Saturday, 12 February 2011

Nothing worse than an unfinished cup of coffee

This blog "Indygal goes to Holyrood" started because of something that happened 2 years ago today. On 12 February 2009 I was sworn into the Scottish Parliament and became an SNP MSP for Glasgow. I don't think I'll ever be able to adequately describe what that did to me. Even just typing those words made me want to squeal out loud with excitement and, I guess, disbelief.

Of course at the time I was anything but excited. I was grieving as so many of us were, for Bashir Ahmed who had died only 6 days earlier. I was terrified. And I was completely freaked out by the press attention. From the previous Sunday the papers had all sorts of stories about me. I couldn't get over how they would write about the dullest of things. I had called a Labour MSP "daft" in my blog. And THAT was a story!

The phone never stopped ringing with friends and family wanting to read out something else they'd read about me. Most of them were tickled pink by it all especially my friend Anne who went into Tesco in Inverness to see rows and rows of Daily Records with my face splashed across the front page. And later, much later I was able to giggle at it all. At that time, however, I just felt completely exposed. I'm someone who will always sit in a pub or restaurant with my back against the wall. I'm not someone who was ever going to enjoy that kind of attention.

After being sworn in, something that took all of 60 seconds, I sat down in the chamber and I vividly remember looking round me at everyone and feeling like an imposter. I remember waving up to my friend Thea in the gallery and her stifling her giggles because I suppose it's not really the done thing. (I'll let you into a secret, I still do it!) I remember my lovely wee nephew Toby who was 2 at the time, sticking his face over the gallery edging and calling out. I remember George Foulkes laughing at him.

I remember seeing all these people I'd only ever seen on the TV before. They were sitting in chamber seats too and I remember feeling like I was on some giant game of Celebrity Squares - and again, I was an imposter.

I remember just about every department in the parliament sending people to meet me and tell me things that I just couldn't take in. Asking me questions that I couldn't find answers to. 'Where in your office would you prefer your desk to be?' 'I don't know, does it matter?' I remember my head spinning. I remember missing Kenny Dalglish. My youngest sister, who'd come up from Manchester for the night just to watch me being sworn in, came running over to me at one point telling me she was "so excited, so excited"! I expressed surprise that my election should matter that much to her (we're not that kind of family) and that was when she informed me the cause of her excitement was having just met Kenny Dalglish!

'Where?' 'When?'

I remember her pointing to the lift, the doors of which were just closing. (Have you ever started to sprint and then stopped before you've even put your foot on the ground? It's sore!)

Getting elected like that, long after everyone else has, totally unexpectedly and having been on the inside for so long but not at the core, gave me a unique perspective and I was always aware of how lucky I was to be given this opportunity.

I was also aware that this job is very temporary in nature. And here I am exactly two years later with another unusual perspective that comes of knowing I won't be going back. I found out in October that I finished low down the Glasgow SNP list. It's still possible - either I have to overturn the second least winnable seat for the SNP in Scotland or the SNP must get around 83% on the list in Glasgow.

On the latter, there's a difference between positive thinking and positive delusion. And on the former ie winning my constituency first past the post, it's not impossible but I think it'll take a sustained effort over a number of years before I do that. One or two people have told me that I'll definitely not win if I think like that. I resist the temptation to point out that it takes more than positive thinking and if, at any point, they would care to come out and campaign with me, we will have a far better chance. Is the world always divided between the do-ers and them that tell the do-ers how to do it better but don't actually do it themselves?

I've never believed in pretending to the electorate that you are going to win when you're clearly not. I think people get sick of that. And I think your own voters feel a bit robbed when they've come out and voted because you've told them it's neck and neck only to get beaten by several thousand votes.

What I'll be saying to people is that I intend to build up our vote in Provan over the next couple of years and I'll be asking them at this election to help me to start doing that.

So, the upshot is that certainly for the next four years I will not be in parliament. People have asked why I've not written about that and I think perhaps I will do in the not too distant future. You know what it's like, it's easier to talk about things when they stop mattering to you so much.

Since I found out I was going to be out of a job last October I've really just thrown myself into work and not thought about it much. But since last week, I've not been able to shake it. I walk down the Royal Mile to work and I know it's one of the last times. I have started noticing things I've not had time for until now. I'm worrying about constituents and wondering how I'll be able to stop myself phoning whoever their new MSP is to make sure they're "doing it right". I'm savouring every minute I have left but I can't shake the negative feelings. And I do try. I am very aware that I was given a brilliant opportunity that so few people get. And I am grateful for it, I really am.

But it's a weird situation and I'm never sure how I should feel about it. One of my friends said it was like being sacked but without the letter explaining why. I suppose I can see the similarities. I can't call it redundancy because the post isn't redundant. I know that financially I'll be ok for a while and in that respect I'm a lot luckier than most folk who are losing their jobs right now.

But having lost my job before (that time it was redundancy) I'm keenly aware that it's about more than money and that's the harsh side of politics. You can throw yourself into the job, give it everything you've got, get great results, be absolutely passionate about it, know you couldn't have tried any harder but still lose it in the end.

I'm not feeling sorry for myself, I always said I was grateful for two years and anything beyond that was a bonus. I have never NEEDED this job. As I tell kids when I do school visits who ask me "why did you want to be a politican?", I never did. I just wanted Scotland to be Independent, I just didn't want nuclear weapons in Scotland, I just want our people to be treated fairly. I've never been one for being dependent on anything and I know there is a big wide world out there.

I suppose I'm just thinking today, two years on, that I love my job, absolutely love it and I wanted to keep doing it. Not forever, just until I felt I'd made all the difference I could and I hope I'd have walked away and let someone else come in once I'd reached that stage. But alas it was not to be and I think the next few weeks will be tougher than I expected.

Do you ever make a cup of coffee in the morning and then after a few mouthfuls realise you don't have time to finish it? For the rest of the day you're vaguely aware of something being not quite right, something not quite finished. That's how I feel about my time as an MSP coming to an end. I didn't get to finish what I started. Then again, I suppose it's better to have half a cup than none at all.

And you know what they say about every cloud having a silver lining? Again, I have a different perspective now than most MSPs so hopefully as I savour every last minute, I'll be able to get that across as I write the final month of my blog.

Then after the election, when I get to the other side, I'll see things from a different perspective again. I might throw myself into getting re-elected in 4 years time, I might see if I can become a soap star (dunno why everyone thinks I'm kidding when I say that), maybe I'll go to Egypt and soak up the atmosphere, join one of their new political parties. Perhaps I'll give up caffeine altogether ...

I don't have a clue what I'll do or how I'll feel but despite everything I've said, there's something exciting about not knowing what lies ahead. I've always said life is a big adventure and you never know what roads you'll go down. I will NEVER regret the last two years and I'll always be grateful for having had this brilliant opportunity.


  1. An attractively honest, unpretentious description of your experiences, Ms Indygal. Good for you.