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FOR many within the labour movement, it may be hard to imagine a Scottish Parliament without dyed-in-the-wool socialist Neil Findlay in it.
A stubbornly effective campaigner, who at times has been the lone voice speaking up for causes in Holyrood, a decade as an MSP has left many wondering how this gap will be filled when the new cohort of parliamentarians head to Edinburgh in May.
But 10 years on from his election to the Scottish Parliament, Labour’s Neil Findlay says he still can’t quite believe it.
“How the hell did that happen?” he asks, remembering his surprise at being selected on Labour’s Edinburgh list in the lead-up to May 2011’s vote.
Sitting down with the Star just after leaving Parliament for the last time as an MSP, he said: “I was the last person who thought they’d be elected to the Scottish Parliament — frankly, because the Labour Party was weeding out the left, and still is weeding out the left and trying to prevent left candidates from coming through.
“When I got in I made a pledge to myself because I thought I’d only be there for one term, and then I’d get turfed out in the selection process and they’d find a way to get rid of me. So my pledge was to have a go, just to have a go.
“For the first couple of weeks I went in quite intimidated, there’s a bit of imposter syndrome there coming from a working-class community that is always in there.
“But once I saw and heard from people in there I thought: ‘Bloody hell I’ve got nothing to be scared of here’.”
But turfed out he was not, and his approach, often to stick to his guns even when others took no interest in the subject at hand — one he credits to his former MP Tam Dalyell — has seen a number of wins in Parliament.
As recently as last month women who have survived the trauma of a long-term fight for justice over mesh implants in Scotland have had massive wins — a cross-party campaign he has advocated in Holyrood, but refuses to take any credit for.
Findlay is also selfless in his praise for those who have pushed for pardons for miners in a decades-long fight, which last year saw the Scottish government announce plans to pardon many involved with the 1984-85 strikes.
“These are things people would associate with me and I’m very proud of both of them. The miners stuff, that was a personal commitment coming from a mining community to see what I could do, and for me it was an opportunity which arose that I saw and I took it.
“The mesh stuff has been an amazing experience, dealing with some of the best people I could ever have worked with. The women are just brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
“One of the things that really annoys me is you have people who take on campaigns because they want to be associated with them. That to me is a complete anathema — I have no interest in that whatsoever.
“My attitude is that if I’m taking up a campaign I’m doing so because I want to achieve something and get a victory.
“If you get rebuffed you come back again, get organised — particularly when you know you’re right. If you know you’re right that’s what drives you on.”
Despite the pendulum of power within Labour swinging to the left under Jeremy Corbyn and Findlay’s parliamentary comrade Richard Leonard, and back right again under current management, the now former MSP says he will be out campaigning as always for a Labour government in Scotland.
“There are folk there who are hopefully the new generation coming forward,” he said. “It’ll be introducing fresh blood, new ideas, and fresh vigour to take over from us old folk.
“I’ll be involved in the campaign, supporting the candidate locally and helping comrades across the country as I always do.”
The former Scottish Labour leadership hopeful also stressed that while he was retiring, those on the left had not seen the end of him yet.
“I don’t have a job, so if you could put that in the paper that would be great. I want to contribute to the movement and if anyone is looking for a skilled campaigner, I don’t have mummy or daddy’s millions to keep me going so I need a job.”
As for the Morning Star, Findlay has long been a supporter and says the paper is invaluable to the cause of socialism — reporting on issues which don’t see the light of day in the mainstream press.
“It is absolutely essential,” he says. “I can’t speak highly enough of the Star and how it works. It’s a paper that takes the widest possible view of the left, with contributions from different organisations, it’s the only one that really reports on industrial struggles, international solidarity, it even covers Parliament well.
“I really fear for where we would be on the left if the Star wasn’t there. It is crucial that people support it and I’ll be getting my copy diverted from my office back to my house to make sure I get it every day. It is critical.”
But what for the cause? The popular claim by many on the right is that socialism is a young man’s game — with age ushering in centrist (or even conservative) tendencies as the reality of life hits. Not for Neil Findlay.
“I am more convinced than ever, after 18 years in politics, socialism is the answer to the big questions that we have in our society. More than I was when I first went into Parliament, by a long shot.
“If you look at things like climate change, exploitation of both resources and humans, the gross inequality that we have, war and conflict.
“Anyone that suggests that the answer to these problems is more free-market capitalism I really think needs taken away and medicated in some way.
“It’s inconceivable that anything other than a planned, structured way out of this is going to work and that requires the government to get involved in planning.
“Continuing to burn up resources will not take us out of this crisis. I’m more convinced than ever in a socialist approach — in fact there’s an inevitability about it.
“At some point humans are going to have to say: ‘This just can’t continue’.”
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