First Minister

Contract Research Staff – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 22nd November 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:30 pm, 22nd November 2001

Our only item of business this afternoon is the selection of the Parliament's nominee for First Minister. Before I proceed to that, I invite members to welcome two distinguished visitors from the Westminster Parliament: the right hon Helen Liddell MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, and the right hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, Leader of the Opposition. [Applause.]

I have received four valid nominations for appointment as First Minister. They are, in alphabetical order, Dennis Canavan, Jack McConnell, David McLetchie and John Swinney. A copy of the announcement in today's business bulletin explaining the procedure that will be followed to select our nominee has been placed on every member's desk.

I will shortly ask each nominated member in turn to speak for up to seven minutes, uninterrupted, in support of his candidacy. After all the nominated members have spoken, I will ask members to cast their vote for the preferred candidate. A separate vote will be called for each candidate. Once all the voting has been completed, there will be a short delay while the result is verified. I shall then announce the number of votes cast, the number of votes for each of the candidates and the number of votes to abstain. A candidate will be elected if a simple majority is obtained. If no majority is obtained, the candidate or candidates with the smallest number of votes will be eliminated and we will proceed to a further round of voting. I hope that that is clear. We now begin the selection process.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 2:32 pm, 22nd November 2001

I thank Robin Harper and Tommy Sheridan for nominating me. It is almost becoming an annual event.

The past few weeks have not been happy for the Scottish Executive. It is now important to learn from experience and to look ahead. A fresh start is needed. A more open, more inclusive and more accountable style of government is also needed. I know that even the new leader of the Scottish Labour party has admitted belatedly that a problem of cronyism exists. If that problem is not tackled, it could corrode the heart of government, as well as local government and the public bodies that are supposed to serve us. The early introduction of proportional representation in local government elections and the scrutiny of public appointments by a parliamentary committee would help to ensure a more inclusive and more open style of government. However, it is not just a change of style that is required, but a change of policy. I will outline some of the policies for which I stand.

"Education, education, education." It is now recognised that education is a lifelong experience rather than something for only one age group. It is therefore anomalous that responsibility for education should be split between two ministries. To achieve a more joined-up approach, one minister should be responsible for all education, be it pre-school, at-school or post-school education. Educational priorities should include an expansion of nursery education so that every three and four-year-old child has the right to a full-time—I emphasise "full-time"—place. In primary and secondary schools, class sizes must be further reduced. In further and higher education, a more generous student grant system should be introduced, combined with the complete abolition of tuition fees or any similar payments before or after graduation.

The Executive should support free nutritious meals for all children. It is a national disgrace that, in Scotland in 2001, about one in five children live at or below the official poverty line, yet the Executive's target date for the eradication of child poverty is not until 2020. That means that many children who are born today are doomed to spend the rest of their childhood in poverty unless we introduce a more ambitious timetable to help them.

At the other end of the age spectrum, our pensioners also look to the Scottish Parliament for more effective action to help them. We must implement in full the Sutherland recommendations on the care of frail elderly people. We must accelerate the provision of central heating for all pensioners and the introduction of a nationwide concessionary travel scheme. We must also ensure justice for the Scottish Transport Group pensioners, some of whom are in the public gallery today.

I said that education should be a lifelong experience—so should sport, whether through participation, enjoyment or both. To give sport a higher priority, there should be a dedicated minister for sport. However, to avoid an increase in the ministerial salary bill, I would demand that all ministers accept an appropriate salary decrease. That would also create scope for a dedicated minister for culture and a dedicated minister for tourism, given the important contributions of both areas to the Scottish economy.

In Scotland we are blessed with one of the finest natural environments in the world. The mountains, glens, lochs and rivers of Scotland are not simply the property of the landed gentry, but part of our national heritage. There was justifiable outrage that the draft land reform bill did not include a genuine right of access to the countryside. That blunder must be rectified when the bill is redrafted. Executive support should also be given to the proposed organic food and farming targets bill. That is a big priority.

On public expenditure, our priority should be investment in essential services such as education, housing and our national health service, especially to reduce waiting times. For capital projects, the private finance initiative is not good value for money and council tenants should be given a genuine choice of tenure instead of being blackmailed into accepting housing stock transfer.

Some of the policies that I have outlined would require more investment, which might use up more than the entire Scottish block grant from Westminster. The Scottish Parliament is probably the only Parliament in the world that is completely dependent on another Parliament for every penny that it spends. Consequently, this Parliament has less fiscal responsibility than a local council. The Scottish Executive must demand full fiscal freedom so that we can use the taxation system to bring about a radical redistribution of wealth and improved investment in our essential services.

Finally, I would like an enhanced role for the Parliament. Members are, first and foremost, representatives of people; if we acted accordingly, the people would be the beneficiaries. The Parliament was not created by political fixers and it is not the property of politicians or of one political party. The Parliament was created by the people of Scotland, it is the property of the people of Scotland and it must respond to the needs and priorities of the people of Scotland. If we do that, we shall build a better, fairer society in which people are recognised as equals whatever their social background, age, gender, religious beliefs or ethnic origins. We are all Jock Tamson's bairns and the Scottish Parliament must seize the opportunity to make Scotland a land of opportunity for our people.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour 2:39 pm, 22nd November 2001

This is an historic day for a number of reasons. Eleven years ago today, Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The person who probably did more than anyone to bring about this Parliament decided that it was time to move on. I will also always remember this date because, on this day three years ago, I was selected as Labour's candidate for the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency. I hope that today's vote is less of a cliffhanger than that one. I am still grateful to my constituents—to party members and the people of the area—for giving me the honour to serve them in the Parliament. Since 1999 I have moved my home to Wishaw. In recent years the people in my constituency have seen many a hardship, but they are among the warmest and best-spirited people whom my family have ever encountered.

Geographically, Motherwell and Wishaw is a very different area from the isle of Arran, where I grew up. People from Arran are proud. They come from a variety of backgrounds and have a variety of lifestyles. Arran people care for one another, value education and enjoy sports and culture. They treasure their past, but are constantly trying to adapt to the modern world. They are inventive and kind, but want high standards from their politicians. In short, they are like all the people whom we represent. They are, indeed, Scotland in miniature.

I am very proud to be here today as Labour's nominee for First Minister. I am here because I believe that we can make a difference. I cast my first vote, aged 18, in the 1979 devolution referendum. In the years that followed, I had the privilege of helping consensus to be reached in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, where for the first time I worked with Liberal Democrat colleagues. I shared the excitement of Labour's election victory in 1997 and of the referendum that followed it. On the day of the 1997 referendum, Scots voted yes yes because they wanted better politics and better government and because they believed that a Scottish Parliament would focus on their priorities, delivering real improvements in everyday life.

Donald Dewar and Henry McLeish will for ever be part of that story. Together, as ministers in the new Labour Government and then as the first and second First Ministers of Scotland, they, along with us all, turned Scotland's dream into reality. In our first 30 months, they ensured that this Parliament and its Executive began to work well.

Now we must take on further challenges, with a fresh approach and a new direction. I am 41 years of age, and for all my adult life a majority of Scots have wanted devolution. More than that, they want jobs, less crime, better health, quality education and transport services that work. It is time to deliver all those.

Creating this Parliament was an act of confidence in our ability as a nation. Thirty months on, there is much that we can be proud of: quality legislation, focused on the people in our society who need us most, and a new scrutiny of government in Scotland that was long overdue. In 1999, the people of Scotland gave us their trust to make devolution a success, in partnership with our communities, with the UK Government and with Scotland's local authorities. We must strive at all times to improve the credibility of politics and the confidence of our voters in the judgments that we make. Their interests, their worries and concerns, and their hopes and dreams must drive all that we do here and we must treat their trust with respect.

If I become First Minister, fundamental principles that honour the democratic traditions of Scotland will underpin our decisions and actions. Those principles are: to be open and transparent in all that we do; to enhance, rather than to avoid, parliamentary scrutiny; to stand for and speak for all the people of Scotland; to take decisions, but also to listen, to learn and to change when it is right to do so; to have the good sense to say no when the time is not right or the money is not there; and, most important, to use all the talents that are available and to cross party boundaries when we can work together for Scotland.

People want action on the priorities that matter most to them. They like to see individuals and parties working together to make a difference. They want to see action that shows that they have been heard, because as a Government we have been listening. They want action to speed up important operations and to prevent poor health. They want action to improve our schools and to motivate our young people. They want action to lock up dealers and thugs, but also to keep young people from a life in and out of prison. They want action on transport, with railways and roads that serve their purpose. They want action to promote Scottish business and to develop skills for the modern competitive world economy. They want us to remember the environment when we make our decisions on the use of land and other resources. In all of that, they want equality of opportunity.

We will build a better Scotland when we build the best services that we can—public services that attract the efforts and work of the most talented, and that are freed up to respond directly to the public whom they serve and to deliver quality day in, day out. We want public services that get it right first time, every time, and that put people's needs first.

The leaders of Scotland are not to be found only here. There are 129 members of this Parliament. However talented and hard working those members may be, we cannot deliver on our own. Scotland's real leaders are to be found in our industries, our public services and our communities, rural and urban, old and new. If we are serious about creating a modern, confident Scotland, we need to get serious about unleashing all of the talent that we have. We must allow leaders to lead, recognise their success and support them when times are difficult or when they get things wrong.

Of course there will be limits on time and resources, but there must be no limits to the ambitions that we have for Scotland, no barrier to those who work to realise those ambitions and no obstruction in the way of reaching them. I want to harness the talent of this country, to unlock the potential that exists in every street, every home and every workplace, to find solutions to the problems that we face and to build the future that our people deserve. Our job is to realise ambitions, to open the doors of opportunity and to renew confidence in politics as a force for good.

I am here today because I want to give children in Scotland the best possible start in life. As First Minister, I will ensure that everything that we do, every policy that we initiate and every spending decision that we make is measured against the standard of social justice. As a Labour First Minister, I will lead ministers in action to do that job, to speak for the many, not the few, and to deliver on the promise and the hope that the Parliament gives to our people.

Too many young people leave school without the confidence, knowledge, skills or ambition to build and be happy in their adult lives. That makes me angry and it must change. Lewis Grassic Gibbon said that anger is at the root of all change, but anger must be balanced. Too much anger makes one incapable of change; not enough, and one does not really want change. Our anger must be focused, because Scotland must be better than that. A better Scotland can make sure that our children do not suffer violence, neglect or failure because we fail them.

I want to live in a Scotland where every child has the security of a loving family, or the support of others when things go wrong, where every child has a top-quality education, regardless of special needs or background, where every child develops their creative talents and a healthy lifestyle and where every child approaches adulthood with confidence and hope.

It is now time for us to govern and to put people first, to harness our energies and all our talents, to open the doors of decision making and to deliver the opportunities that this country can give everyone. I ask members for their vote this afternoon, so that, together and working with the people whom we serve, we can make Scotland tomorrow better than it is today.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 2:47 pm, 22nd November 2001

On the previous occasion when the chamber elected a First Minister, I thought long and hard before putting myself forward as a candidate because of the tragic circumstances in which that vacancy arose. I had no such problem coming to a decision this time. The events that led up to the resignation of Mr McLeish and the manner in which his successor has emerged have raised many questions about the nature of the Labour party in Scotland and whether it is fit to govern. The purpose of my candidacy is to highlight that and to outline an alternative, Conservative, way forward.

Instead of holding an open contest and debate about the future direction of the Scottish Executive, Labour has treated us to the sorry sight of a succession of candidates being touted, only for those men and women of straw to fall by the wayside, one by one, so that we are left with only Mr McConnell. I am told that Mr Roy was particularly disappointed, because he could not place a bet on the outcome. It is absurdly easy to become First Minister: a couple of telephone calls from Andy Kerr, 386 from Cathie Craigie, and Jack's your uncle.

This unedifying spectacle has done nothing for Scotland's standing. The process has looked more like a tawdry coronation than a democratic election. Although this has been only a Labour farce so far, I have no doubt that, when it comes to the vote this afternoon, the Liberal Democrats will meekly fall into line behind Mr McConnell, who is the choice of their Labour masters. That is yet another piece of breathtaking Liberal Democrat hypocrisy from the party that likes to lecture us about democracy and standards in politics, but that refused to utter a word of condemnation or criticism during the whole officegate affair.

This cosy election is symptomatic of the culture of cronyism that exists in Scotland and that needs to be exposed and eradicated. From sweetheart deals and planning permissions to jumping the queue for a council house, an insidious network of favour trading exists in Scotland. [Interruption.]

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

The written answer that I received earlier this week confirmed that, since Labour came to power, more than 60 per cent of those who have been appointed to public bodies and have declared a political affiliation are Labour supporters. Things are getting worse, not better. Since January 2000, three quarters of such appointees were Labour supporters.

Mr McConnell has said that, as First Minister, he will dismantle the whole culture of cronyism. He claims that he is committed to open and accountable government. How will he achieve that? The simplistic answer, which we will no doubt hear from the SNP and the Liberal Democrats many times in the coming weeks, is that we should introduce proportional representation for councils, but that would be to make the mistake of attacking the symptoms of the problem rather than the underlying problem itself.

The Labour party certainly wields a considerable amount of political power in Scotland, but what needs to be tackled is the concentration of power in the hands of politicians, not merely who controls it. PR might change the political balance on our councils, but it would simply introduce a system of proportional cronyism in which other parties would get a chance to share political patronage. Proportional cronyism is exactly what has happened since PR gave the Liberal Democrats a share of power in the Scottish Executive: all of a sudden, their supporters have started to be appointed to public bodies. What a surprise. [Interruption.]

Apart from a measure of quiet in the chamber, we need politicians who will initiate a fundamental shift in power. Power needs to shift from politicians and the institutions of the state back to the independent and autonomous institutions of civil society: to individuals, families, local communities, co-operatives and voluntary organisations. Proportional representation will not bring that about; it will simply entrench the power of the state by giving more political parties a vested interest in maintaining that power. [Interruption.] If we do not have politicians at national and local level who are committed to that real devolution of power and who are willing to put it into practice, the potential for the abuse of power will continue. [Interruption.]

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Order. We heard the other candidates without interruption; the same should be true for Mr McLetchie.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Some people do not like home truths being told.

The big question is whether Mr McConnell is capable of delivering the reform that is necessary to win back respect for the Parliament. So far, the signals are rather confused. As the Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs, he has shown himself to be admirably pragmatic in his attitude towards testing and discipline in our schools: he has taken on board sensible Conservative policies. But when he was confronted with the decision on whether to bring St Mary's Episcopal Primary School in Dunblane back under local authority control, he reverted to Labour dogma and his roots in municipal socialism. Despite overwhelming evidence that the school is a success and the parents support its present status, he signed the order.

The Scottish Conservatives want to see that kind of real devolution, which will lead to a genuine partnership between parents and teachers and drive up standards in our schools. We also want to see a genuine partnership with the independent sector in our health service. A concordat with that sector should be signed so that, as a matter of urgency, the relationship can be developed and fostered in the interests of patients and staff. We want a triumph of substance over style in Scottish politics. We want the Parliament to focus on the issues that are of everyday concern to people, rather than the politically correct agenda with which other parties are obsessed.

Today is the third time that I have stood for the office of First Minister. It will not be third time lucky for me, nor will it be third time lucky for Scotland, because Mr McConnell cannot and will not deliver on those issues. He will not dare to do anything that undermines Labour's power base in Scotland. In the run-up to an election, he will not antagonise the trade unions, who are his paymasters, by introducing the necessary reforms in our public services. Although he may talk about ditching spin, he will carry on much as before, because such an approach permeates every fibre of his being.

The SNP is not capable of delivering in those areas either. Although it may want to change our citizenship, it does not want to change Labour's policies in essence, because both parties are cut from the same left-of-centre political cloth.

The Scottish Conservatives are the only party putting forward a genuine alternative to the approach of the Executive. That is why we will continue to be the only real and effective Opposition in this Parliament for the overwhelming majority of Scots who want Scotland to remain within the union.

We intend to be a party of government in Scotland again. It is as a symbol of that intent that it gives me great pride to submit my candidacy for this office today.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:56 pm, 22nd November 2001

The only way seems to be up.

We meet this afternoon to elect a new First Minister—for the third time in the short life of this Parliament. The first occasion was a credit to Scotland: it was an exchange of ideas that resulted in what was perhaps a predictable outcome, but it enhanced our fledgling democracy. The second occasion was the result of a tragedy: the untimely death of Donald Dewar who, with others from his party, from the Liberal Democrats, from my party and from wider Scottish life, worked to establish this Parliament and to give our nation a fresh start.

The third occasion is the result of a farce: a farce inflicted on Scotland and its Parliament by the Labour party and by absolutely nobody else. The Labour party—the party that now, without any democratic process, seeks to foist its unelected leader upon our country; the party that promotes its own by making cronyism a way of life—always lets Scotland down.

This afternoon, the farce may be carried to its illogical conclusion. The Liberal Democrats, in their usual Pavlovian response to their Labour masters, dutifully intend to bring into office a Labour machine politician who represents everything that the Liberals claim not to represent.

Labour has failed the democratic test. The Scottish Parliament must now do what Labour has failed to do: the Scottish Parliament must exercise democratic scrutiny.

I am proud to set out my candidacy on behalf of a party that is committed to a democratic, fair and prosperous Scotland; a party that always puts the interests of the Scottish people first; a party that can comfortably shelter those who are disgusted by institutional cronyism in the Labour party and are ashamed of what that party has become. I am proud to represent a party that recognises that if we want to create the democratic, fair and prosperous Scotland of our dreams, we must have the normal powers of a normal independent Parliament.

This Parliament is a stepping stone to freedom. This party will help our nation to cross over the murky swamp of Labour's Scotland into the bright and clean air of an independent Scotland. There is a job of work to be done to start that process; let me tell the chamber how I will go about tackling it.

Scotland needs reform of its public services as well as reform of its public servants. The two reforms are clearly linked. We must reform the whole system of public appointments. The bill that Alex Neil is introducing is the key that will unlock the door to openness and accountability. I challenge each of the candidates for the post of First Minister to echo my support for that bill. Dennis Canavan made his support clear earlier today.

While reducing the power of Labour's quango state, we will also improve the calibre of those who serve the public. Appointments should be made on behalf of the public by a Scottish Government, and not on behalf of Labour by Labour.

I also challenge each candidate to echo my party's support for root-and-branch reform of local government. The present system of local government in Scotland is a monument to Labour's institutional cronyism. Any system that rewards a party with less than half the vote with 90 per cent of the seats and all the power is a system whose time has passed in this democratic age. To defend it is to defend the indefensible—but Labour members here and at Westminster are lining up to defend it. We could change that system today—

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

If Mr Scott would care to listen to the rest of the sentence, he will understand where I am going. On my election as the First Minister we would usher in immediate legislation to ensure that the local elections in 2003 are held under a new system. If the Liberals had any backbone they would get behind us and support that process. The Liberal Democrats have signed up once again to talks about talks about talks— [Interruption.]

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Those talks are going absolutely nowhere. How many times do the Liberals have to be taught that lesson?

I warn the Liberals that they need a long spoon to sup with the new Labour party. They are in for a disappointing journey to PR for local government—a long and tortuous journey on which meetings to arrange timetables to arrange meetings will be the order of the day.

We need reform of our public servants and with that we need reform of our public services. My priorities are delivering public services and building public trust. A society shorn of cronyism will be a society that can focus on the real needs of Scotland. It will be a society in which we can prioritise public investment in our health and education services. We shall do so by using not-for-profit trusts—we reject the discredited and expensive Tory-inspired private finance initiative, which puts money from our classrooms and hospitals into the pockets of private financiers. We shall do so by a radical reform programme in education, reducing class sizes and freeing up our teachers to allow them to teach. We shall do so by investing in health so that our cancer services are the best in the world, not the worst in Europe as they are today. We shall do so by protecting our environment and by never, ever allowing a London Government to foist power stations on Scotland. We shall do so by giving the Scottish Parliament the financial independence it needs to deliver the quality public services that the people have a right to expect.

We cannot allow free personal care for Scotland's elderly people to be held up because of a backroom rammy over cash between Labour ministers in London and Labour ministers in Edinburgh. If the chamber selects the Labour nominee for the post of First Minister, those who vote for him will be condoning a massive abuse of power for generations. They will be wiping from their memories the images of Monklands, Glasgow City Council, Govan, Paisley, Renfrew and scandal after scandal and deceit after deceit. They will be accepting that the leadership of our nation is something to be traded behind closed doors within a party, bloated with arrogance of power, that is forgetful of where it has come from.

It is time for the Parliament to assert itself. It is time for Scotland to assert itself and to look to its future. That future demands a Government and a First Minister that stand up for Scotland, not fight for themselves. I ask members to support my nomination. More important, I ask Scotland to support a vision of bright dreams for the future, not the old nightmares of the past.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

We move to the voting process. [MEMBERS: "What about the Liberals?"] Order. I assume that Conservative members wish to vote.

I remind members that they should vote only once and use only the yes button. If a member casts more than one yes vote, their vote will be treated as spoiled and neither vote will be counted. Members who wish to record an abstention will have an opportunity to do so at the end of the voting for the candidates.

As usual, members will have 30 seconds to cast their votes. There will be a pause of around one minute between the votes to allow the voting records to be printed, so that the clerks can check them.

The first vote is for those who wish to support Dennis Canavan. Members who wish to cast their votes for Mr Canavan should vote yes now.

Members voted.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The next vote is for Jack McConnell. Members who wish to cast their vote for Mr McConnell should vote yes now.

Members voted.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The next vote is for David McLetchie. Members who wish to support Mr McLetchie should vote yes now.

Members voted.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The next vote is for Mr John Swinney. Members who wish to vote for Mr Swinney should vote yes now.

Members voted.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The next vote is for members who have not voted and who wish to record an abstention. Any members who wish to record an abstention should press their yes buttons now.

Members voted.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

There will now be a short pause while the votes are verified.

The votes were cast for the candidates as follows:

Dennis Canavan 3

Mr Jack McConnell 70

David McLetchie 19

Mr John Swinney 34





Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

There were no abstentions or spoiled votes.

I declare that Jack McConnell is selected as the Parliament's nominee for appointment as First Minister. As required by section 46 of the Scotland Act 1998, I shall recommend to Her Majesty that she appoint Jack McConnell as the First Minister of Scotland. [Applause.]

On behalf of the whole Parliament, I offer my warm congratulations to Jack McConnell and invite him to address us.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour 3:16 pm, 22nd November 2001

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I am deeply honoured to be elected Scotland's First Minister. I am proud of the party that I represent, and of this position and this Parliament. I am especially proud that many members of my family and Bridget's family are in the public gallery.

All members of the Parliament share the privilege of election—of being entrusted to represent the people of Scotland. I have been given a great privilege in leading this Government. It is time to listen to the people of Scotland and to do them justice by the quality of our debate, the clarity of our decision making and the integrity of our actions.

The responsibility of leadership is not one that I take lightly. Scotland's First Minister and this Scottish Parliament must earn the confidence of the people of Scotland, because Scotland is a wonderful country. We export more per head than some of the strongest economies in the world. We have a cultural and literary tradition that is envied throughout the world. We punch above our weight in sports and sciences and we live in some of the world's most beautiful surroundings. The resources of nature are our inheritance.

Politics and public service are about nothing if they are not based on principles, focused on improving lives and dedicated to a better world. Members serving in the Parliament come from different places and have all been in different circumstances, but the greatest challenge that we all face is to leave a better world to those who follow us. Sometimes in robust and honest debate and sometimes in unity, this Parliament is up to that challenge. I am ready to deliver and I will be proud to serve you as First Minister along the way. [Applause.]

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:18 pm, 22nd November 2001

I extend to Jack McConnell my personal congratulations and those of my party on his election and my good wishes to his family given the challenges that they have faced in the past couple of weeks and will face in the period ahead.

I do not know whether anyone noticed, but there was a beautiful moment during David McLetchie's speech—I know that that is hard to imagine— when he referred to the Co-operative movement. That prompted among members a reawakening of a competition to see who could remember their mother's Co-operative number. I am pleased to say that Mr McCabe and I passed the test; I do not know whether David McLetchie would manage it.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

That is one test that he has passed. I do not intend to ask the First Minister about that next Thursday—but that is enough warning if I do.

Mr McConnell said that some important decisions could stretch across party boundaries. I welcome that. The SNP has good ideas—I know that that is sometimes hard to imagine, but it does—and it offers them in the genuine spirit of debate, although they are often rebuffed by the traditional party-political arguments of Westminster, which I thought that we came here not to repeat. [Applause.] I have attracted some applause from the Liberal Democrats, which I hope is a good sign.

If Mr McConnell is interested in a positive debate about the future of Scotland, one in which he genuinely listens to the views of the Opposition, we will take part willingly in that debate. When he says and does wise things, we will say so, but when he deserves a hard time, we will give him one.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 3:20 pm, 22nd November 2001

I was reflecting on the last occasion on which Jack McConnell became a leader—of Stirling District Council, back in 1990. Two years later, the Scottish Conservatives turned him out of office. The election today is perhaps a harbinger of great things to come.

Like John Swinney, I congratulate Jack McConnell on his election as our First Minister. If we were playing ice hockey, I would probably be credited with an assist, but that is all in the past.

As Jack McConnell said, this is a proud moment for him. It is a singular accomplishment on his part to become First Minister after such a short parliamentary career, which has been served exclusively in the Scottish Parliament. That is a break with the past and an encouraging development in the history of the Scottish Parliament. On a personal level, I wish him very well indeed.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 3:21 pm, 22nd November 2001

I will preface my remarks by saying that my mother's Co-op number was 1760, which is why I always knew how many yards were in a mile.

On a personal basis, and on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I warmly congratulate Jack McConnell on his election as Scotland's First Minister. It is a great honour for him and, along with John Swinney, I wish Jack and his family well with the burdens of office that he is about to shoulder.

We have achieved much in the relatively short time of the Parliament. Everyone in the chamber knows that there is still much to be done. Jack McConnell has shown, as a minister in the Parliament, that he has the energy, ability and determination to deliver. His commitment to the Parliament and to Scottish politics goes back much further than May 1999. Working together in partnership with ourselves, civic Scotland, business, the trade unions and the churches, Jack played his part, through the Scottish Constitutional Convention, in helping to shape the Scottish Parliament. Since that time, he has proved that the Parliament can tackle the big issues, resolve complex problems and achieve results.

In his new role as First Minister, Jack McConnell will have an opportunity to shape the nation's future. He is not First Minister of a party, a coalition or a Parliament—he is Scotland's First Minister. We always said that the Scottish Parliament was a Parliament for the whole nation. I believe that Jack McConnell, with his island background and his urban constituency, is well placed to remember that.

I look forward to working with Jack McConnell in partnership, as a colleague and a friend, supporting him in the challenges that lie ahead as we seek to unlock the potential of a great nation.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 3:23 pm, 22nd November 2001

It is gratifying to know that there are three wise men in the Scottish Parliament.

In congratulating Jack McConnell, I recall an event of more than 20 years ago when, as a young Labour member of Parliament, I addressed a student meeting at the University of Stirling. I recall being introduced to one student activist whom I encouraged to join the Labour party. I am not sure now that I did the right thing—his name was Jack McConnell.

Even at that time, some people saw the Labour party as a ladder of opportunity for political careerists. I say to Jack McConnell that he should use his power, as leader of the Scottish Labour party and as Scotland's First Minister, to create a ladder of opportunity for all the people of Scotland, especially the disadvantaged and dispossessed—the people whom the Labour party was born to protect. In that spirit, I congratulate him and wish him all the best in working towards those objectives.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

With renewed congratulations, I close this meeting of the Parliament.

Meeting closed at 15:24.