HAWICK made history on Monday when the first Parliament Day took place in the town.
Getting the Scottish Parliament on the move was the brainchild of Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick.
She told TheSouthern: “We need to connect more with the local communities and to make sure that Parliament isn’t just seen as an Edinburgh Parliament. It’s about bringing our Parliament out of the capital into the heart of communities, because Parliament belongs to everybody, not just those who are in the Holyrood bubble. Hawick is the first. It has been a successful day.”
Monday’s many activities also showed the variety of work Parliament did, she said.
Events leading up to the inaugural day started last Friday, followed by a reception on Sunday evening before Monday’s meeting of the country’s finance committee in the Heart of Hawick when members tackled Finance Cabinet Secretary John Swinney on the government’s draft budget plans.
Monday morning saw workshop sessions when finance committee members worked with around 20 Borders organisations coming up with questions to put to Mr Swinney that afternoon.
Earlston, Kelso and Hawick high school pupils also grilled the finance committee in an informal session in the early afternoon following their mock budget organised by the parliament’s education outreach staff on the Friday.
Finance committee convener Kenneth Gibson MSP said the committee was pleased to be part of the first Parliament Day, adding: “We believe it is important to involve the school pupils and people of Hawick in our scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s draft budget.”
He said later: “We are delighted by the way the day has gone, in particular the passion, commitment, and ideas shown at the workshops this morning, and equally the questions put to me by the floor in the informal session this afternoon.”
Constituency and regional MSPs visited schools in the town throughout Monday, while the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont and the Presiding Officer visited the community arts initiative Art Beat Studios, went on a delivery with Borders-wide charity Home Basics, which helps new social-housing tenants set up home by providing recycled furniture and home-starter packs, and met members of the Hawick Senior Citizens Association in the morning. And the senior citizens produced a cake for the politician who celebrated her 59th birthday at work in the town.
Ms Marwick told us: “There was no particular reason we chose Hawick other than that the finance committee moves around the country and we decided Hawick was a good place to start. It was important to go to a community and Hawick is certainly that. We have had a fantastic reception and the people of Hawick are pleased we are here.”
She said later: “This was my first visit to Hawick and I was really struck both by the beauty of the landscape and by the very strong sense of community in the town. Hawick was the perfect location for our first ever Parliament day.”
Sunday’s reception in the Heart of Hawick featured music from Riddell Fiddles and a catwalk show staged by the town’s high school pupils.
Local MSP Mr Lamont welcomed the finance committee and other MSPs, seeing Hawick’s successes but also the challenges the textiles town faced.
He told us: “It’s been a really positive experience. It’s important Parliament is seen to be out and about, getting out of the Holyrood bubble. It is important that residents in the Borders are able to see the work that Parliament does and to engage with it. It was also important that MSPs from other parts of the country and government ministers were able to see at first hand the challenges that Hawick and the Borders are facing.
“I hope my colleagues listen and take in some of the comments made from front line staff.
“Hawick is a wonderful town and I was glad that some of my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament were able to see what a great place it is.”
Meanwhile, south of Scotland MSP Jim Hume, who visited Wilton Primary School, said: “Parliament Day has been a great success in getting the young people at Wilton Primary School interested in what goes on at Holyrood. It was a great chance for me to hear from the pupils and for them to ask questions about the job of an MSP.”
The finance committee of seven MSPs is responsible for scrutinising public spending and examining the Scottish Government’s £34 billion draft budget for 2013-14.