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Ash Regan MSP: We need less self-indulgent political pantomime and more stability

AS we begin another week in what has increasingly become a Scottish political pantomime, I want to reflect on what this all looks like to the people we are in Holyrood to represent.

Tomorrow, we welcome the esteemed former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Hilary Cass, to the health, social care and sport committee. This marks a significant step towards a more informed and engaged approach to politics as we shift our focus towards evidence-based policy and decision-making.

I eagerly anticipate Parliament formally accepting Cass’s insights and recommendations in full, which will enhance our understanding of her findings on health, education, and legislative implications and recommendations for the holistic care of gender-questioning children and young people.

The past fortnight at Holyrood has been marked by a series of extraordinary events, starting with the decision of our Scottish Gender Identity Service clinicians at Sandyford to cease prescribing puberty-suppressing hormones to new patients.

This decision and the entire Cass Review have significant implications for Scotland and the affected individuals, making it crucial to handle these matters with the utmost sensitivity and consideration.

Regrettably, when the public most needed clarity and calm, some members of the Green Party – a leading political proponent of the gender identity ideology – saw an opportunity to increase their media profiles.

They added fuel to an already inflamed debate, exerting pressure on their elected members with threats to vote down the Bute House Agreement.

Some Green MSPs even went on various media to appease them by leaning into dangerous rhetoric on their inflammatory “assessment” of the Cass Review.

On April 22, I lodged a vote of no confidence (VONC) in Patrick Harvie, at that time minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights, in response to his dangerous hyperbole in the media, which cast doubt on the credibility of a four-year academic review that clinicians, including the Royal College of Psychiatry, have welcomed. The VONC motion was a significant step, indicating a lack of confidence in his ability to represent the government on these crucial issues.

My motion set off a series of events across political parties. Privately, colleagues across the chamber approached me with their support.

Publicly, the Scottish Conservatives lodged their own VONC in the First Minister, followed by the Labour Party upping the stakes with a VONC in the Scottish Government. Humza Yousaf’s response surprised everyone. He should have sacked Harvie for conduct that fell far short of the expectations of a government minister, then brought the Bute House Agreement back to his SNP membership for a decision, as the Greens were doing.

Instead, he unceremoniously ripped it up, then chucked Harvie and Slater out the front door of Bute House to the waiting media.

My team and I watched after work that evening as incensed Green MSPs gathered the press like a student protest at the foot of the chamber stairs. A team discussion ensued on what Winnie Ewing would make of the pantomime they were turning our Parliament into.

We then got to work over the coming days to reach out to the First Minister and offer to help stabilise his new minority government and get Parliament back to work.

My letter to Humza and my subsequent response to his letter to all Holyrood party leaders was a one-page discussion document entitled Resetting Scotland.

IT was not a list of demands, but an open invitation to focus on the people’s priorities. By working together, we can put Scotland back on a solid foundation that reflects the needs and aspirations of our constituents rather than engaging in ideologically driven game-playing.

I remain convinced that this was possible, and now that Humza has resigned, it is still possible if the SNP leadership do not “bottle it” and sneak the Greens in the back door permanently with a long-term Bute House deal that neither party’s members get a say in.

Polling and by-elections have shown the SNP that they must no longer assume they are entitled to votes from the electorate. Neither the First Minister nor I had confidence in the Bute House Agreement and the weekend dealings had humiliated him by putting back what he had rejected, at least to secure their vote on Wednesday.

Only by approaching every vote as one they must earn will the government work harder to produce outcomes that resonate with the people on Scotland’s priorities. Convincing a democratic majority of Scotland’s people to back independence at the ballot box is supposed to be challenging – anything worthwhile is.

Voters are telling politicians loud and clear that they are sick of self-indulgent political game-playing, but most are too busy doing media to listen. Holyrood must feel relevant to the electorate if we expect them to engage with it. Parties circumventing their membership on matters of democracy lose their vital connection to our community’s pulse.

It is a well-used phrase that politics, like comedy, is all about timing. As we find ourselves at the 25th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament, an opportunity to reflect has emerged. The SNP, as the largest party, now have a choice: more posturing while Rome burns, or decisive action to get the Parliament working effectively again.

I advise re-energising Scotland by taking determined action on core health, housing, infrastructure, jobs, and education issues with ambitious, achievable climate action underpinning all we do – with substance, not soundbites. Building confidence through competence and an ambitious vision for people’s lives and thriving businesses is where the flame of confidence for independence re-ignites.

Whoever the SNP members choose as their next leader and whoever Parliament chooses as our next first minister, my message to them remains the same: my door is open to making progress for Scotland.

 

[This article was first published in The National on 06.05.2024]

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