I would like to start by offering my heartfelt thanks to all those who turned out and voted for me in last week’s Scottish Parliament election.
The scale of the victory was beyond my wildest expectations, as well as those of most pollsters and commentators. Even now, I’m a little stunned.
It is certainly very humbling to think that so many people in Orkney have been willing to put their confidence in me to represent their interests at Holyrood over the next five years. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly and I will do my utmost to repay that trust by continuing to work with others to get things done on behalf of constituents and our community.
After a six week campaign, which took its toll on voters and candidates alike, I am looking forward to getting back to doing the job I have been privileged to do over the last nine years. That, though, is no reflection on the campaign, which I enjoyed enormously. All the isles were visited, including Egilsay after an initial missed appointment with a ferry. Parts of the east and west mainland were revealed to me, after finding roads I didn’t know existed. And doors were knocked that had never seen a canvasser before.
I honestly cannot remember being involved in a campaign that has been quite so full of energy, enthusiasm and fun. From our fantastic ‘hub’ in Victoria Street, a remarkable team of volunteers just did not stop for the entire six weeks. It helped no doubt having an age ‘profile’ rather younger than in the past, but the campaign was supported by people from all parts and all ages. I am truly grateful for what they helped us achieve.
As to why the margin of victory was so emphatic, I’m not sure there is a single answer. I like to think that it had something to do with my track record of being open and accessible, providing Orkney with a strong voice in parliament on the issues that matter locally.
No doubt that was part of it. At the same time, however, there was obvious concern at the SNP’s dominance nationally; anger at their failure to address the needs of our islands, notably in terms of cheaper ferry fares and the farm payments shambles; and dismay at Nicola Sturgeon’s talk of plans for a second independence referendum. On that, as in 2014, Orkney has made its views pretty clear.
One elderly lady I met during the campaign went as far as to tell me: “I do not want another reformation”. Well quite. Who does?
And it’s not as if there is a lack of other areas where the attention of Ministers, officials and the wider parliament could be more usefully focused. In education and health, particularly mental health, more resources are urgently needed Scotland-wide. Locally, our lifeline links must be made more affordable and reliable, while the availability of good quality broadband and mobile services across Orkney must be a priority.
Unlocking the potential of key sectors like tourism, renewables, food and drink all require attention. That simply will not happen if SNP Ministers again choose to distract themselves with plans for yet another referendum.
On the upside, the lack of an SNP majority should make the next parliament more interesting. The onus will be on Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues to work with others to get things done. That at least would be a welcome change from the last five years and should help ensure legislation and budget decisions better reflect the needs of the whole country rather than the agenda of a single party.
In this new parliament of minorities, I will certainly make sure the voice of our islands is heard loud and clear.
For now, let me conclude where I started: with a vote of thanks. The day after the excitement of the election result, I headed out to Stronsay for a Parish Cup tie. Little did I realise I would be making my debut as Sanday’s centre forward. And scoring. With my left foot. At the right end of the pitch!
So to James Muir, Sanday FC’s player-manager, thank you for making a dream come true for Orkney’s newly-elected MSP.