Like a blogging version of Johnny, the burd occasionally likes to arrive late. Fortunately, ruminating over the implications of Wendy Alexander’s sudden departure from the Scottish political scene resulted in some interesting conclusions. Better late than never after all…
Wendy standing down as an MSP marks a watershed. Nearly all of the Class of 99 who made up Scotland’s first Cabinet have now left the stage: only Sarah Boyack and Tom McCabe remain.
The burd would contend that such a clearance is healthy, but while this election will result in considerable churn across the parties, there are far too many candidates on the verge of returning for a fourth term. Consequently, all the political groups at Holyrood, bar the Greens, will be carrying dead wood, and more of it.
Any number of folk who engage regularly with the Parliament can pick out those MSPs who wear an invisibility cloak for much of the Parliamentary session. Their overall contribution over the lifetime of their service could be measured on the fingers of one hand. As with Westminster, many have become fine practitioners of the art of looking and being busy without actually achieving very much at all. And in order to ensure their return, these MSPs, more than any others, have become experts at the art of internal politics, of winning and wooing their own in order to secure their candidacies.
Moreover, there comes a point when nearly all politicians begin to doubt if life and work beyond their tenure is possible, and many – as we have again, seen often at Westminster – begin to forget the reason why they stood in the first place. Getting back becomes much more of a priority than getting on: it is after all a cosy sinecure with decent pay and perks.
It can be argued that the SNP moving from Opposition to Government was the political equivalent of a change being as good as a rest (and likewise for Labour moving in the other direction). Many of the Government’s Ministers were indeed, third term politicians and no one could accuse them of being dead wood nor of relishing the chance to get on.
But some have effectively grown up in the Parliament: few of the SNP Government Ministers had more than a few years of life and work outwith its confines. With many still only in their early forties, they have plenty of parliamentary years in them yet. Labour has some who also fall into this category. Do they all propose to aim for long service awards of twenty years and more?
It is right to question the efficacy and indeed, the wisdom of allowing any of our MSPs to continue beyond 12 years in office. The burd would contend – and knows that others agree – that it’s time for the application of a three strikes and you’re out rule (albeit with the proviso that an MSP can always return after a period spent in the wilderness).
For, it cannot be good for them, their respective parties and most importantly of all, the wellbeing of our country and our nascent democracy for a generation of politicians to effectively grow up and grow old in Holyrood. Life in the political bubble is very different from the ordinary, humdrum of people’s lives outside. It is too easy to become divorced from that reality, to become far too focussed on winning the battle of the day and increasingly myopic in terms of vision and horizon. As with any other job, politics can become a wearily familiar comfort zone, a treadmill that you set at jogging pace and justify – to yourself and others – why you ought not to crank up the tempo.
And if we know that by carrying so much heavy cargo in its hold and far too many professional ratings jostling for position and status at its helm, Holyrood, as it sets sail on its fourth voyage, risks listing, or worse becoming a leaky old tub, why is no one prepared to do something about it? Especially when Scotland might well suffer as a result.