Michael Russell’s message to Argyll

No longer in government following today’s reshuffle by new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon,  Michael Russell, Argyll & Bute’s MSP, sends this message of his commitment to the constituency.

He says: ‘It has been an enormous privilege to serve as a Scottish Government Minister in three different portfolios  – Environment,  Culture, External Affairs & the Constitution , and  Education & Lifelong Learning –  for the past seven and a half years.

‘My five years as Education Secretary was a learning experience in every way but I recently decided that whilst I fully intend to stand again for Argyll & Bute at the Scottish Parliament elections in eighteen months time, I would not wish to go into Government for a third term given the demands of serving such a huge and varied constituency as well as travelling the length and breadth of Scotland  [and sometimes overseas] as a Minister.

‘Nicola’s election as Scotland’s First Female First Minister was bound to produce an early reshuffle so I took this ideal  opportunity to step down at a time when a  new Education Secretary could  have the chance to establish herself in the run up to  2016 as well as bring a fresh approach and fresh ideas  to what is one of the most wide ranging and demanding of roles. Angela Constance will be great at the job and of course worked within the portfolio for several years. So it is time for the torch to pass to her.

‘When I first became a Minister I was a regional member for the South of Scotland though I have lived in Argyll for over 20 years.     I was very fortunate to be chosen to succeed Jim Mather in 2010  and move seats but that move brought many new responsibilities not least the imperative to hold surgeries, visit constituents and attend events in every part of the county.   That presents particular challenges given that  Argyll & Bute has a coastline longer than France, over 20 inhabited islands and on the mainland includes Kintyre, Oban & Lorne, Cowal and Mid Argyll – each of them bigger than many whole constituencies  in other parts of the country.

‘My greatest honour is to have been chosen to  speak up for the people of Argyll and Bute in the National Parliament of Scotland.  Serving them – all of them –  was and is my first priority. It is what I have been doing and will go on doing. Indeed I am now going to work even harder for everyone here in order to live up to the extraordinary trust this area has placed in me and for which I am always grateful.’

The lack of any tribute from Ms Sturgeon to the departing Education Secretary  – who has said that both Mr Russell and Mr MacAskill had ‘offered to stand down’ would suggest that Mr Russell chose the face saver of jumping before he was pushed.

That apart, the reality is that a sadness in the MSP’s ministerial career is that he was moved prematurely from the job he absolutely fitted, would have loved , in a sector badly in need of the reshaping he was more than capable of delivering – Culture Secretary.

COSLA had made a mess of the then incumbent Education Secretary, Fiona Hyslop who, as a First Ministerial favourite, was never going to be sidelined but, holed below the champagne line, badly needed to be rescued. Mr Salmond’s solution was to move each to the other’s post.

This pragmatic move saw the abrupt truncation of Russell’s tenure at Culture, in which he had started with huge promise.

He had come to Culture from Environment, from where he had himself needing rescue in the wake of stooshie he had created in 2008, here in Argyll in particular, through an ill considered scheme to lease 25% of Scotland’s viscerally important Forest Estate to foreign logging companies for a period of 75 years.

With the Forest Estate figuring large in the natural and employment landscapes of Argyll, meetings in community halls across the county were filled with protesters; and he area’s Liberal Democrat MP, Alan Reid, facing relection in 2010, made hay while the political sun shone.

The earnings from the proposed scheme were fairly slender and could not weigh against the perceived negatives. Russell was air-lifted out, replaced by Roseanna Cunningham – and moved to Culture, which must have felt like the homecoming of a lifetime.

This was a world he knew, from much of a life spent politically and personally in the creative arts. It was a world he was well qualified to speak to and to speak about; and it was a world in need of the sort of forced intervention which is his hallmark.

Temperamentally, the key to Russell is that while he barks loudly and rudely – and bullies where soft targets present themselves – he does not actually have the stomach for a serious contest between equals or against a more powerful opponent. All of these characteristics were his downfall at Education.

His bullying was infamous, with imperious – and shamingly successful – demands for the scalps of those who got across him ; yet he gave ground he did not have to give in the moratorium he introduced on school closures, which let dishonest and incompetent councils [like Argyll and Bute] unnecessarily off the hook; and he failed to confront COSLA as it needed to be confronted – because, as a powerful and determined combatant, it was the sort he shies away from taking on.

Russell’s pragmatism also led to his making inconsistent decisions on the school closures across Scotland which, as Education Secretary, he had ‘called in’ for his ministerial adjudication.

There were schools which ought never to have been closed and where his intervention cemented serious injustices. There were others to which he had personal connections of one mind or another which were reprieved. One such sequence led to a Judicial Review in which Lord Brailford found for the petitioner, Western Isles Council; and where the resulting ministerial appeal saw Lady Paton, in upholding Lord Brailsford’s opinion, issue one of the most finely argued legal opinions Scotland has seen.

Scotland’s education today sees the foolishly trivial and content free Curriculum for Excellence, so-called, is measurably leaving our children losing competence in the most basic skills of numeracy. The college sector, arguably more vital to employment and to the Scottish economy than the university sector, is left incoherent and destabilised. This has not been a successful but a damaging deployment.

But at Culture – from which ‘he was untimely ripped’ there had been an excitement in his appointment, a sense of expectation of the sort of brouhaha only the arts can dish up and in which Russell performs with bravura.

The arts sector, itself, by nature performance-centred, instinctively understood him, would professionally have appreciated his rhetoric and, while undoubtedly capable of offering him fierce opposition, would not have been been the alien force that was COSLA.

It remains a great pity, for Russell himself and for Scotland’s still incoherent creative sector, that governmental necessity saw him moved out of that job. So much might have been so very different.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • An awful lot to précis but the man was a bullying arrogant prick, he refused to speak to me in Oban on 18th Sept. regarding local msp issues in his constituency, my msp my non independence issue, threatened with police and pushed from “YES” shop by some pigeon chested 25 year old who doesn’t to this day realise how fortunate he was [Ed: Unacceptable material has been removed here.]… forgiveness?? all in the public domain! ………………………………………………………………………. Apologies to Ed. I did get a wee bit carried away!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 24 Thumb down 12

    wee fat guy November 21, 2014 11:17 pm Reply
    • Which stone did you crawl out from under, ‘wee fat guy’? – or was it a bar stool?

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 21

      Robert Wakeham November 22, 2014 12:45 am Reply
      • Rob Wakeham Please elaborate on your suggestion that I live under a stone or sit on a bar stool, the incident happened on the 18th., referendum day, and that was why he was in town, my query had nowt to do with the main agenda on that day, my opinion of the man was formed long before the referendum and still applies. P.S. when I do frequent a bar I prefer to stand, maybe it’s a class thing?

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        wee fat guy November 22, 2014 3:46 pm Reply
        • Your intemperate rant.

          Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 9

          Robert Wakeham November 22, 2014 6:03 pm Reply
          • Not good enough Robert, intemperate would suggest the persistent consumption of bevvy, what qualifies you to make such assumptions, and what has being under a stone got to do with anything, and yes, I did get a wee bit carried away, the post was edited and I added my apologies, do you have any opinions on the qualities of the man in question? some others agree with me but perhaps with less vitriol. How would you have reacted in my position on the day?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

            wee fat guy November 22, 2014 6:55 pm
          • I was referring to your qualities (or lack thereof), wee fat guy.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 10

            Robert Wakeham November 22, 2014 7:05 pm
      • As it would seem that Robert Wakeham has formed his opinion of me and my habits based on one post, but cannot answer my simple questions, could I conclude , after perusing many posts on here,by asking and answering a question Q) What’s the difference between Mike Russell and everything else in the known universe Ans) Robert Wakeham does not have an opinion on Mike Russell! tata

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        wee fat guy November 25, 2014 12:46 pm Reply
        • tata to you too.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

          Robert Wakeham November 25, 2014 3:05 pm Reply
          • Well hello again, Mike Russell’s annual statement has now arrived and isn’t it a coincidence that in my 1st post on this thread I referred to him as a B.A.P. In this handout he is now B.P.A but I think it’s not in agreement with me, just gaelic for MSP, but any way to the 1st lie quoted directly from the front page.. “”I have enjoyed meeting many of my constituents in their own communities and often in their own homes”” not in my case, he should have added “except one or two” The matter was a community issue which should have been handled by local community, local councillors and local council officers, but no, one side of the matter e-mailed Sturgeon and I believe Salmond, threatening not to support SNP again in referendum or elections,(with several blatant lies supporting their cause) Sturgeon passed this to Russel who passed the matter to Marie Claire Docherty his office manager in Dunoon and I believe to his one time press officer and SNP councillor Glen-Lee not always by e-mail. The flurry of e-mails between Dunoon, A&B Kilmory,A&B Oban the community and the faction threatening to pull their support for SNP started mostly from Dunoon until they got their wishes, at no time did Russell consult any of his constituents on this matter and that all meetings it was felt that it was a fait a compli as it turned out to be, but at one of the meetings councillors and A&B officer confirmed that if certain conditions were not adhered to everything would revert back to status quo (this is in the minutes) and is now the case I have copies of e-mails and other proof of this. I also have through FOI copies of all the relevant communications concerned in this issue, am still waiting for call back from Dunoon arranged for week begin22/11. Troll that Mr Barlow, go on support Mr Russell Eh?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

            wee fat guy December 3, 2014 8:46 pm
  • Sorry to learn that you felt abused during the time of the referendum, BFG. It seems that many people were either insulted, threatened, had property vandalised or were even physically assulted.

    I think most of the people that I know have moved on and hope that, now the People of Scotland have made their decision loud and clear, the country can get back on track with folk behaving in a civilised and polite manner.

    For many it will be hard because of disappointment and anger but the reality is there is no point in looking back. We must all work together to make Scotland the successful country that it has the potential to be, within the UK.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 14

    Lowry November 22, 2014 7:07 am Reply
  • I can’t understand why Mike Russell gets all the blame for CfE – wasn’t it introduced by the previous administration?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

    Ian Sanderson November 22, 2014 12:12 pm Reply
    • I don’t think so. Mike Russell was Education Secretary when it was implemented however it is was actually developed before he was appointed (in fact it has been in development for 3 or 4 years before he was appointed).

      So you are right that criticism, or credit, for the CfE shouldn’t be entirely placed at Mike Russell’s door.

      If I recall (and please do correct me if I am wrong) it largely got cross party support. There were some criticisms by Labour and the Lib Dems about the level of funding being invested in it and maybe the process of implementation but none of them were opposed to it as a concept.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

      Integrity? November 22, 2014 12:33 pm Reply
    • Curriculum for Excellence was indeed introduced by Mr Russell’s predecessor, Fiona Hyslop.
      He is not responsible for its origins but he is responsible for implementing it.
      The one who finally hits the ‘Go’ button is the one responsible for the consequences.
      It is immediately obvious that CfE is a content free zone and a jargon riddled notion,
      You have only to go to its website and try to make sense of what it says about itself and try to make reason of it.
      Mr Russell as the incoming Education Secretary had the opportunity and the authority to bin CfE – but did not.
      It is Scotland’s young people and Scotland’s future who will pay for the patent inadequacies of CfE imposed upon it through the superficial engagement of these two ministers.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

      newsroom November 22, 2014 1:07 pm Reply
      • It is true that the politician with the GO button takes the bulk of the responsibility. On that theme I was discussing the banking collapse with a good friend the other day. He is a long standing SNP member of many decades. He did quietly acknowledge that Alex Salmond favoured relaxed regulations just us much, if not even more than, Gordon Brown however he made that same point, ultimately Brown oversaw it therefore carries the can. Too often politicians view on this flip flops depending on which way the fingers are pointing.

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        Integrity? November 22, 2014 1:17 pm Reply
      • The real problems with CfE are not that it is a “content free zone”, you only have to look at an exam paper to see that, but that it has largely been sound and fury signifying nothing – students still take exams in S4, Highers in S5 and still need the same grades to get into college or university. A huge amount of paperwork and changes to assessments to examine much the same content as there ever was.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        Arethosemyfeet November 22, 2014 11:45 pm Reply
  • Russell got fired for losing the Yes vote in Argyll and being incompetent. A really unpleasant man and hated by educators. Now he plans spent his time running Argyll. God help us all. Show some dignity Mike and go and take all the other Scottish traitors with you – Breslin, Blair, McCuish, MacIntyre, Devon

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 12

    NoCheeseHere November 22, 2014 8:01 pm Reply
    • The councillors you mention were a symptom of Mr Russell’s direction. Good guys chucked out for being realistic.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

      phill November 22, 2014 9:56 pm Reply
    • nch copy cat
      back again with your venom–copycat.
      Funny how you keep come out with the same garbage calling certain folk Traitors. In fact Scottish traitors.
      Does that mean they are pro Scottish and from an English perspective they are like William Wallace?
      Now you don’t mention Semple –strange because he was a comrade in arms with Robb and McCuish until he sussed what they were like. Then Robb did his private talks with Morton and Co and got found out after their famous Helensburgh meeting and the gang of folk who were expecting their responsibility payments got upset and have now jumped ship proving they were not true snp.
      It has been alleged in the past that For Argyll relied on some of them for news leaks although I doubt if Newsie would tell us the truth. In Oban just last week I got a strong hint that an ex leader was allegedly exchanging emails with For Argyll for comparisons recently. True or not- who knows? Most folk dont care!
      Breslin and Russell are best pals and although Breslin jumped ship early on– Russell was helping him much to the annoyance of the loyal snp group who was fighting Robb and McCuish. Now Russell is on the road out– the Constituency has got its act together. Looks like South Kintyre with a bit of work will remain snp and the party’s resurgence continues. Those who were elected snp candidates but left should resign and stand for reelection or get out of politics for good.
      I hope McIntyre and Strong return to the fold as they are good representatives and despite ill health had been at the receiving end of some terrible behaviour. the Branches want them back. With the new faces things are on the mend.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

      No Cheese Here November 22, 2014 10:28 pm Reply
      • This maybe a first but ‘No Cheese Here’ I think you have summed up the situation perfectly.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

        Jim Clark November 26, 2014 9:53 am Reply
  • Bye bye Michael, don’t let the door hit you on the erse on your way out.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 6

    Simon November 22, 2014 8:12 pm Reply
  • Wee fat guy is totally correct what he says about Michael Russell.
    Several weeks ago I sent my MSP Michael Russell an email asking him if the 5p bag tax was applied to doo poo bags as a veterinary practice in the Tayside area had charged a responsible dog owner a 5p bag tax charge for dog poo bags which the practice had previously issued free of charge.
    I received an “out of office” reply from Michael Russell stating that he was on two weeks annual leave and advising me to phone hill constituency office in Dunoon.
    It was earlier on the Sunday morning when I phoned the telephone number quoted on his email and left a message on his office answerphone.
    However the answerphone in Michael Russell’s office in Dunoon is not a normal answerphone as the abusive email I received from Michael Russell the same morning told me that his office answerphone was for emergencies only.
    Who in their right mind would phone Michael Russell in an emergency. Certainly not me I would only contact him as a last resort not a first resort in an emergency as he is worse than useless!
    I immediately sent an email to Michael Russell asking him where on his “out of office” reply did it state that his office answerphone was for emergencies only.
    After a series of emails between Michael Russell and myself he refused to change his “out of office” reply to advise his constituents that his office answerphone was emergencies only.
    Michael Russell obviously does not realise we are currently living in a democracy and not a dictatorship.
    If he wants to live in a dictatorship he should go and live in Russia.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 5

    Treble T November 23, 2014 12:28 am Reply
  • I’m surprised that you didn’t contact the UN Secretary General, the President of the United States and everyone in between Treble T.

    You are clearly a man who focuses on the extremely important issues of life to the exclusion of all else.

    Fair play to you Sir.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 9

    Willie November 23, 2014 8:23 am Reply
    • Willie.
      I would certainly not waste my time contacting the UN Secretary General as the United Nations are a bunch of toothless wonders!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

      Treble T November 23, 2014 12:38 pm Reply
      • TTT why did you not contact Mr Redman in Portnahaven he’d have sorted it out for you

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

        James Walsh November 23, 2014 1:14 pm Reply
  • The other day I bought a packet of firelighters in the local supermarket which they used to put in a small polybag to avoid cross contamination with the food. Now of course this cannot happen unless you fork out the extra 5p.

    Seems to be a poorly drafted piece of legislation so no surprises there then.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

    JimB November 23, 2014 9:19 am Reply
  • I am also a responsible dog owner who owns a West Highland White dog and I feel very strongly about this issue.
    We used to have two West Highland White dogs but sadly one of them was put to sleep last June aged 10 as he was suffering from cancer.
    One thing is certain. I will not be bullied by Michael Russell who is supposed act for all his constituents no matter what party they voted for and it is high time that Nicola Sturgeon told him to stop his bullying tactics.
    The only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

    Treble T November 23, 2014 12:44 pm Reply
    • I agree,but Russell’s response to ” standing up to him ” was for him to threaten referring you with Scottish Govt’s Abuse procedure.

      MR saw ‘Freedom of Speech’ through his own very narrow personal prism,and woe betide you if you cluttered his view.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

      rob trythall November 24, 2014 10:33 am Reply

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