7 April 2021

Political Sketch

Published in 07 April 2021.

Neil Findlay is the man who loves you to hate him. As he rises from his habitual place in a distant corner of the Parliamentary Chamber, a snarl as firmly attached to his face as he is disconnected to any symbol of middle-class values such as a tie, tension flows as he selects his target for the day.

Is it dapper John Scott? The record-holder for the shortest time between his being sworn in and making his first speech in Parliament; a mere twenty hours.

Does Willie Rennie attract his ire? Confession; we went to the same school. Almost anything liberal is bound to attract this Labour very-back-bencher’s contumely.

Greens rarely attract his attention but he should remember that John Finnie, another member of this year’s escape committee, can efficiently direct a canine arrest.

Now of course, I have sought to avoid any engagement with the fellow. I never, just never, even acknowledge that he wants the intervene in any speech I make.

But the time for speaking is over and like a rather large group of colleagues from across the Chamber, I stand in line for the exit door.

The election will add involuntary members to our club whose names we can only guess.

Session five has been a rather unusual Parliament. It’s one where, unless you are a whip – you can recognise them, they sit at the back either wringing their hands in despair or counting on their fingers – you could sometimes almost forget that we didn’t have a majority Government.

Session three was the first SNP Government and with 47 MSPs facing an opposition of 81, the excitement at almost every Decision Time was palpable. Not so now, mere ennui.

Opposition would say that is a long serving Government. For my part, it derives from that lack of innovation on any of the opposition benches.

So who will Parliament miss the most, apart from me of course?

Some of the younger blood represent the saddest losses and their future absence is a challenge to the whole political system. And it is particularly galling that we lose young females with so much to give.

Jenny Marra would be described as a nippy sweetie if that soubriquet had not already been claimed by Nicola Sturgeon 30 years ago. A clear speaker who avoided waffle and went straight for the jugular.

But without the skills that Conservative MSP Derek Brownlee deployed against Ministers in session three. He asked the shortest supplementary questions and they addressed a single topic. The recipient Minister was granted very little thinking time and no choice of which part of the question to answer and which to avoid. Difficult, very difficult.

Aileen Campbell could be underestimated from time to time. Her emollient style could be displaced by a beetle-browed focus on someone too careless to understand an argument put forward by her in her role as Cabinet Secretary. Driven by facts, energised by careless argument from other benches. A serious loss for session six.

Gail Ross has became a virtual prisoner in Caithness during lock-down. The one-hour flight from Wick to Edinburgh, albeit very infrequent, has become an eight or even ten hour train journey. Driving hardly better.

She ended her time with us as a very naughty girl. The occupant of the public gallery in Caithness was invited to contribute to her final speech. Now I know that number one son is the most precious thing in her life, rightly so. But should he be elected to Parliament in a couple of decades’ time, I suspect that the then Presiding Officer may require an apology on the record for his most serious breach of Parliamentary rules. Even though mum is the guilty one. She is fleeing from the reach of our rules.

More aged members depart before being subjected to the Dennis Skinner fate. Better to go with people asking why you leave so soon than stay and have people muttering, “why are you still here”? Not good losing your seat when 87.

David Stewart and Lewis Macdonald, widely respected and in their third decade as MSPs are offski. Their excellent political colleague Mary Fee follows.

From the Tory benches Adam Tomkins, never called a Professor while with us, a bit petty on our part as his manner, his approach, his analytical brain were a perfect fit for the title. Resumes the task of educating the next generation. Lucky students.

Mike Rumbles was ejected by the electorate previously but return to deave the life out of us with his pernicketiness. Particularly irritating because he was mostly correct. He departs to continue his cursing of the online world in private. He may be the person least inclined to welcome our online Parliament.

Some colleagues who depart from the Government benches seemed too young from the lofty view from my mid-seventies. But actually have earned their reprieve through service and age.

Mike Russell has successfully wrapped his distaste for his opponents’ opinions in such saccharine expression, that you can hear the expectant grinding of teeth the moment the chair calls him to speak. The more polite his expression of disagreement with you, the more firmly he is rejecting everything that you say and think. The ultimate disagreement is prefaced by a gentle, resigned sigh.

But Bruce Crawford is all but unique in defying the laws of political gravity and building a very significant career as a Committee Convenor after demitting office as a Minister. There is no “ex” more “ex” than an ex-Minister.

One colleague who stays bears a record it will be hard to beat. Richard Lochhead has been elected to Parliament six times in our five sessions. Beat that if you can.

And talking of which, who did Neil Findlay end up beating up this time?

Himself. Departing. Disappointed.

2021. Not the end of a geological era as documented on the steps on Dynamic Earth. Merely the end of this Parliamentary lustrum.

Our eras last a mere five years.

The Ken Macintosh years are done.

9 March 2021

‘Farewell for now’: Long-serving north-east MSP thanks constituents ahead of retirement by Alastair Gossip, Press & Journal

A retiring north-east MSP described his 20 years at Holyrood as the “greatest honour of his life” as he made his final parliamentary address – paying tribute to those he was elected to serve.

Stewart Stevenson, who has represented constituents in Banffshire and Buchan since 2001, is to retire ahead of the election in May.

The SNP member‘s valedictory speech in the Scottish Parliament came as part of a debate on the government’s climate change plan.

In what was his 853rd address since first being elected in 2001, Mr Stevenson said he would continue to remain passionate about climate change and called for work to ensure a transition from oil and gas which would ensure an equal jobs market.

He also called for support for other countries across the globe who would be impacted by the western world’s use of fossil fuels and its global impact on climate change.

Mr Stevenson, a former IT worker with the Bank of Scotland, had been a member of the SNP for 40 years before his election.

He first made it to Holyrood as MSP for Banff and Buchan but has represented the rejigged Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency since the 2011 boundary changes.

Resignation as transport minister after snow stopped Scotland Mr Stevenson also served as transport minister between 2007 and the end of 2010, when he resigned after heavy snowfall ground the country to a halt.

But he was again appointed as a minister – this time covering the environment and climate change brief – after the election the following year.

At that 2011 election and the preceding 2007, Mr Stevenson set records for the largest winning majority and highest share of votes cast in a constituency, during the SNP’s purple patch in the north-east.

Last night Mr Stevenson said: “It has been the greatest honour of my life to serve as the MSP for Banff and Buchan and latterly Banffshire and Buchan Coast.

“My time in the Scottish Parliament has never had a dull moment and I have been honoured to represent the Scottish Government as both the Minister for Environment and Climate Change and the Minister for Transport.

“I would like to pay tribute to my colleagues past and present – both those who have gone on to other things and those who are sadly no longer with us.”

During his speech, Mr Stevenson paid tribute to a number of colleagues including former Scottish Conservatives MSPs Alex Fergusson and Alex Johnstone who “departed before their time”.

He announced his imminent retirement last year, but will remain involved with the SNP as the party’s newly-elected national secretary.

A keen genealogist, he left the parliament with a lesson on his family tree – from lords, to former lord provosts to serving MSPs – delivering in his trademark, sesquipedalian, style.

Afterwards, he paid tribute to his constituency, saying: “The role of an MSP is to challenge and change and represent the people of your constituency with determination to improve their lives for the better.

“We should encourage more people from all walks of life to pursue a role in politics including the continued encouragement of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities so that the parliament is one which represents us all.

“I know I leave the Scottish Parliament in good hands in the pursuit of a fairer, more equal society for all and one that we can be proud to leave for the future generations to come.

“To the people of Banffshire and Buchan Coast who have made this job what it is I would like to say thank you and farewell for now.”

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