Hit the Road Jack

…..and don’t you come back no more, no more.  And I mean that in a good way. 

It’s never a good thing to hang around where you’re not wanted and have no meaningful role to play.  He could have continued as a backbench MSP.  Indeed if Labour win next year’s Holyrood elections, a role might even have been found for him, say as a committee convenor.  But it would have been risky and pointless.  Who wants to be the political equivalent of Banquo’s ghost?  Nope, you’ve definitely made the right decision Jack:  50 is a good age to evaluate and assess where to go from here.  And I like the idea of an archive for political institutions.  It’s about time we did something to protect and nurture Scotland’s vibrant and tumultous political history for future generations’  benefit. 

No political career is without its ups and downs and Jack McConnell’s has had its fair share of both.  But the somewhat sniffy, cursory tone to the tributes surprises me.   Here is a man who led a progressive and reforming council in his twenties, who became the most powerful man in the Scottish Labour party in his thirties, and took on the two biggest ministerial portfolios before becoming Scotland’s First Minister in his forties.  These are quite extraordinary personal achievements. 

And as Scotland’s longest serving First Minister to date, his legacy will probably outlive many of us.  Under his watch, well over 100 Acts were passed – a remarkable tally.  Many are instantly forgettable. But it was his Scottish Executive that passed the smoking ban, reformed the ownership of land, created freedom of legislation in Scotland more powerful than elsewhere in the UK,  put in place special measures to protect vulnerable witnesses such as children in court proceedings, improved homelessness legislation and set a target for ending people sleeping rough, modernised our divorce laws and gave rights to co-habiting couples, established a charity regulator, created a body to promote Gaelic, made best value a statutory requirement for local authorities and ensured Scotland took a world leading approach to acknowledging and supporting the needs of all children in schools.  My, don’t we have short memories.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of legislation there that makes the burd wrinkle her nose in distaste.  And I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive him for inflicting the blight of anti-social behaviour legislation on a generation of young people just because he got a hard time from two old wifies in Lochee during the 2003 election campaign.  

His immediate political legacy will of course be marked by losing the 2007 Scottish election to the SNP and thereby ending Labour’s political hegemony.  But isn’t that a rather narrow, partisan view to take?  In due course surely, historians might see it differently and in an altogether more positive light.  Labour was tired and had run out of steam.  It had nothing new to offer the electorate in 2007.   That state of affairs cannot be laid at the door of one man alone, although his managerial style that lacked a big vision thing certainly contributed.  But ultimately, it is not a good thing for Scotland to be a one party state.  If Jack McConnell leading his party to defeat in 2007 marked the beginning of the end for old party tribal loyalties and showed Scots that they can and should mix their votes and governments up from time to time, then that can only be a very good thing in the long run for the health of our democracy.

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