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Politics / New MSP Beatrice Wishart ready for the challenge

Beatrice Wishart MSP. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

SHETLAND’s newly elected MSP Beatrice Wishart has vowed to make an early impact on Holyrood to deliver for the isles as “there is not much time” to get on with things.

Following a whirlwind fortnight during which she comfortably won the by-election, was sworn in at Scottish Parliament, held her maiden speech and was also appointed Scottish Lib Dem spokeswoman for education, Shetland News had finally the chance to catch up with her on Friday to speak personal life rather than politics.

The 63-year-old mother to three daughters is the first to admit that becoming Shetland’s MSP had not been part of her long-term life plan.

“It’s exciting, but it wasn’t planned,” she describes her new circumstances. “Who knew I would have a second career at this stage in my life? I certainly didn’t.

“So, I am embracing it and will put everything I have into it – and I am looking forward to whatever comes next.”

A member of the Liberal Democrats for most her adult life, Wishart is best known for being an effective administrator in processing a large part of the ‘behind the scene’ constituency work for isles MP Alistair Carmichael as well as that of her predecessor Tavish Scott.

“I have always enjoyed and working with individual constituents cases; not always getting the answers you want, but when you are having a win you feel really pleased for the constituent,” Wishart says.

But things started changing when she took on a more active role in the local party a few years ago. This coincided with the national party trying to attract more women into politics.

“There was the winning women campaign, when women who were active in the party were invited to residential weekends. I went to the Scottish one and that gave me the confidence to stand for council in 2017,” she recalls.

Elected to represent Lerwick South as an independent candidate in May 2017, she was appointed unopposed as depute to council convener Malcolm Bell during the first meeting of the new council.

And then, two years later, Tavish Scott dropped a bombshell (it was the 26 June 2019 that he announced that he would quit his post as MSP to take up a senior role with Scottish Rugby), a moment in time that changed Wishart’s life and accelerated her political career to a new and unexpected level.

“My first thought was ‘how is this going to affect everybody in here [the constituency office],” she recalls.

“But then it started to sink in and I was asked by various people in the party if I would go for it.

“And it was me going from ‘I don’t think I can do that’ to ‘yeah, I probably could if I got in’ – so, here I am!”

She describes her first days at Holyrood as “a bit daunting” and adds that “everybody has been so very welcoming” as she suddenly gained more than 120 new colleagues all at once, plus all the parliamentary staff.

“It has an element of the new girl at school at midterm type stuff,” Wishart reflects, adding: “Most people know who you are but you don’t know them.

“I had nothing but great welcome across the board. That helped me settle in and establish myself.”

On Tuesday she delivered her first speech, in parliament, followed by her first education committee meting on Wednesday.

Wishart says she was keen to get all that out of the way as quickly as she could, “because there is not much time, it’s not like coming in at the beginning of parliament”.

In fact there are just 18 months to make a mark until the next Scottish parliamentary election in May 2021.