The applause that I received after my swearing in and the silence that came before it were, I think, due to the relief that I had made it, as opposed to my presence.
I believe that it was Ronald Reagan who remarked:
“It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”
I have now experienced one of those professions, and I am happy to confirm that it is quite enough for me.
On a serious note, to take on the role of an MSP is pretty daunting, as everyone in the chamber will know. The support that I have received and the kindness shown by members from all sides of the chamber—and, more widely, by the parliamentary staff—have made this challenge so much easier. I express my sincere thanks to everyone.
We would all wish, myself included, that there had not been a vacancy for me to fill, given the terribly sad circumstances in which it came about. There have already been many fine tributes paid to David McLetchie in the chamber and I hope that members will understand if I, too, take a minute to remember him.
I knew David well, and I considered him a good friend. I could always rely on his encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music to whittle away the hours spent on the campaign trail. I am told by my Scottish Conservative colleagues that there were two reasons for going to David’s office: either for advice, or because you were in trouble. It was not unheard of to go and see David expecting the former only to find out that, to your horror, you were very much in store for the latter. I can honestly say that I would dearly have loved to call in and see my friend for either of those things in the past few weeks. I know how highly regarded he was as a parliamentarian, but I remember him simply for being a good friend, in good times and in difficult times. I do not mind admitting how much I miss that friendship. That said, David would expect us to look forward and to get on with the job in hand. I fully intend to do my very best for the Lothian region, which he represented so well for so long.
Members will understand my sheer pride and sense of privilege in representing Edinburgh and the Lothians in the Parliament. We have just finished another tremendously successful Edinburgh international festival and fringe, when our capital is very much in the spotlight. People from across the globe come to enjoy the very best of the performing arts, to soak up the atmosphere of our historic capital and, of course, to marvel at the spectacle of our on-going tram works, which were originally due for completion in February 2011. Is that what the First Minister meant in his speech by a “constitutional journey”?
One aspect that struck me during the festival and various fringes was the level of coverage and attention that they received from the media and members of the public throughout the UK. It is clear that interest and excitement over the annual arts festival is not confined to the Lothian region, nor to Scotland for that matter. It is obviously important for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is that relationship—the link between Edinburgh and the Lothians and the wider United Kingdom—that is so important to our future success and growth.
Scotland is the UK’s second-biggest financial hub besides London. It accounts for 24 per cent of total jobs in the insurance sector. Edinburgh boasts the headquarters of Tesco Bank and Virgin Money and the global headquarters of RBS Group. All of that goes to show just how important the Scottish services sector is in the UK. From the perspective of Scotland, £45.5 billion was generated in exports to the rest of the UK. Of that, just under £10 billion came from financial and insurance activities alone.
Scottish products and services are sold in large numbers throughout the United Kingdom: 84 per cent of mortgages provided by Scottish firms are sold to people living elsewhere in the UK; 67 per cent of individual savings accounts are sold to people living elsewhere in the UK; and 70 per cent of the pensions sold by Scottish firms are sold elsewhere in the UK. When we set out those terms, we see just how important the UK is to Scotland and, indeed, Scotland is to the UK. How vital it is for our future success to have continued access to that market for our services and goods on an equal and competitive footing.
The rest of the UK is not our only market, of course. From my experience of the textile industry, I can vouch for the importance of our trade within the EU and the rest of Europe. Earlier this year, it was reported that Spanish MEPs—a conservative Catalonian and a nationalist Catalonian—were engaged in a bitter war of words over the responses of Spain and France to Scottish independence. That is confirmation that, along with energy, whisky, textiles and our other more established products and services, we now also export our constitutional wrangling to our neighbours in Europe. Who knows what untapped markets we may find for our newest product? The very public disagreement between Ramón Tremosa of the democratic convergence of Catalonia party and Alejo Vidal-Quadras of the Spanish people’s party exposes a good deal of unease elsewhere in Europe over the on-going debate about independence.
It is not difficult to see where this unease comes from and why it is there, given the fact that the United Kingdom is not the only country where a constitutional debate is going on. There are many examples that I could give, but commentators have already noted the close attention that Brussels, Madrid and Berlin, among others, are paying to the debate and its outcome. That unease and concern are bound to colour their attitude to the accession of Scotland to the EU, which, in turn, will create uncertainty that will impact on the confidence of Scottish businesses and those companies that are looking to invest here.
Scotland’s future success and prosperity will be largely determined by our relationships with those nations that surround us. Therefore, our link to the UK must be first and foremost. With such strong evidence about the benefits that the union brings us, it is surely crucial that we maintain and strengthen that bond rather than break it.