|You are in: Special Report: 1999: 06/99: Scottish Parliament opening|
Monday, 28 June, 1999, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
New parliament, new Labour, new baby
By Ken Macintosh, Labour MSP for Eastwood
There were times during the election campaign here in Eastwood when I thought we were involved in an entirely different political contest to that being fought in the rest of the country.
While the daily headlines and news reports referred constantly to the battle between Labour and the SNP across Scotland, our difficulty was reminding the voters in East Renfrewshire that the Tories were still a threat.
While Alex Salmond was "the enemy" for many of my fellow Labour candidates, we were more concerned with the attention, or lack of it, paid to William Hague and David McLetchie.
Sometimes it felt like we were fighting the 1997 election all over again and I suppose in the constituency formerly known as the safest Tory seat in Scotland, we were.
Our job was not just to win the seat for the Scottish Parliament, but to show that until 1997, Eastwood had just been voting Conservative out of habit and that habit was now broken.
I use the word fighting to describe the campaign and it was a keenly contested election, but I would not want to overdo the warlike imagery.
Unlike the pitched battles being fought in many other areas, we had no vitriolic personal attacks, ripping down of posters or barracking of other candidates.
In fact, at the various hustings when we all gathered together, all the candidates got on rather well. Could this be the new politics after all, I thought? The consensual way forward?
Possibly, but I suspect it had more to do with the good manners and politeness expected in this most respectable of constituencies.
The campaign, as you might have expected, peaked on 6 May, but for me, the Saturday before election day was the more momentous occasion.
My wife Claire had a baby. It was our first, a boy who we have called Douglas.
The following five days floated by in a haze of smiles, handshakes, and sleepless nights.
Not even the excitement and expectation leading up to election night itself, could match the euphoria of coming home from hospital with a new child in the family.
And the election? Well although I was confident, I never allowed myself the indulgence of thinking I had won the seat before the votes were counted.
Even up to close of polls at 10 o'clock, I was very relaxed and ready to accept the verdict either way.
However, after the first few results started coming in around the country my nerves started jangling.
This is what it had all been about. All those weeks¿no, months of effort. Putting my career on the line. Coping with going from two earners in the house to none. Chapping on doors when I should have been helping change nappies at home.
Claire was there and Douglas - and Mum to look after the two of them. All the party workers were assembled, the activists who had done the hard graft, not just over the last four weeks, but over the past four years and more.
Finally, at about 2.30 in the morning, Donna (my agent) and myself were summoned to a little huddle on the stage of the sports centre.
The returning officer had the results scribbled on a piece of paper in his hand. What did it say? I could read 16 something next to my name¿where were the Tories? Was that a four? 14,000? 2,000 short!
We'd beaten them. We'd done it. We'd won.
And so to parliament, the first in 300 years. Has anybody in Scotland not heard this fact? What would it be like?
Most of my fellow MSPs share the same sense of occasion, the same sense of hope and the same sense that this is an opportunity for us to make a difference.
But there have been a few disappointments too. For all the touching and heart-warming enthusiasm which has marked the contribution of MSPs like Robin Harper, the first Green candidate to be elected to parliament in this country, there has been the patronising attitude of some of the old hands.
Entertaining and annoying in equal measure have been the showboating of many others: Dennis Canavan, Tommy Sheridan; Phil Gallie and Dorothy Grace Elder being among the usual suspects.
And perhaps most disappointing of all has been the oppositionist attitude struck immediately by the SNP and Tories.
Despite the fact that First Minister Donald Dewar has the authority to appoint pretty much who he likes to his cabinet, one of our first debates was a two-hour opposition attack on the senior ministers.
That was followed by a vote which split down party lines. After a lunch break another hour was set aside for junior ministers.
'Cheap political points'
Exactly the same cheap political points were made, the same arguments heard, no one listened and another vote divided on the same party lines. Constructive it was not.
That's politics I guess, but was I any better? Well I took the opportunity of an early motion on whether there should be prayers in the new parliament to make my first contribution, but earth-shattering it was not.
I merely wanted to make the point that we live in a multi-cultural society and the new parliament should acknowledge and reflect this.
However, in my nervousness I mentioned Eastwood about three times and ended up sounding like one of those sycophantic backbenchers in Westminster who invite the prime minister to come to their constituency to admire their record on widget-making.
But, these are early days yet. Parliament does not get its full legislative powers until July and only then will we get a chance to start putting into practice the policies and initiatives we were elected on.
Then we can start building the better schools, working to improve our hospitals, investing in the jobs and prosperity which will benefit us all and trying to create the sort of society we want, we need and we deserve.
A daunting task, but I think one worth pursuing and who knows, we might all share in the new politics after all.
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