IN THE heat of excitement that was the first day of the reconvened parliament in 1999, new faces abounded. Among the rows of party MSPs, three independents stood out.
The sharp-suited, fist-clenching Tommy Sheridan. Dennis Canavan as he had taken on Labour and won as an independent, before Margo Macdonald made beating the party hierarchy an art form. And Robin Harper. Robin was a Green Party MSP. But he was much more than that. He was warm, courteous and cared passionately about the environment. He also had the longest, brightest scarf in politics. John Snow may have the best ties in broadcasting but Robin had the best scarf.
Parliament was a sadder place when Robin retired. His boundless enthusiasm knew no limits. He made a cameo performance for the parliamentary football team as well at a particularly memorable photo opportunity in a peat bog outside Edinburgh. Memorable because his staff must have needed the fire brigade to get him out.
Robin has been quiet on the political front of late. But this week he popped up to give his tuppence-worth on independence. It comes as no surprise to those who knew him in those early days that he is no supporter of separating Scotland from the wider UK family. He is also an acute and perceptive assessor of other politicians. Some years back he pronounced on the First Ministers wily abilities and little has happened in the meantime to change his opinion.
Robin’s intervention will probably not be greeted with enormous gratitude by the present Green leader, who is a cheerleader for independence. There will be much talk of broad churches. That is what all party leaders say when one of their flock say something in public that is diametrically opposite to the leadership’s position. Believe me, I have done that too.
Robin has been commendably clear in his position. That is rather at odds with Henry McLeish. Henry, as a former Labour First Minister, has cornered a rather exclusive place in Scottish politics. He is the one former Labour figure who is asked time after time by the present SNP government to chair commissions and inquiries and sit on politically appointed boards. Henry was forced to resign his position over an office expenses row that was anything but a hanging offence. At the height of the drama he appeared on the BBC’s Question Time, on a panel which included Alex Salmond. David Dimbleby asked Henry a tough and direct question about his expenses. There was a considerable pause, but in stepped Alex, who effectively saved Henry’s bacon. Many wondered at the time why a politician used to sticking the boot into Labour opponents was being so nice. Maybe Salmond foresaw the day he would need a ex-Labour leader to encourage traditional Labour voters to support independence?
Oh come on, I can hear you say. That is just too far-fetched even in the Machiavellian world of Scottish politics. You are right. It is just too far-fetched. But?