John Swinney – 2001 Speech for Election as First Minister

The speech made by John Swinney in the Scottish Parliament on 22 November 2001.

We meet this afternoon to elect a new first Minister, for the third time in the short life of this Parliament.

The first occasion was a credit to Scotland – an exchange of ideas that resulted, perhaps in the expected – but which also enhanced our fledgling democracy.

The second occasion was a result of a tragedy – the untimely death of Donald Dewar – who, with others from his party, from ours, from the Liberal Democrats and from wider Scottish life, had worked to establish this Parliament and give our nation a fresh start.

This third occasion is the result of a farce – a farce inflicted upon Scotland and its Parliament by the Labour party and by nobody else – the party that now, without any democratic process, seeks to foist its unelected leader upon our country. The party that promotes its own, by making cronyism a way of life, and which always lets Scotland down.

This afternoon that farce may be carried to its illogical conclusion. The Liberal Democrats, in their usual Pavlovian response to their Labour masters, apparently intend to dutifully bring into office a Labour machine politician who represents everything the Liberals claim not to represent.

Labour has failed the democratic test. The Scottish Parliament must now do what Labour has failed to do.

This Parliament must exercise democratic scrutiny – and I am proud to set out my candidacy on behalf of a party committed to a democratic, fair and prosperous Scotland.

A party that always puts the interests of the Scottish people first.

A party that can comfortably shelter those who are disgusted by the institutional cronyism of the Labour Party and ashamed at what it has become.

And I am proud to represent a party that recognises that if we want to create that democratic, fair and prosperous Scotland we must have the normal powers of a normal Independent Parliament.

Presiding Officer, this Parliament is a stepping stone to freedom. And this party will help our nation cross over the murky swamp of Labour Scotland, into the bright and clear air of an independent Scotland.

There is a job of work to be done to start that process. Let me tell this chamber how I will go about doing that job.

Scotland needs reform of its public services as well as reform of its public servants.

Those two reforms are clearly linked. We must reform the whole system of public appointments, and the bill brought forward by my colleague Alex Neil is the key that will unlock the door to openness and accountability. I challenge each candidate for the post of First Minister to echo my support for that bill. Whilst reducing the power of Labour’s quango state we will also improve the calibre of those that serve the public. These appointments should be made on behalf of the public by a Scottish government – not appointments made on behalf of Labour, by Labour.

And I also challenge each candidate to echo my party’s support for root and branch reform of local government.

The present state of local government in Scotland is a monument to Labour institutional cronyism. Any system that rewards a party with less than half the vote with 90% of the seats – and all of the power – is a system whose time has passed in this democratic age. To defend it is to defend the indefensible, but Labour members here and at Westminster are lining up to defend it.

We could change that system today. My election as First Minster would usher in immediate legislation to ensure that the local elections in 2003 were held under a new system. That legislation is already being drafted in the name of my colleague Tricia Marwick. All it needs now is the votes of this chamber.

That promise should attract Liberal votes – but of course the Liberals have deserted the principle of fair votes in favour of the patronage exercised by means of unfair elections. No wonder they do not even have the courage to put up a candidate today.

They are no longer a party in this parliament – they are a wholly owned subsidiary of whoever can give them the most jobs and the best promises.

But I warn the Liberals today – you need a long spoon to sup with New Labour. You are in for a disappointing journey to PR in local government: a long, tortuous journey in which meetings to arrange timetables to arrange meetings will be the order of the day!

We need reform of our public servants. And with it we need reform of our public services.

Delivering public services and building public trust: those are my priorities.

A society shorn of cronyism will be a society that can focus on the real needs of Scotland.

It will be a society in which we can prioritise public investment in our struggling health and education services. We will do so by using not for profit trusts. We reject the discredited and expensive Tory-inspired Private Finance Initiative that puts money from our classrooms and hospitals into the pockets of private financiers.

We shall do so by a radical programme of reform in Education, reducing class sizes and freeing up teachers to teach.

We shall do so by investing in health so that our cancer services are the best in the world, not the worst in Europe.

We shall do so by protecting our environment by never, ever allowing a London government to foist nuclear power stations on Scotland.

And we shall do so by giving this Parliament the financial independence it needs to deliver the quality public services the people of Scotland rightfully expect.

We cannot allow free personal care for Scotland’s elderly people to be held-up because of a backroom rammy over cash between Labour ministers in London and Labour ministers in Edinburgh.

Presiding Officer,

If the Chamber today selects the Labour nominee for this post, then those who vote in that way will be condoning massive abuses of power over generations. They will be wiping from their memories the images of Monklands, of Glasgow City Council, of Govan, of Paisley and Renfrew, of scandal after scandal and deceit after deceit. They will be accepting that the leadership of our nation is something to be traded behind closed doors within a party bloated with arrogance and power and forgetful of where it has come from.

It is time for this Parliament to assert itself.

It is time for Scotland to assert itself. To look to its future – a future that demands a government and a First Minister standing up for Scotland, not fighting for themselves.

I ask the Chamber today to support my nomination.

But more importantly, Presiding Officer, I ask Scotland to support a vision of bright dreams for the future, not the old nightmares of the past.