Sketch – Goodbye, farewell

Belatedly it is time to acknowledge some of the political characters who are exiting stage left from Holyrood this year. A record number of  MSP’s are standing down at this election, evidence of the growing age and maturity of the parliament. High profile former ministers such as Cathy Jamieson and Nicol Stephen are amongst those withdrawing from the chamber but space dictates that we must concentrate on three of our departees.

Firstly former Labour leader and First Minister Baron McConnell of Glensorrdale, or plain old Jack, is leaving the building.  It would be easy to write Jack the Lad off as a failure. He was after all the first Labour leader to lose power in Holyrood. He was also often seen as a somewhat lightweight ‘jumped up councillor’ in comparison to his esteemed predecessors, Donald Dewar and Henry McLeish- and the less said about Kirsty Wark’s villa in Spain the better. However, it could be argued he was merely a victim or circumstance, in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Labour party had been in power in Westminster and Holyrood for a decade by the time the 2007 election rolled around and many people just wanted something fresh – which presented itself with the return to Holyrood as SNP leader of the undeniably charismatic Alex Salmond. Certainly his administrations have some lasting legacy, not least the introduction of the smoking ban. Even more certainly most in the Labour party would prefer to have Jack the Lad in charge now as opposed to the Gray man.

Jack the Lads successor as leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Wendy Alexander and her famous pout, is also leaving us. Again, judged purely on her short tenure as leader, Wendy could be written off as a failure. In her previous life as minister for everything but the kitchen sink, she juggled a seemingly ever-expanding portfolio admirably. She was and is clearly highly intelligent and hard-working and was seen as a demanding but usually fair task master by her civil servants. She was clearly not cut out for leadership however. In this she is not unique, Gordon Brown, William Hague and John Swinney are others who spring to mind as clearly talented individuals who’s talents, unfortunately, did not include political leadership. Being slapped down by Gordon Brown early in her leadership over her infamous ‘bring it on’ comments regarding an independence referendum did not help her cause. An incident that sticks in my mind encapsulates her problems as leader though. When she became mired in the donations controversy I was getting off a train at Glasgow Queen Street when Wendy came along the platform. A local wag cried ‘”Haw Wendy what aboot these donations?” She turned and fixed the wag with a stare that could have halted a rampaging Mongol horde. And that was a problem, during First Ministers questions Wendy would lay into Eck over a subject. So far so good. Then Eck would respond with a jibe over Labours  policy or record on the matter. Wendy’s pout would downturn accompanied by the furious shaking of her head and the same stare the Glasgow wag received. It gave the air of someone mortally wounded, not an opposition leader in the ascendency.

Our final farewell is to a man who was never a minister but nonetheless leaves a lasting legacy. In 1999 Robin Harper became the UK’s first ever parliamentarian and he has remained in Holyrood, along with his Tom Bakeresque scarf ever since. Seen either as a breath of fresh air or somewhat eccentric but marginal figure, sometimes both at the same time, he was undoubtedly a trailblazer both for the Greens and minor parties in general. One thing that is often said, usually erroneously, is that it is difficult to find anyone in politics with a bad word to say about a retiring or dead politician. In Harper s’ case it is true and he, unlike his fellow maverick MSP from 1999 – Tommy Sheridan, is leaving with his reputation and integrity intact.

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