The Future of Scotland

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:03 am on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour 11:03 am, 29th March 2007

Here comes another swan-song, and I am happy to endorse some of the final comments that Brian Monteith made. I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on a long time in two Parliaments and to look to the future of Scotland.

I suppose that I have been a foot soldier in the long fight to achieve Scotland's Parliament. I joined the Labour Party to support John P Mackintosh, who was a very special local member of Parliament. I was the young delegate for Berwick and East Lothian at the 1976 Labour Party conference who moved the motion that committed my party to home rule for Scotland. I was then one of the die-hards who never let go of the issue through the Thatcher years. It took a long, long time, but the achievement of the Parliament was all the sweeter for that.

Then, of course, there was the small matter of building the permanent home for our new Parliament. Perhaps fortunately, I do not have the time to go into that subject. Let me just say that I am proud that some of us kept focused in spite of all the pressure, and I repeat the thanks that I have already expressed to Jamie Stone and Linda Fabiani for their help in the Holyrood progress group. It was hard going, but the Holyrood Parliament building now stands as a tremendous asset for the people and nation of Scotland. I am glad that more and more people are acknowledging that fact.

Some people stand for election because they want to get themselves to the top of government; the rest of us are more interested in getting on top of the Government for the benefit of the people whom we represent. I have tried to be an old-fashioned constituency parliamentarian, and I am grateful to the people of East Lothian for putting up with me for 29 years. I am very happy that East Lothian is a far better place after those 29 years. Indeed, East Lothian is one of the most successful counties in Scotland and Britain after 10 years of Labour Government.

While I am in the business of thanking people, I put on record my eternal gratitude to my wife and sons for their support and for sharing years of stress during my time in Parliament. I am afraid that the worthy aspiration of a family-friendly Parliament is probably a contradiction in terms, but let us keep trying. I express my sincere thanks to Elaine O'Brien, my secretary, who has been running one of the most efficient constituency offices in Scotland for the past 21 years. We have been able to help quite a lot of people during that time.

I have seen Prime Ministers and First Ministers come and go. I have seen some dreadful ministers as well as some very good ones. Good government depends on sound principles, clear thinking and mutual respect. Without that, we get chaos. That is what happened to John Major in 1992, and it can happen to any party. I have pretty unhappy memories of what happened to the Labour Party in 1983. The question today is whether our main Opposition party in the Parliament is fit for Government. At this stage in my career, I would like to be charitable, but it is difficult. Seriously, how could Fergus Ewing and Alex Neil sit at the same Cabinet table? Apart from the fact that our nationalists are united only by their commitment to division—they cannot stand the sight of each other, as we all know if we have listened to them privately—what about their leader? As the First Minister reminded us earlier, Alex Salmond was so scunnered by his colleagues here that he took the first flight back to London to lead the Scottish National Party from the British capital. Mind you, it is understandable that people might want to leave a country where certain politicians advocate policies that could add £5,000 to family tax bills.

There may or may not be different options for government among the immense responsibilities that have been devolved to the Parliament. Nationalism has nothing to do with government, though; it is all about disruption. Prudent, canny Scots are never going to vote for chaos. We have come a long way on the principles set out by great Scots such as John P Mackintosh, John Smith and Donald Dewar and we are not going to sacrifice all that for an orgy of disruption for the sake of Alex Salmond's enormous ego. If the SNP were to accept the settled will of the Scottish people as expressed at the referendum in 1997, they just might become electable. However, as long as they remain hellbent on constitutional mayhem they will never be taken seriously.

It has been a privilege to play a small role in the achievement of home rule for Scotland and a better United Kingdom. The Parliament is working well. We have sensible ministers working together to improve standards for people throughout Scotland. The Labour-led Executive deserves to be re-elected on 3 May and I am confident that that is what will happen.