For roughly five minutes last Friday, thanks to the efficiency of the count operation in Orkney, I commanded a ‘supermajority’ in the Scottish Parliament. A string of SNP wins elsewhere soon turned the tables, but for much of the afternoon I was THE official opposition.
My failure to acknowledge in my acceptance speech the contribution made by my wife, Tamsin, not just to this election success but in supporting me throughout my time as Orkney’s MSP risked triggering the quickest by-election in electoral history. Fortunately, Tamsin is a very forgiving person!
I am, though, enormously grateful to voters in Orkney for once again putting their trust in me to represent them at Holyrood. It has been an honour to do so over the last 14 years and I will do everything I can to repay that trust.
Sadly, despite excellent results and big majorities for my Liberal Democrat colleagues in key constituency contests, the party fell short on the regional lists. Voters seem to respond well when they see what a Liberal Democrat MSP can do in representing constituents and local communities and the core message about the need to focus on recovery over the next five years certainly struck a chord. However, on a regional basis, the party was squeezed out by competing nationalisms and a trend towards voting ‘against’ rather than ‘for’ particular parties.
Despite another strong showing by the SNP, voters denied them the outright majority they craved. Predictably, though, having spent most of the campaign talking up the importance of dealing with the pandemic and prioritising recovery, no sooner were the results in than Nicola Sturgeon was outlining the timing of another independence referendum. For at least some of those persuaded to back her on the basis of her campaign, this may have come as a surprise.
Just as Nicola Sturgeon has made clear her intention to press ahead with another referendum, however, so I believe it is my responsibility to honour the firm commitment I made to voters in Orkney. I promised to spend the next five years focused on the recovery of our islands and that is what I fully intend to do.
My experience over the last 14 years is that providing Orkney with a strong voice in Holyrood is a question of hard work. It requires a willingness to collaborate where possible but also speak out and be persistent when necessary. Holding Ministers to account through oral and written questions, chamber and committee debates and direct meetings and correspondence are the bread and butter for any constituency MSP. That will continue to be my approach based on the renewed and powerful mandate I have been given by voters in Orkney.
For those concerned about the make-up of the new parliament, I would argue that Scottish Liberal Democrats have a proven track-record of ‘punching above our weight’. Taking a lead in forcing the government to recognise and do more to address the growing mental health crisis; more to turn around our shameful drugs death rate; more to expand early learning and childcare. We have also been at the forefront in challenging the SNP’s obsession with centralisation, from policing to air traffic services.
I have every confidence that we will continue to play that role, standing up for the interests of our constituents, communities and wider liberal values. At a time when the competing nationalisms of SNP and Conservatives risk drowning out everything else, having those liberal voices in our politics seems more important than ever.
Meantime, I have been overwhelmed and genuinely touched by the messages of support I have received since last Friday. My ‘supermajority’ may have disappeared like snow off a dyke, but it is an honour to serve as Orkney’s MSP and I will do my very best to live up to the trust that has been placed in me.