Dame Jackie Baillie has been named The Herald Scottish Politician of the Year for steering Scottish Labour’s revival and securing its first Westminster byelection win over the SNP.
The Dumbarton MSP was the first Labour woman to win the coveted title since former minister Margaret Curran did so almost 20 years ago.
Dame Jackie was also the first person other than a party leader or minister to receive the award since 2010, when Labour’s Hugh Henry won for helming the public audit committee.
She was recognised for her forensic scrutiny of the Scottish Government as her party’s health spokesperson, including on A&E waiting times and plans for a National Care Service.
She has also pushed for Milly’s Law, a set of reforms to help families affected by healthcare scandals such as the child deaths at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
A minister in the early years of devolution, and one of only three MSPs to have held the same seat continuously since 1999, her experience has been key to improving her party’s electoral fortunes to the point where it is neck-and-neck with the SNP in the polls.
She played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role laying the ground for Labour’s emphatic win in the Rutherglen & Hamilton West byelection last month, a result that gave the party crucial momentum heading into the general election.
She has exercised an iron grip on Westminster candidate selection in Scotland, ensuring no loose cannons are allowed to jeopardise a potentially fragile Labour majority.
It was a back-to-back win for Scottish Labour. Dame Jackie’s boss Anas Sarwar won the same title last year after his work on the NHS and successes in the local elections.
She beat Mr Sarwar and First Minister Humza Yousaf and collected her award at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh.
She said: “It is an unexpected honour to be named as The Herald politician of the year.
“The truth is that I could not have done my job without the support of my constituents, my fantastic staff and my boss, Anas Sarwar.
“This has been a year that will go down in the history books – a new first minister, countless political scandals and a by-election that caused a political earthquake.
“We are not complacent but the trend in the polls is very encouraging.
“The tectonic plates are shifting and Scottish Labour is back in business.
“Change is coming. I promise I will continue to do all I can to stand up for my constituents and deliver that change across our country.”
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack was the clear choice of the judges in the Best Scot at Westminster category after repeatedly out-maneuvring the Scottish Government.
Besides his unprecedented veto of Holyrood’s gender reforms, he also helped deliver two Green freeports and waved through Edinburgh’s drug consumption room pilot.
Often controversial and a bogey-man for some, the Tory MP was seen to have brought a combative new dimension to the Scotland Office and tested the boundaries of devolution.
Also short-listed were SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn and Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain.
There was also unanimity on the Committee MSP of the Year Award which went to the SNP’s Kenny Gibson, convener of Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee.
Mr Gibson and his colleagues were commended for their eagle-eyed work on the Scottish Government’s spending plans, putting party allegiances aside to hold ministers to account and force them, humbled, back to the drawing board.
Tory Edward Mountain and the SNP’s Audrey Nicoll were also shortlisted for their leadership of the Net Zero and Criminal Justice committees respectively.
The Tories picked up their second award of the night when MSP Jamie Greene won the Donald Dewar Debater of the Year Award supported by Aiir Networks.
Consistently impressive, the West of Scotland MSP gave a stand-out personal speech in support of the Gender Reform Recognition Bill, in which he refused to toe his party’s opposition line, an act of principle that later saw him sacked by Douglas Ross.
The former SNP minister Fergus Ewing, Labour’s education spokesman Michael Marra and former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were also shortlisted.
Mr Marra was more successful in the One to Watch category supported by ScottishPower, winning for his assured ascent at Holyrood and powerful contributions in the chamber.
In charge of Labour’s policy platform for the 2026 election, he will be key to whether the party can graduate from interesting opposition to government-in-waiting.
The North East MSP beat hard-hitting Tory justice spokesman Russell Findlay and the SNP minister on drug and alcohol policy Elena Whitham.
The Politics in Business Award was won by another SNP MSP prepared to challenge his own party, Fergus Ewing.
The former cabinet secretary was recognised for raising a host of complaints on behalf of the business community, often at high volume at FMQs.
Some were directed at the SNP, such as the failure to dual the A9 and new rules for short-term lets, and some at the Green ministers, including plans for highly protected marine areas and the deposit return recycling scheme.
Kate Forbes and Mr Sarwar were also nominated, the former for pushing the economy in the SNP leadership contest, the latter for engaging with business leaders ahead of the election.
Mr Ewing also won the Community MSP of the Year Award, not only for representing his constituents in Inverness and Nairn but also for championing the Highlands and rural Scotland more widely.
Many of the issues which earned him the Politics in Business Award lay behind this win, as well as his willingness to defy his party and vote to sack Green minister Lorna Slater, a move which resulted in his fellow SNP MSPs suspending him for a week.
Mr Marra, earning his third nomination of the night, and Tory Liz Smith were also shortlisted.
The inaugural ScottishPower Green Champion was Patrick Harvie.
The co-leader of the Scottish Greens and minister for Zero Carbon Buildings was recognised for persevering with the push for net zero, including the greater use of domestic heat pumps and the zero emission heating of new buildings.
Also nominated were LIberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton for campaigning against sewage pollution, Tory Maurice Golden for defying his party after Rishi Sunak diluted net zero commitments, and Green Gillian Mackay for her work on banning single-use vapes.
As ever, the Public Campaign or Campaigner Award was one of the hardest to decide because of the array of deserving contenders.
The winner was the successful campaign to secure a public inquiry into the rogue Tayside neurosurgeon Professor Sam Eljamel, who botched more than 100 operations and left many of his patients with life-chaning injuries. The campaign on behalf of his victims shared the award with Tory MSP Liz Smith, who championed their cause at Holyrood.
Jules Rose, who had a tear gland removed by Prof Eljamel instead of a brain tumour in 2013, said: “I’m thrilled to be receiving this award; however, it is a bittersweet moment.
“While this has been a personal crusade for justice on my behalf, the most important tributes I have are for the patients and their families.
“They have never wavered in their determination to have their voices heard and a light shone on the wrongs they have suffered, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“But we must still fight on to ensure that the Public Inquiry delivers for everyone. To help patients, and their families, get the answers, care, and support that they no less deserve.
“I want to pay tribute to the cross-party group of MSPs who have worked tirelessly to help us achieve our goal. In particular to Liz Smith who, without her dedication and professionalism, we may never have achieved what we did.
“I believe that the Public Inquiry was granted so quickly because of our ability to expose the obvious scandalous, and shameful, nature of the failures at NHS Tayside.
“If it wasn’t for journalists investigating and fiercely willing to support us, we wouldn’t be where we are now. Exposing the plight of our patients and the shame that NHS Tayside has brought on itself.”
Also nominated in the category were the Movement for an Adoption Apology, which secured a formal apology from Nicola Sturgeon for historic forced adoptions in Scotland, and the fishing sector coalition which defeated plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas.
The choice of the Scottish Local Politician of the Year produced the most intense arguments and the only vote of the judging session, as the merits of an impressive series of energetic and devoted councillors were debated.
The winner was the SNP’s Katie Hagmann, who on top of her local work in Dumfries & Galloway was also Cosla’s resources spokesperson, negotiating her way through a thicket of public sector pay disputes and agreements.
She said: “This is a huge honour for me personally but also for the people who support me to undertake my role as Cosla resources spokesperson.
“I’m absolutely delighted with this recognition for both myself and the whole cross party political and officer team at Cosla. I would like to pay tribute to the 32 Council Leaders in Scotland – they are the ones who take the tough decisions and then allow me to undertake my role as the COSLA Resources Spokesperson.
“I would also like to pay tribute to my fellow nominees in a very strong Local Politician Category this year.
“Being a Councillor is not an easy job and my fellow nominees, as well as every single Councillor in Scotland, deserves praise for the work they do in serving their communities.”
Also shortlisted were Scottish Borders Tory leader Euan Jardine, Orkney Independent leader James Stockan, and Falkirk’s Ann Ritchie, who quit the SNP in protest over cuts in her Bo’Ness and Blackness ward and was re-elected as an Independent.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Lord John McFall of Alcluith, the former chemistry teacher who became Labour MP for Dumbarton, terrified bankers as chair of the Commons Treasury Select Committee, and is now Lord Speaker of the House of Lords.
The respected broadcaster Brian Taylor, the former political editor of BBC Scotland, was presented with a special award marking the 240th anniversary of The Herald.
Keith Anderson, Chief Executive of ScottishPower, said: “Political life is not without scrutiny but it’s important to take a moment to recognise public service and the huge amount of work and effort that can often go unseen.
“We extend a huge congratulations to the winners and nominees in what was another year of high calibre entrants and in particular to our Green Champion and One to Watch for 2024.”
Ian Kinnaird, Scottish Assets & Generation Engineering Director, of Drax said “Drax was delighted to sponsor the Herald Scottish Politician of the Year Awards, we want to congratulate all those who were nominated for the awards and those who won. Drax’s Scottish pumped hydro and hydro operations including Cruachan play a critical role in supporting Scotland the wider UK’s energy needs at this critical time.”
Group Operations Director Dougie Weir said: “On behalf of the Aiir Networks board, it has been our pleasure to support The Herald and this flagship event on the Scottish political calendar once again.
“Thank you to all the winners and nominees for their significant contributions to Scottish politics. Congratulations to everyone who took home an award tonight!”
Brian Lironi, Director of Corporate Affairs at Scottish Water, said: “The calibre of the winners and nominees in this year’s Politician of the Year awards again shows that the breadth of talent, enthusiasm and commitment to public service is thriving. It’s great to be reminded that underneath all the politicking there is vital, life changing and inspiring work being done for the people of Scotland. Scottish Water is proud to play its part in developing a flourishing Scotland and making a splash.”