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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
20th November 2013

We are all poised for the publication of the Government White Paper. On Tuesday 26 November, we will be able to see the nuts and bolts of just how an independent Scotland might be structured.

When he announced the publication date last month, First Minister Alex Salmond, MSP, explained the purpose of the document:

“Firstly, it will spell out the foundation that we will establish between the referendum next year and the first elections for an independent Scottish Parliament in the spring of 2016.

“Secondly, it will set out clearly and unmistakably that independence is about a Scottish Government that the people choose – an independent Government. And it will set out our vision of Scotland – the ‘why of independence’ – the Scotland that we seek.”

The media, politicians, and the voters, are all going to be talking about it. There will be wall-to-wall coverage, comment, news reporting, analysis and discussion about every fine detail packed into what must be a pretty hefty document!

You will be able to read it all online after publication on the Scottish Government website:

This is the document that will give the electorate the information they need to make the most historic decision of their lives – and indeed since 1707 when the union first came into place – about whether we ought to be an independent nation again.

I am reminded of those words from the Declaration of Arbroath, written back in 1320 and delivered to the then Pope John seeking his dispassionate intervention in the struggle with England. It bore the seals of eight earls and 48 barons. Below, is the most familiar extract and you can read the entire document online here: with commentary by the eminent author on Scottish history, John Prebble:

“For, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320

Scotland has waited a very long time for this opportunity to spread its wings and break free from rule by restrictive Westminster governments we did not elect. With independence, we can change our benefits system for the vulnerable, how we tax companies and build our economy. We can get rid of abhorrent nuclear missiles beside our biggest population centre and we can move away from Westminster’s promises of more and greater austerity, a privatised health service, withdrawal of free personal care for the elderly and free university tuition.

We are not ‘too wee, too stupid or too poor’ to make it work for us. Even the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, admits that reality. Already, 73 per cent of us agree that decisions about Scotland are best made in Scotland by the elected representatives we actually vote for. That there is an SNP-led government is not some sort of accident. It is an expression of the will of the people. Now, that is democracy.

Labour let-down

There was a vote in Westminster on the hated Bedroom Tax, initiated by the Labour opposition. Labour has already said that it does not support the imposition of additional rent payments for those in social housing who have a spare bedroom.

But it seems the Labour party is in a shambles. The vote to scrap the bedroom tax was lost by 26 because a total of 47 Labour MPs, including10 from Scotland, didn’t bother to attend or vote in their own debate.

It will take a Yes vote next year to get rid of this piece of discrimination against the most needy in our society.

Labour Westminster leader, Ed Miliband, said on 20 September that his party would scrap the bedroom tax if it wins power in the 2015 elections. It took him six months to respond to its introduction.

Then Johann Lamont, Scottish Labour leader, refused to commit her party to its abolition on TV only to be contradicted by her colleague, Anas Sarwar, who was stating on a different channel that indeed his party would scrap it! Not what you’d call a coordinated approach.

Blacklisting progress

I’ve written a number of times and spoken in the Chamber on the shocking business of companies who blacklist workers, keep the names secret, and refuse to even admit they exist.

Trade unions and the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has been fighting hard against companies participating in this behaviour and I have been working alongside them to get it outlawed.

So I am delighted to hear the Scottish Government announcement that blacklisting firms face a ban on public sector contract work.

The announcement will ensure that companies bidding for public sector contracts must reveal whether they have been involved in the practice of blacklisting and if a company is found to have done so, it will be required to show it has taken appropriate remedial action. The contracts will include a clause allowing them to be brought to an end if a supplier is found to have breached relevant legislation.

Blacklisting has blighted the lives and livelihoods of all too many people in Scotland and is a practice that has absolutely no justification.

I have seen people’s rights trampled simply for being part of a trade union – a situation that is completely unacceptable.

Payday loans

Regular readers will know how much I hate this exorbitant and greedy way of exploiting people who are already struggling to make ends meet. With Christmas coming around, I fear more people will be using these ‘money shops’ of which Hamilton now has three.

The rates of interest are often in the region of 1000 per cent and if someone has trouble making a payment, the situation rapidly deteriorates into a financial commitment the borrower is completely unable to meet.

So I was delighted to give my backing to the ’12 Days of Debtmass’ radio and online campaign. It seeks to remind people in difficulty that there is an alternative to high interest payday loans.

Over 350,000 people across Scotland are members of credit unions; co-operatives that are owned and managed by the people who use them.

Members are encouraged to save monthly, even if it is only small sums. They can borrow at competitively priced rates and sometimes over a short timescale.

First Minister, Alex Salmond MSP, recently announced plans to protect consumers pledging payday lenders would be subject to tougher regulation in an independent Scotland.

Borrowing short term can get you into serious problems if you go to a ‘money shop’

Credit Unions offer an excellent and fair alternative. The Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) is only too aware of the dangers of payday loans and is constantly trying to help people get back on track.

As CAS Chief Executive put it at the campaign launch: “Payday loans are one of the main issues that we see today. Across Scotland our advisers are currently seeing over 100 cases every week of people who are having problems with a payday loan. That’s an increase of a third in such cases since this time last year.”

This kind of usury needs to be eliminated and responsible lending through credit unions is one very effective way of helping us towards a position where people don’t have to pay these absurd amounts to borrow.

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