First Minister

Part of Contract Research Staff – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:39 pm on 22nd November 2001.

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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.