Celebrating 20 years of the Scottish Parliament

IT IS hard to believe that the first election to the devolved Scottish Parliament was 20 years ago while, on a personal level, I've reached two decades as a parliamentarian, first in Edinburgh and then Westminster.

I was convinced at the 1999 count that I would not be in that first historic intake of MSPs.  I was Conservative candidate in the Dumfries constituency coming second to Labour and, in addition, under proportional representation (PR), was fourth on the Conservative South Scotland list.

The PR result calculations were delayed that night and it was only when I checked the Teletext headlines on TV the next morning that I was surprised to find there were indeed four Conservatives, including myself, elected through the regional list. 

This was the high-point of Tony Blair's New Labour premiership and there were no Scottish Conservative MPs at Westminster.  In the first sitting of the Scottish Parliament on May 12 there were 18 Conservatives amongst the 129 MSPs. 

Today, with 31 Conservative MSPs, the party are the official opposition. 

I was proud being part of that first devolved Scottish Parliament at the temporary home in the Church of Scotland General Assembly Hall at The Mound.  There were huge political figures in the chamber, including Donald Dewar, Winnie Ewing, Margo MacDonald and David Steel.

In my own modest footnote in the Parliament's history, I asked the first question when official proceedings began. It was about rural schools. Issues, it seems, rarely change!

Conservatives have worked hard to help make the Parliament a force for good and as Scottish Secretary I've played a part in devolving additional powers.

It is disappointing though that SNP Ministers focus on their independence agenda, rather than directing more energy to concerns such as health, roads and education.

Scottish Conservatives, including my son Oliver, the Dumfriesshire MSP, will go into the 2021 Holyrood election looking for Ruth Davidson to be elected First Minister of Scotland. That would have been unbelievable back in 1999.