Paul O'Kane MSP outside the Scottish Parliament

It has been a very busy few weeks beginning life as a Scottish Labour and Scottish Co-operative MSP.

There are a lot of ‘newbies’ in this Parliament across the political spectrum and of course in the Scottish Labour Group – I am particularly pleased that we have increased the number of Scottish Co-operative MSPs this term to 11 MSPs.

I am also proud of how diverse this Parliament is including more women and BAME members, our first MSP who is a permanent wheelchair user, my Labour colleague for Glasgow Region, Pam Duncan Glancy and of course my own position as the first openly gay man to represent Scottish Labour in the Scottish Parliament. Parliament is starting to look more like Scotland and that is a great thing.

As a new member there has been a lot to learn these past weeks but it has been made much easier by the excellent support from the staff of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Labour Party staff and of course our returning Scottish Labour and Scottish Co-operative colleagues. I am of course saddened that James Kelly does not join us in the group and I pay tribute to his dedicated work especially through the Cross Party Group on Co-ops over many years.

Despite the present challenges of COVID-19 and coming out of a challenging election period – there is a real sense of optimism and hope around the Scottish Labour Group in Parliament. It is clear that the energy and passion of Anas Sarwar cut through in the election and we are all ready to work day in and day out to build the alternative to the SNP and the Tories.

I was somewhat surprised on my first day to be met with a bank of cameras and journalists shouting as I entered the Parliament building – the first question asked was “what are your priorities?” of course at the start of a five year term there are many things I could have answered with and that we want to achieve but it was clear to me in this moment that the obvious answer was recovery.

The scale of the year we have lived through is like nothing we have experienced before and we need a response to match.

As co-operators we know that our communities have been at the frontline of responding to the pandemic and we know that co-operative solutions are key to a recovery that works for everyone. We need to harness the energy of communities who came together like never before during lockdown – setting up everything from food and prescription delivery services to befriending and community resilience groups. We also saw the clear value of Co-operative shops in our communities going above and beyond to support people. We need to see more co-operatives in our economy and in our communities as we recover and we need to ensure that we create good jobs with fair pay and conditions.

I am looking forward to working with my colleagues to advance what we set out in our ‘Owning the Future’ Policy document and there is much to be done in education and culture, in transport, to deal with the climate emergency and to build the homes of the future.

The next five years must be focussed on recovery not more division and I look forward to a strong Co-operative group working with members to build a more equal society.