Land and people are two defining features of the Highlands—lots of one without many of the other, to put it simply—so it’s hardly surprising that they featured in the maiden and valedictory speeches of a Highland representative such as Rob Gibson.
Mr Gibson was first elected in 2003 as a member for the Highlands and Islands parliamentary region, taking the constituency seat of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross at the election in 2011. There was no doubt from his maiden speech on 29 May 2003 what his primary concern was:
“The success of this Parliament will, in the minds of the voters who I was elected to represent, be measured by whether we reverse the depopulation that blights much of the Highlands and Islands today.”
That issue was still prominent as he gave his final speech in the Parliament—the opening speech in his members’ business debate on local control. He spoke of “the pressures that have shaken our land and shaken out its people”, taking us on a whistle-stop tour of the land issue from the “so-called improvements by lairds in the early 19th century” to present-day community land buyouts.
Mr Gibson certainly has a pedigree on land reform: as convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee throughout session 4, he played a significant part in the scrutiny of not only the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, for which the RACCE Committee was the lead committee, but of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, for which RACCE was a secondary committee.
Perhaps a lesser-known aspect of Mr Gibson’s work in the Parliament was as a champion of the Scots language in his capacity as the convener of the cross-party group on Scots, a role he played not only in session 4 but throughout his time as an MSP. The mither tongue doesn’t really feature in either his maiden or valedictory speech but, in the latter, he quoted Hugh MacDiarmid, the father of the Scots literary renaissance, albeit a work in English:
“Let what can be shaken, be shaken,
And the unshakeable remain.
The Inaccessible Pinnacle is not inaccessible.”
On a lighter note, Mr Gibson’s valedictory speech also revealed to us that his staff referred to him as “the moss boss”. He was rather coy about the reason but, if you’re rusty about your MSPs’ interests, bash the keyword “moss” into the Official Report search function and select “Gibson, Rob” from the list of MSPs. You’ll soon find the answer without getting bogged down. A wee clue: the word “champion” features again.
by Andy Philip, Official Reporter