Skip to main content

No tears

I wrote yesterday about getting my diary organised for the remainder of the year. It just makes me comfortable to be able to look that far ahead and see a structure to my working life. Because that gives me a framework around which everything else can be fitted.

A wee while, ago I also wrote about my first day at school as a five-year-old. In fact the school made little impression upon me. It was merely the journey to it that has stuck in my mind.

There are other aspects that I do recall with ease. The slate and slate pencil. One creating a terrible screech when engaged with the other. The process of learning to write I have no memory of. Reading was something I had been doing since being about three. There could be a debate about this claim.

On one occasion, when wheeled out at that age to, presumably, exhibit my precociousness for some guest or other by reading something from Winnie the Pooh, I performed the task perfectly. However, mother, years later, reported that she had observed that I was holding the book upside down.

There are two ways to interpret this. Mother's favoured option is that having had the story read to me so many times, it could be recalled from my memory rather being read from the page.

For my part, and mindful of the skill I have to this day of both being able to read and write upside down, I merely note it as another aspect of my early development.

In any event, Mother remained mute during my reading exhibition, and so must be complicit in any deception, by failing to draw the matter to the spectators' attention at the time.

The preparation for return to "school", the end of Parliamentary recess, must be complete by 11th August. Our return matches that of a future generation who will, provided the current administration at Westminster fails in its attempts to emasculate our Parliament into practical extinction, take over from us in anything between twenty to forty years' time.

I now find some parts of the media describing colleagues in Holyrood as "Senior" who legally could be my offspring. In that context, it does feel somewhat strange to realise that it was the mere blink of an eye, approaching twenty years ago, that I was a new boy at "school".

The customary pre-school examination having been successfully completed, a comfortable majority in a by-election in June 2001, a car arrived at my house in Banffshire with "joining instructions", and much more besides.

Then as now, the preparation involved several things. Moving obstructions in my diary out of the way to create space for my new responsibilities came early. Relatively easy as I had retired from my main professional career a couple of years earlier. My inescapable responsibilities were to my class of post-graduate students. But the teaching was over. It was now exam season.

However, having committed to do another year's teaching, I had to find someone else to take over. An old colleague needed something, as I had, to relieve the monotony of retirement. He stepped forward. For my part, the teaching deal also involved being available to my students for a year after they had completed the course. In practice not a huge burden.

The biggest wrench, logically I could see it coming, but emotionally it was an unwelcome straightjacket, was the rigidity of having someone else's timetable, Parliament, imposed upon my life. Never since graduating had anyone had that control over my life.

In particular, we had almost invariably taken our vacations outwith the standard July and August holiday time. For many of the places to which we have travelled, and some still to visit, these are not good months to arrive. My niece, who works as a senior research scientist and who, post-Brexit, now has a Swedish passport, has been to some of the spots on my wish list - Mongolia, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Grrr.

This year, like most others, there has been no, and will not be, any formal vacation. So we have no imposed exceptionalism to grump about.

In any event with recess being foreshortened and some meetings continuing through it, the preparation for the formal return should be easy.

The first thing is a set of objectives. Forgive me, but I won't share these here lest they escape into the wild (the eyes or ear of those who wish me ill), but I have one.

In 2001 as I set off to commence what some have described to me as my Parliamentary career, I have never have viewed it as a career, I also went with tasks and a timetable for them.

In particular, the story of my arrival in Edinburgh was pretty small beer. A by-election which took place on the same day as a Westminster Election and which provided nothing in the way of a surprise result attracted only local media attention. And only a modest amount of that as the counting of the by-election votes did not start until the Friday afternoon. The MP had precedence.

Recognising too that curiosity in Parliament would probably be modest as members contemplated the results which had delivered a new House of Commons, rather being interested in me, I determined a pro-active strategy.

I arrived and reported into Paul Grice, Clerk to the Parliament. In other words, the Chief Executive. There had been a couple of previous by-election entrants, and he had the process down to a tee.

After meeting the whips who allocated me a desk in a room with three other MSPs and their staff, accommodation which made my cramped lecturer's desk in a shared office at Herriot-Watt University, seem like a haven of peace and quiet by comparison.

The following day saw my being sworn in at 0935. I was then seated with a buddy whose task was to make sure I pressed the correct buttons during the many votes there would be in the next six hours of Stage 3 debate on the Housing Bill.

Two further things happened that day. I was recruited for, as it was then put, "offered the opportunity", to speak in a debate the following day on the EU Common Fisheries Policy. It was an unusually early, and very welcome, chance to make my first speech (we no longer refer to them as "maiden" speeches). Only John Scott and Maureen Watt have had shorter intervals between being sworn in and making their first speeches.

The other "event" was being dragged out to be interviewed in the "black and white" corridor by Brian Taylor of the BBC. It was a soft, patsy interview about my first day in Parliament. Conducted, as usual, with Brian back in the studio and the interviewees with an earpiece in place.

Note the plural. The Labour Party had also acquired a new member via a by-election, and we both stood before the single camera.

The usual arrangements consisted of the camera being set up to show a head and shoulders shot of a single person. After a question or two, the broadcast would cut to show Brian in the studio. The camera would swing round to capture a different interviewee and it would then become live.

My fellow interviewee was obviously familiar with this. I will mask his identity in anonymity for reasons that will shortly become apparent (you can look it up if you must). After he had been interviewed, it was my turn. He decided to try to disrupt my performance and turned to face me and then punched me, not a boxer's power punch I must say, in the side.

There were two things he did not know. Firstly, I had done quite a lot of this stuff in the relatively recent past as part of my campaign to stop Standard Life being demutualised. Nothing of his action showed on my face or through my voice.

Secondly, that day the BBC used a "two-shot" which showed the two of us side by side. The observant viewer could, therefore, see what had happened.

Over the next ten days, I beat my first target in Parliament ahead of schedule. I introduced myself to 80% of the members. A highlight of doing so was a conversation with Jack McConnell on a traffic island as we crossed the road in opposite directions.

My fellow new start never made any effort to connect with others.

He became the member who was ejected from Parliament by his electors after the shortest ever period of service. A mere twenty-three months.

I shed not a single tear.

Few did.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Advice to the new MSPs

A contribution made to Portland PR 's weekly briefing on Holyrood A new job is a time to look in the mirror and undertake a self-assessment about what one can contribute in a new role. And what weaknesses one may have that could inhibit success. Being elected an MSP is no different in that respect. But very different in many others. One has become public property and every action, or action thought to be by you, will be open to public comment, often unfairly. Silence is often your best response. When one comments on criticism one lengthens the “war” and widens the knowledge of it. Set your own agenda rather than respond to that of others. Who can you trust among your fellow Parliamentarians? Make contact with as many as you can as quickly as you can. And make it a priority to interact with political opponents. The first substantive decision in the new Parliament is the election of a new Presiding Officer and it will be a secret ballot. Understanding the dynamic of other partie

End of an Era 2016-2021

Written for  Holyrood magazine's "The End of an era 2016-2021"  published 07 April 2021.    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 firmly attached to his face as he is disconnected to any symbol of middle-class values such as a tie, tension flows as he selects his target for the day. Is it dapper John Scott? The record-holder for the shortest time between his being sworn in and making his first speech in Parliament; a mere twenty hours. Does Willie Rennie attract his ire? Confession; we went to the same school. Almost anything liberal is bound to attract this Labour very-back-bencher’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 acknow

Clutter

When big things go wrong, and one feels powerless to do much about them, small things in one's life can become surrogates for one's anger. And there are quite a few big things around at the moment; COVID-19, No-Deal Brexit; A US Presidential Election where the incumbent leads with racist statements. As the end of the current session rushes towards us, many of my colleagues are concluding that they will not be putting themselves forward at the forthcoming election. A couple of our younger colleagues are placing their families first. But most are looking at being in their eighth decade, as I already am, at the end of the next session. When the two leading candidates for the US President are both older than I am - seventy-four in five week's time - it may seem surprising that retirement may be beckoning for me and others a lustrum younger than I am. But it illustrates the profound differences between being a back-bencher in our Parliament and the political life of a US Senator