Tomorrow afternoon, the new MSPs gather in the Chamber for the first time in the new session. The very first thing they have to do is to elect a new Presiding Officer, by secret ballot. This is the first time that an overall majority has been held by one party, so there is a thought, expressed by Tavish Scott, that the SNP will simply put one of their own in place.
It looks, though, that at least two of their own are putting themselves forward, which will split their vote.
The Presiding Officer is there to ensure order, to rule on the competence of motions and legislation, to make procedural decisions. The single most important factor is that whoever is elected to the position must command the trust of the Chamber. MSPs must absolutely believe that that person will put aside their party affiliation and make decisions which are and are seen to be just and fair.
Our own Tavish Scott has been associated with the role, but even if he stood I can't see him getting elected. Tavish is quite a combative politician and I think the Parliament might need to see more evidence of softer skills from him before it would be happy for him to serve as PO. For entirely selfish reasons, though, I want him in our group. What he doesn't know about supporting businesses isn't worth knowing. He has the respect of the business community. I want him on our benches standing up for Scottish businesses. End of.
I tend to agree with The Burd that it's high time a woman fulfilled this role -and there are certainly a number of women who are well qualified to do it.
Christine Grahame was first to announce her candidacy yesterday, but I'm not sure she has enough experience in the ways and procedures of the Parliament as a whole. She might also just be too big a character to do the role. The Presiding Officer has to be big enough to be a good ambassador for the Parliament, but wise enough to realise the job isn't all about them.
Tricia Marwick is also poised to throw her hat into the ring. The Burd enthusiastically backs her. Now, I think Tricia is a lovely, non tribal, intelligent politician and if were elected, I wouldn't shed any tears if she were elected. However, I'm not sure that this is a time for somebody completely new to take over. The new PO is going to have to make some very sensitive constitutional rulings and I'd prefer that somebody to already have had experience of presiding over the Chamber.
Step forward, then, Patricia Ferguson. Labour's former Minister for Sport was Deputy Presiding Officer between 1999 and 2001. She has experience of charting new territory, as the new PO will have to do. I think she has the reputation and the experience that Parliament needs at this time. It also seems fair in that Labour haven't yet had a Presiding Officer. We had David Steel, then there was George Reid from the SNP, followed by Alex Fergusson from the Conservatives. It is going to be weird seeing him in a partisan role again.
Whoever becomes the new PO, though, will, I hope, sort out the appalling pantomime that is First Minister's Questions. So often we'd get twenty minutes in and still be on Party Leader's questions. Alex Fergusson kept threatening to sort this out and didn't. I want the new PO to ensure good behaviour and proper questions, not sycophantic plants, from backbenchers.
There are some strong candidates, but for me I think Patricia Fergguson has the edge.