‘Mrs Thatcher made me go into politics’ says Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer

Ken Macintosh MSP was elected as the Presiding Officer (PO) for the Fifth Session of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 12 May 2016.
Here, he tells first year HN Practical Journalism student Margaret Fisher what inspired him and why democracy is a lot more fragile than we think.

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh

Q: Presiding Officer, could you describe your role within the Scottish Parliament?

A: I have three roles: I chair in the chamber which includes selecting the questions and the order of debates. I chair the Parliamentary Business Bureau. It decides all the debates. It has five members and they have weighted votes based on the numbers of MSPs in each party. They decide what we debate tomorrow. I chair the Corporate Body. It has four members and makes sure it all works and that people have the resources they need to do their job.
I also represent the Parliament abroad and at home, for example, welcoming the ambassador from Georgia or Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales.

Q: Mr Macintosh, how difficult is it for you to remain neutral in your work as PO?
A: It is not hard for me to be neutral. I used to work for the BBC, so it is similar in that I have an ability to be objective. I suspended my membership of the Labour party because the PO has to be neutral and not belong to any political party.

Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh MSP hosts a Panel Q&A session with Keith Brown MSP, Dean Lockhart MSP, Jackie Baillie MSP and Tavish Scott MSP during the Business in Parliament Conference 2017 which was held in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. 29 September 2017. Pic – Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Q: What made you go into politics?
A: Mrs Thatcher made me go into politics. I was a student at the time. It seemed to me to be a battle of them and us, division everywhere.
I was in the Labour party for 17 years, actually I have been a member for 35 years. I didn’t get elected until I was 37.  
Q: Why did you stand for the Scottish Parliament?
A: I stood for the Scottish Parliament because I believe in devolution. Although I do have my own beliefs, I’ve never hated anyone. Unlike some others, I didn’t have to destroy my Facebook or Twitter accounts (laughs).
I had been a constituency MSP then lost my seat and I got re-elected as a list MSP, a strange situation to be in. I didn’t go into politics to be PO. It’s a very important office and I respect the office. It’s a public office and it is an incredibly privileged position.

Democracy is more fragile than you think, as we can see from recent events in the news, so it is very important to seek common ground with others around the world.

Q: Can the parliament be a bit of a political bubble at times?
A: You can easily become institutionalised in any organisation because people say this is the way we’ve always done things. So when this parliament was first established, the idea was to make it more participative and engage with the public. Politics is a mixture of passion and reason. We are voting by head and heart, driven by our passions, our prejudices really. Most people are fair-minded, a quality most of us have. If someone comes to you with opposing views, put your own views to one side and be objective. It’s a bit like being Caesar’s wife. I have two deputies who can still vote. I have a casting vote if there is a tie in any vote.

Q: How long are parliamentary sessions?
A: The parliamentary session should be four years. Not this most recent election, 2016, but the previous one, we didn’t want to hold our election on the same day as the Westminster general election, which used to be four years, but they went to a five year cycle when the Coalition government was in power. We will need to make a decision sometime soon as to whether we go back to a four year period for Scottish elections.  

Q: Can you stand for election as PO for a second term?

A: As I am not a member of Labour, I can’t stand for re-election as I am not a member of a party. There have been some exceptions though to being a member of a political party. We have had independents Margo MacDonald, and before that, Dennis Canavan.

Q: Do you have any advice to give us as journalism students?

A: As journalists you need trusted sources of information, so there will always be a need for journalists as politicians want to change things. The questions journalists ask are often the same ones politicians ask and that the public wants to know about.

Remind me, who is Ken Macintosh?

Ken Macintosh MSP was elected as the Presiding Officer for the Fifth Session of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 12 May 2016 and is the first Scottish Labour member to be elected to the role.
At the 1999 election, when the Scottish Parliament was established, he won the Eastwood constituency with a majority of 2,125. He continued as constituency MSP for Eastwood until the seat fell to the Conservatives in the 2016 election, but he was returned to Holyrood on the regional list for West Scotland.
He stood unsuccessfully to be leader of his party, first against Johann Lamont and then against Kezia Dugdale in 2015.
Following the 2016 election for Presiding Officer, he won in the third round of a knockout ballot with 71 out of 128 votes, leaving 31 to Murdo Fraser of the Scottish Conservatives and 26 to the former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.

Margaret Fisher

Margaret is a mature student studying practical journalism with the objective of making a career change writing for magazines, copywriting and PR. She currently works part-time in human resources specialising in employment law. She has a background in business development, management and training, at one time working for Highlands & Islands Enterprise when she lived in Inverness. During her career she has written articles for business publications and for a Scottish magazine. For fun she likes to keep fit, plays bridge, mahjong and sings in a community choir.

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