“I believe that public opinion requires four things of the Government in terms of economic management. It requires them to cut taxes, to curb inflation, to create new jobs and, as far as possible, to maintain satisfactory public services.”—[
House of Commons
; 13 June 1979; Vol 968, c 521.]
That was true then, and it is true today.
John Major’s words echo in my mind as I stand here in this modern, devolved Parliament of ours. It seems barely a moment ago that I was chatting with Annabel Goldie at a Scottish reception at our party’s national conference, although it was two years ago. “Ah”—she declared—“you’re from Greenock! We need more people like you in politics.” I am deeply honoured to be standing here as a member for the West Scotland region—the region that Annabel served, with all her fine wit, charm and dedication. I give her my personal thanks for nudging me along as a candidate, and I am sure that all members would like to thank her for her many years of service. [
I grew up in the Gibshill estate in Greenock, in a community that was often scarred by the wounds of intergenerational poverty. As children we played on streets such as Keir Hardie Street and Lansbury Street—great names of the socialist movement. Since then, much has changed, politically and economically. As the member for Greenock and Inverclyde noted, shiny new cruise liners dock on our shores—and yet the Waverley still cruises by, reminiscent of a bygone era. The iconic shipyard cranes still litter the Greenock skyline, as a testament to the great shipbuilding legacy of the Clyde.
I went to James Watt College. James Watt was a much more famous export of my home town—a man who counted Adam Smith among his friends and whose invention, the steam engine, powered the first machines of the industrial revolution. Our country today is a mixture of that great legacy of our past and of our creativeness, our inventing spirit and our urge to travel and explore.
However, Scotland is not without its problems. I was no stranger to the effects of life at the gritty end of the spectrum. Alcohol abuse, domestic violence, sectarianism, bullying and homophobia were all too common demons in our schools, towns and communities. Although we can legislate in this chamber to help ease those pains, it is what happens outside these walls that really matters to people. We cannot fix every problem in our culture or society, but we can be bold with our decisions. We have a duty across the Parliament to work co-operatively to stamp out bigotry, abuse and unfairness in our society. That is the reason why many of us decided to become politicians. It is wrong when political supporters and campaigners use the language of violence and hatred to fight political battles, and we should say so.
Over a coffee last week, I chatted to our new finance secretary, Derek Mackay. No—I was not asking him for tips on his hair or how to stay youthful after five years in Parliament. However, I made him a promise that I have five years ahead of me to hold the Government to account, and believe me I will. However, today I will outline some positive thoughts about what I see my role as in Scottish politics. I—indeed, we—have been elected to do a very specific and important job in this Parliament: to scrutinise, to challenge and to hold to account; not to head bash for the sake of political gain but, instead, to offer alternative views from our centre-right ground, to challenge with ideas, not complaints, and to engage on the argument, not be the cause of it.
In my brief—on connectivity, technology and the digital economy—I will be a strong voice for our creative industries, from our animation studios to our gaming programmers, and from our writers to our film-makers. Further, rural broadband is not just nice to have; it is a must-have and, for some, five years is just too long a wait. Moreover, how superfast will it be? Poor mobile phone reception is not just an annoyance but a hindrance to our business. I have speeds of less than 1 megabit per second where I live in north Ayrshire. Those are speeds from the 1990s, back when Apples were things that we ate, not things that ran our lives. More ought to, and must, be done in suburbia and in the countryside.
I close by offering my congratulations to the other constituency and regional MSPs from all parties in my region. I hope that we can work together productively and put West Scotland firmly back on the world map. We may not share views on independence, taxation, the economy or even on who should own the ferries, but we share a passion for public service and making Scotland a better place to live in, to work in, to be educated in and to grow old in. There is more that unites us as a nation, a Parliament and a people than divides us. However, bridges must be built, perhaps even using our own steel next time. We will sit at that table with a positive voice and view, and I hope that that is something on which even my opponents might agree with me. [