Thursday, May 19, 2011

Snapshots from Alex Salmond's election as First Minister #sp4

I watched the election of Alex Salmond as First Minister yesterday and the first thing that really hit me was his lack of smugness. Let's face it he was entitled to be Lord Smug of Smug Hall, and he's not been known for an inability to gloat in the past.

Salmond was at his best yesterday, inclusive, positive, grown up, funny, gracious, rounded and literary. Yes, a fair wind was blowing, but he gave the impression that his new found majority power had not yet corrupted him.

He was at pains to point out that his brand of nationalism was not narrow minded.

Our new Scotland is built on an old custom of hospitality. We offer a hand that is open to all, whether they hail from England, Ireland, Pakistan or Poland. Modern Scotland is also built on equality. We will not tolerate sectarianism, as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society. [Applause.]
Scotland‟s strength has always lain in its diversity. In the poem “Scotland Small?”, Hugh MacDiarmid challenged those who would diminish us with stereotype. He asked:
“Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?
Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliché corner
To a fool who cries „Nothing but heather!‟”

He went on to talk about changes he wanted to see, more powers devolved via the Scotland Bill, such as excise, broadcasting, the Crown Estate and a bigger voice in Europe. He also pointed out how many of these changes the Liberal Democrats had been in favour of. TheLiberal Democrats are, as far as I know, still in favour of most of them, and Mike Moore will listen to the evidence. The Calman powers are going to mean a huge change - it's not as if these measures are insignificant - and they do represent the mandate the voters gave members of the Westminster Parliament a year ago. The Liberal Democrats were responsible for them getting into the Coalition Agreement - all the indications were that the Tories were trying to wriggle out of even legislating in this Parliament. The Scotland Bill is a step in the right direction. I'm certain that there will be additions and amendments to it, but I wouldn't like to see the SNP bloc in Holyrood reject it just because they don't get everything they want. We'd have nothing then, because I can't see how Westminster could impose it if Holyrood rejected it. I really don't want to see the SNP allow that to happen.

The one change that nobody has really mentioned is more powers in immigration issues. We need immigration up here, yet the current system doesn't give Scotland any say in that. Our Steel Commission looked at it and rejected it but I think that there should be some mechanism for Scotland to say "we don't want these people deported" and be listened to. I have no idea how it would work, but we should look at it. 

Anyway, back to yesterday. Willie Rennie, in his first remarks in the Chamber, succinctly summed up what the Liberal Democrats will be doing in this Parliament:
I congratulate the First Minister on his re-election. I did not expect those to be the first words that I would speak in this chamber—and I am sure that, at some points in the past, the First Minister might not have expected to hear them. However, I congratulate him on his achievement, on the way in which he conducted the campaign, on the way in which he framed the election debate and on the result that he achieved.
This time, the people of Scotland have chosen not to have strong Liberal numbers in the Parliament. That makes it even more important to have strong liberal voices. It is important that public life is not dominated by the forces of nationalism or conservatism, in this country or anywhere else.
The First Minister has won a majority. He will be marked and judged by how he uses it. He now faces serious questions, and people will seek clarity on what exactly he is claiming a mandate for. If his majority becomes a bulldozer for nationalism, we will do what we can to oppose him, inside this chamber and outside its walls.
When he commits—as he has done this morning—to a positive future for Scotland; when his Government supports business and a growing, sustainable economy and society; when he makes a reality of our shared ideas for investment in Scotland‟s future through early intervention and excellent education; and if he can be tempted away from the path of centralisation and control, we will gladly work with him. I wish him well. 
His remarks were conciliatory and gracious, while laying down a marker that we will stand up against the forces of nationalism and conservatism.

Salmond was similarly generous in his reply, as he was to everyone.

Michael Foot once said of David Steel—and I know that Michael meant it kindly—that David was an example of someone who had gone from boy wonder “to elder statesman without any intervening period whatsoever.”
Willie Rennie is an example of someone who has gone from new member to party leader with no intervening period whatsoever. However, he is right to say that a position in a Parliament is dependent not on numbers—I have had personal experience of that in the Westminster Parliament—but on the strength and calibre of argument. It will be the clarity of the voice that Willie Rennie and his party put forward on which they shall be judged. I thank him very much for his congratulations and good wishes today. 
Annabel Goldie has in recent weeks provided me with some horrendous mental images, not least the idea of her having either Iain Gray or Alex Salmond by the "short and curlies." That may well have been enough to have them both heading for the nearest waxing place.Yesterday's effort was her vision of the First Minister in an Alex Salmond for First Minister nightshirt. And I wonder if the fact that he didn't deny it is significant......

And, finally, I have to say that if I'd known Willie Rennie was going to use the words "Madam Presiding Officer" I would have suggested that he didn't. I doubt it was planned, though.  I will let him off because it was his first speech in the Chamber and the person who had spoken before him had used the term. However, Tricia Marwick made it quite clear, rightly, how she wished to be addressed:

On the basis that I want to start as I mean to go on, I would appreciate it if in the chamber members referred to me as the Presiding Officer or Presiding Officer, not as Madam Presiding Officer.

 The whole thing was a bit of a love in. If all the positive words become the reality of politics in Scotland over the next five years, we'll all be better off. Let's hope it unfolds that way.

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