The 1999 Club

Amidst much pomp and circumstance at the weekend, the Scottish Parliament officially turned 20. Yesterday marked the strict anniversary of the devolution of powers to Scotland’s newborn legislature. That’s cause for reflection in any case, but the concurrent departure of Tavish Scott and return of Sarah Boyack, both 1999 originals, added another layer of interest. On Twitter, someone asked me not just how many MSPs remained from the original 1999 Parliament, but have held the same seat the entire time.

For a little bonus post from Ballot Box Scotland, I’ve had a look at the class of 1999. I got a bit mixed up when giving it a go on Twitter the other day, but hopefully I’ve got it spot-on this time! Of the 129 MSPs elected to the first Scottish Parliament, 26 (20%) are still to be found in the Holyrood chamber today.

The Immovable Objects – 4 MSPs

These are the MSPs who’ve not just been around since 1999, but per that Twitter query, have held the same (or equivalent) seat since then. They are;

  • Labour – 1 MSP
    • Jackie Baillie, Dumbarton
  • SNP – 3 MSPs
    • Roseanna Cunningham, Perthshire South and Kinross-shire (Perth 1999-2011)
    • Fergus Ewing, Inverness and Nairn (Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber 1999-2011)
    • John Swinney, Perthshire North (North Tayside, 1999-2011)

All four hold constituency seats, though only Jackie Baillie’s constituency still bears the same name, seeing only very minor boundary changes. Nonetheless, these four represent the most rock-solid core of MSPs, who’ve proven impossible to budge.

The Old Hands – 14 MSPs

These are the MSPs who’ve had continual service since 1999, but have represented different seats in that time. They are;

  • Labour – 4 MSPs
    • Johann Lamont, Glasgow Pollok 1999-2016, Glasgow 2016-
    • Lewis Macdonald, Aberdeen Central 1999-2011, North East 2011-
    • Ken Macintosh, Eastwood 1999-2016, West 2016- 
    • Elaine Smith, Coatbridge and Chryston 1999-2016, Central 2016-
  • SNP – 10 MSPs
    • Bruce Crawford, Mid Scotland & Fife 1999-2007, Stirling 2007-
    • Linda Fabiani, Central 1999-2011, East Kilbride 2011-
    • Christine Grahame, South 1999-2011, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale 2011-
    • Fiona Hyslop, Lothians 1999-2011, Linlithgow 2011-
    • Richard Lochhead, North East 1999-2006, Moray 2006-
    • Michael Matheson, Central 1999-2007, Falkirk West 2007-
    • Alex Neil, Central 1999-2011, Airdrie and Shotts 2011-
    • Shona Robison, North East 1999-2003, Dundee City East 2003- (as Dundee East 2003-2011)
    • Nicola Sturgeon, Glasgow 1999-2007, Glasgow Southside 2007- (as Glasgow Govan 2007-11)
    • Sandra White, Glasgow 1999-2011, Glasgow Kelvin 2011-

Unsurprisingly, the SNP MSPs who’ve shifted seats since 1999 all moved from representing a region to a constituency, whilst for the Labour MSPs the movement was in the opposite direction. I have Ken Macintosh down under the Labour heading as that was the label he was elected under; he is currently not affiliated with a party whilst serving as Presiding Officer.

It’s worth noting that the SNP have always operated a policy of placing their top-ranking candidates in both constituencies and high list positions, whilst Labour had a misguided policy of banning standing for both votes (except where boundary changes suggested a lost constituency seat). When I say misguided, I mean the effects of that policy were so notably destructive to the party in 2011 that when New Zealand reviewed their similar electoral system in 2012, their electoral commission highlighted them as a good reason not to bring in such a ban there (page 38). Had Labour not had that rule in 2011, they might have a few more “lost their constituency, re-elected on the list” MSPs today.

The Returners – 8 MSPs

Politics isn’t a secure game, but defeat isn’t always final. These are the class of 1999 MSPs that were sent packing, but beat a glorious return at a later date. They are;

  • Labour – 4 MSPs
    • Sarah Boyack, Edinburgh Central 1999-2011, Lothian 2011-2016, 2019-
    • Rhoda Grant, Highlands & Islands 1999-2003, 2007-
    • Iain Gray, Edinburgh Pentlands 1999-2003, East Lothian 2007-
    • Pauline McNeill, Glasgow Kelvin 1999-2011, Glasgow 2016-
  • Lib Dem – 1 MSP
    • Mikes Rumbles, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 1999-2011, North East 2016-
  • SNP – 3 MSPs
    • Kenny Gibson, Glasgow 1999-2003, Cunninghame North 2007-
    • Gil Paterson, Central 1999-2003, West 2007-2011, Clydebank and Milngavie 2011-
    • Mike Russell, South 1999-2003, 2007-2011, Argyll and Bute 2011-

Sarah Boyack is the only one of the bunch to make her return mid-session rather than at a succeeding election, for which I’m sure she’s quite grateful to Kezia Dugdale. Her colleague Pauline McNeill is also notable as the only one of Labour’s 2011 losses to have returned to Parliament although few, if any, of the others actually tried.

Mike Rumbles return in 2016 ensures the Lib Dems still have an original 1999 MSP in their ranks, but at the cost of having displaced Alison McInnes and giving them an all-male team.

The SNP’s relatively poor result in 2003 sent a few of their MSPs packing, but this trio returned for the party’s 2007 minority victory. Gil Paterson stands out for having represented three distinct areas (not counting boundary changes) over his time at Holyrood, whilst Mike Russell beat one of the more impressive migrations in terms of distance, shifting from the South region up to Argyll and Bute – though perhaps he took the relatively short hop from Ailsa Craig to Kintyre?

The Missing Pieces

So from all of this, we’re now at a point where only the SNP and Labour have MSPs with unbroken terms since 1999. What happened to the other parties?

  • Lib Dems – Tavish Scott’s resignation last week saw the Immovable Objects dip to only 4 MSPs, and the Lib Dems lose their last MSP with an unbroken service record.
  • Conservatives – The only 1999 MSP the Conservatives elected in 2016 was North East MSP Alex Johnstone, who sadly passed away due to cancer a few months after being re-elected. That means John Scott, who has represented the Ayr Constituency since the first ever Scottish Parliament by-election in March 2000, is now the longest serving Conservative MSP.
  • Greens – Robin Harper was the first Green Parliamentarian elected anywhere in the UK in 1999, and ensured the Greens as a party would go on to have unbroken representation in the parliament to this day. He didn’t stand for re-election in 2011, which means that with 16 years service Patrick Harvie holds the record for the Green MSPs.

A further 20 years from now, will there still be MSPs from 1999? Quite possibly! Down at Westminster, Ken Clarke was first elected in 1970 so is approaching 50 years in the role. One to beat, perhaps.