MSP Craig Hoy gave his first speech to Scottish Parliament last Tuesday (June 1). 

Craig Hoy, South Scotland MSP, full speech:

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I congratulate you on your new role and I welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care and his colleagues to their new positions.

READ MORE: MSPs' first speeches in Parliament: Martin Whitfield

This afternoon, we have heard powerful speeches from members of all parties, but particularly from new members. Paul O’Kane spoke passionately about the challenges of growing up gay, and the cabinet secretary talked about the daunting role that lies ahead of him, with which we wish him well. Emma Roddick spoke with passion about the challenge of mental health, including her own challenges, and my colleague Dr Sandesh Gullane talked movingly and with first-hand experience of the long-Covid challenge that lies ahead for our NHS.

READ MORE: MSPs' first speeches in Parliament: Paul McLennan

Jackie Baillie set out the stark realities of the challenges that are facing our mental health and cancer care services, and Jackson Carlaw rightly set out how we must resolve the mesh scandal during this parliamentary session through a process of restitution. My colleague Annie Wells noted the progress that has been made against Covid, thanked our dedicated NHS staff and warned that there are significant challenges ahead.

I also thank the new members who made their maiden speeches: Audrey Nicoll, Carol Mochan, Gillian Mackay and Elena Whitham, who talked with conviction about women’s health issues. As a former journalist, I have listened to many maiden speeches, but today is my opportunity to make my first contribution in this Parliament. I start by paying tribute to Iain Gray. After his final speech here, I wrote to him, thanking him for his service to East Lothian. I said that his successor would have big shoes to fill. Little did I know that it would take three MSPs—Paul McLennan, as the constituency member, and Martin Whitfield and me as the regional MSPs—to fill his shoes.

It is an honour to be able to represent South Scotland. I live in East Lothian; I grew up in Midlothian and my late granny Hoy was brought up in Law near Carluke in South Lanarkshire. The threads of my family run through the rich and diverse tapestry that is the South Scotland region. It was in Law village, where my great aunt Jenny lived with her brother and sister in a cold and cramped miner’s cottage, that I first saw political debate. Jenny was something rare in South Lanarkshire in the early 1980s: she was a Conservative. In the words of her sister Flora, she was a “bloody Tory."

Jenny was not that at all. She was what hundreds, and thousands of working-class Scots went on to become—that is, people who were ambitious for their families, their friends and their communities; people who stood apart from the old Scottish Labour ways; people who rejected a benign and no doubt well-intentioned socialism which I am sad to say, kept the poor and the working classes in their place. Although many families, including my own, moved on and made progress, others did not.

Poverty and the harsh health inequalities that it causes are a stubborn stain on the character of modern Scotland. Sixty years after deindustrialisation, we still have a chance to break that cycle. Four generations have had no hope and no stake in the society that they have seen around them. Many people are living with chronic health conditions; others are living with the misery of drug and alcohol misuse. Before Covid, record numbers confronted mental health challenges. Their life choices were limited, their life chances were blighted, and their life expectancy was blunted.

Poverty and poor health are the result of public policy failures by a succession of administrations - by my party, Labour and 14 years of SNP government in Scotland. As we debate the health recovery, let us not kid ourselves that everything was in a good place under the SNP before the pandemic. We had the worst rate of drug deaths in the western world. Today, we found out that 2,000 children and young people are waiting over a year to begin vital mental health treatment. Even before Covid, the SNP’s waiting time improvement plan was in chaos.

In the election campaign, we were clear about the urgency of the health challenge. I welcome ministers’ commitment to an NHS recovery plan. In March, 100,000 Scots were waiting for key diagnostic tests. The cost of misdiagnosis and cancelled operations will be with us for decades. That is why we called for guaranteed increases in NHS funding for every year of this parliamentary session, an additional £600 million to tackle the NHS treatment backlog, and out-patient appointments and elective surgery seven days a week. Those are practical proposals to help to remobilise our NHS today, not in 100 days.

Members will note our amendment to the Government’s motion. I hope that they will give it their consideration and support.

Before I conclude, I want to turn to a myth that could, sadly, dominate this session—that is, the myth that the Parliament needs more powers and Scotland needs to split from the UK to achieve a lasting Covid recovery. The powers to remobilise and revitalise our NHS are already vested in this institution. The levers that control those powers sit just in front of ministers on the front bench. That said, I give a reassurance on our health recovery. Where ministers reach out and use those powers to full and good effect, they can expect the full support of my party in the Parliament for those endeavours.

The success of the UK vaccine programme means that the long shadow cast by Covid could now be starting to fade. However, no one in the chamber, our GP surgeries or our hospital wards should underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead. The Scottish people want an NHS that they can be even more proud of, and we must work as hard as our front-line NHS staff to deliver that. If we work through our political differences, we will be able to look our constituents in the eye in five years’ time and say that we did our best for them. I believe that that is all that they ask and expect from us.