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7 April 2021

Political Sketch

Published in Holyrood.com 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.

26 January 2021

Fishing and Other Woes

It will not surprise readers of this column that I am not alone in seeing the UK Government’s preparation for Brexit proving to be wholly inadequate. Its promises to the fishing industry were something I have cast doubt on since 2016. It gives me no pleasure to be proved right.

At the end of last year, we finally discovered what the details of a deal on fishing would be. Needless to say it was certainly not what representatives in the Scottish Parliament and in the fishing community needed for the industry. The slogan “Sea of Opportunity” came from the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. They are now powerful critics of the outcome.

I was particularly disappointed then to hear Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid respond to a question on how long it would take to fix supply chain problems caused by Brexit with the following answer: “how long is a piece of string?”. The responsibility for the issues now facing the sector are solely as a result of the promises made by Tory politicians, who promised our fishing industry everything, yet have delivered worse than nothing.

Too many MPs who represent the north-east of Scotland sat around tables with those from the sector and repeatedly made promises they simply could not keep. Now we have chaos, poor preparation, systems that don’t work and businesses being left to fend for themselves - and a UK Fisheries Minister who astonishingly admitted she had not even read the damaging Brexit deal because she was busy organising a Nativity trail.

In my final months as an MSP for our community, that it has been my absolute privilege to represent for two decades, I will fight hard on this matter as I have done so throughout my time in office. And I know my colleague and candidate Councillor Karen Adam will also continue to do so.

I know these have also been challenging times as many parents work from home while also trying to educate youngsters and look after even younger ones as we continue to stay at home. This cannot be an easy challenge, nor too for those who have had to shield or care for loved one. And for those who have been unable to see family and friends for many months.

With a vaccine roll-out now begun we are moving closer to being able to do the things that have seemed impossible for months. The road ahead in the short-term will continue to be challenging, there is no doubt, but the efforts and determination being made by us all is helping tremendously in the fight against the coronavirus. For that, I would like to say a big thank-you.

Please remember FACTS and continue to follow them. Wear a face covering if you are in a shop of any kind, avoid crowded places where there may be lots of people, clean your hands regularly, ensure you are a two metres distance from other people not in your household and finally, if you show any symptoms please self-isolate and book a test.

Stewart Stevenson
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