Michael Marra, newly-elected Scottish Labour MSP for the north-east region, reflects on his first week at Holyrood as part of our series on the experience of some of Scotland’s newest MSPs.
Monday May 10
“Kids dropped off at school followed by a morning of emails.
“Lots of lovely messages from people giving their congratulations on the election.
“Resign from work at the university. Into Dundee city centre to buy a suit for parliament. No luck. Picked kids up. Boy to football. Tea and bed for them both.
“Off to the train and only the second time out of the north-east in 14 months.
“Only other time has been for the funeral of my aunt who died from Covid-19 in her care home in the second wave last year.
“Edinburgh is eerily quiet with everything shut by the time I arrive after 10pm.
Tuesday May 11
“Early run up Arthur’s seat in beautiful sunshine before first day in the parliament.
“Met one of the country’s most senior judges near the summit. Definitely in Edinburgh.
“Lots of press photographers snapping away as I walk into Holyrood. Very odd.
“Induction meetings, IT intros, pass photos and more take up the day. All very well organised with a big emphasis on Covid security. Struggling being away from the kids.
“With my wife working in the office throughout the pandemic I have not been away from them in the whole 14 months.
“Daughter had hidden her toy rabbit, Hoppy, in my bag with a note tied to her paw. That helped.
Wednesday May 12
“Morning session with outgoing presiding officer Ken Macintosh on how to speak in the chamber, the rules of good conduct and how to make sure you can speak on behalf of your constituents in lots of different ways.
“Ken is a lovely man who I’ve known for 20 years. He made everyone feel at ease and I could see folk rising in their chairs a little when he said that all 129 MSPs are absolutely equal.
“We’ll see if it feels like that tomorrow when the old hands come back and all 129 of us are around for the business of electing a new presiding officer.
Thursday May 13
“Before we can do anything official we have to be sworn in. I practice the few sentences a load of times and manage to get it out without stumbling.
“Very serious – almost aggressive – tone masking nerves.
“Public speaking is one thing but recitation is quite another. Beginning to feel real now.
“The afternoon is the serious business of a the secret ballot for a new presiding officer. All highly political.
“The SNP need a PO who would be willing to sign an independence bill should they decide to bring one to parliament. Some MSPs would not believe it to be legal to do so.
“The SNP also do not want to give it to one of their own 64 MSPs.
“Losing one of those votes would open them to problems with possible votes of no confidence in ministers.
“These votes have secured important U-turns for citizens before. So it has to be a Green and Alison Johnstone MSP it is.
Friday May 14
“Morning is votes for deputy presiding officer. I’m not sure that the system used is very efficient.
“It takes hours and many rounds of voting to get the job done. Someone suggests STV as an alternative. The Lib Dems cheer in ecstasy.
“In between the many rounds I submit questions to the government on school building programmes and getting money for a new school in Dundee.
“I speak to a constituent whose community alarm is not being responded to due to lack of staff, with an elderly relative left in distress as a result.
“More rounds of votes. MSPs are getting tetchy; wanting to get on to the real job of raising issues and helping folk.
John Swinney appears to be digging in and his complacency and insistence that teacher judgment is being followed does not match with either the official guidance or the real anger among families and teachers fearing for their pupils.”
“Given the huge disruption of the pandemic there is so much to be done across the economy, health, communities and education – my own portfolio as Labour’s education spokesperson on the front bench.
“The new PO accepts three urgent questions. One of them is on the unfolding second SQA crisis where young people are sitting exams they are told are not really exams.
“John Swinney appears to be digging in and his complacency and insistence that teacher judgment is being followed does not match with either the official guidance or the real anger among families and teachers fearing for their pupils.
“I ask for more statistics on poverty to be published on exam results day.
“I think the questions, thankfully, make sense for my first attempt.
“Run for the train and an hour and a half later every Dundonian’s favourite travel moment: when the rhythm of rails shifts, the train rounds the slow bend at Newport, Invergowrie Bay sparkles open on your left and home spreads out ahead.”