There’s a lot of stuff swirling around the burdz brain at the moment. Lots of ifs, buts and maybes about what the next five years hold, the meaning of the SNP win and the consequences of the Labour rout. But having rubbed shoulders with Mr Positivity himself on Friday night, Stephen Noon, I’m holding fast to the mantra of positivity not negativity. For a week at least.
So, let’s rejoice. The Scottish Parliament has its first female Presiding Officer, and you don’t have to scroll far to see that the burd is very happy that Tricia Marwick won that vote. She will be her own woman, make no mistake and anyone who has doubts about this being a dangerous decision, given the SNP’s omnipotence on the Parly floor, well wait and see. I have no doubts whatsoever. Meanwhile, let’s hear it for another historic moment: a woman holding the second most important and high-profile job in Scottish politics for the first time. About time too.
One wish granted then, what other, positive wishes would I like the Holyrood fairy to grant?
First, that this next SNP government does something fairly unobvious and puts children, especially vulnerable children, front and central to everything it does in this session. It has some good policy commitments that if fulfilled, will make a huge difference to children’s lives and set the nation fair in terms of its future. Don’t allow them to be sidelined behind bigger headline grabbing stuff. Children matter; let’s commit to making a difference to their lives, and consequently, the lives of their families and communities. It’s about seeing policy and legislation as having a people-focused purpose and not a structural one. Be child-centred in thought and approach, and transformational change is within our grasp. Thus, minimum pricing, early years, violence reduction, educational reform, wider public sector change, localism, support for carers, capital investment – indeed, nearly every policy area, if pitched from the perspective of what will make a difference to our children’s lives, can be viewed and acted upon differently. And it will work.
Second, give us the Minister for Children and Early Years we had last time. Adam Ingram did a fine job over the last four years and set in train a range of change programmes. Allow him to complete unfinished business. Continuity counts.
Third, as it approaches its adolescence, the Parliament is growing up and fast. But just as parenting adolescents is very different from parenting toddlers and tweenies, so our Parliamentary structures, rules and procedures need to mature. A review is timely. Indeed, if Tricia Marwick wants to set out her stall she could do worse than invite Hugh Henry to chair a short term review group on making Holyrood fit for purpose. The debates are too short, business is shoe-horned into an artificial timeline, the committees are overloaded and unable or unwilling to take a more pro-active role in generating their own business, and the procedures are designed for coalition government. Of course, the chances of the SNP voting for measures that might remove their inbuilt majority are slim but that too will be a test. The issue is this: the Parliament as currently formatted will not be fit for the purpose of devolution max or indeed, independence. It needs to think and act bigger.
Fourth, an international focus. The more confident we’ve got about using and articulating our powers, the more insular and parochial we’ve become. Yet, a place on the world stage, however constrained, should have broadened not narrowed our horizons. You can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of debates, either through government or party business, or even member’s motions, that have allowed issues furth of Scotland to be debated and discussed. We’ve become obsessed with our own navels, even when we have a good story to share. Our international development work, the role of companies overseas and of Scottish charities, the linkages between policies at home and those determined in Europe and even beyond. I also want to know more about how folk do policy in other lands. What can we learn from how Sweden, Japan, Canada, Belgium and Brazil do education, healthcare, childcare and public transport? And what ideas can we export? Our place in the world vis a vis others, and our role in supporting, cajoling or downright opposing things happening furth of our firths, matters. A little less me, and a lot more us, please.
Finally, in the run up to the independence referendum, a proper debate, one in which all the parties engage in freely and honestly and do not resort to dissembling. The election is over, the people have chosen, there is now a responsibility on all to allow the people of Scotland to make up their own minds. To do so, they need information and ideas that have not been distorted through party coloured lenses. Again, the Presiding Officer could, if she wants, play a big role in this, by commissioning the Scottish Parliament’s Information Officer (SPICE) to produce briefings that act as a kind of Channel 4 Factcheck. Heck, let’s have a genuinely cross party committee – with non-aligned members, or at least, folk of independent mind, co-opted – to start the deliberations and engagement. Nothing to stop it happening if everyone agrees to it.
The last thing we want for the next four years is mudslinging and yes, distraction from the job at hand because the politicians prefer to focus on their pet project. The biggest potential turn off to a high turnout in a referendum is for voters to be excluded from a partisan bunfight. Engage with people, not each other, please. The sooner, the better.
A positive wish list then, or at least, a wish list for positivity. And a poke in the eye for all those who doubted the burd could do it.