Nicol’s decision to stand down

As announced by the Scottish Liberal Democrats yesterday, Nicol Stephen MSP is standing down next May, 28 years after first being elected a councillor, then an MP and latterly an MSP.

 

Nicol has served the people of Aberdeen with great distinction over three decades and he has done much to build up the Scottish Liberal Democrats, particularly during his period as party leader between 2005 and 2008.

Nicol has always been very supportive of our local party in Dundee, visiting the city often and campaigning with us.  See photo (above) of some of the Dundee LibDem team with Nicol when he visited Lochee in 2007.

Scottish party leader Tavish Scott said yesterday, “Nicol has made an enormous contribution to both the north-east and to Scotland. I will miss his presence, strategic approach and sense of humour as a colleague and above all a friend in Holyrood.”

I wish Nicol, Caris and the family all the best for the future.

Nicol’s shock decision

As the greatest fan of Nicol Stephen, I’m really sad at his decision to stand down as Scottish LibDem leader, but I have sent him a message wishing him, Caris & the family every good wish.


Here’s Nicol’s message to party members :

Last week I informed the Convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats that I intended to stand down as Party Leader.

Today I am formally announcing that decision, with immediate effect. Everyone involved in politics knows that there are stresses and strains on family life.

But when it goes beyond that, when it crosses a line, something has to be done.
And at that stage – when you have to make a choice between family and politics – there can only be one answer. The health and wellbeing of your family has got to come first.

With four children between the ages of 4 and 12, my family has got to be my priority.

As an MSP representing a constituency well away from Edinburgh, I have been away from home at least four working days each week for more than nine years.
As a party leader the responsibilities have been even more demanding. You have to be available every day, every week. There is rarely a weekend, a birthday or a family holiday when the demands of the job do not intrude.
That is not to complain – long hours and long absences from home go with the job.
But it can all have an impact.

And when that impact becomes too great, it is time to put my family first. I will continue to represent Aberdeen South in the Scottish Parliament. I intend to remain a strong campaigner on behalf of my city and my constituents.
It has been an honour and a great privilege to lead the party over the last three years and to be part of the first generation of Liberal Democrats to be in government in Britain since the Second World War.In that time the Scottish Liberal Democrats have achieved much for the people of Scotland. We succeeded in scrapping student tuition fees, in setting bold targets for renewable energy and in delivering a fair voting system for local government.

As a Minister, I welcomed the chance to deliver the Parliament’s first cut in business rates, to introduce enterprise education for every child and to kick start new wave and tidal projects to release Scotland’s potential to be the renewable energy powerhouse of Europe.

And, during my time as leader, the Party shook the foundations of Scottish politics when Willie Rennie gained the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election from Labour. We also gained Dunfermline West at the Scottish election, and across Scotland saw our number of votes and our share of the vote increase – a notable achievement for a party which had been in power for eight years.Our party is united and our shadow cabinet team has been taking the fight to the SNP in Parliament with a strong and consistently effective performance.And I have enjoyed challenging the new First Minister at question time each week. I will miss that.

I will miss it all, a great deal.

My hunger for change in Scotland – tackling global warming, building the role of young people in our country and stopping the slide of civil liberties – is no less now than when I started in politics 25 years ago.
However that drive and that passion comes at a price. And it is a sacrifice that that my family should no longer have to make. Their happiness is more important than any political office and that is the reason for me standing down as leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Our new leader can be assured of my total support and my constant encouragement. It has been a fascinating few days in Scottish politics and today’s announcement will be for most another unexpected twist.But the fundamentals are clear.

The Liberal Democrats are united, strong and growing.

Labour are coming to the end of their time at Westminster. The SNP are starting to find government tougher than they expected. Broken promises catch up with you. And the Conservative strategy of continually propping up the SNP in Holyrood remains to me simply staggering.

I believe that there is a huge opportunity for our party at this time. It is going to be an exciting few years.

And I wish my successor great success.

Finally, I want to thank friends and colleagues for their support, advice and encouragement. They know who they are – at Westminster, at Holyrood and across Scotland. I will not get into that cliché of mentioning a long list of those who have meant so much to me over the years, but they know who they are!

Above all, however, I want to thank my wife Caris and my four kids for all their help – and all they put up with – in supporting my life in politics!

That other cliché is for a politician to say he is looking forward to spending more time with his family.

In my case it happens to be true.

Perhaps my announcement today should alert people to the demands which are placed on politicians and their families.

For me, it is simpler than that. Recognising those demands, it reflects what I must do – as a personal, not a political, priority.

Thank you,

Nicol Stephen MSP

SNP shambles on PE targets

During last week’s FMQs, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, Nicol Stephen MSP challenged the First Minister to provide clarity on the SNP’s mixed message for physical education targets in schools.

“In March, a Government spin doctor said that the guarantee of two hours of physical education had been dropped, but the First Minister issued a clarification and said that that was not true.


“This week, the Minister for Schools and Skills said that the two-hours target included walking to school, but yesterday the First Minister issued a clarification and said that that was not true. The Scottish National Party manifesto said:

“‘We will ensure that every pupil has 2 hours of quality PE each week delivered by specialist PE teachers.’

“Was any of that true?

“The First Minister seems relaxed about all this. I wonder whether all the radios in Bute House have been confiscated. Has the First Minister not heard what has been going on?

“His promise was made in two parts: not only would two hours of PE be delivered for every child, but those hours would be delivered by specialist PE teachers. The Minister for Schools and Skills, Maureen Watt, was asked on the radio:

‘Good quality. Does that mean specialist teaching?’

“She replied: ‘Well, it needn’t mean specialist teaching.’

“The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Fiona Hyslop, was asked on the radio:

“‘You promised that, didn’t you? You said that you will ensure that every pupil has two hours.’

“She replied: ‘I can’t be in every single school detailing the timetabling.’

“That is two ministers over two days each walking away from half of the promise.


“We are fed up with the evasions and contortions, so will the First Minister tell us simply when all children in Scotland will have two hours of PE every week with a qualified PE teacher? That was the SNP promise; when will it be delivered?”

You can read the full exchange by clicking on the headline above.

Perhaps the most telling aspects of Nicol’s intervention at FMQs last week were two fold :

  • Maureen Watt, SNP Schools Minister, despite having obviously been given the “smile at all costs” remit (sitting beside Salmond at FMQs), looked extremely uncomfortable throughout. A Minister totally out of her depth – actually makes Fiona Hyslop look good.
  • When Nicol said “We are fed up with the evasions and contortions” the noises of support for that comment were audible right across the chamber. Salmond’s government never gives a straight answer to a straight question and that point is no longer lost on anyone.
Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Ross Finnie MSP, added :

“The SNP is all over the place on physical exercise targets for children …. we discover that the Schools Minister is utterly incapable of expanding on the target. She was unable to give any details about how the two hour target would be delivered during the school day, preferring instead to remind the interviewer that physical education could be delivered before and after the school day.”

Maureen Watt? A pretty hopeless Minister, really.

Liberal Democrats – the effective opposition

Following the astonishing meltdown of the Labour Party this week, Nicol Stephen, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, said that the Liberal Democrats are offering the only effective opposition to the SNP Government.

“The past week has proved beyond any doubt that the Liberal Democrats are the only party providing effective opposition to the SNP.

“Annabel Goldie’s Tories have made life more than easy for the SNP over the last year. The Tories have consistently cosied up to the SNP, even supporting the nationalist’s budget. They must share the blame for the ensuing cuts to frontline services that almost every council in Scotland has had to make.

“Labour has disintegrated. Wendy Alexander’s flip-flop on the independence vote and the subsequent failure of the Prime Minister to support her position has plunged the party into chaos. Nobody knows what Labour stand for anymore and they’re shown themselves as totally incapable of holding the SNP Government to account.

“Week in, week out at First Minister’s Questions and at the key debates in the Scottish Parliament, only the Liberal Democrats are providing the real alternative to the SNP Government.”

Bring on the clowns

The “Sunday Times” today -‘Bring on the clowns – Wendy Alexander’s referendum U-turn’ (click on headline above to view) – along with the other Sunday papers, sums up the depth of the disaster of Wendy Alexander’s week.

Nicol Stephen MSP, speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, said Alex Salmond could not believe his luck over Alexander’s ridiculous u-turn on the referendum issue.

Nicol said, “First he had the Tories cosying up to him on the budget, now we have the farcical floor show of the Labour Party offering him his lifetime’s ambition on a silver tray.”

Now it appears Wendy is under pressure to make a u-turn over the u-turn.
Scottish Labour has totally lost the plot.

You’d suggest they ditch Wendy, err … but exactly which towering giant from the Scottish Labour contingent in the Scottish Parliament would replace her? Ooops, sorry – there isn’t one!

Burma

As raised by Nicol Stephen in the Scottish Parliament today, the Cyclone Nargis disaster is a tragedy for the people of Burma.
Already suffering from the lowest living standards in Asia and years of misrule and mismanagement, the people of Burma have now been struck by this terrible natural catastrophe.
Our differences with the Burmese regime are well known, but our most urgent task now is humanitarian. The latest figures report more than 22 000 dead, probably many more.
As of today Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained for a total of 12 years and 197 days. Please click on the headline and help the people of Burma.

Nicol Stephen, FMQs Hero …

OK, it is becoming a weekly success for Nicol Stephen – star of First Minister’s questions – but he was particularly brilliant on Thursday.
In challenging the Deputy First Minister Nicola Cheerful over false claims by Alex Salmond that the Government has launched a consultation on the SNP’s election promise to scrap student debt, Nicol said,

“The First Minister gave a BBC interview last week. He was asked why the Government had dropped its promise to write off student debt. In reply, the First Minister said:

“’We’ve published a consultation document on student debt, which is out for consultation at the present moment. I am sure that’s available to read.’

“Is anything that he said in those two sentences true?

“The First Minister was very clear last week that he had published a consultation and that it was available to read. However, we made a request for the document under the freedom of information legislation and we got the following back from the Government:

‘We believe that releasing information on the policy proposals would not be in the public interest at this time.’

“What is it with the Government and this policy?

“Four weeks ago, Fiona Hyslop appeared on STV to deny that she had ever promised to write off student debt in the first place. The First Minister has now been on the BBC to fabricate an entire Government consultation. In the interview, James Watson from Glasgow, the father of a student, asked him, ‘Why do you have to lie to the people to get voted into power?’

“Can the Deputy First Minister give Mr Watson an honest answer?”

I am going to be generous here and say that Nicola Sturgeon did well too – she’s actually a rather good performer and less abrasive than Salmond. Labour Leader Wendy Alexander was utterly terrible, but nothing new there then.

Nicol continues to receive praise for his sharp questioning at FMQs from political pundits across the board:

· Alan Cochrane, Scottish Political Editor, Daily Telegraph: “By God, he’s done it again! Regular readers may well be growing tired of this column’s paeans of praise directed at Nicol Stephen, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, but the fact remains that he is, by a long Scots mile, easily the best opposition that we have to Alex Salmond.” (Telegraph 02.05.08)

Eddie Barnes, Political Editor, Scotland on Sunday: “It was another surgical strike for Nicol Stephen.” (Holyrood Live 01.05.08)