Opposition bowing out at Holyrood

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THE OPPOSITION SPEECHES

Outgoing Labour leader Iain Gray was first of the opposition to congratulate Salmond.

Gray then delivered a thoughtful and dignified speech – applauded on all sides – in which he called on SNP MSPs to display “independence of thought and action especially in committee”, but said that opposition members had to have “willingness to accept the mandate the Government has, and to style our opposition and scrutiny accordingly”.

He added: “Where we agree what is best for Scotland, Labour will work with the Government, but where we disagree we will debate vigorously.”

Nothing is becoming Gray more than the manner of his going.

The new First Minister in turn said:  “I know and believe that in whatever format Iain will continue to make a substantial contribution to public life.”

Retiring Conservative leader Annabel Goldie indulged, as ever, in some gentle personal ribbing of Salmond but made a serious point: “He may have a majority of seats in this parliament, he does not have a majority of votes from Scotland. He may want separation, most people in Scotland do not. The only mandate he has from the election is to be a devolved Government in the Scottish Parliament.”

She added: “His mandate…is to act in the national interest not in his nationalist self-interest.”

Again, Salmond expressed good wishes to Goldie, admitting to a sense of “regret and relief” that she is standing down.

In his first speech to the chamber, new Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was important for there to ne a strong Liberal voice, saying: “It is important that public life is not dominated by the forces of Nationalism or Conservatism.”

Patrick Harvie, leader of the Greens, said: “This Parliament will have to operate in a very different way. Government will have the advantage of numbers but with the freedom to act will come the responsibility for the commitments made. Opposition will need to be a positive constructive process.”

The only independent MSP Margo MacDonald called herself AN Other and said: “The Scots knew they voted for a man who believed in independence or sovereignty, so as well as governing as well as possible I would hope and expect that the Government would run a commentary comparing and contrasting what we could do had we the full panoply of powers that most Scots are coming round to realising that we should have.”

The new First Minister thanked Rennie and Harvie for the contributions and singled out MacDonald – they have not been best pals in the past – for praise for her feat of winning election to the Parliament as an independent three times in a row.