Letter from Edinburgh
Parliament finished its third session on Tuesday and the party leaders signed a motion of thanks to departing presiding officer Alex Fergusson. He has been, and is, a good mate.
We shared a fact-finding visit to Norway in the first parliament to look at salmon farming. I recall a dinner in Oslo with the then Norwegian fisheries minister when we discussed fishing, salmon farming and then EU/Norway politics.
It turned out that the company secretary who hosted the visit was a former political colleague and fisheries minister. It was an insight into the link between politics, government and industry in Norway. Alex and I discussed the similarities and differences here at home.
On that cross-party visit we were joined by Robin Harper of the Greens. Robin has been another good friend over this period and he’s brought real colour and commitment to parliament.
On that occasion, despite not being a natural fan of salmon farming, Robin was great company and asked our hosts lots of questions about the environment and how the Norwegian authorities dealt with the impact of the industry.
Robin is not seeking re-election. Parliament will genuinely be a poorer place without him, as his commitment to tackling climate change was always based on what he could do to convince others that his point should be listened too. I did!
A number of figures are leaving who played significant roles in the government of Scotland. I sat round the cabinet table with Jack McConnell and Nicol Stephen.
Jack is Labour through and through. But he would, and did, listen to a Liberal Democrat perspective when he was First Minister. He got the point about the exorbitant cost of flying from the islands and agreed to my implementation of the Air Discount Scheme. It helped that Jack’s formative days were spent in Arran so island life was influential.From my point of view, that mattered.
A couple of older Nationalists are also retiring whose company and views I always found thoughtful. Andrew Welsh was latterly the convener of the parliament’s finance committee and has had a lengthy career in politics being first elected to the House of Commons in 1974. But he wasn’t tribal, could see someone else’s point of view and has made solid contributions to parliament.
Alasdair Morgan was a deputy presiding officer until this week, and knew the parliamentary rule book from cover to cover. Someone has to and he became somewhat of a go-to person for members lacking the complete knowledge of how the parliament works. Again, he was a person who made the parliament function for the people we serve.
Perhaps I will miss my Highland Liberal Democrat colleagues Jamie Stone and John Farquhar Munro most. On behalf of our respective local authorities, Jamie and I signed the Claim of Right that led to the setting up of parliament back in the 1990s.