With no time to lose, we need a collective effort

Lorna Slater reflects on her transition so far from engineering project manager to MSP.

Transitioning from one job to another is always going to provide some surprises and adjustments. Launching the world’s most powerful tidal turbine into Scottish waters has been an all-encompassing project which has taken the combined focus of a large team. From Scottish steel work, construction of parts made across the EU, assembling in Dundee to the long transfer by barge to Orkney for installation, it was a major project that required all of us pulling in the same direction.

The launch in Dundee was the first vessel launch in the city since ship building stopped there over 40 years ago, and the fact it happened during one of the most difficult years in that time period is testament to that collective effort.

In contrast, one of the things that has surprised me about my new job in the Scottish Parliament has been the lack of constructive input, especially from other opposition parties. Of course, it is right that politicians represent the interests of the area they represent, and I take my responsibilities for Lothian very seriously, but when it comes to the challenges facing our nation, we need a combined focus.

The economic fallout from the pandemic will be significant, and will not be helped by Brexit. Meanwhile, the climate crisis is gathering apace and threatens vital infrastructure across the country with flooding and landslips.

These issues require an urgent response. We need our politicians working together on a green recovery that leaves no-one behind and tackles the urgent challenge of the climate emergency.

What we absolutely cannot consider is a return to a normal that destroys the planet and allows so many people to fall into poverty. Let’s not forget that Scotland was missing its targets on climate and poverty before the pandemic even reached us.

But a return to the normal of old is exactly what we saw in parliament last week. When the First Minister announced her top team for the coming years, I would have thought that was an opportunity to concentrate on the task at hand for those ministers, and how opposition can work constructively and hold them to account. Instead, we heard personal attacks, jokey anecdotes and verbose point scoring.

I know I am new to the job, but this feels like an extraordinary waste of parliamentary time when we don’t have a lot of time to lose. The job we have been elected to do is more urgent than ever, and my impatience is driven by the challenges we collectively face.

After the six hours it took to elect two deputy presiding officers, it is credit to the new presiding officer Alison Johnstone that eight urgent questions have been allowed of government already. Parliament should be working to address things urgently and hold government to account.

My colleague Ariane Burgess asked one of those questions, and it was on the subject of tenant’s rights. With most parts of Scotland now entering level two restrictions, the ban on evictions during lockdown was lifted and many struggling households could face losing their homes.

We are still in a public health emergency. Evicting vulnerable people who have been unable to work or earn during the pandemic is deeply unfair, and it was encouraging to hear the deputy first minister take this on board.

A new deal for renters is just one of the things we need to look for as we build a fairer greener Scotland that can face up to the challenges we face. But just like a big engineering project, it will require collective effort.