JOURNEYS dominate the human condition and they say it is better to travel than to arrive. In our life’s travels, making peace with the reality that we never really do arrive is one of the liberating realisations of growing up that helps us find joy in the moment; today is where we always are.
Arriving at Westminster earlier this week though was much better than travelling for me in every sense. I popped in on a lovely spring evening to visit one of my best friends in the world.
I didn’t quite know what to make of him when we first met in 1996 at the SNP’s headquarters in Edinburgh. He had just arrived from Vienna to help on the 1997 election campaign. He looked funny, talked funny, was funny. Angus Robertson is one of those people who it is just improving to know. He looked at life differently from me because he was different. Now that, I love; difference. We became firm friends and have been thick as thieves ever since. When the Scottish Parliament re-opened in 1999 I was fortunate enough to be a member and he worked on the party’s European research and international media. Sixteen years on I am a member of the general public and he is the leader of the third largest party in the House of Commons.
Walking into his office there, I giggled at the thought of how far he had come, we had come, the party we adore had come. The country too.
He is packing up soon to move to Nick Clegg’s office which is the sweetest of thoughts, is it not?
On one office wall is the chart with the planning detail from the 2007 Holyrood campaign he orchestrated which put the SNP into government for the first time. On the other are Post-it notes of UK departments and committees, as he charted out how the SNP would set up at Westminster in constructive opposition.
‘Every debate, every committee, every question time will have a strong SNP voice’
What an emblem of the journey it was. Looking down the names of the group of MPs he leads, I have increasing conviction of the quality of them. A mirror on their country, there are teachers, NHS consultants, business people (lots, in fact a greater proportion than any other party), TV producers and presenters, dads and mums and grandparents, all sorts.
When the initial honeymoon is over they all know the task that lies ahead. Through their conduct they have a genuine opportunity to better the life chances of many.
They will be unified, constructive and positive. Of course opponents and the media can’t help look for mischief and want to think that Alex Salmond will really lead and challenge Nicola Sturgeon’s authority, along with that of Angus and Stewart Hosie.
This is to truly misunderstand the personalities and the culture of the party itself. The party is genuinely unified because it has its purpose and its north star. The people genuinely get on and culturally behave supportively with each other. Sure they will have disagreements, what adults don’t? But they will be resolved privately with the greater good in mind.
Salmond himself has nothing to prove. He handed over the party in great shape and with an outstanding strategic position. The manner of the transition, and the quality of successor, have made it even better.
In his long leadership, he knew what it was like to be distracted or criticised in public by previous leaders and mentors. We can expect none of it from him.
Giving him the Foreign Affairs brief is an inspired decision which will allow him to make use of his excellent political profile internationally to put Scotland’s case around the world.
We can also expect forensic interrogation of the Chilcot Enquiry and his unique voice which is pro-Europe, pro-developing world and against military adventurism. Good.
We can expect more announcements early this week of the rest of the front bench team and all spokespeople and responsibilities. Everyone in the team will have a clear role and purpose and will be as engaged and focused as anything Westminster has seen before. Be sure of it.
Every debate, every committee, every question time will have a strong SNP voice making Scotland’s case and standing up for people across the UK who feel the current system just isn’t working for them.
Labour is currently wounded and entirely ineffective. It will be for the SNP to make a considered and intelligent opposition case to Conservative government.
And what of their ultimate goal? Independence for Scotland is a journey of a thousand miles that must be taken one step at a time. It will only happen if a unifying consensus to make it so is real.
In the meantime there is a great opportunity for the SNP to welcome others on the journey we can all take together to enhance the responsibilities of Holyrood. Where any of us choose to step off on the road as we go is up to us all. But we will all travel much further and faster if we travel together. «