2013 has, in many ways, been a transition year. It’s not over yet, of course, but November always seems like a good point at which to pause and reflect, before the hurly burly of the festive season takes over and we are then cajoled into looking forward to the year to come.
In many aspects of public life, this year has been a stepping stone, a bridge from the past towards the future. Moving forward requires leaving some stuff behind. Occasionally, we don’t get to do that voluntarily.
It’s been that kind of a year for Holyrood with the passing of three MSPs who were initiates of the Parliament when reconvened in 1999. The deaths of Brian Adam, David McLetchie and most recently, of Helen Eadie remind us that nothing stays the same.
There have been serious illnesses too for others in that original intake this year, with worried whispers and heartfelt goodwill transcending tribal loyalties. Most, thankfully, are on the mend and back in their rightful places. It’s good to see and to have them back and it will be even better when the others make it back too.
The award for lifetime achievement at the Herald’s Politician of the Year Awards to George Reid was an overdue acclamation for another of the 99 group. I’m not sure the SNP, at least in its modern guise, ever truly got George and what he brought to Scottish politics. His years at the International Red Cross – in my view – made him into a quite different politician, one who could see the need for consensus and yes, compromise. His term as Presiding Officer was instrumental in sorting the building problem but more importantly, in putting oor Parly on the world stage. Delegations still come and go but more fuss seemed to be made of them under George’s tenure. That mattered in terms of signalling our arrival in the family of nations with a bona fides democratic institution that crucially, other nations and states were prepared to take seriously.
And there’s still a role for politicians like George post-referendum, whatever the outcome. We’ll need elder statesmen, and women, to either negotiate and help signpost our way, particularly beyond these shores, or to soothe divisions and promote reconciliation so that devolution doesn’t become a standstill process. Hearteningly, George still has appetite and fervour to be part of the future and that’s a most welcome sign.
But there is definitely a sense that the old Parliamentary guard is passing. Brian Adam, David McLetchie and Helen Eadie were all MSPs who were good to me, on a range of professional matters, at various points in the last thirteen years. They were all always kind, thoughtful, courteous and assiduous, even when they were politely declining the opportunity to be hitched to whichever cause I was exhorting.
It’s worth noting how relatively young they were, all of them dying in their sixties. Being an elected politician for years is a hard shift. For all the paid hours – often upwards of fifty week in, week out – there are the unpaid ones as political party supporters and activists too. It takes a toll and their passing, and the illnesses of others, should remind us that politics is a far from easy game.
Even though David McLetchie enjoyed a brief moment in the sun and Brian Adam earned a place in the SNP Cabinet, mostly this trio were parliamentary workhorses. All Parliaments need them. Indeed, they are essential, for without backroom people prepared to do the heavy lifting, largely eschewing the limelight in the process, Parliaments would grind to a halt. Often, it’s working away quietly and behind the scenes which achieves results.
These MSPs might not have been noted for conspicuous moments nor will they be remembered for such, but sometimes, it truly is the sum rather than the parts which count. And while it’s true that not everything can stay the same, nor should we want it to, it’s important to acknowledge the contribution and role made by those left behind. The footprints of Brian Adam, David McLetchie and Helen Eadie will remain in the Scottish Parliamentary sand for a while yet, I hope.