TO be elected as the first ever SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central in 2011 was the greatest honour of my life. But it is the resounding confidence the public showed in our Government and the unstinting efforts of a small group of dedicated activists that deserve the real credit for carrying me over the finishing line.

I worked for five years to repay the trust of those who had devoted much of their lives to the nationalist cause in central Edinburgh. It is the place I have called home for the past decade and the only place I have ever sought to stand.

Following many requests from grassroots SNP members, I am now seeking to stand here again so they can have a choice in the selection contest ahead.

I believe we desperately need a candidate who can bring activists back together. The local members who have encouraged me to come forward include many former supporters of both Joanna Cherry and Angus Robertson. I hope that by entering the process I can reassure all that democracy is indeed alive and well in the party.

Our internal processes can and must be vibrant and healthy. In my time as an MSP I regularly pushed our party’s leaders to be bolder on big controversies of the day like fracking and equal marriage. I then served under Nicola Sturgeon as a minister myself – but I still sought to make sure that every proposal that came to my desk left it strengthened.

We need someone who can contribute like this to the ongoing debates of the party – not least the need to maintain impetus behind the push toward our ultimate goal – and do so constructively. To this end, I offer myself as a unity candidate, beholden to no factions other than the cause of independence.

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Moreover, for a constituency like Edinburgh Central – a diverse, young, cosmopolitan, historic and painfully unequal constituency – we need a progressive candidate. Ruth Davidson was elected with just 30% of the vote. She only won because the centre and left votes split among so many parties. The road to winning back Edinburgh Central does not lead through wooing Tory voters. More than anything else, it was the votes the SNP lost to the Greens in 2016 that were the votes that lost the seat.

Since then, what has Edinburgh Central had in Ruth Davidson? A “big name” MSP certainly, but not a passionate campaigner who will take the issues of the constituency to Holyrood.

I held surgeries twice a week; has my successor held surgeries twice in four years? On a personal level I have always got on with Ruth but her focus has simply always been elsewhere because of the type of political role she carves for herself.

IF the seat had had a progressive, problem-solving and constituency-focused MSP in Holyrood I have no doubt the case for action on AirBnB would have been put much sooner. So too the changes to tenement law whose desperate need is evidenced by every flickering stairwell light or repair bill dispute. Where too the impetus to revisit private renting legislation? Or the giving voice to the thousands of constituents who demand action on the climate emergency?

Standing down due to ill health at the last election was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, not least because of this unfinished business I left behind. But the time since has been invaluable.

Politicians rarely get a period of reflection in the world beyond elected office. Those that do usually only receive it after being ejected by an unhappy electorate. I’ve instead had four years to think about how I did the job before and how I could do it better again – and to be outraged by how little my successor has done at all.

I have come to this candidacy only after many hours of lockdown introspection and the requests of members I trust and respect. My decision to return has not been taken lightly.

If the branch wants an MSP who looks in the mirror every morning and sees a First Minister looking back then honestly they should choose someone else – I suspect I will not be the only person now coming forward. But if they want a candidate that all can rally behind without rancour; who knows the constituency and is committed to it before any other; who wants to see bold action at Holyrood and who is well-placed to win back votes from the Greens; then they will now have the option to re-select and re-elect me.