– in the Scottish Parliament on 24th March 2021.
Thank you, colleagues. I thank Richard Lyle for voting for that motion single-handedly.
The Presiding Officer:
You can rest easy. I will not use my remarks to settle old scores, real or imaginary, despite encouragement from some mischievous colleagues. I am here to thank you. I have so many people to thank that I am at something of a quandary as to how to go about it.
Many of us are stepping down today. I am grateful to the party leaders for naming them all, because there are too many for me to list. Those who are stepping down will be full of emotion, as I am today. I remind those of you who want me to go full Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars that I am far too buttoned-up to do that. Having said that, to hear both Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie mentioning the passing of Alex Johnstone tested me. I was also reminded of my predecessor Alex Fergusson. I had very kind letters from both their widows in recent weeks. We still grieve their passing.
What struck me during the past few weeks is how many powerful and moving valedictory speeches there have been from colleagues who are leaving at the election—just this afternoon, we heard from Roseanna Cunningham, Aileen Campbell and more—so I thought that I would ask fellow members for their suggestions about who and what to thank today.
I begin by thanking you all for being such good-looking and handsome colleagues. Good-looking and handsome—yes, it is true. It might not have been the first quality or attribute that I would have singled out, but I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for his selfless suggestion.
Alongside our public servants, I have also been asked to thank the marvellous men and women of the Second Platoon Black Watch Third Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. That suggestion came from Maurice Corry, of course.
Mike Rumbles, Alex Neil and Oliver Mundell asked me to pass on their thanks to the party whips, although I think that the word “thanks” should be in inverted commas.
I also have two further, rather election-focused, requests. One is from James Kelly, who asked me whether it is too late for me to shout at him and have him thrown out of the chamber. The other is from Anas Sarwar, who said, “Things are worse than I thought. Could you use your powers to delay the election by a month or two?” [
I thank you for your indulgence, colleagues. After the past few days, I was not sure that we would all be on speaking terms, let alone able to laugh with each other, and I really am grateful to you all.
When we all stood in the well of the chamber five years ago with our hands raised to swear our oath of office, looking forward with excitement and anticipation to what lay ahead, little did we know that, in a matter of weeks, the Brexit referendum would change the political landscape and dominate the agenda for the next four years, itself only to be overtaken by the global pandemic that has devastated our economy and brought grief and misery to many tens of thousands of fellow Scots.
In such circumstances, it is only natural to feel frustrated or thwarted, but I want to thank you for what you have achieved despite, as well as because of, the circumstances. I thank you for the families that you have helped, the children with additional support needs that each of you has fought for, and the care for those who have dementia that you all have witnessed at first hand. I often feel that the greatest privilege that an MSP can have is to be invited into people’s lives, asked to share someone’s difficulties, and to know the upset and unfairness that they are wrestling with. Even if we cannot solve the problems, to be asked for our help is reward in itself.
The voters will not necessarily tell you that during the next few weeks. You are more likely to be cynically portrayed as in it for yourselves, but I know how hard you work and how committed you are to your constituents. I thought that Bruce Crawford had it right when he said that it is all about service. Bruce has served the Parliament with distinction in nearly every capacity, and I often think of him as the best Presiding Officer that we never had.
Here in Parliament, politics can be a robust business—confrontational even—but even in the midst of the difficulties of recent weeks, colleagues have come together around the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, and the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill.
It is worth remembering that most of what we achieve, we achieve by working together. I do not just mean by working across party lines; I mean, for example, the teamwork that is at the heart of the constituency office. For most of us, I imagine that there are three or four people who get everything done. If you want to be an accessible and caring MSP, or if you sound intelligent and knowledgeable, that will be because your office manager, your researcher and your case worker are caring and accessible, and they are intelligent and knowledgeable.
I just want to say to my constituency team and, on your behalf, to all the staff who work for us in every part of Scotland right now, thank you for everything that you do and for at least trying to make us look good.
I extend that appreciation to everyone who works at Holyrood. Most of us know how committed, approachable and diligent our staff at the Parliament are, but, as Presiding Officer, I have had the opportunity to see that in spades. In fact, I have been doubly blessed as, alongside my constituency staff, I have a private office that looks after me in Edinburgh, and I genuinely cannot thank them enough for all that they do.
I was going to name and pay tribute to the many individuals, departments and services that we have in the Parliament. I noticed that several colleagues tried to do that, but I was conscious that as soon as I named one department, there would be many others that I could not go on to list. What I know is that, as MSPs, we may, unfortunately, come and go, but the Scottish parliamentary service, under the exemplary leadership of our chief executive David McGill, is there to support us in all circumstances. The staff remain committed to the principles of accessibility, openness, transparency and sharing power with the people of Scotland. When I think of how the Parliament has grown to take its place at the centre of public life, so much of that is founded on the effort, enthusiasm and dedication of our parliamentary staff. I, for one, owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
My final thanks should, of course, be to my family, who have already had several mentions. I hope that you will excuse me, as I know that they will, if I do that privately. None of us could achieve anything in politics without the support and understanding of our family. However, I promised earlier not to choke up, and I would not be able to do that if I did my family justice, so I will speak to them later.
Colleagues, it can be difficult in any one session to see what you have achieved, but for those of us who have been here for 22 years—I include the First Minister and my fantastic, supportive Deputy Presiding Officers—this Parliament, and the joint efforts of everyone who has served here, has changed Scotland.
We have changed from a country with the worst cancer record in Europe to the first country in the United Kingdom to ban smoking. We have changed from a country that battled to repeal the prejudice of section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 to one where we celebrate the pride march leaving the doors of this very institution. We have changed from a country scarred by sectarian division to one where the Scottish Muslim community provides us with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
There is much more to do, and there will be more frustration, but I have no doubt whatsoever that Scotland is undoubtedly a more diverse, tolerant and self-confident country because of this Parliament and because of the work that everyone here does.
When I bang my gavel shortly, it will not just be to end the session and to say thank you to all those who are stepping down. It will be to mark the start of an election campaign and to wish good luck to all of you who are standing again. I will be here on 13 May to welcome you back, alongside perhaps 40 or 50 new faces, refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to work together for the benefit of our country. For that most of all, I want to thank you all.
I close the meeting and this session of Parliament.
Meeting closed at 18:12.