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by Ruth Davidson
13 May 2021
Comment: It’s time to put the constitutional sniping to one side to get things done

Ruth Davidson - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

Comment: It’s time to put the constitutional sniping to one side to get things done

Let’s get back to overnight counting. Immediately. That marathon limbo period between polls closing and the results being finalised was excruciating.

Discussing the situation with the Scottish Conservatives’ director, who has masterminded the ground war of every one of our party’s campaigns for as long as anyone can remember, we both admitted to never having been as nervous waiting for the results as we were last weekend. 

The emotional swings then encountered weren’t helped by the fact that at various times during the two-day counting period we see-sawed through around a 10-seat spread in our projected result – depending on the latest numbers to have arrived and the particular split between the parties.

But, among the nerves, there is a calmness too. Like the still air in the vortex of a hurricane, there is the helplessness that nothing more can be done, even as the whirl of possible results buffet on all sides.

I don’t think those outside politics really understand how we can all spend six weeks knocking seven bells out of each other but, at the time when the votes are counted (and the future hangs in the balance) that is the exact time when – for a brief interlude – hostilities cease and we take to social media to broadcast supportive and understanding messages about our opponents.

So the warmth of feeling towards the SNP’s newly elected Glasgow Kelvin MSP, Kaukab Stewart, and the Tories’ new West of Scotland member, Pam Gosal, at being the first women of colour to be elected in Holyrood’s 22-year history was immediate and crossed all party lines. Frankly, it’s long past time.

Similarly, the messages of support for those MSPs who stood for re-election but were defeated. Whether the Conservatives’ John Scott, Labour’s Claudia Beamish, SNP’s Joan McAlpine or independent Andy Wightman.

The four could hardly be more different, but the sentiment regarding their contribution to the parliament and the acknowledgement of how difficult such an abrupt end is for their hardworking staff, was sincere from all quarters.

In the wider sphere, MSPs and former members united to praise BBC Scotland’s choice of election experts – professors Ailsa Henderson and Nicola McEwen.

A rare all-female double act and one which cut through the waffle with genuine insight.

This being Scotland and everybody being only a few degrees from everybody else, I can’t watch Ailsa Henderson on telly without being transported back to my slightly hazy teenage years and inwardly cringing.

In my first year at university we were paired up as debating partners (successfully so, winning a prestigious rookie competition and being presented with a toilet seat for our troubles).

I was 17, stupid and determined to enjoy the full student experience so spent most of that year in various states of inebriation.

She was as smart, considered and articulate then as she is now. I shudder to think what her recollections of me are.

But no cessation of hostilities lasts forever. As the results arrived and parties tried to spin their own narrative, Scotland’s proxy constitutional war ramped up online with each side claiming a mandate conferred or denied.

As it seems the arguments are continuing to rage ahead of new members being sworn in, it’s worth remembering that across-the-aisle understanding and relationships are vital to making Holyrood work. 

In a unicameral parliament where the committees are vital to the quality of legislation passed, MSPs simply have to work together.

By my count, a third of the Holyrood chamber comprises of new faces. 

Having watched the toxicity of the fifth session, there is a job of work to be done to de-escalate the tribalism generally but also to let the new members know that it is not only permitted but actually important that they are on friendly terms with members wearing different coloured rosettes.

In every TV debate on every channel, each of the party leaders repeated the mantra that the biggest focus of this sixth session of the Scottish Parliament is going to be recovery from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

If that is to mean more than words, then those same leaders are going to have to show a bit of leadership and instruct their teams to put the constitutional sniping to one side, roll up their sleeves and get down to the business they have been elected to do – to remember the eye of the storm on election night and use that same empathy of each other’s shared experience to get a post-pandemic Scotland back on its feet. A girl can dream.

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