Seeing the letters ‘MSP’ after your name is naturally a thrill, and there was a strong ‘first day at school’ vibe around the Scottish Parliament building as the new intake went through our inductions.
The election campaign feels like a blur already. Between late night debates and early morning interviews, and with so much of it happening online there was little time to switch off as we canvassed for every vote.
The challenge for every party in the election was to cut through the disconnect of doing everything online and reach out to voters, and I’m proud that the Scottish Greens were able to grow our support in every part of Scotland and win a record number of MSPs.
There is already a sizeable inbox for new MSPs. That shouldn’t be a surprise, given we are still in the midst of the same global pandemic that restricted the campaign. But there are difficult decisions ahead.
The easing of Covid restrictions is underway, but it is clear new variants present a very real danger to progress. Emergency legislation passed in the previous parliament will be lifted, but the pace of that must be dictated by public health data and assessing the risk to the public.
There has been much made of a return of being able to hug your nearest and dearest, but the rise in case numbers in some parts of the country should be a warning sign that we are not out of the woods yet.
We only need to look at India, which has been losing 4,000 people a day, to recognise that this pandemic is still a global threat. We need the vaccine programme to work everywhere, and we should be cautious in opening up international travel.
Meanwhile, some exhausted NHS staff face dealing with a backlog of some treatments, and only time will tell what the mental health impact of a year of lockdowns and other restrictions will look like.
This is especially true for children, for whom a year feels like an eternity. If the Scottish Qualifications Agency has learned anything from its botched moderation of grades last year, it seems to be how to pass the buck rather than anything that might benefit pupils. It has become clear that many pupils are being made to sit exams in all but name.
The Greens played a crucial role last year in fixing the mess, by forcing the government to restore the grades which had been moderated down based on what school they were at, but the SQA seems to have ensured that it won’t be so easy to fix this year, should things go wrong again.
Thousands of pupils across the country are currently sitting pseudo-exams to meet SQA requirements without they or their teachers having any idea of how the appeals process will work, or what evidence they may need for it. That means this year’s system is putting the pressure and the blame on schools if anything does go wrong.
As before, the Scottish Greens will bring positive, constructive and realistic solutions to the table. We believe the SQA should be run by people with experience of teaching, with young people also getting their say.
Our positive election campaign showed that we have a vision for a Scotland that doesn’t leave anyone behind in the recovery from the pandemic, a Scotland that leads efforts to tackle the climate emergency rather than be hamstrung by a UK government that shows no appetite to take it seriously.
One enormously positive thing to come out of the election was that we learned that those who shout the loudest on social media do not represent the electorate. The campaign for or against Scottish independence did not flock around the bruised egos of yesterday’s men and their new pop-up parties, as was predicted. And fascists were soundly beaten, even when they tried to dupe voters by posing as other parties.
It is no accident that the only opposition party to make gains was the party talking about a vision for Scotland’s future, the Scottish Greens. The unionist parties concentrated on tactical voting, while the Alba party focused on Scotland’s past and failed to make the breakthrough.
Instead, this was an election which saw the turnout grow, with young people, refugees and other foreign nationals exercising their right to vote. It was wonderful to see.
Scottish Greens are proud for our part in expanding the franchise in Scotland to refugees. Contrast these attempts to boost turnout with the new plans by the UK government to introduce ID cards for voting – a naked attempt to suppress the vote, especially among those who would vote against the Conservatives.
The election produced a bigger majority of MSPs for independence, and Tory attempts to deny democracy only reinforce the case for Scotland to seek a different path. And as we enter into the economic recovery phase, Scotland needs the additional powers to be able to build an inclusive green recovery.
To defend the Union with purely legal arguments has no political credibility. Apart from that, the latest plans to save the Union seem to involve encroaching on devolved powers to build roads north of the Border and stick a Union flag on them. It’s a ludicrous plan.
More people voted in the Scottish Parliament election than ever before, so undermining the powers of that parliament hardly seems a winning strategy. And if all they can offer is road expansions during a climate emergency, they have already lost the argument.
The UK government must recognise that there is a mandate for a referendum and allow an open, constructive debate about what Scotland’s future might look like, once it is safe to do so.