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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
GERS Report

GERS figures

Have you ever heard of the GERS figures? These are the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland figures produced annually by statistical experts for the Westminster government. The people who produce them are at an arm’s length from the Treasury and so are not impacted by the financial policies or political interests of the day.

Which is where it gets interesting because the fiscal position over the past five years is “stronger than the UK” by £1,600 per head:

Tax revenues in Scotland generated in 2012-13 were £800 higher per head than in the UK. That means that for every one of the last 33 years, tax receipts per person have been higher in Scotland than in the UK.

The updated research shows that including North Sea oil and gas output, Scotland’s GDP per capita in 2012 was 11 per cent above that of the UK.

I know it’s statistics and it may all sound a bit dull, but it’s still more evidence that Scotland will thrive as an independent country, unrestrained by the political priorities of London and the south-east of England.

Kenneth Gibson MSP, convener of the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee

As my colleague, Kenneth Gibson, made clear: “The latest GERS figures are very much a tale of two Governments and the priority they give to investment for the future.

“While Scotland has invested in roads and railways, hospitals and housing – all of which are to the long-term benefit of people in Scotland – Westminster has slashed its capital spending.

“With a Yes vote this year, our finances will be used to benefit people in Scotland rather than the Treasury in Westminster.”

The European elections

May’s elections to the European Parliament are especially important to Scotland because the results will be perceived as an indicator of how the referendum is likely to turn out in September. That might be a false reading but it is likely to be the media’s pick-up point.

So it was heartening and encouraging to see a poll commissioned from ComRes by The Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror that reveals 39 per cent of Scots who intend to vote will back the SNP for Europe. See the poll here:

That is great news. We currently have two SNP MEPs, Ian Hudgton and Alyn Smith, and are hoping to win a third seat with our leading candidate, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who has been making quite an impact around the country:

On this poll, Tasmina would certainly secure that seat and that’s not just good for her, it’s good for Scotland. An Asian Glasgow lawyer and avid pursuer of both human and women’s rights, she will be able to add to the SNP impact in Europe as we move towards the Yes vote.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh SNP MEP candidate

The European elections are more important than ever now because Labour leader, Ed Milband, has become the latest leader to support the idea of an in/out UK referendum on EU membership.

As you know, I am convener of the Scottish Parliament’s European and external Relations Committee. The fact that Ed Miliband has felt it necessary to back the idea of a referendum that could rip the UK out of Europe says it all – the Westminster parties are dancing to UKIP’s tune.

And given that today’s poll shows UKIP in the lead for Europe with 30 per cent of the vote – tellingly, just 6 per cent in Scotland – with Labour at just 19 per cent, I can see why Mr. Miliband is extremely worried.

Only a Yes vote this September will secure Scotland’s place as an independent member state in Europe. Then we will take our rightful seat at the EU’s top table and Scotland’s voice will be heard.

Childcare Transformation

I wrote last week of the sad passing of Professor Ailsa McKay who did so much work in terms of supporting and lobbying for gender equality in Scotland.

In fact, she played a major part in pushing transformational childcare up the government agenda. She was a driver behind the horseshoe shape of the Scottish debating chamber – less confrontational than the head-on Westminster style - of family-friendly working hours and of a crèche.

The horseshoe shaped Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament

We had a debate about the women of Scotland last week that picked up on a range of themes about welfare cuts, barriers in some areas of employment and public life, the excellent lobbying agencies that determinedly and tenaciously work to built greater gender equality.

You can read the full debate here:

For me, Ailsa McKay’s conviction that women aren’t some sort of add on that you stir into the mix, but are a fundamental ingredient in society in all its moods: employment, family, health, science, technology, government, social policy to list a few.

Childcare in the UK is very expensive. It works out, according to a recent report by the Family and Childcare Trust, at about £7,500 a year. That covers a two year old at nursery for 25 hours a week and a five year old in an after-school club. The figure works out at slightly more than the cost of the average mortgage that, according to official statistics, costs £7,207 a year.

The authors of the report say: “The childcare system isn’t working for anyone.”

But other countries manage to provide excellent facilities. Sweden, for example, is often upheld as a great example. “How do they manage to afford it?” people ask.

The answer is not difficult. The Swedes afford it because the return on the investment is far more women in work, generating more wealth and taxes and thus paying for better public services like childcare.

This Scottish Government’s way forward in tackling gender equality and maximising the contribution of this nation’s incredibly talented, ambitious and able women is to put them at the centre.

The Neurological Alliance of Scotland

I sponsored a reception and an information stand for the Neurological Alliance of Scotland last week. This is an umbrella group of the different neurological conditions that blight people’s lives – Motor Neuron Disease Parkinson’s, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis and several more rarer conditions.

There was an exhibition of art work, quotes and stories on display, created by people with different neurological conditions finding a creative outlet for their experiences.

The event was primarily designed as an awareness-raising exercise but it also gave people affected a chance to find out more about one another. There have been significant advances in this field but we struggle to find neurologists even though one in five emergency hospital admissions involve neurological conditions.

All of us there found the real life story of one young woman profoundly moving and shocking. She told the story herself; how she had felt a numbness in her feet, then lower legs, gradually climbing up. She said it felt almost as if her legs were floating. She visited her doctor who advised her it would probably pass. At a hospital visit, she was told she was probably all right but should watch out for the numbness increasing. Finally, she was informed, with no preamble, that she had MS. She found no support in those critical early days; no help to absorb the information and little input into how she might be able to live with it.

The Scottish Government is working hard, in consultation with the Neurological Alliance and others, to find out exactly what needs to be done to ensure that services better meet the needs of those affected. That includes social and ongoing supportive care as well as meeting, as far as research allows, the medical needs.

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