Yesterday I had the great fortune to hear the Right Honorable Henry McLeish speak before a small crowd at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He gave some prepared remarks on education, mostly dealing with the importance of continuing education for seniors such as that available at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and then answered questions from the audience. I was as impressed as I expected to be with his thoughtful and often entertaining answers. I would have liked to have peppered him with queries regarding his hometown of Methil in Scotland and then warmed up into questions on the old Kingdom of Fife regarding politics, coal mining, poverty and the class system. But I didn’t. Instead he answered the predictable questions on Scottish independence (he said it will fail this time around) and a few odds and ends (such as the cost of the new airport tram system in Edinburgh and the shrinking British military.) After I left I realized I should have asked for his autograph but when I returned the small auditorium was locked.
I’ve followed the career of Henry McLeish from afar since probably the middle 1990s, or whenever the internet made it possible for me to do so. What captured my interest, of course, was that he was the Member of Parliament for Central Fife in Scotland and a rising star in British politics. He was a Minister of State for Scotland in the Blair government and key in the devolution process that led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. Among the many accomplishments on his impressive resume is that he served as the First Minister of Scotland (similar to being the Prime Minister of Scotland.) Now he lectures at various universities besides being a consultant on all things Scottish wherever he goes. He was interviewed by National Public Radio yesterday, for instance, and his opinion is continually sought by the BBC and other media.
I suppose I felt disappointed by the whole thing in a way, though. There were only about thirty in attendance and I don’t think the majority really grasped that they were hearing a First Minister of Scotland. I’m not saying they weren’t appreciative of his enjoyable talk, but he’d been instrumental in devolution, after all. I don’t know what would have been appropriate to the occasion and I generally prefer things to be low key, but standing room only and television crews would have been nice. I felt it to be a real honor to be in the same room. I bet if he toured the various Scottish festivals in the United States and Canada he’d be treated like a rock star.