Wanted: A Burd for Presiding Officer

No rest for the elected!  The Presiding Officer and deputes are chosen this Wednesday and the jockeying for position has already started.  Malc at Better Nation has blogged his thoughts – and I added mine on why it has to be anyone but Tavish.

But actually my criteria are narrower than that.  For I want to see a woman elected as Presiding Officer.  Why?  Because this will be our fourth Presiding Officer and there hasn’t been a woman in the post yet.

Isn’t that enough?!

We have improved the gender balance in our Parliament (more on this in a future post) so let us show how far we have progressed and have a female Presiding Officer.  It will send out a clear and welcome signal about the status of women in our Parliament and elsewhere in our society.  In fact, let’s go further and elect women to all three PO posts.

So who could do the job/jobs?

Presiding Officer is a strange mix of convenor, keeper of rules and the public face of the Parliament.  Alex Fergusson, perhaps by necessity of it being a minority government and every vote potentially being on a knife-edge, was much more the convenor type of Presiding Officer.  George Reid used his time in office to promote Holyrood on a wider stage:  practically every week Holyrood had visitors from Parliaments and jurisdictions around the globe.

Ideally, we want someone who can do all these things.  It also, in the burdz humble opinion, has to be someone who can reach across the party divide.

Over the years, the PO posts have been carved up across the parties.  The only big party not to have had a turn is Labour.  So *buggin’s turn* then?  Hmmm.  Fortunately they do have one or two very good potential women candidates.  Patricia Ferguson has already served competently as a depute,  Sarah Boyack has enough experience to do it but has become over the years, more tribal and less of a consensual player.  Jackie Baillie?  Possibly but she might well have her sights on the poisoned chalice that is the Labour leadership.

It would be great for Margo to do it – she has obvious star appeal and would still be able to follow her much-needed idiosyncratic path, but only if she has the energy.  It is great she is back, and Presiding Officer would be a fine finale to her political career, but if she were to do it, we’d need two strong and supportive Depute Presiding Officers in place.  Not impossible.

The Lib Dems only have one female MSP, Alison McInnes, and I don’t think she is the right woman for this job.  Alison Johnstone, forming one half of the perfectly balanced Scottish Greens has only just arrived and is also a councillor until 2012, so a major role like this would be beyond her for the moment.

Folk on Twitter last night were suggesting Annabel Goldie but please, no.  As with Tavish, why should one of the biggest rewards in politics go to a failed party leader looking for another stage on which to er, fail?  Scotland’s Parliament is too important to have a pantomime dame leading proceedings, frankly.  Amongst the other Conservative women MSPs, perhaps only Margaret Mitchell or Nanette Milne might have a tentative claim but again, would be more suited to a Depute role.

And that leaves the Nats.  With 69 members to choose from, there are certainly plenty of potential contenders but do we really want a Presiding Officer from the SNP?  Mebbes aye, mebbes naw.  It clearly would have its attractions for the government, particularly as it needs someone who will negotiate willingly with Westminster to smooth out the legal ruffles in the Scotland Act currently prohibiting the Scottish Parliament calling a referendum on independence, or indeed, anything.

Those who fear a lack of scrutiny by the Parliament of the Scottish Government’s legislation and programme are right to warn of potential risks.  Just as the Parliament’s procedures were not designed to accommodate or support minority government, neither are they fit for the purpose of scrutinising or holding to account a majority one.  But hey, we’re staying positive in this new Scotland.  And Salmond made a wonderful victory speech in which he acknowledged concerns, by promising to seek to win hearts and minds and at least made overtures about being inclusive.  Let’s take it all at face value.  At least this weekend!

So whom from the SNP ranks?  Plenty of women to choose from.  Maureen Watt would be great but the burd thinks she was a fall guy and victim of spin last time round and deserves a second shot at a Ministerial role.  Linda Fabiani too would be good, with her strong international credentials and her ability to reach across the parties.  Christine Grahame has been mentioned but while she has done a fine job convening the health committee, this role might be just too big.  In any event, all three of these MSPs have just won constituencies:  their focus should be on securing their toehold to ensure re-election in five years’ time.

Nope, in the burdz view, there is only one real contender (if she wants it of course).  Roseanna Cunningham.  One of the finest politicians, male or female, of our era, Roseanna was an excellent committee convenor, has been a highly competent Minister, is able to reach across the parties, and has the necessary gravitas and chutzpah to carry it off.  She would also bring some much needed style, savvy and glamour to the role.  And one very important criterion – no one scares Roseanna, not even Alex Salmond.  She would be firm but fair.  Her respect and commitment to Scotland’s Parliament and the journey she wants her country to complete would enable her to resist any temptation to give way to the Government.  Roseanna’s eyes would always be fixed firmly on the bigger prize and she would define her approach to the office accordingly.

In fact, when you think about it, she is the obvious, fabulous choice.  Roseanna Cunningham for Presiding Officer and Patricia Ferguson and Nanette Milne as her deputes.  What a fine triumvirate they would be.

Glad that’s sorted.


19 thoughts on “Wanted: A Burd for Presiding Officer

  1. Pingback: Who can Holyrood trust to be Presiding Officer? | Pan Heads and Dead Heads Rock On

  2. It has to be an SNP MSP because with the referendum bill the SNP can’t afford to be generous in victory.

    One vote lost is made up for by 3 others + probably 2 Greens (although I don’t trust Harvie anymore) and Margo is a tad unpredictable.

    Still, I think she should get her bill passed for assisted suicide (with a great many conditions that must be met).

  3. @jeff it’s not about enforced equality; it’s about showing the world that this is a new Scotland and to me that should also be about challenging the systemic sexism and sidelining of women that has gone on for too long. We may not have equality of representation (and that comes down to party systems and prejudices) but let’s put a woman up at the top as a representative of how Scotland is changing.
    I would like a woman as PO but question Roseanna as best choice (agree re her credentails for the job) but I don’t think given we have our first majority government that the PO should be someone from that party; whether or not they can be impartial is a different question as to whether they can be viewed/perceived as impartial. Is it not like having Alex Ferguson as referee at Old Trafford?

    • Well said Clare. And I do see your last point about perception. Though I’d much rather have someone who’d actually be impartial as pretend to be for the cameras…. There’s a lot more cosying up across the party divides goes on than folk realise!

  4. What’s the mechanics here – is it “willing volunteers” (who have had a few chats around the place) and a bit of “tapping up” then onto the fil rouge and the last one standing on the spinning dinner plate?

    Metaphorically of course…….

  5. What’s Rosie Kane doing these days?

  6. I agree she’d make a good PO – but she’s been a great environment minister and, as an environmentalist, I’d like to see her back there!

  7. Would Roseanna want to be the PO who greets HM when she visits? If she is to be face of the parliament, surely she needs to be 100% comfortable with that sort of event.

    A small point perhaps, but not an irrelevant one. (and not one which only affects R C)

  8. Nice analysis, It really has to be Margo as an independent she hasn’t been tainted by the trouncing the other parties received, and in the case of the Tories continue to receive at the hands of the Scottish electorate. Understandably her only concern on election night was that she should be re-elected, and when asked about the Presiding Officer job wasn’t entirely dismissive. She is also a formidable scrutineer of all things Salmond – which always makes for entertaining politics.

    • It is and if I thought Margo’s health was robust enough to take on the job for five years remember, I would have no hesitation in proposing her for the role. Sadly I don’t think it would be good for her health – a lot of stress and a lot of hours – though this of course could be mitigated through reasonable adjustments etc. And that is the ultimate consideration really.

  9. Kate, as you probably know, I’m not a big fan
    of enforced equality and I’m afraid that applies here. If the person best suited for the job happens to be a man then why deny them the role?

    Furthermore, you say ‘it’s buggins’ turn’ isn’t a good enough reason to blindly make it Labour’s turn but you have seemingly used that same logic to assert that it should be a woman this time around.

    That said, I agree Roseanna Cunningham
    is a great choice. Any idea if she fancies it?

    • I’m no fan of enforced inequality either, and the tools that enforce that are many, summarised as “this society”. Just as a fish doesn’t notice the water, so most people don’t notice systemic exclusion of women, but get terribly upset at the least hint of men being excluded from any single thing.

      We could do with some corrective to the societal lens that means we’re unable to see women candidates for roles like this. Kate’s suggesting that we use one, and through it she’s found a few good candidates who are women. Good work, there.

    • I’m not enforcing equality, I’m just suggesting that people choose, by their own volition, that a woman should fill the role. But I also have no problem with positive action.

      And no absolutely no idea if she fancies it!

  10. I was kind of with you (despite my utter commitment to the belief that the best person should get the job regardless of sex) until you said Cunninghams eyes would be on the bigger prize. What did you mean by that? Surely the point of a Presiding Officer is that they dont have that alternative agenda, that the point of role is to ensure that Parliament is working as best as it can.

    • Yep and that is exactly what I mean. Roseanna wouldn’t allow the SNP Government to abuse its power and majority to make the Parliament do what it wants. Because she would see how damaging such short term shenanigans would be to persuading the Scots to vote for independence. She would do everything she could to make that happen and that would be about showing the Parliament in its best light ie giving people no quibble with the SNP or the Parliament. Sorry, it’s complex. WIll go away and have a wee think and come back and try to explain!

  11. Pingback: Not wanted: Tavish for Presiding Officer « Better Nation

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