Thursday, 3 September 2009

In praise of Malcolm Chisholm MSP

I think Jeff has beaten me to the punch on this post, but I've written it now so I'm posting it too!

As a politico geek sado-masochist I spent yesterday morning watching the full Scottish Parliamentary debate on the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

I expected the worst - petty political point-scoring on an issue that pretty much divides Scotland. And in some contributions I got what I expected. The party leaders - even and especially the First Minister - were at it. Richard Baker looked like a child at a grown-up party, knowing he was out of his depth. Sandra White couldn't resist sticking the needle in. Christine Grahame misjudged her audience in her attempts to persue the issue of whether al-Megrahi was even guilty. And Elaine Murray emphasised that my previous post on the matter was right on the money. The sheer emotion and anger with which she spoke evidence enough that emotion must be removed from the equation if a sober and rational decision on a delicate issue such as this can be taken.

But then, as ever on occasions such as this, there are those who stand out, who recognise the gravity of the situation and step up to the challenge. For me, several of the contributions yesterday merit mention on this score. Green leader Patrick Harvie was eloquent, reasoned and sincere. Lib Dem Justice Spokesman Robert Brown was measured and assured, Michael McMahon and David McLetchie focused. The two doctors, Ian McKee and Richard Simpson, were informative on their specialist areas. All provided reasonable points, defending their party line on the decision.

And then there was Malcolm Chisholm. He stood up and spoke from his conscience. He agreed with the decision and suggested (with polling figures to hand) that around 35% of his Labour colleagues (though not necessarily those in the parliament) did too. He told the chamber that he accepted the need for compassion in this case, accepted that the decision was not taken lightly and that, in his mind, it was the right one. And then he turned on his party, telling the chamber that he would vote with the government in the evening and that he thought the vote should be free from party whipping. In the event, he was the only MSP who broke ranks as the (heavily amended) government motion was carried by 73 (Lab/ LD/ Con) votes to 50 (SNP/ Green/ Chisholm) with one abstention (Margo).

I should point out that I have a lot of time for Malcolm Chisholm (and not just because of his rather excellent first name). In 2006, when he resigned as Communities Minister (in Jack McConnell's Scottish Executive) over the issue of Trident replacement, I wrote to him commending him for having the courage of his convictions and voting with his conscience rather than his party. He wrote back, thanking me for what was one of the few emails he'd received in support and suggesting that he hoped others would start listening to "experts" like me (I was a Masters student in Terrorism and International Relations at the time). So the man has a history of doing what he thinks right - even if that is at odds with his party. And yesterday was no different.

But I had a wee thought about his future as an MSP. Of course, I don't think he's in any danger of being deselected by Labour - don't be ridiculous. But a wee suggestion. By the time of the next Scottish Parliament election in May 2011, Malcolm Chisholm will be 62. Now, that is not old for an MSP. But he is defending a majority of just 2,500 in Edinburgh North & Leith. Which, as we know from the European election, is an incredibly tight seat, with five parties separated by only 1,000 votes (and indeed, in that election, Labour knocked down to second). According to his website, he also holds surgeries every Satuday (more than most MSPs). That's a busy schedule for an MSP over 60.

No, I'm wondering whether Malcolm Chisholm might decide that three terms as an MSP for Edinburgh North & Leith might just be enough for him. I mean, might yesterday's defiance of the party line have signalled his intention - that he no longer sees himself needing to conform to the party line? It's just a thought - and it seems to fit. Though I'd suggest that, given the constituency may well provide some excitement on election night, and that he is a weel kent face around the constituency, Labour may be loathe to allow him to retire. In saying that, there'd be no shortage of Labour candidates putting their name forward for the seat I'd wager - Lesley Hinds, Gordon Munro, Ewan Aitken, perhaps even the blogosphere's Kezia Dugdale. So, I guess, watch this space.

In the meantime, praise be to Malcolm Chisholm, the only MSP brave enough to break party lines yesterday. Parliament (and Scotland) needs free thinkers like him.


naldo 3 September 2009 at 11:52  

Couldn't agree more that Malcolm Chisholm has long stood out as a man of principle. He also resigned as a minister at Westminster over changes to childcare allowance.

I live in Leith and would find it hard to vote for anyone else to represent me, even though I am in favour of Scottish independence.

I sincerely hope that Malcolm chooses not to resign at the next election but I'd love it if he left the Labour Party and stood as an independent. I'm sure he'd get in and, given what i've seen of Margo's example, i reckon he'd be anble to do so much more as an independent than as part of a washed up, morally bankrupt Labour party.

Stuart Winton 4 September 2009 at 06:17  

"I should point out that I have a lot of time for Malcolm Chisholm (and not just because of his rather excellent first name)."

Reminds me of the Malcolm with the not so rather excellent second name, namely Malcolm Bastard, who was a jockey when I was a good bit younger and who caused much schoolboy hilarity among me and my mates (although we were probably in our mid-20s!).

But I daresay that approximates to what his Labour colleauges will be calling Mr Chisholm!!

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