Posts Tagged 2011

Holyrood newbies: ten to watch

Sworn in, berths claimed, security passes grinned for, offices allocated: there’s no going back.  If any of the 48 new boys and girls at Holyrood had any niggling doubts about what the next five years might hold, well it’s too late now.  You’re in and we’re stuck with you.

So, congratulations all and welcome.  The burd looks forward to making your acquaintance in the weeks and months to come.  The start of a new parliamentary session is always exciting watching the shiny new faces arrive and wondering who will be quick off the blocks to make their mark.

Over the years, far too many have allowed the size, scale and scope of the place and the role to simply swallow them up.  There is an artform to keeping and looking busy which many have perfected, but it would be good if we can break that mould.

For all the hullabaloo about a lack of powers, the issues which Holyrood controls or touches upon is of a huge range.  Yet, week in, week out, we hear about the same narrow faultlines.  Many important matters are kept hidden under a bushel, or rather out of the limelight, by accident or design.  If the burd could be so bold as to offer the new MSPs one piece of advice, it would be this:  find an issue, make it your own, shine a light into dark corners, generate public and media interest, make change happen.

Aside from settling in – please don’t settle down – there’s plenty to keep the newbies busy.  Who might shine and soar?  Here’s the burdz ten to watch:

  1. Margaret Burgess, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South. Margaret managed to get herself elected as a councillor way back in the mists of time when the height of the SNP’s ambition was the odd seat at Westminster and saving deposits was all the rage.  She’s been a party stalwart for years but has a rich and varied social justice hinterland in her working and personal life to call on.  A Citizens Advice Bureau manager for many years, she has seen what deprivation does first hand.  Holyrood needs more MSPs to articulate the impact of this recession and the difficulties that will result for many vulnerable families and groups in our society from cuts to public services.  She won’t want to make waves or trouble for her leadership but is canny enough to know that there are ways and means to making herself – and the voiceless – heard.  The burd for one is glad she has a berth deserving of her talents.
  2. Mike MacKenzie, SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands region.  Made it into Holyrood by the skin of his teeth, here is someone we could all grow to like:  a businessman with a social conscience.  He has been a successful entrepreneur, providing much needed employment and infrastructure in the Oban area, has supported modern apprenticeships and set up a successful community social enterprise.  Expect someone who thinks and sees issues differently, who is task oriented and solution focused.  He may find himself frustrated by the semantics and boundaries of politics or he may find the way to cut through the crap.  I hope it’s the latter.  We need MSPs to offer something different.
  3. Jenny Marra, Labour MSP for North East Scotland region.  Intelligent, talented, bright, vivacious.  Yep, the girl has it all.  Oh, and a USP as the niece of folk legend and Dundonian, Michael Marra.  This is one wee star who will soar.  Media friendly, with an intellect and the education to back it up, she may be a bit wet behind the ears and spent much of her life in the political bubble, but that’s not a detraction from her undoubted skills.  Expect lots of salivating journos beating a path to her door for feature pieces.  If she chooses her moments and issues carefully, she will go far.
  4. Marco Biagi, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central.  Gonnae say that oath in Italian again, please Marco?!  Another with a ferocious intellect and the graduation certificates to back it up, Salmond referred to Marco as the party’s resident psephologist but the boy’s talents are much greater than this.  A policy wonk who will have to learn fast how to transfer these skills into people ones in order to turn a surprise win into a safe hold, Marco should do very well.  Here’s hoping he can orate as well as he thinks and liven up debates.  Or at least just bamboozle them with knowledge.  Preferably in Italian.
  5. Joan McAlpine, SNP MSP for South of Scotland region A high achiever by anyone’s standards.  One of the few women journalists ever to edit one of Scotland’s foremost blatts, Joan also formed one half of the SNP’s most glamorous couple, when married to musician and writer, Pat Kane.  Played a key role in the media team during this election campaign, she could be a contender for an early Ministerial role, something culture oriented perhaps, as Salmond is quite fond of pigeon holing folk.  She should be a super soaraway star but… there is a teensy risk that the transition from journalist to parliamentarian could prove an ultimately frustrating one.
  6. Graeme Pearson, Labour MSP for South of Scotland region.  One of the few MSPs breaking the traditional Labour mould, Pearson is a former high ranking police officer.  He was the first Director-General of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and as an Assistant Divisional Commander at Strathclyde, introduced the controversial youth curfew pilot in Hamilton and also the first CCTV cameras to Airdrie town centre.  Yep, he’s to blame, and probably had a hand in Labour’s mandatory knife crime sentencing policy too.  Expect a strident but informed voice on crime issues.  If he wants a long career, he might want to think about how he can make a more thoughtful contribution to reforming our criminal justice system.
  7. Ruth Davidson, Conservative MSP for Glasgow. Ah, you’ve got to like a girl with boundless ambition.  Two minutes in the door as an MSP and already touting herself – or at least her supporters are – as a possible leadership contender in the autumn.  Whatever the rank and file think, the Tories need bright young things with a different background – TA volunteer and lesbian, no less – to start the process of detoxifying the brand.  With the lamented demise of Derek Brownlee, expect Ruth to slip seamlessly into his role as media commentator.  But she needs to prove there is substance to match the sizzle.
  8. Paul Wheelhouse, SNP MSP for South of Scotland. I’ll declare an interest – he’s a pal and few results made me happier than this one.  Hardworking, loyal, quiet, thoughtful and intelligent.  And that’s on a bad day.  By his own efforts, he’s turned a safe Conservative constituency into one that’s on a shoogly peg, recruiting a willing team to support him in the process.  These are real politician’s skills.  And he’s another policy wonk:  an economist with a keen understanding of further and higher education issues and if anyone was your man to lay bare the impact of PPP capital projects on the public purse, Paul is.  I don’t have to hope that he will do well:  I know he will.
  9. Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothians.  Well, at least Patrick got a buddy back and how nice that the Scottish Greens are perfectly gender balanced.  On the surface, she seems a bit of ying to Patrick’s yang and that is another good thing. Alison’s bright, feisty, committed, telegenic, but if she wanted to ease herself into the role, she’s in for a shock.  With only two players, both Greens need to be operating at full tilt from the outset.  She’s definitely got something to offer and there is a niche with her name on it.  She just needs to find it fast and hold to it too.  Ditching the cooncil ward in 2012 will help.
  10. Humza Yousaf, SNP MSP for Glasgow.  Well, he’s already stolen the show with that wonderful bagpipes and bhangra outfit at the sweary-in ceremony.  He’s intelligent, articulate, a poster boy for new Scots, but with a refreshing honesty and confidence, as well as a good heart.  His track record in community activism would shame many politicians twice his age.  Humza represents all that the SNP is trying to promote to Scotland and expect him to be promoted lang and weary as a spokesperson.  There’s a risk he could become ubiquitous and he’d do well to sit back for a moment and choose his course, if he doesn’t want to burn out.  And not to lose his tendency to be ever so slightly off message on occasion.  It’s all about standing out from that very big crowd of 69 when the moment is right.  I’ll go so far as to punt him as the next but one SNP leader.

Tags: , ,

Election round up – follow the leader

Four weeks down, three to go.  There is light at the end of the tunnel, or at least polling booth.

A good way to get a sense of what seats the parties are targeting and how the campaigns are going is by playing follow the leader.  Anyone who remembers the 2007 election might recall that Alex Salmond spent rather a lot of time campaigning in Stirling, Alloa, Kilmarnock, Glenrothes and even the Western Isles.  That’s because the SNP’s canvass returns were telling them that these seats were shifting.  And while SNP wins came as a surprise to many, reading the leadership travel runes in the campaign definitely gave signs of real hope.

So where have the four main party leaders (and other leading party figures) been on their travels this week and can we glean anything meaningful from their journeys?

Since last Saturday, SNP leading lights have visited Renfrewshire, Glasgow Southside, Dundee, North East Fife, Glasgow again, Stirling and er, Liverpool.

Labour has been to Edinburgh, East Kilbride, Stirling, Ochil, Edinburgh Eastern, Aberdeen and Dunfermline.

The Conservatives have visited Falkirk, Perth, Cunninghame North, East Lothian, Edinburgh and Ayr, while the Liberal Democrats have been to Glasgow, Argyll and Bute, Midlothian South, Aberdeenshire East, Fife and Midlothian South (again).

I do hope they are all choosing to offset their carbon emissions….

These are probably not all the destinations covered.  No doubt Ed Miliband and Iain Gray called in at Dundee on the way from Aberdeen to Dunfermline today.  And the SNP leader’s trip to Renfrewshire probably shoehorned in as many of the seats in that area as possible.

But overall, it seems that Labour and the SNP are already targeting in terms of expending leadership energy and giving a boost to local campaigns.  Both appear to be trying to shore up marginals they hold, such as the SNP’s Dundee seats and Labour’s Aberdeen Central.  But their voter identification data would appear to indicate that seats like Stirling and Edinburgh Eastern are currently on a knife edge. 

Interestingly, the SNP reckons it is gaining more of the soft Lib Dem vote, hence the parachute into North East Fife.  The burdz not sure if this isn’t just a bit of mischief making, given that it hasn’t yet featured on the Lib Dem leadership’s radar.  Time will tell.  If we see Salmond in seats like Caithness, Aberdeen South and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch then the Lib Dems can really start worrying.

At the moment, they seem determined to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Midlothian South in a bid to keep Jeremy Purvis at Holyrood.  In fact, if  Tavish spends any more time here, he might just qualify for a vote himself.   They do not seem to have written off Dunfermline West just yet and the amount of focus on Argyll and Bute suggests they think they have a chance of retaking this seat.

As for the Conservatives, it is hard to see what strategy is being deployed, other than keeping Annabel busy.  Falkirk?  Cunninghame North?  Nope, can’t see the point at all.  Though spending time in East Lothian and giving Derek Brownlee plenty of media airtime suggests they are worried about him retaining a seat through the South of Scotland list (as all we experts have already predicted!)

Despite the campaign being half way through and the very tight position at the top of the polls for the SNP and Labour, it is hard to discern a clear pattern.  Expect their focus to narrow in the remaining three weeks to the absolutely key marginals.  Watch carefully and as with 2007, by following the leader all the way to the finish line, you might just be able to spot which candidates have been abandoned as lost causes, which seats might spring a surprise result, and ultimately, who is going to win the election.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Scottish Green Party 2011 candidates announced

With my party hat on, and some party poppers too, I’ve been publicising the first group of Green Holyrood candidates. Here they are, and I’m afraid I will enthuse about them all. I do mean it, though:

Lothians. Robin’s replacement at the top of the Lothians list is a big deal for Greens. It’s the first Parliamentary seat any Green ever won in the UK, and Councillor Alison Johnstone will take on the scarf of responsibility. I’ve known Alison since she first started working for Robin right back at the beginning of devolution, and she’s smart, determined, kind and, above all, normal (unusual across politics, that last one).

We’ve won two here before, so I should also mention her Councillor colleague Steve Burgess second on the list. He’s your classic Green candidate. Scientific background, plays the fiddle, served on Rainbow Warrior II.

Mid Scotland and Fife. Mark Ruskell will be top here again, having served as the region’s Green MSP from 2003-2007. Another comrade from the epic 1999 Green campaign, he proved a natural Parliamentarian from the off, with an eye both for the detail and the big picture. Trivia fact: he was the year below me at school, although we didn’t properly meet until that first Holyrood campaign.

Highlands and Islands. Eleanor Scott has also been reselected top, another of our Magnificent Seven MSPs from last session. Eleanor made the health brief her own in the last session, having specialised in paediatrics, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t warm to her immediately. She is also the party’s national co-convenor alongside Patrick, ruling the party with an iron rod. It feels wrong being in Parliament without her.

North-east. Councillor Martin Ford is a new entrant at number one here, and deserves a little more introduction. Martin made his name internationally as the man who stood up to Donald Trump over Menie. Mr Trump’s alleged billions met Martin’s definite principles and lost before skullduggery and machinations by his former Lib Dem colleagues came into play. I’ve worked with Martin since he joined the Greens last year, and he will be an excellent candidate and an excellent MSP too. Made out of pure integrity, he also knows how the media works, and is one of the shrewdest political campaigners I’ve ever met.

Central. Kirsten Robb is top for us here again, which wasn’t a massive surprise given her hard work and strong media presence. She’s another proper community activist, a fairtrade campaigner, and also has great media sense. Her local, the EK News, had a page lead of her with her new baby not that long ago. Not bad before she’d even been reselected. Determined, passionate on the issues, and would be a real asset to Holyrood.

Glasgow. A young man you may have heard of got himself reselected: Patrick Harvie. Please bear in mind he pays me to represent him, but if I could afford it, I’d do it for nothing. There can’t be many people who encourage the boss to kip on their sofa when he’s through, but I do like those nights set the world to rights.

Over the eight years he’s been at Holyrood Patrick’s become widely accepted as one of the Chamber’s true stars, as well as a natural in the Newsnight hotseat. We normally agree, and when we don’t it’s normally because he’s right. If it wasn’t against party policy, I’d clone him a couple of times. All three would have pretty busy diaries.

We’re still selecting, by the way, and West and South will follow.

Tags: , ,