THE sun was breaking through on Monday morning and I had a film crew to meet in Stornoway, here to tell the world an uplifting story about Harris Tweed. The ferry had sailed, so all was well in the world. Phew!

Better still, the election was over so was it safe to turn on Good Morning Scotland? I took the risk. First up was opt-out news for the Highlands and Islands and the second item was a set-back to my contentment. It was my newly re-elected MSP advising that “the first issue to be addressed” is another referendum.

Now, even most of those who voted for him, I suspect, would agree that “the first issue to be addressed” is the state of ferry services which now afflicts not only the Outer Hebrides but has knock-on effects all the way down the west, to Islay and Arran. Fortunately, I resisted the severe temptation to switch to Radio 2.

For next up was something quite different and truly uplifting. It was an interview with two newly-elected MSPs who were “firsts” in their own way. Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy is the first wheelchair-bound MSP while Sandesh Gulhane, a Tory and GP, is the first of Indian descent to cross that threshold.

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They were both refreshing and terrific, speaking with passion about their hopes for what they could achieve through their new positions. From their differing backgrounds, each clearly brought lived experience to their roles and wanted to make a difference.

Ms Duncan-Glancy spoke about the obstacles faced by disabled people in a way that nobody who has not experienced them can ever fully understand. These were as recent as the humiliation of a 45-minute delay in being able to enter the count for her own election because of access difficulties. Had nobody told the returning officer’s staff that there was a wheelchair-bound candidate, one wondered.

But the good news was that, by the second day of the count, the problem had been fixed. That is the kind of difference that a person holding elected office can make – not just for themselves but for all their peers as well. I have no doubt that Ms Duncan-Glancy will continue to make that case with great determination.

She also made a point which is hardly ever articulated – that designing things better for disabled people is also in the interests of a far wider range of society. The two examples she quoted were buses and housing. A moment’s thought confirmed the truth of what she said, so why has it taken so long for such common sense to be universally recognised?

Dr Gulhane explained that his own entry into politics was prompted by his experience as a GP during the pandemic of “a lot of things that could have been done better”. He pulled back from elaborating because it was not the occasion on which to make a political point. But who can doubt that his front-line experience will be of value to any review of what was done well and what was done badly.

HeraldScotland: Tarbert, HarrisTarbert, Harris

He also spoke about the developing crisis in mental health which he has witnessed and the priority it must be accorded by Holyrood. By this stage, the discussion was becoming so constructive, interesting and hence unusual that the interviewer, Laura Maxwell, was inspired to make a point of her own.

“Both of you seem to be interested in areas on which there can be a lot of cross-party unity in Parliament rather than the usual constitutional issues we discuss?” she wondered. “I certainly hope so,” said Ms Duncan-Glancy, briskly. And so say all of us. Or do we? Cut straight to the news headlines and the first item up: “The SNP has urged UK Ministers to work with the Scottish Government to hold a second independence referendum….”.

The contrast was stark. Which of these routes will be gone down in the months and years ahead? Are the talents of new MSPs – including groundbreaking ones in the SNP’s own ranks, like Kaukab Stewart – to be strait-jacked into a rigid, perpetual struggle about the constitution? Or can the potential of devolution be directed towards the kind of priorities these newly-elected MSPs were talking about?

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The unspoken truth is that on most devolved powers, there is no great ideological divide. The Tories are no ogres of the right and the Nationalists are no radicals of the left. The tests for the next five years should be about creativity of ideas and competence of delivery. Yet all that will be lost in the fog of entrenched positions if the constitution continues to dominate the headlines, till people finally get sick of it.

Later on Monday, I was in Tarbert, Harris, which is the scene of great activity, many millions spent on a linkspan to accommodate a new ferry, if it ever arrives. The still unnamed Hull 802 which was due for delivery in 2018 remains marooned at Ferguson’s yard as part of an astonishing fiasco, likely to cost a third of a billion pounds to build two CalMac ferries and creating havoc throughout the network.

Perhaps the “first issue to be addressed” for my local MSP and at least one dedicated Minister might be to sort that out – because, believe me, the implications of not doing so are worse disruption than anything we have yet seen. And accountability cannot be dodged for ever.

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