May 18 2011 by Judith Tonner, Airdrie & Coatbridge
Elaine Smith MSP
COATBRIDGE MSP Elaine Smith has been elected as a deputy presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament.
The town’s Labour representative won the first of the two exhaustive ballots for positions assisting new Holyrood presiding officer Trish Marwick.
She will now regularly take charge of proceedings in the Holyrood debating chamber, as well as representing the Parliament at official functions – but will also retain her party allegiance and voting rights.
Ms Smith hopes to use her new role to ensure that rank-and-file MSPs have plenty of opportunity to make their voices heard – and assured her Coatbridge constituents that she will still be prioritising her local work.
She told the Advertiser: “I’m absolutely delighted to have been elected and I’m very much looking forward to this new challenge.
“I’ll be assisting the presiding officer with the smooth running of Parliament and representation at civic events around Scotland or abroad, and I have my first meeting about official details this week.
“The ballot result shows I had cross-party support and I hope to work with the presiding officer to make some changes which will make Parliament better, more spontaneous and more geared towards backbenchers.
“Sometimes in the past there’s been a tendency for front-bench speakers to get the major chunk of Parliamentary time, but I think there could be more space for backbenchers or asking questions because of others which have been asked.
“I think it also raises the profile of Coatbridge and Chryston for me to be elected to this position, and I’ll be making sure that my constituency and deputy presiding officer diaries are chiming in with each other.
“Surgeries and constituency appointments will be in there so that other events can work around them; I have a very good constituency staff to help with that, and I’ll still be taking up the usual invitations to local engagements like gala days and bowling club openings.”
Ms Smith had finished second to Ayr member John Scott in each of the first two rounds of voting by MSPs, but won 64-58 in the final head-to-head secret ballot between the two.
Her Conservative opponent was then elected to the second deputy presiding officer post in a further vote, beating Labour’s Patricia Ferguson.
The local MSP, who was born in Coatbridge and is a former pupil of St Patrick’s High, has represented the seat since the Parliament’s inception in 1999.
An economics and politics graduate, she is a former teacher and also worked in local government and the voluntary sector before first being elected.
She wasted no time in returning straight to Parliamentary business, tabling a motion resisting budget cuts on the first day of business at Holyrood.
Ms Smith aimed to highlight the alternative strategies suggested in the STUC campaign, There is a Better Way, and the People’s Charter.
Her motion stated “that the Parliament believes cuts are neither unavoidable nor inevitable and that would actually threaten economic recovery across Scotland and impact on areas such as Coatbridge and Chryston.
“[It] understands that public sector cuts are likely to have a disproportionate effect on women, children and disabled people, and would welcome widespread support for the STUC campaign and local campaigns such as those in North Lanarkshire.”
Ms Smith had earlier taken issue with the wording of the MSPs’ oath, which requires swearing allegiance to the monarchy, before being sworn in for her fourth term at the Parliament.
She told the chamber: “I believe that the people of Scotland should be citizens and not subjects, and I hold firmly that my allegiance should first and foremost be to them.
“However, I recognise that to serve my constituents in the Parliament, I must meet the legal requirement of taking the oath, and I will therefore do so.”
Also sworn in at last Wednesday’s opening ceremony of the new Scottish Parliament assembly were new Airdrie representative Alex Neil, taking a constituency seat for the first time after nine years as a list MSP.
He was joined by Coatbridge politicians John Wilson, a fellow SNP member, and Conservative Margaret Mitchell; plus newly-elected North Lanarkshire councillors Clare Adamson and Richard Lyle of the SNP and Labour’s John Pentland and Mark Griffin.