been a guest last week at the graduation ceremony for students of the University of the West of Scotland, held in Hamilton Town Hall.

Graduates at the Hamilton Campus of the University of the West of Scotland

It was a particularly special event, as Professor Seamus McDaid - a hugely inspirational figure who has done a huge amount to build up the UWS’s reputation over the past eight years - is retiring as Principal.

He’s done a fantastic job and deserves all our thanks and praise for his dedication to his students, education and research. I wish his successor, Professor Craig Mahoney, well as he works to build on Seamus’s achievements.

As I looked around the hall I saw young people full of hope with great aspirations, ready to carry on learning in the workplace and build great careers for themselves. Some may leave Lanarkshire and explore the world. Many will eventually come back. They are our future, and we need to give them every opportunity to flourish.

Of course, the Scottish Government is already doing that with its policy of fee-free education. This means students qualify for higher education based on their ability to learn, not their ability to pay.

How many of those graduands would have been in Hamilton Town Hall if they had been forced to shell out many thousands of pounds towards their own education? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Unless of course you’re the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, which has imposed massive fees on youngsters in England, or Scottish Labour, which has  signalled that it will do the same here if it ever gets returned to power at Holyrood.

Delighted though I am for those receiving their awards from the UWS last week, it’s important to remember that educational attainment isn’t just about getting high quality degrees. Vocational education and skills development is every bit as important.

That’s why it’s great to see that the number of Scottish young people staying in employment, training and education - so-called positive destinations - is now at its highest level on record, at a remarkable 89.5 per cent. Of course, we must strive to get as close to 100 per cent as we can, but this is good and creditable progress.

It’s private sector companies as well as our educators which are playing their part. Here in South Lanarkshire, for example, initiatives such as the £2 million Scottish Gas Energy Academy and Scottish Power’s new development will be playing a big part in training local people in the skills of the future.

I’m pleased that local schools are keen to engage with this sort of project - I’ve spoken to five of our headmasters about this recently, and they’re all really keen to become involved.

Add to all this the Scottish Government’s major commitment to Modern Apprenticeships - it is meeting its target of 25,000 placements a year - and you can see that there’s a real desire to encourage our young people to be the best they can be.

Yes, there’s still work to do. But it’s terrific to see Hamilton and Lanarkshire taking a lead in this area. Our kids are our greatest asset, and they deserve nothing less.

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