Politicians and Penguins

two contrasting speakers address the club

President Ian Jess with MSP Alex Fergusson

Politicians and Penguins


At two recent meetings of Dumfries Rotary Club, President Ian Jess introduced contrasting speakers, first Alex Fergusson MSP, and then Ian Wilson, a much-travelled man with a story of a cruise in Antarctica.

Alex Fergusson is a well-kent figure who has served as MSP for local constituencies since 1999. At present he is the Scottish Conservative party representative in the redrawn seat of Galloway and West Dumfries. Alex farms in South Ayrshire, so, with his deep knowledge of all matters rural and agricultural, he has been the Conservative party front bench spokesman on Rural Affairs throughout his time as an MSP, apart from the period when he was the Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer. It was the latter experience upon which Alex addressed the Club.

The Presiding Officer is the Scottish equivalent of the Speaker in the House of Commons. In this prestigious role, Alex succeeded David Steele and George Reid, both most eminent parliamentarians. Whereas the Speaker of the House of Commons is elected for life, the Presiding Officer is elected at the commencement of each Scottish Parliamentary term, but only for that term. He or she can be re-elected, but this has not happened so far in the Parliament's short history. In a fascinating talk, laced with many amusing anecdotes from Alex's experiences, he explained the method whereby the Scottish Parliament functions, with its strong emphasis on committee work, where the committees are formed with voting power and proportions reflecting the composition of the Parliament itself. During Alex's term of office, thwere was no outright majority held by any party, which, perhaps surprisingly, turned out to be very successful in that legislation had to be reasonably acceptable to all before it could be ratified.

In his role as civic representative of the Scottish Parliament, and as such wearing no political badge or hat, Alex was required to perform many functions on behalf of the Parliament, both in entertaining visiting dignitaries, and in representing the Parliament on visits overseas. Alex conveyed a clear impression that he had enjoyed his time as Presiding Officer, both in overseeing the many political squabbles and compromises, in keeping the MSP's under control in the many heated parliamentary debates, and in his public role. In thanking Alex for his highly informative, and fascinating talk, Douglas Barbour added that we are indeed fortunate to have, as one of our local MSP's, such a dedicated and fair-minded gentleman.


By way of contrast, our next speaker was retired banker Ian Wilson whose subject was a cruise to South Georgia and the Antarctic peninsula in 2008.

With the aid of some wonderful photographs, Ian described the wild, rugged nature of this remote part of the world. In relation to its cold isolation, he referred to the famous story of Ernest Shackleton, of his leadership skills, and of his heroic, almost unbelievable, rescue mission with three colleagues, when he somehow made his way to a whaling station on South Georgia, and mustered a ship to set out to rescue the other 22 members of his expedition, who, for weeks and months, had no idea when or if they would ever be rescued. An incredible story, and yet it is true.

Ian's description of South Georgia, with its vast populations of penguins (which are found only in Antarctica), millions of breeding birds and huge families of many varieties of seals, all unafraid of human beings and therefore easily approachable was as vividly descriptive as were his photographs.

Having been the base for a vast whaling industry, South Georgia has now become a most important environmentally-friendly haven for wildlife, and one where such issues are treated very seriously, with visitors being screened very carefully to ensure that no unwelcome poisons, rodents or other toxins are imported on to the island. It was a fascinating talk, and at its conclusion John Hunter voiced the Club's thanks to Ian.