Alex Orr interview

Alex Orr looks like a PR man’s ideal election candidate.  Tall and tanned, when we meet him, he is dressed in a smart suit and drinking a latte.  Which is less surprising, perhaps, when you find out that Orr is both a PR man and a candidate on the Lothian list for the SNP.

In fact it was through his work that Orr first became interested in the SNP.  He said:-

“I ran the media campaign for Scotland FORward, which was the referendum  campaign in 1997 seeking a yes-yes vote for the Scottish Parliament. Through meeting a lot of individuals from the SNP, such as Alex Salmond, I  became quite convinced that independence was the way forward for Scotland.”

Orr joined the party in 1998, and soon became heavily involved. He stood for election to The City of Edinburgh Council for the first time in 1999, and as a candidate for Holyrood in both 2003 and 2007. He is now a member of the party’s National Executive Committee, helping to shape strategy on policy.

On the SNP’s strategy for the May election, Orr is adamant that the party should draw heavily on its record in government.

“The main campaign point we are fighting on is the record of the  SNP.  Despite being a minority administration, the SNP have managed to fulfil 84 out of 94 manifesto commitments.  We will also put forward to the people that we have a great track record; for example on abolishing prescription charges, 1000 more police on the streets, freezing council tax, and abolishing tuition fees.  We are going forward on that record. We are saying, look what we have achieved so far and what we can achieve if we are successful in the election.”

Orr also feels his party have a strong team in key positions.

“We have a fantastic First Minister at the moment in Alex Salmond . We have a fantastic Health secretary in Nicola Sturgeon, and one of the great triumphs at the moment is that health is not such a major issue because many of the issues that have dominated in the past, such as MRSA, have been addressed by Nicola as Health secretary. Kenny MacAskill has worked tirelessly as Justice Secretary – crime figures are falling, and we have extra police on the streets. Additionally we have John Swinney, and, through helping small businesses and  managing effectively the budget, we are in a position where unemployment in Scotland is falling in comparison to the rest of the UK.”

Of course, being a party in government leads to difficult and unpopular decisions having to be made. The most controversial of those made by the SNP since 2007 is undoubtedly the release of Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Whilst conceding public opinion is divided on the issue, Orr is adamant that the Justice Secretary acted correctly.

“Something like the Megrahi decision was very controversial, and you have to respect people who opposed that. For us as a party, on legal grounds there is a well accepted principle of compassion within the Scottish Legal system – which we are abiding by. There was nothing untoward in that decision and, if anything, it reinforced our position as a compassionate society.”

Looking to the future, Orr’s major hope for the next parliament is that it delivers an independence referendum.

“My hope is that the parliament, which is maturing, can move onto the next level. We have moved on from the union to devolution and my hope is that we can move onto an independence referendum within the term of the next parliament and that we can become an independent nation on equal footing with other nations.”

Mindful of the rocky road the proposed referendum has travelled so far, Orr makes a plea to potential MSPs of all parties:

“I hope we move out from tribalism of politics, where all the other parties vote down the referendum for party political reasons and the people of Scotland have an opportunity to vote on it.”

Warming to the theme, Orr thinks Holyrood would benefit from an injection of fresh blood to revitalise the parliament.

“I also hope we have more people in the parliament who come from outwith a narrow political sphere. I hope we have more characters coming into parliament with experience outside politics. My examples of that would be people like Robin Harper, who came from teaching, or Ian McKee who had experience as a GP, or Jim Mather who had tremendous business experience.”

To wind up, Orr returns to party politics.  He anticipates a close battle with Labour for electoral success, but is confident his party will prevail.  He told us:

“I think this is obviously going to be a very tight election.  However I think that the SNP will win this election and will have the most number of seats. However it is going to be very, very tight.”

Original article here –

Robin Harper interview

May 6th 1999 was a historic day in Scottish politics. Not only did this date mark the first Scottish parliamentary election for more than 250 years, but it also saw the election of the UK’s first Green parliamentarian. Twelve years on, Robin Harper MSP sits resplendent sporting his trademark multi-coloured tie, looking back over a frontline political career which will come to an end when he stands down as an MSP on March 22nd.

The road to electoral success was a long one for the politician and for the Green party. Harper can pinpoint the exact date that his personal journey began. He says: “The 11th of July 1985 when Rainbow Warrior was sunk was the very specific trigger for my interest in environmental politics.”

Outraged by the sinking of Greenpeace’s flagship vessel, Harper, then a Modern Studies teacher at Boroughmuir High School, joined the fledging Scottish Ecology Party, which would shortly evolve into the Scottish Green Party. Harper was identified as a leader within the movement from the outset. He says of his early days: “I got involved (with the organisation of the party) in the first party meeting I attended, which they asked to hold in my house which should have aroused my suspicions.  Then at the AGM of the Edinburgh branch I was asked to become the convener for the Edinburgh area, so I became an activist on my very first day.”

By 1986, Harper stood for election as a councillor in the  Tollcross ward garnering around 3% of the vote. Over the next thirteen years, Harper was the Green Party candidate at eleven Local Authority, European and Westminster elections all over Scotland. As Harper says: “Wherever in Scotland there was an election, I was there saying ‘Let me stand as a Green candidate.’ I’m glad to say I was never turned down.”

The advent of the Scottish Parliament offered Harper and the Greens a real opportunity for electoral success. The Green party polled 6.9% in the Lothians list vote, enough to secure a seat for the party’s top candidate – Robin Harper.  Of his landmark election he says: “In terms of elation there was nothing to beat making history in 1999. That was just extraordinary.”

The party used their success in 1999 as a stepping stone to further electoral gains. Indeed  the election in 2003 saw six more Green MSPs elected to Holyrood alongside Harper. Of that night he says: “It was a different sort of elation in 2003, to come back with six more MSPs it was a ‘Could you believe it’ moment to do so well.” Though the 2007 election saw the party’s representation at Holyrood cut back to two, Harper and Patrick Harvie, the party did perform well at Local Authority elections in Scotland on the same night.

As an MSP throughout the parliament’s twelve years, Harper admits that he will miss the day-to-day cut and thrust and the “wonderful staff and friends from all sides of the parliament.”. He is also a staunch defender of the parliament’s record saying: “The smoking ban, which other countries have adopted, mental health legislation and the abolition of tuition fees and prescription charges – all these things mount up. We have now passed an amount of specific Scottish legislation that would have taken Westminster 100 years to pass.”

Of his own contribution, Harper feels great satisfaction from what he describes as “little victories” such as widening discussion subjects and having amendments on individual bills passed. Indeed he says: “Every single time an amendment is accepted, is cause for a small celebration.”

Harper certainly feels he is leaving Holyrood with the Green party in a strong position. He says of the forthcoming election: “Of course every election is an opportunity, but this one in particular is a fantastic chance to get back to or better our previous numbers.”

As for his own future, Harper will not be slowing down too much just yet. While he does intend to spend some time pursuing his hobby of collecting acorns he will remain a busy man. On March 12th he launches his autobiography, Dear Mr Harper, while on March 24th he attends his first meeting as a board member of the National Trust for Scotland.

One way or another, the Scottish public has not seen the last of Robin Harper and his multi-couloured scarves and ties!

Original article here