Letter from Westminster
You might expect this column to be all about the national politics of the last few days but let me first do the important stuff.
I want to thank local people for doing me the honour of re-electing me as their member of parliament. The result that was declared last Friday morning was one which gladdened and humbled me in equal measure. I have always sought to put the interests of local people and communities first and shall continue to do so.
It is something of a cliché that a week is a long time in politics but the last seven days has felt more like a year. I had to head to London on the first flight on Saturday morning, still suffering from severe sleep deprivation, and went straight in to a fairly intense and serious meeting of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party. These are usually pretty bland affairs but on this occasion I had to fight my way through the throng of cameras and journalists to get in to the building.
That was how it was to remain until I left the parliamentary party meeting that agreed the coalition agreement late on Tuesday.
There are a few things that require to be explained about the process that has brought us to this point. A number of people have asked why we have constructed a coalition with the Conservatives and not the Labour Party, as had previously been the case in the Scottish Parliament. There are a number of reasons for that.
Firstly, the arithmetic simply did not stack up. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs together did not form a majority in the House of Commons and would have been reliant on support on a case by case basis from the nationalists and other MPs. More importantly even than that, however, the fact is that it takes two to make a deal and the Labour Party was not interested in making one work. I worked round the clock over the weekend to get formal discussions with the Labour Party. When they happened I wondered why I had bothered. The coalition agreement with the Conservatives, therefore, is not a case of Liberal Democrats choosing the Conservatives over the Labour Party. Rather it is a case of constructing a government which will be strong enough to oversee the reconstruction of our economy in a way that is fair and sustainable. We have done that with the only party that was prepared to do so seriously.
When you examine the text of the coalition agreement, you will recognise many of the policies about which I spoke during the election campaign. The Liberal Democrats put issues such as fair taxes, money for marine renewables and political reform at the heart of our manifesto for government. I am delighted that there is now the prospect of genuine progress in these areas.
I believe this deal is good for Shetland and Scotland and I am proud of the achievement of my party colleagues in achieving it. Judge the agreement by what is in it – not the parties that have agreed it.