First Minister

Part of Contract Research Staff – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:56 pm on 22nd November 2001.

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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—