Scottish elections 2021: Being an MSP is the best job I've ever had (but will I keep it?) – Alex Cole-Hamilton
At the close of play this evening, the Scottish Parliament will rise, business in the chamber will cease, and the election campaign will begin.
So ends the fifth session of Holyrood in the time of devolution and with it my first term as an MSP. Historians will look at this session of parliament as being more momentous than any before. It will be referred to as the Covid parliament or sometimes the Brexit parliament, and it will mark a dark and uncertain period in our country’s history.
My first day as a freshman MSP five years ago is still clear in my mind. It started with a turn on Good Morning Scotland in the BBC radio studio at the Tun. I sat next to Andy Wightman, a newbie like me and we were invited to give listeners a flavour of the excitement we felt.
That excitement has never left me, even now, at the end of a bitter parliamentary inquiry (sat next to Andy Wightman again) and in the teeth of a global pandemic.
For a brand-new MSP, every day is like a school day. You have to set up an office, hire and manage staff and then the parliamentary speeches come at you thick and fast.
You’ve got to get across committee papers and third-party briefings and meet with dozens of charities and stakeholders. It is relentless, it robs me of sleep and has the potential to scare the stuffing out of me, but nothing about my job disappoints me.
Every day brings surprises and challenges, it has tested me and at times it has bested me, but it’s left me wanting to do it all over again. Passionately.
There have been times that I’ve acted intemperately, I’ve risen to the bait of online trolls and I could have worked harder to find consensus, but in the main I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far.
When the Scottish government decided to end funding to HIV Scotland, in the middle of the worst HIV outbreak since the 80s, I persuaded them to reverse those cuts.
I helped the Zoo re-open six weeks earlier than the government’s route-map out of lockdown when they signalled they might be going under; and I helped win new parents with babies under one the right to bubble up with others for support.
But what knocks all that into a cocked hat is the help I’ve been able to offer literally thousands of people in West Edinburgh. Politics for me is about public service and there is no finer feeling than being able to bring satisfaction or redress to someone who is at their wits’ end.
With many MSPs standing down and the inevitable churn that happens in any election, as many as a third of current members will not return to Holyrood in May.
If things don’t go my way, in what’s shaping up to be another close contest, I could be one of them. That’s part of the great rejuvenation of our democracy – the chance we take.
In elections you work like hell and pray for a bit of luck. At the end of a seven-week campaign lies the prize of another five-year stint doing the best job I have ever had.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western