Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Moment In History

In the end, it was almost unceremonial, mundane, matter of fact. The various party leaders set out their stalls, were applauded by their own sides, before MSPs cast their votes. There were no surprises - each MSP did as they were expected to, voting for their own leader, then abstaining once their favoured candidate had been eliminated. And at the end of it, with not a particle of smoke to clear, Alex Salmond, to no-ones great surprise, emerged as the Parliament's nominee for First Minister.

In the speeches which followed, each leader was keen to stress their desire for a new, consensual style of politics. In truth, they'll have no other option. All are minorities now, and the fact that there's no automatic coalition of 65 votes to railroad through proposals will have to mean debate, discussion and compromise replacing assertion and the comfort of fixed positions. Having never before held power at this level, perhaps it will be easier for the SNP to adapt to the restrictions of minority government than it would have been for others. Time will tell.

But for all the quiet dignity and understatement, it was never going to be possible to overlook the significance of today's events. It hit me for the first time when I saw the Labour group taking up position in the chamber where once the SNP group had sat. There were grown men crying - SNP members who have toiled for decades without the slightest expectation of any reward; who have sacrificed career opportunities; balanced their family lives precariously - all having to pinch themselves to make sure it was happening for real. And then came the real confirmation, as Alex Salmond was greeted on the steps of St Andrew's House by the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Executive.

A day that many nationalists thought they'd never see, and which many unionists hoped would never arrive, has come. It's not independence, but it is a significant milestone on the way. Voters, in an almost peculiarly Scottish way, seem to want to see what the SNP are made of, but without giving the party too much free reign. The hopes of a great many people now rest on the shoulders of Alex Salmond and his chosen lieutenants. It's a huge challenge - I hope we're equal to it.


The Spoilt Ballot said...

iainmacl said...

Truly historic moment. I wish Scotland well in the years to come and please don;t take to join us in this small, successful independent nation. Now I've got our election (May 24th) to think about - and with no SNP candidate either!