SOMETIMES in politics it is important to step back, look around you and remember the big picture. We’re all so busy being busy, responding to, or creating, the day’s news that we sometimes forget the arc of history we’re all part of.

Today is a day to do just that, with the news that my great pal Bruce Crawford MSP is stepping down at the Holyrood election. Bruce and I go back a long way – I was secretary of London Branch SNP in 1999 as our national Parliament was re-established, and I took three weeks’ unpaid leave to come back to Scotland and campaign.

The party’s then chief executive Michael Russell, after a brief chat at conference, allocated me to Ochil constituency working for George Reid, based in Kinross, alongside Bruce who was then leader of Perth and Kinross Council and number five on the Mid Scotland and Fife list. We had a ball. I knocked my first door for the party under his watchful eye – he took me to the door of a party member!

It didn’t make the experience any less daunting, but despite my garbled and stammering pitch the stalwart of the branch confirmed he would indeed be voting SNP.

The campaign was rough, exciting, new and we had a real sense that we were making history. We were. George Reid was the perfect candidate – experienced, serious, inspirational and wickedly funny. I remember the awful sense of injustice when despite all our efforts, remarkably he didn’t win the seat when we were down in Alloa for the count. Of course, I barely understood how the list system worked. He was all but guaranteed a seat on the list which he duly won and went on to be an excellent Presiding Officer of the Parliament, but I still remember a harsh lesson then that campaigning isn’t about doing what makes us feel good – it’s about winning, and without winning you can’t do anything.

After the count, we went back to Bruce’s, somewhat deflated to watch the rest of the results, so I was with Bruce as the news emerged that he had indeed also been elected on the Mid Scotland and Fife list. Such was the unfamiliarity of the new system then that there had not been any plans to gather candidates anywhere, and Bruce heard it for himself from the TV!

It is no exaggeration to say Bruce was the lynchpin of the SNP Government’s success. As Party Business Convener he pushed through reforms that professionalised and sharpened our organisation. He was crucial in the months running up to 2007 in securing our minority administration, and in the 2007 government he was the only stable thing in Holyrood. We forget our history so fast. Everyone should be in no doubt that our success was hard won, the SNP minority administration should have fallen on an almost weekly basis, but somehow Bruce and the much-missed chief whip Brian Adam managed to find a solution to keep the wheels on the ground, leading to the success in 2011 that led to the referendum in 2014.

In Stirling, Bruce took a constituency of fractious branches more interested in sniping at each other than winning, and turned it into an election winning machine. I’m privileged that I was able to be a candidate for the best constituency in Scotland (not entirely hyperbole – Stirling City Branch did win Best Branch of the Year at the Independence Magazine Awards) and the Westminster election just past was the best campaign I’ve ever been involved in. We were out canvassing three times a day in all weathers, with a real enthusiasm and energy, and we won. The day after the win Bruce was on the phone already to plan what we were doing next to build the success even further.

We have set up a joint MSP/MP operation, with a shared team, joint premises and a united front. This saves time, money and proves on a daily basis that we’re a team.

Our joint newsletter has started going out across the constituency, with positive news from Bruce, me, the local councillor in the ward and the local party branch or Yes movement. We will keep campaigning because much as we have won the MSP seat, the MP seat, we’re the administration of the council and things are doing well, the big prize, independence in Europe, is yet to come. The election is still a year away and Bruce is very much still motoring, and I look forward to serving Stirling alongside him and building towards the success of our next MSP, whoever she may be.

The party’s NEC, which I am proud to serve on, has decided that in the event of a retiring SNP member, we will seek a female candidate.

I voted for this, and support it. We need to be serious about gender balance. But whoever she is, she’ll be joining a team that is already a success. She’ll want to join something that is already in existence, and be smart enough to recognise that there is already a well established winning formula here.

In the same way as I made a commitment to move to Stirling and am presently enjoying (let’s say enjoying) house hunting while I rent a wee flat, she’ll need to make that commitment also and build a real connection with the constituency if she doesn’t have it already.

Bruce has helped build the party’s success, and we owe a huge debt to him and others who did real heavy lifting in some tough times. Our duty is to ensure we lift just as hard because the big prize is as yet unwon.