WHEN Roseanna Cunningham won her first General Election, she says it was dismissed as a “mid-term protest” by Tory commentators.

Now the MSP for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire holds the record as the longest-serving parliamentarian in Scotland – and is planning on standing in her ninth election in 2021.

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of Cunningham winning her first seat for the SNP in the Perth and Kinross Westminster by-election.

She was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and has been the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform since 2016.

Cunningham said: “I find it quite difficult to cast my mind back 25 years to when politics was so different in Scotland. We had no Scottish Parliament, and a Scottish by-election was the only real opportunity for a purely Scottish political debate.

“For any of us who were by-election candidates at that time, it was an absolutely enormous event, and it’s very difficult now to describe what that looked like.

“It was the dying days of the Major government, and every by-election that went by there was another Tory seat down. And this had been a Tory seat. So there were very high expectations and massive interest obviously across the UK, but also from outwith the UK.”

Her memories of the time include being confronted with having to face dozens of journalists and the cameras at daily press briefings during the campaign and relentless public meetings and hustings.

Her campaign team included a key activist who stayed with her to “keep her sane” – who is now the First Minister of Scotland.

Cunningham said: “You would get back to your home for the campaign about 10pm and on the floor, the fax machine was rolling out those rolls of paper.

“It was the briefing for the next morning’s press conference, which you picked up off the floor at 10pm at night.

“It was absolutely relentless and the most extraordinary experience.

“I don’t think anything has come close since the Scottish Parliament was set up, because now we do have Scottish political debate.”

Cunningham said she was “very conscious” of being a woman in politics and spent the first year after her election being asked to do many speeches on the subject.

“I had developed this line that it was encapsulated in whatever length your skirt was, it was wrong,” she said.

“So too long it was dowdy, too short it was trashy – in the middle, and it was boring.

“There were quite a lot of comments made about what I wore and things, and I don’t think you see that to the same extent now.

“Women do get still more comments about appearance and how they look, but it’s nothing like what it was then.”

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The past 25 years have of course witnessed a huge surge in support for the independence movement, bringing with it the 2014 referendum and 13 years of the SNP in government in Scotland.

Cunningham said at the time of her by-election win it felt like an “enormous step forward”.

The General Election of 1997 marked another achievement as the first time the party had held a seat gained in a by-election.

She said: “I was always just absolutely, totally focused on holding the seat and that was really great.

“At the time I think the Tory commentators at the time basically said, almost in terms of well enjoy it while it lasts, this is a mid-term protest.

“So here I am 25 years on.”

Cunningham said she is intending to stand for the Holyrood elections due to take place next year.

She added: “But I’m conscious there is selection processes and I’m conscious of the fact that political parties have suspended everything just now.”

This would mark her ninth election – her first attempt in 1992 was unsuccessful – and she said “realistically” it is likely to be her last.

Somewhere buried in a box is a response she received when she first wrote to the SNP as a 15-year-old schoolgirl while living in Freemantle, Western Australia.

Cunningham said she has never wavered since then and her hope of a Yes vote in the next referendum is “why I am in politics”.

When it comes to when that might be, she said: “Whenever it takes place it will be none too soon.”