By John Mowat
Elections are about ideas, manifestos, Parties & Candidates as well as voting in the Constituency and the List. It is useful to have a Candidate who lives, works and understands the main issues we face.
The reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 followed a long campaign, starting in the 1960s. It is often forgotten that a majority of Scottish Voters in 1979 backed the formation of a Scottish Parliament in March 1979, towards the end of a 5 year Labour led Government, but the result was ignored by Westminster.
Labour had won the second 1974 election by a small majority of only 3 and needed support from the SNP or Libdems to pass legislation. The intellectual Harold Wilson resigned in 1976 to be followed by the calm, competent and wily Jim Callaghan. This was a period of rapid change and decline of older more traditional industries and high inflation. This proved to be fairly turbulent period of strikes and industrial unrest with faults in quality of business management and on the union sides.
This Referendum was held on 1 st March 1979 and achieved a 52 : 48 % majority for Scottish Devolution. SNP and Labour favoured Devolution but the Tories vehemently opposed it. Unfortunately Jo Grimmond, the Liberal Party Leader who had favoured the setting up of a Scottish Parliament from the 1950s, made a sudden switch from backing to opposing Devolution, much to the surprise of his activists and supporters, in Scotland.
The strident and populist Margaret Thatcher, Tory Leader, won the 1979 General Election by a majority of 43. She ignored the Devolution Referendum result, hoping it would go away. She took on the coal miners, engineering and production industry with her obsession for dogma, monetarism and finance. Inflation shot up to over 14 % in the early 1980s while UK unemployment rocketed upwards to 3.3 million. Many school leavers aged 16, left school with no jobs, no apprenticeships and no prospects.
Recovery was slow and gradual later in the 1980s, but the balance in the UK economy was gone forever. Interestingly while similar trends happened in Europe the economic devastation and rise in poverty levels was nothing like as great. Former industrial towns and cities in west Central Scotland and much of Northern England had become industrial wastelands, devoid of hope.
Vigils and protests in favour of Scottish Devolution continued in many parts of Scotland throughout the 1980s, gathering strength in the 1990s.
SNP, Labour & Libdems worked closely together to win the Scottish Devolution vote in September 1997. The Tories vehemently opposed devolution trying very hard to get Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and rural Scotland to reject any devolution of powers.
They failed miserably, but ironically the advent of a Scottish Parliament gave the Tories a new leg up to elected representation again in Scotland, after losing all their Scottish MPs in the 1990s. The first Scottish Parliament elected MSPs for the first time in nearly 300 years in early May 1999.
Scottish Devolution was and still is envisaged as “ a Process and not an Event “, with powers to be added and rolled out to the Constituencies, over the years.
Tories have consistently opposed Devolution, wishing to maintain centralised control from Westminster and imposing things on Scotland, with or without debate. Now 22 years later, Tories are still aggressively opposing the role out of further Powers to the 3 Devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland.
The SNP made effective use of Citizens Assemblies over the past 30 years and particularly in the period between 1997 and 2007, prior to the SNP minority Government between 2007 and 2011. Many good ideas came from rural and island Scotland, north, south, east and west as well as the towns and cities of the Central Belt . Topics were discussed put together and adopted as detailed policy in all areas of Devolved and UK Government.
Ideas such as devolving more powers to the islands, island proofing national policies, learning from our Nordic neighbours and rolling out teacher training courses through the UHI network of Colleges, to address rural and island teacher shortages were highly successful . Highlands & Islands and rural Scots students were encouraged to train as teachers, nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, engineers etc with a view to living and working in their home areas in the years to follow. National Assemblies also began to develop ideas for greener future too. Housing quality, better insulation, along with low wages, poverty and depravation were discussed openly and tackled, within the constraints of Devolved Government.
The SNP Government plans to roll out Citizens Assemblies, as Ireland successfully did from 2016. Ireland has developed into a successful outward looking, progressive, well governed modern Northern European country. Brexit has posed problems for Ireland but has also forced many solutions forward too. Ireland enjoys full support and goodwill from the Rest of the EU, Canada & USA, and now enjoying a GDP considerably higher the Scotland or Rest of UK.
There is an increasing awareness, in Scotland, of being surrounded by an arc of prosperous, democratic, well governed Countries from Ireland, to Iceland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium and the much larger population post 1945 Germany.
These Countries take their own decisions affecting them, without having damaging decisions imposed, from outside.
Boris Johnson is envisaged as the least competent, least honest and least consensual and least caring UK Prime Minister, in recent years.
Proposed cross party Citizens Assemblies would involve political parties, civic Scotland, councils, COSLA, universities and business to work together, consensually, to develop these good ideas which would develop from the grass roots, in a bottom up, rather than a top down manner. People would feel part of the decision making process rather than, like, Brexit, have their views and opinions largely ignored. [Doing Politics Differently – ‘honesty, transparency and integrity of politicians’]
Hard Tory Brexit outside Mainstream European Markets, during a pandemic, with an approaching Climate emergency is not smart and has sharpened the ongoing debate.
Sadly Labour and the Libdems failed to oppose the 24/12/2020 damaging Low Deal Brexit settlement, which had only a one week transition period. Of course there was no time to develop working procedures.
Climate Change has not been seen as a UK Westminster Tory priority during the past 5 Tory Brexit obsessed years.
Small businesses talk about the challenges of 27 new papers required to export to Europe while European governments have a minimum of 8 new papers to overcome. Scotland’s highly successful food & drink industries, particularly smaller companies in the rural and Island Scotland have been disproportionally badly hit.
During the current campaign, The Tories do not want to talk about their non business friendly Brexit rules, instead focussing exclusively on and attacking Scottish Independence, while undermining Scottish Education, and the NHS, whenever possible.
The aggressive Scottish Tory Leader, Douglas Ross, performed poorly on television and media debates, in comparison to the performances of SNP Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, Labour Leader, Anas Sarwar and Green joint Leader, Lorna Slater.
SNP List Members, Rob Gibson from 2003, Mike MacKenzie from 2111 to 2016 and Maree Todd from 2016 have all made strong contributions to Orkney and in the rest of the Highlands & Islands, in the Scottish Parliament. Orcadian, Neil Gray, has been well known as an effective SNP MP since 2015. The SNP, in Orkney, have relied on experienced local Candidates, since the days of Howie Firth back in 1974.
SNP Candidate Robert Leslie has all the qualities to make an excellent MSP for Orkney given his knowledge of education, agriculture, transport, housing quality, fuel poverty and advancing Green Renewable Energy issues. Libdems, as the fifth Party, have relatively little influence in the Scottish Parliament, in recent years.
The winds of change are blowing across Scotland, including Orkney.
The Candidates for the Orkney Scottish Parliamentary Constituency are:
- Samuel Bown – Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
- Coilla Drake – Scottish Labour Party.
- Robert Fraser Leslie – Scottish National Party (SNP).
- Liam Scott McArthur – Scottish Liberal Democrats.
The Highlands and Islands Regional candidates can be found here: Scottish Parliament Election: Highlands and Islands Regional Candidates
The election will be held on Thursday 6 May.
You can find out more about Scotland’s first national citizen’s assembly here: Doing Politics Differently – ‘honesty, transparency and integrity of politicians’