East Lothian MSP Paul McLennan gave his first speech to Scottish Parliament on May 27.

Paul McLennan, MSP for East Lothian, full speech:

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I add my congratulations to you on your appointment.

I am delighted, honoured and humbled to be able to give my first speech as the first SNP MSP for East Lothian. I thank my family and my fantastic campaign team.

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As many of us did, three weeks ago today, on 6 May, I watched people queue to vote all over East Lothian. They were queueing because they believe in our democracy. They queued because they believe in our ability to make things better for them and because they trust us to change their lives for the better. What an honour that is.

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All that at a time when every single person has been affected by Covid and when, almost overnight, our lives have been turned upside down. Many people have lost loved ones, their livelihood and hope. I thank all key workers for their amazing efforts over the past 14 months.

I am honoured and humbled to represent East Lothian, where I have lived all my life. It is the constituency where the saltire was born in 832 in Athelstaneford, it is home to the Bass Rock and, of course, it is the birthplace of John Muir in my hometown of Dunbar. Our latest addition is the Dunbar, which is a statue to honour John Muir. It is also located in Dunbar and was designed by Andy Scott, who designed the Kelpies.

In many ways, East Lothian is like Scotland. It is a mix of rural and urban communities. It has areas of prosperity, but there are areas that are some of the most deprived parts of Scotland. My predecessor, Iain Gray, said in his final speech:

“East Lothian is the best constituency, the best county and the best part of Scotland in which to live or work.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2021; c 138.]

I, of course, concur with his comments, but I am obviously biased.

I want to thank Iain for being the MSP for East Lothian for 14 years and for his unquestionable commitment to the county and its wellbeing. We share a passion for Hibernian Football Club, which is a harrowing experience at the best of times, but that was especially the case over the past weekend, and I have been reminded of that by some St Johnstone fans over the past few days. I wish Iain and his family well.

Covid-19 has impacted on every element of life in East Lothian, be that in our schools, our hospitals, our fishing and farming communities, our tourist attractions or on our high streets. I welcome the recent announcement of the Scottish Government’s priorities for its first 100 days, and I welcome the establishment of the cross-party group on Covid recovery. I have already reached out to councillors in East Lothian to work with me.

Specifically on health, completing the vaccination programme is, and has to be, our priority. I look forward to meeting representatives of NHS Lothian to discuss the specifics of the NHS recovery plan for East Lothian in relation to the promised 10 per cent increase in activities, including additional services at the East Lothian community hospital. I pledge to work with mental health practitioners as a matter of urgency as we continue to climb out of the pandemic.

On education, I welcome the initial commitment to 1,000 new teachers and 500 classroom assistants and of course the summer programmes to support recovery in our education system. The commitment to fund 5,000 short-term industry-focused college courses is of course welcome. I look forward to discussing those with education colleagues in East Lothian.

On our economy, I welcome the introduction of the council for economic transformation, and I aim to replicate that locally in East Lothian. Additional funding for local partnerships and the youth guarantee scheme will be vital for young people in the county. Tourism is a big part of our economy in East Lothian, as it employs 5,000 people and generates £260 million annually for our economy. I know that the tourism recovery fund was very welcome. Our town centres employ many people too and they are the beating hearts of our communities. I look forward to continued working with local traders in East Lothian, who have engaged fully with the Scotland Loves Local message. Our traders do our county proud.

On tackling poverty, as we recover from the pandemic, the Scottish Government’s pledge to support lower-income families is welcome. I pledge to work with anti-poverty groups across East Lothian to tackle the issue as urgently as we can.

In moving out of Covid, we have opportunities. Martin Luther King said:

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

The time is right to address the climate challenge and to make changes to our economy so that it has wellbeing at its core. The time is right to build on the sense of community that we have seen all over Scotland and to work together, whenever we can, to give our communities that sense of hope, trust and belief in us that made them turn out in record numbers three weeks ago.

I will close with another quote, this time from John Muir, who said:

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”

Let us all endeavour to work together to make that power of imagination change lives in Scotland.