Over the past twelve years, I have worked more closely with Tavish Scott than any other MSP. It has been a partnership built very much on friendship but one, I like to think, that has delivered real benefits for the island communities we were elected to represent in the Scottish Parliament.
After 20 years as Shetland’s MSP, however, Tavish has announced he is stepping down to take up a role with Scottish Rugby. While there was surprise around Holyrood last week as the news broke, it was mixed with genuine sadness, and no little envy, amongst colleagues from across the party spectrum. Tavish rarely took a backward step in reflecting the views and defending the interests of Shetland in the Scottish Parliament, but in so doing he earned enormous respect and was very happy to work on a cross-party basis, where necessary.
As the parliament marked its 20th anniversary at the weekend, Tavish addressed the Chamber for the final time, responding to The Queen on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. One of only five MSPs elected to the first parliament in 1999 and still representing the same constituency, Tavish’s reflections on the changes seen, and the achievements made, over those two decades perhaps carried extra significance.
During that time, he has served as a government Minister as well as party leader. Add to that his role as an islands MSP, and it is fair to say that Tavish can boast a unique insight into Scottish political life over recent years. As Transport Minister, he devised and delivered the Air Discount Scheme in a bid to make our lifeline air services more accessible and affordable. To the amusement of many, he amended the recent Islands Act to free Shetland from its ‘box’ in the Moray Firth. For all the amusement, however, the symbolism of this change spoke to something important. “If you don’t actually know where Shetland is”, argued Tavish, “how can you understand the needs of its people”.
While Tavish and I have worked as a team since I was first elected in 2007, our friendship goes back much further. I still remember turning up for my first day as Jim Wallace’s researcher at Westminster in 1990 to be greeted by a note from my exotically-named predecessor, Tavish. It adhered to none of the normal rules of handover notes, but revealed Tavish’s obvious passion for politics and contained helpful insights and advice that later proved invaluable.
Over the subsequent thirty years, Tavish and I have grown to be firm friends, not least through our shared love of Liverpool FC. This friendship, in turn, provided an ideal foundation for our partnership as Orkney and Shetland’s MSPs. Whether campaigning on issues of shared importance to our communities, or simply acting as a sounding board for one another, the bond has always been a close one. He will undoubtedly be a tough act to follow, but I plan on spending much of the summer doing all I can to ensure his successor continues Shetland’s fine liberal traditions.
Meanwhile, Tavish is not the only former party leader to be bidding farewell to the parliament this summer. Labour’s, Kezia Dugdale is also heading for pastures new at Glasgow University’s John Smith Centre. Like Tavish, Kez will be a big loss to the parliament. She is a talented debater and effective campaigner. She is also highly likeable on a personal level.
Kez’s decision to take part in ‘I’m a Celebrity..’, drew criticism at the time, though it is now clear this was driven by the costs she was incurring in a legal battle with ultra-nationalist, Wings Over Scotland blogger, Stuart Campbell, having been abandoned by her party. Indeed, Kez’s departure reflects the profound divisions within Scottish Labour, at present. I feel for her successor, Sarah Boyack, who is due to replace Kez as a Lothians list MSP. Sarah is extremely able and served as a Labour Minister in the first coaltion government in 1999. She will be returning, however, to a parliament and a party that have both changed markedly.
To Tavish and Kezia, though, I offer my thanks and best wishes. Parliament’s loss is certainly Scottish rugby and academia’s gain.