The next item of business is consideration of motion S5M-24442, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on a motion of thanks.
All our party leaders will speak in the debate, and then we will take a vote. I hope that our last vote of the session will be unanimous. You are not to run off at that point, however, because we will then have a few words from our esteemed Presiding Officer.
I will take advantage of my position just now, as this is the last time that I will be able to speak in the chamber as an elected member. I thank the lovely people of East Kilbride for having given me the opportunity to represent that fine town for so many years. East Kilbride was once known as Scotland’s most successful new town, but it has a very bright future, in its older age, as smart, sustainable East Kilbride. Over the past 20-plus years, it has been an absolute honour and a privilege for me to work both in East Kilbride and here in our Parliament, and it has brought me much joy in both places, so I thank you all—thank you very much.
I begin by paying tribute to you, Presiding Officer. You have been an outstanding representative of your constituents in East Kilbride, a wonderful Deputy Presiding Officer and a great friend. I wish you all the best in your retirement from the chamber.
I begin by acknowledging with great appreciation the work of all MSPs across this session, and particularly over the past 12 months. Amid the stresses of the past year, MSPs have served constituents, scrutinised Government decisions and passed legislation that will benefit Scotland for the future. All that and more has been done in circumstances that none of us could have imagined five years ago—or even just one year ago. My thanks go to everyone.
I pay particular tribute to the 34 MSPs from across the chamber who are standing down at the election. Among them are former party leaders, cabinet secretaries, committee conveners and ministers. Four of them—Jeane Freeman, Mike Russell, Roseanna Cunningham and Aileen Campbell—are members of the current Cabinet, so, on a personal level, I want to thank each and every one of them for their service. Roseanna Cunningham, who has just made a wonderful valedictory speech, is one of my oldest and dearest friends, as is Mike Russell. Just as they met me when I was very young, I first met Aileen Campbell when she was very young. I really hope that we see Aileen Campbell back in front-line politics in the future. She is a rare talent and has a great contribution still to make.
Jeane Freeman and I have spent more time in each other’s company over the past year than either of us has spent in the company of our own partners. She has been an outstanding health secretary and, to me, over the past year, she has been an absolute rock. I could not have got through it without you, Jeane, and I offer you my grateful, heartfelt thanks.
Each of the 34 MSPs who is stepping down has served their constituents and this Parliament with distinction and I sincerely and genuinely wish each and every one of you all the very best for the future.
Of course, our Presiding Officer is one of the 13 MSPs standing down who were elected to the first session of the Parliament in 1999. We are, indeed, beginning to feel like an endangered species.
Over the past five years, as Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh has led the Parliament through quite exceptional circumstances, from the Brexit referendum to the trials and tribulations of Covid. However, his willingness to innovate and respond to changing needs has served us all well. Remote sittings and voting were necessitated by circumstances that we would never have envisaged five years ago, but they may, I hope, have an enduring value. I am conscious that three members who are leaving this place are doing so because they found that the Parliament had a detrimental impact on family and personal life. I hope that the innovations that have resulted from Covid can be used to ensure that no MSP in future feels that they have to make that choice. If so, that would be a fine legacy for our Presiding Officer. Ken, thank you for your service. All of us wish you well.
I know that Ken would want me to point out that he has been ably assisted at all times by our Parliament’s staff and, indeed, by his Deputy Presiding Officers, and I wish to add my personal thanks to our Parliament staff. This has been a difficult period because of Covid, obviously, but also because of some difficult issues that I wish that they had not had to deal with over the past number of months. Our Parliament staff have done a superb job, all of them: the clerking team, broadcasting, the official report, security, catering staff, our posties—I have just been told that Jimmy the postman is retiring in a week’s time; let us thank him for all his service, too. [
.] To each and every one of you, I say that you keep us going and you have kept us safe, and we are deeply grateful to you.
As I am sure that we all do, I want to record my thanks to my constituency office staff. Personally and on behalf of Government colleagues, I wish to place on record my thanks to the civil service and to my private office in particular, who are a source of never-ending support.
The past year has shown that in times of crisis people look to this chamber and expect it to respond to their needs, hopes and dreams. In the past five years, in immensely difficult circumstances, MSPs from all parties have risen to the challenges. This has been one of the busiest sessions since 1999. I know that I am running out of time but, as well as dealing with Covid and Brexit, the Parliament passed the first Social Security (Scotland) Bill, incorporated the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, established the Scottish National Investment Bank and passed climate legislation that will see us become a net zero nation. I do not think that that is a bad legacy for this parliamentary session.
When the Parliament reconvenes in May, it will be renewed by fresh faces, fresh thinking and new attitudes. I think that we should all listen to Roseanna Cunningham’s words of wisdom about the value of forging friendships across party boundaries.
The new Parliament will be able to build on this Parliament’s legacy. For those MSPs who return, I hope that that is a spur to further progress. For the 34 MSPs who are standing down, that legacy should be an enduring source of pride. The Parliament is grateful to them all for their service and I convey my deep thanks and appreciation to every one of them.
Presiding Officer and Deputy Presiding Officer, it is with great pleasure that I move the motion in my name.
That the Parliament expresses its thanks to its Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh, for his service to the Parliament and pays tribute to all of those Members who are standing down at the end of this session.
While I am not a class of ’99er like the Presiding Officer or the First Minister, I have been here for more than a decade, first as staff and then as an elected member for Glasgow and for Edinburgh Central. For most of that time, I led my party, and one of the many misunderstandings about being an Opposition leader is that we have much to do with a Presiding Officer. Aside from small talk at ceremonies, line-ups and receptions, there are perhaps only half a dozen sit-down meetings a year, so it was not until after I stepped down from party leadership and was elected to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body that I saw the full responsibility of the office and the immense work that you, Ken, and the top team do.
What an extraordinary time to be involved. When Covid hit, and the first lockdown was announced, I watched you, David, Michelle and the team transition Holyrood from a campus where up to 1,800 people could be present on the average sitting day of the average year, to a legislature that could still function with barely 100 people on site. I saw how unflappable you were and how, with your even-handed nature, you were absolutely insistent that those who were needed in here would be protected and those who required to work from home or be furloughed would be supported. You insisted that everybody—clerks, civil servants, information technology, cleaners, mail room staff, security, catering, facilities management, reception, guides, crèche—whether they were staff, contractors or subcontractors, would be supported practically and financially, and that the Parliament would use its might to ensure that other companies that held contracts here behaved ethically too. You were insistent that we would see our people right, just as they see us right every day. I was proud of us as an employer, and that stemmed from your leadership.
I was slightly perturbed when you confided with the SPCB on a Teams call that, despite all six of your children returning home for lockdown, you were welcoming a new arrival, but I was delighted when you brought your new puppy on to the call.
Presiding Officer, in the past 10 years, I have often pushed my luck when it comes to speaking time, and I beg your indulgence today, because this is also my last speech in the Parliament. I do not know whether it has been mentioned that I am not standing at this election. [
I have to bring forward many thanks to my office staff down the years: Lawrie, Andrea, Nick, Dan, Ben, Ed and Elaine; the close team that supported me as leader—Eddie, Adam, Marek and Kevin—Mark McInnes and his team at the Conservative Party central office; and, of course, my colleagues in the Parliament. I was the only new Tory elected in 2011 and I was catapulted to the leadership within six months. I will always be grateful to the members of that 2011 group for all that they taught me. After that great night when we doubled our number, the team that came in here in 2016 will always be my team.
From both groups, we are losing good servants from this Parliament: Margaret Mitchell, Adam Tomkins, Alison Harris, Peter Chapman, Tom Mason and Bill Bowman. Of course, earlier in this term, we lost the last of our class of 1999, with the passing of Alex Johnstone—a big broth of a man with a personality to match.
I also thank those from other parties who have extended the hand of friendship down the years: the incorrigible gossip of Alex Neil, the Lycra dash of Willie Rennie as he passed my office when we shared a floor, and the affectionate chastisement of Johann Lamont, my Labour auntie, who calmed my wilder outbursts during the referendum period in the better together campaign.
I thank Jenny Marra, who came in in the same intake as me. Our occasional catch-ups down the years have migrated from involving wine and Chinese to a lovely play-date with Adam, Sidney and Finn last summer, between lockdowns. She will be a miss to the Parliament, which likes to talk the talk on being family friendly but, given her loss and the loss of others such as Gail Ross and Aileen Campbell, perhaps needs to rethink how it chooses to walk the walk.
For my part, I will miss this place. When I announced in August 2019 that I was standing down as leader and would not seek re-election, I always knew that leaving would be a wrench. It is so consuming. It is not just the sitting days, but everything else that goes along with them that is so absorbing, that makes it hard to carve out proper time for the ones you love.
I do not know how you managed with six kids, Presiding Officer, as I am run ragged by one. However, I am looking forward to a change of working practice—when I am away for a few days a week, it will be hard to be away, but when I am home, I will be able to be properly present with Jen and Finn. Well, that is going to mean worlds.
Thank you, Ken, for all that you have done as Presiding Officer. I give my warmest regards to all the returners and my very best wishes to all 33 other members who are standing down.
I support the motion in the First Minister’s name.
I, too, support the motion in the First Minister’s name.
I echo the First Minister’s comments about Linda Fabiani. She is a fierce but kind politician with whom I have had the pleasure of spending the past five years. There were lots of nice gossips and chats along the way.
I pay tribute to all the MSPs from across the chamber who are either pursuing new challenges or going on to, I hope, a happy and peaceful retirement. I say a particular thank you to my colleagues Iain Gray, Johann Lamont, Elaine Smith, Lewis Macdonald, Jenny Marra, Dave Stewart, Mary Fee and Neil Findlay, who are stepping down from Parliament. Each and every one of them has made an enormous contribution to the Parliament and to public life. They have represented the very best of our party and, more important, the best of our country.
Four of our retirees—five, if we include the Presiding Officer—are from the ’99 intake. Although I am sure that they will not thank me for saying it, it is testament to their length of service in representing the Scottish people that they all entered the Parliament before I was even old enough to vote. I am sorry, First Minister, but that includes yourself—I could see the glare that I was getting from the First Minister; I imagine that I will get a few more over the coming weeks.
Of course, members are retiring from across the different parties. There are too many to mention individually, but each and every one of them have their own achievements. However, I want to recognise two parliamentarians in other political parties.
The first is Ruth Davidson, whose last day in the chamber is today. I can genuinely say that I like her as a human being and as a friend. She is good company and, undoubtedly, a conviction politician, and she has been a key personality and figure in Scottish public life for the past decade. She will be a great loss to Parliament, and her successor has a very hard act to follow.
The second is our health secretary, Jeane Freeman. Spending your last year in Parliament as the health secretary during a pandemic can hardly be described as easing yourself into retirement. I know that, at times, I have been challenging with her, particularly on all things relating to the Queen Elizabeth university hospital, but I cannot thank her enough for the openness and kindness that she has shown throughout, so I pay tribute to her and thank her for that. I know that all the families thank her for that, too.
Finally, Presiding Officer, I pay tribute to you. You have presided over the most turbulent period in our Parliament’s relatively short history. You and your team have kept our Parliament running amid the largest national crisis since the second world war. For that, you and your team deserve a huge amount of credit. You genuinely are one of the nicest people in politics—there are still nice people in politics, and you have proved that.
You have been unflappable and kind as we have changed to our new environment as a result of Covid. I can only imagine how you have kept your cool while a number of our colleagues have struggled to either log in or vote through this period, but you have been unflappable, understanding and patient as we got to learn our new environment.
You have also been a reforming Presiding Officer. You have opened up our Parliament and opened up opportunities for members on the back benches and Opposition members, which has offered greater scrutiny as a result.
More important, on a personal note, it has been a pleasure. I am proud to call you a friend as well as a colleague. At First Minister’s question time today, Jackie Baillie informed me that you share a birthday with her. She told me that, surprisingly, you are actually older than her. That will get me into trouble.
You have tenaciously represented the good people of Eastwood and West Scotland and I am sure that all of them would want to thank you for all your efforts over the years. It is hard to imagine that, as the father of six children, you will have a quiet retirement, but I hope for your wife’s sake that you finally have a Netflix account.
I thank you and all the parliamentary staff for all the immense work that has been done in the past five years. To the chief executive and all the staff from top to bottom, I say thank you so much for everything. We hope to return after 6 May to say thank you again.
A most unfortunate juxtaposition.
I have found the most rewarding moments of the parliamentary session to be when we have put aside the usual tensions and knuckled down to make life better. Over the past year, the pandemic has forced us to do exactly that. I have found working with various ministers and other members particularly rewarding in fixing problems that are all new to us, for the betterment of our constituents and the country.
I praise the enormous efforts of the parliamentary staff—especially the cleaners and the security staff. I commend the patience of the information technology staff in putting up with our endless grumbles about bits of the voting system. In opening and closing the Parliament at a moment’s notice, which included disrupting their Christmas and new year period, the chief executive and all his support staff deserve particular appreciation for what they have put up with in the past year.
Presiding Officer, your genial and generous style has been extraordinary in the past year. You have been unflappable. Despite the pressure that you have been under, you have done the job proud and done yourself proud.
My constituency staff and the parliamentary pool have been exceptional. To be honest, I do not know how they put up with me.
I, too, will mention Alex Johnstone. When I first entered the Parliament, his office was along the corridor from mine. I still miss his thunderous laughter—with Jim Millar, he would bang the table in hoots and howls for hours on end. Alex Johnstone was a joy to be around and was my one-man cheerleader in the previous parliamentary session. I will always miss him.
On many, many occasions, my colleague Mike Rumbles and I have disagreed and voted in different ways. However, throughout all that time, and despite the effect on my blood pressure on occasions, his challenge has been invaluable. I know that we do not want to admit it, but Mike Rumbles is often right. I am pleased that, on the last day, we managed to vote together in exactly the same way.
I am sure that a bit of all of us is a little jealous of those who are retiring and is attracted by the time that could open up in their lives—hours in the day that they did not know existed.
I say to those who wish to return that I wish them well on the campaign trail. I wish them fun and a rewarding time in the election campaign, because democracy can be a beautiful thing.
I am pleased to support the motion that is in the First Minister’s name. When the parliamentary session began in 2016, we could not have imagined that it would end a year into a pandemic and the day after a national day of reflection to remember all those who have lost their lives.
On behalf of my Green colleagues, I thank each and every member of staff in the Parliament—from our cleaners to catering staff, security staff, mailroom staff, those on the chamber desk and beyond. I also thank our own staff, who we work with day in, day out.
The Scottish Government has had to respond to the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic and the Parliament has worked hard to scrutinise that response. By and large, that scrutiny has been constructive and the Government has accepted it as such.
Many colleagues in the Parliament and the Government who have been responsible for that important work are not seeking re-election, and I pay tribute to colleagues across the chamber who are standing down today. Many of them were elected in 1999. I have learned a great deal from all of you about what to do and sometimes about what not to do. I thank you all and wish you the very best for the future.
I am pleased to be able to thank my dear colleague John Finnie for his work, wisdom, hospitality and great chat. His legislation to afford children in Scotland the same legal protection from assault as we adults enjoy is one of most important pieces of legislation that the Parliament has passed in this session.
The incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a significant step that we should celebrate. We must build on that work to protect and respect the human rights of children and young people in Scotland. They have been remarkable during the pandemic. They have engaged with Parliament, calling for action on the climate and nature emergencies. I am also proud that Parliament can learn from the collective wisdom of the citizens assembly.
The Presiding Officer is one of the class of 1999 who is standing down today. Ken Macintosh’s determination to enable and improve scrutiny has made a great difference. His drive to ensure that more members from across the chamber are better able to represent their constituents and are afforded greater opportunity to hold the Government to account has borne fruit. That is an important legacy and that work must not be seen as finished.
It seems wholly appropriate that a Presiding Officer with a strong and genuine commitment to ensuring that more voices are heard was the bearer of that office at a time when our ways of doing business were transformed almost overnight. He has calmly, courteously and, when required, firmly guided us through this session and this most challenging of years, chairing hybrid sessions with ease, even when our information technology skills make that difficult. His calm when the chamber was momentarily plunged into darkness was remarkable—he did not miss a beat.
I have sometimes had the pleasure of bumping into the Presiding Officer at tennis events across the country. Although we both enjoy tennis, it is fair to say that the Presiding Officer’s family deem him a worthy partner in competitive doubles.
Although Ken Macintosh is not seeking re-election, I know that the years ahead of him will be action packed. His family will see to that, as will the many other interests that call on his attention. Along with colleagues across the chamber, I thank Ken Macintosh for his service. He leaves Parliament with the very best and warmest wishes of the Scottish Green Party.