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by Stewart Stevenson
07 April 2021
Sketch: Ending an era

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Ending an era

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 likely to utter forth from him as he is to eschew any symbol of middle-class dress codes such as a tie – tension flows as he selects his target for the day.

Will it be dapper John Scott, the record-holder for the shortest time between his being sworn in and making his first speech in parliament, a mere 20 hours?

Has Willie Rennie attracted his ire? Confession – we went to the same school. Almost anything liberal is bound to attract this Labour very-backbencher’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 to 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 women 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. She is a clear speaker who avoided waffle and went straight for the jugular.

But without the skills that former 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, she is a serious loss for session six.

Gail Ross has became a virtual prisoner in Caithness during lockdown. The one-hour flight from Wick to Edinburgh, albeit very infrequent, has become an eight or even ten-hour train journey. Driving is hardly any 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 his mum is the guilty one. She, though, 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?” It’s not good losing your seat when you are 87, as Skinner was.

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, approach and analytical brain were a perfect fit for the title. He is resuming the task of educating the next generation. Lucky students.

Mike Rumbles was ejected by the electorate previously, but returns 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, they 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 convener 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 of Dynamic Earth. Merely the end of this parliamentary lustrum.

Our eras last a mere five years.

The Ken Macintosh years are done.  

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