The quality of Labour’s new intake at Holyrood gives cause for optimism, says JOHN PARK
After some gentle persuasion from Kez Dugdale and Tom Harris I’ve decided to write my first blog for LabourHame (love the name, but the colour scheme is giving me a sore head…) This could be a regular, but perhaps not frequent, contribution depending on (1) whether I’m asked again, (2) what people think about it, and (3) if I can bothered!
The starting point for my contribution is obviously last month’s disappointing result. Hindsight is always 20:20 and I’ve often thought to myself over the last four or five weeks: “If only I had…”. I also know that many party activists and supporters have their own views on what we should have done and what we could have done better. The most important thing is to recognise there are no excuses for losing but there are reasons why we lost.
As a party we must address those collectively and decisively – and ultimately ensure we fight the next Scottish elections in a manner our party and our country deserves. I have some of my own views about how we could improve our performance – particularly in terms of the party structure and resourcing. I’ll feed those into the review being carried out by Jim Murphy and Sarah Boyack and live by the recommendations it makes. Whatever happens, the whole party must unite behind those recommendations and then ensure they are delivered.
It was incredibly hard watching colleagues losing their seats at the rate they did in the early hours of May 6. On a personal level I feel a huge responsibility to those loyal members of parliamentary staff – particularly those in constituency offices – who are now looking for employment in a competitive job market. Yes, the last month or so has been a sore one for supporters, activists and representatives of the Labour Party in Scotland but since the wheels started turning in parliament again I have witnessed some performances that should give the party at every level cause for optimism.
The new in-take of Labour MSPs have hit the ground running and are making their mark in parliament already – and we shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it is to do that in the early weeks. In 2007 when I was first elected – once the feelings of excitement, disappointment (at our result) and apprehension had dissipated, it suddenly dawned on me there are lots of things that actually need done to get your office up and running in parliament and in your constituency. And if you don’t do them you can’t function effectively. So your grand plan for changing the world suddenly gives way to ordering tippex and looking for a shop-front that can be converted into an office space to give you maximum visibility.
Because I remember quite vividly the volume of work these tasks create I have been even more impressed by the start made by our new MSPs. The maiden speeches have all been of a very high quality – with Kez Dugdale really striking a chord and winding up a few on the government benches along the way. Kez has also made a real impact with her campaign on the living wage for interns – an issue she knows about first-hand from her experience of working in and around the parliament.
Graeme Pearson is another who has really impressed me, his maiden speech was a belter and his contributions in and around our group in parliament are articulate and impressive. His considerable experience outwith parliament in the field of justice has already encouraged our ranks in this area. Neil Findlay is another who is pushing himself forward on a regular basis – a great first speech focussing on the better way campaign and a strong question at FMQs last week. People know who he is and what he stands for already.
And finally the maiden speech from Jenny Marra was, in my view, probably one of the best speeches since the start of session four, never mind being one of the best first speeches. Jenny is already working the local media effectively in her Dundee birthplace and building a good reputation.
Undoubtedly we have lost some talented and experienced people. But if you combine these performances with the excellent starts made by many of our other new MSPs – and apologies for not naming them all – then I believe we have the right mix of age, experience and talent to be an effective opposition in the Scottish Parliament over the next five years.
John Park MSP represents the region of Mid Scotland and Fife in the Scottish Parliament and is Labour’s Chief Whip. Beofre entering politics John was a union rep at Rosyth Dockyard in Fife before going on to work for the STUC and the Unite trade union. Follow him on Twitter at @John_Park.