Michael Martin speaks out on a prestigious career

A POLITICAL career spanning nearly 40 years and numerous highs and lows came to an end on Sunday.

Speaker of the House of Commons and Glasgow North East MP Michael Martin has now officially retired.

By anyone's standards, Michael's journey from the backcourts of Glasgow's Anderston district, where he was born, to the corridors of power at Westminster is remarkable.

He first got involved in politics back in the early 1970s when he became a councillor in the Govan area, and a short time later in Balornock.

He was elected MP for Glasgow Springburn in 1979. On October 23, 2000, he was elected Speaker of the House of Commons – one of the most important and demanding jobs in UK political life.

As a youngster, Michael moved to Springburn with his family. He followed the same path as many young working class men when he left school at 15 to take up an apprenticeship as a sheet metal worker, which led to an interest in the trade union movement.

One of the first things he did on becoming Speaker was to set up an apprenticeship scheme at Westminster, which led to many young people going on to become qualified tradesmen covering a range of jobs.

He told the Herald: "I joined the Labour Party when I was 21.

"I was in the trade union and I wanted to join a party I thought would be good for working people.

"I had no plan to become a councillor or MP, but I was encouraged by others to stand. Politics has been my life since then.

"I was 26 when I was elected councillor for the Fairfield ward in Govan in 1973. I became councillor for Balornock shortly after that.

"I was in politics because I wanted to help people and the biggest problem back then was housing."

In 1975 Mr Martin became a founder member of the Mansell and St Monan's Housing Association – a fore-runner to North Glasgow Housing Association. Back then, many houses in the North Glasgow area still had outside toilets and, along with others, he campaigned tirelessly for better housing.

He said: "The council was planning to demolish the houses, but people wanted to stay in the community, so we fought to get the properties upgraded and improved.

"Tony Blair won the election back in 1997 with the slogan 'Education, Education, Education', but for me it was always 'Housing, Housing, Housing'."

Over the years Michael has witnessed many changes in the Springburn and Glasgow North East constituencies.

When he was first elected as an MP, the Wills cigarette factory in Dennistoun was a major employer in the area.

Today, the listed building is home to around 2,000 hi-tech jobs.

He said: "I'm a tee-totaller and I don't smoke, but when the Wills factory closed down I was concerned for the jobs.

"Together with my son Paul (Springburn MSP) and others, we worked to try and bring jobs back to the area. Today there are around 2,000 people working at the City Park complex, that includes computer company Dell."

Michael stepped down as Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Glasgow North East at midnight on Sunday.

His decision followed weeks of criticism over his handling of the MPs' expenses row.

Ironically, he brought forward proposals to reform the expenses system almost a year ago, but received little support from MPs or the party leaders – a point he made in his final address to the House last week at Prime Minster's Questions.

It was an emotional occasion for Michael on Friday when he visited the Alive and Kicking Centre, in Springburn.

Twenty years ago, along with the late Rose McCallum Walker and others, he helped set up the centre for older members of the North Glasgow community.

As Michael ponders the future and an end to the often long, busy days in the chair at Westminster, he is looking forward to cycling along the Forth and Clyde Canal bank, playing his beloved bagpipes and taking up a new hobby – carpentry.

But most importantly, the former sheet metal worker from Anderston is looking forward to spending more time with his family and grandchildren.

He said: "Family is so important and I've been blessed with a loving, caring and supportive family."

He added: "It has been a privilege and an honour to serve the people of Springburn and Glasgow North East as their MP.

"I may live a couple of miles up the road, but Springburn is my home.

"It's where my wife Mary and I brought up our family and to represent an area where many of my friends and neighbours live has been a great honour."

Michael Martin served as Speaker for almost nine years. As the Herald went to press, it was announced that Tory MP John Bercow had been elected as the new Speaker of the House of Commons.