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MSPs retire with laughter, tributes, tears and apologies in final farewells

The Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.
The Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh.

Emotional scenes have been witnessed at Holyrood over the last few weeks as a quarter of the nation’s MSPs bid a final farewell before bowing out.

We have previously conducted in-depth interviews with all the retiring politicians who were part of the “1999 Club”.

Now we have look at some of the best bits from the valedictory speeches of all the members who are retiring from frontline politics ahead of the upcoming election.

There has been laughter…

Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay.

“I even enjoyed standing for Labour leader — well, we have all had a go at some point,” joked Neil Findlay, who represented Lothian.

Johann Lamont also highlighted Labour’s regular leadership contests, saying: “Just when you have heard from one former Labour leader, another one pops up to say goodbye. We would have quite a lot of them if we put them all in a row, I guess.”

She was following another former Scottish Labour leader, outgoing East Lothian MSP Iain Gray, who previously lost his old Edinburgh Pentlands seat in 2003.

He said: “As Jamie Greene indicated, this is my final speech. He will be too young to know that it is actually not the first time that I have made a final speech in the parliament. The difference is that, the last time, I did not know that it was my final one.”

David Stewart, Labour member for the Highlands and Islands, paid tribute to a number of colleagues, including Stewart Stevenson, SNP MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast.

“What can I say about Stewart Stevenson? That he is a veteran of the Boer War or the inventor of the wheel? That he discovered penicillin? Perhaps not, but he had me convinced.”

Almost all departing members thanked their families, including Margaret Mitchell, Conservative MSP for Central Scotland.

She said: “I look forward to spending more time with my family — that is usually a euphemism and has other connotations, but I genuinely mean it — my husband, Henry, and westies Jack and Jamie.

“Henry will be very pleased, if not a little surprised, that I have put them in that order.”

Even a poem…

Gail Ross.

From Gail Ross, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross.

She said: “I have a confession to make: when I have sat in the chamber, I have written poems that were relevant to the subject that had been debated, then left them in the desk. I hope that when members have found them some made them smile and some made them think. This is the one that I would leave today, if I were in the chamber:

“No more will you see me
But you’ll know that I’m still there
Sat with you in Margo’s
Or passing on the stairs
Coffee in the Garden Lobby
Just won’t be the same
But remember this is not goodbye
It’s Til We Meet Again!”

And there have been some apologies…

Mark McDonald MSP.

Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald used his final speech to apologise again for the actions that led to his resignation as early years minister in 2017.

He said: “I recognise that I have made poor decisions in my life and, although I have never set out to deliberately cause upset to anyone, the fact that people felt hurt and upset by my actions causes me immense regret and sorrow.

“Although I have apologised sincerely for those actions, I want to take the opportunity to do so in the chamber: I am sorry.

“I have learned a lot about myself over the past few years, and I hope that I have been able to emerge as a better person as a consequence. It is difficult to describe how it feels to have a version of yourself held up in front of you that you do not recognise as a true reflection of your character, values or intentions.

“I can only hope that people will take me as the person that I am now and not as the person that I perhaps once was, or have been portrayed as being.”

An apology from Michael Russell, the constitution secretary and MSP for Argyll and Bute, was more light-hearted.

He said: “First, I want to say sorry. I know that that will surprise people, but I noticed in a recent article that one member singled me out as the person they most disliked in the parliament.

“Given that one of my many faults is that I find it hard to resist a good line, I know that I have rubbed some people up the wrong way, sometimes on several occasions and sometimes even my own colleagues, so I start by saying sorry to those whom I have upset or offended, on any side of the chamber. I suppose that retirement is a fresh start — and who could resist that? I just hope that I can now behave myself for the last few days in this place.”

As well as a lot of sisterly love and support…

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell.

Clydesdale MSP and Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said: “We have heard powerful, thoughtful, considered and passionate speeches from women who have contributed a great deal to the betterment of our country.

“By their very presence here as MSPs, those women, regardless of their party, have chosen to challenge gender inequality because, despite more than 100 years of the franchise and many equality acts, women continue to be underrepresented in parliaments around the world, including this one.”

She added: “We must lay foundations for the next set of MSPs to build on, and empower the next generation of female parliamentarians to realise that a woman’s place is most definitely in the parliament.”

Alison Harris, Conservative MSP for Central Scotland, said: “This year, the theme of international women’s day is challenging — not just challenging women to do the best they can, but challenging men to act and call out discrimination when they see it happening. #ChooseToChallenge is a great theme to have and I think that it should be an everyday theme, not just the theme for 2021.”

Maureen Watt.

Maureen Watt, the SNP’s Aberdeen South and North Kincardine representative, looked towards the next generation of female MSPs.

She said: “None of that work would have been possible without my teams of staff over the years, five of whom — well, four plus a son — have gone on to elected office, either in the Scottish Parliament or at Westminster.

“Unfortunately, they are all men, but that is changing. I helped to encourage Gillian Martin to stand to become a member, and she and I are mentoring women who, I hope, will be here in the next session of parliament.”

Gil Paterson, SNP MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie, said: “I set up the first cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children in 1999, which was almost exclusively made up of women. With hindsight, I should have set up the same group, but for men, because all the issues are really men’s issues.”

I have laughed more times with them in the past five years than the number of bottles of prosecco we have shared.”

Meanwhile, Ms Ross said: “I have more fond words for my two very special friends — the members of my coven — but I have been advised that the sort of language that I would use is not appropriate in the chamber, and we already know that it is offensive on Twitter, so I will stop there.

“Those friends are Jenny Gilruth and Mairi Gougeon. It is a special thing to get to this stage of life and make friends that you wish you had known years ago. I will miss our gatherings and making our spells. I have laughed more times with them in the past five years than the number of bottles of prosecco we have shared. As you might be aware, presiding officer, that is a lot of laughs.”

And some family affairs…

John Finnie.

John Finnie, Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “New members are coming, presiding officer, and I’m delighted our parliament will welcome more women.

“I hope my successor is the talented Ariane Burgess, and that my dear friend Gillian Mackay, and yes indeed, my daughter Ruth Maguire (SNP MSP), of whom I’m very proud, will be among that number.”

Mr Stevenson, meanwhile, passed the baton on to another SNP MSP, who he revealed was a distant relative.

“As a genealogist of some 60 years’ standing, I have frequently referred to my relatives. Why should today be any different? My father’s cousin, Lord James Stevenson, was, like me, a politician. He was a cross-bencher in the House of Lords, appointed by Ramsay MacDonald as a reward for delivering the empire exhibition in 1924 — which, incidentally, provided England with its national football stadium at Wembley. They only got it because of the actions of a Scotsman from Kilmarnock.

“I can reveal that his coat of arms is supported by squirrels rampant and that, beneath the shield, is the motto: “Carry on”. Is this the end of my family connection to elected politics? No; we shall carry on.”

He added: “It is now time for me to leave, presiding officer, and for another MSP and me to come out together, as it were. I hand my political baton to my cousin — a person with whom I share 11 centimorgans of DNA.

“She is already a government minister and a respected and energetic local member of parliament. So, I say, ‘Good luck in the election, minister’. With a final ping of my galluses, which I know she admires so much, I now hand my share of family responsibility for political service to a fellow admirer of such luridity: my cousin, Jenny Gilruth.”

Tributes were paid to those no longer with us…

MSPs retire
Bill Bowman MSP.

Bill Bowman, north-east Conservative MSP, said: “I joined the parliament following a sad event — the untimely passing of Alex Johnstone — and I leave it following the untimely passing of my wife, Helen, last October. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve here, but I will always have bittersweet memories because of those two events.”

Mr Stevenson said: “When I look at the Tory seats, I greatly miss Alex Johnstone and Alex Fergusson, who departed before their time. They were great friends of mine and great friends of the parliament.”

Mr Findlay, meanwhile, said: “I have a saying that a person cannot be a socialist and a pessimist. I remember using that line in a debate and David McLetchie intervening to ask, “Well, if that is the case, why do you all look so bloody miserable?” I liked debating with McLetchie.”

And tributes were paid to those still with us…

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford said: “In concluding my thanks, let me mention and give particular thanks to the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who has been my personal friend for over 20 years. No other first minister in history has had to endure the pressure that she has been subjected to while holding the office.

“Her leadership during the pandemic has been truly outstanding, and I publicly and sincerely thank her for all the sacrifices that she has made on behalf of the nation.”

Thanks were given to many others as well…

MSPs retire
Tom Mason MSP.

Tom Mason, Conservative MSP for the north-east, said: “I also thank my wife, Kate, and my family, who have never failed to give their support.

“I particularly thank them for accommodating the increasing onset and influence of Parkinson’s, which, although well medicated, has destroyed my ability to write and, over recent months, has limited my contributions.

“To that end, I thank the parliamentary authorities for allowing me additional resources to assist me with the problem. Without exception, the parliamentary support staff and administration, the clerks and information technology staff have been commendable. I thank you all.”

Mr Stevenson also paid tribute to Holyrood workers, in particular those who officially record everything that is said.

“As I prepare for my departure from this place, I am wondering what issue I will wish to remain engaged with after I leave the parliament.

“However, before I do that I want to single out the Official Report team for so masterfully converting some of my more obscure contributions into something that approximates readable English, and for being persuaded to accept the majority of my suggested changes to their drafts — especially when they accepted a new word that Bruce Crawford and I created: ‘cumsnuggered’, which is an adjective that means “overwhelmed by information”.

“Not all of my previous 852 speeches have been of equal intelligibility, and the people in the OR are the all-but-invisible heroes of our institution. I give them my very heartfelt thanks,” he said.

Some MSPs were heading home…

MSPs retire
Angus MacDonald SNP MSP.

Falkirk East SNP MSP Angus Macdonald said: “The islands of the Hebrides have a habit of calling their sons and daughters back home, and I have succumbed to that call.

“My genes go back 1,000 years in the Hebrides, so I guess that it was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the call to go home. I will never forget the absolute honour and privilege that it has been to serve the people of Falkirk East in Parliament for the past 10 years and the good people of Grangemouth on the council before that.”

He added: “There is much to be proud of, and as I head off into the Hebridean sunset, I will watch with interest from afar as the parliament continues to grow and becomes fully independent in the not-too-distant future.”

Others fought back the tears…

MSPs retire
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, who represents Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, said: “I have been very privileged to be here. I have been especially privileged to hold two ministerial offices. And if my voice is now shaking it is because you are all being unusually very nice to me, and I’m very grateful to you for that.”

There were warnings for the future…

MSPs retire
Lewis Macdonald.

North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “Government support for a just transition in energy production and consumption will be vital for the north-east Scotland region, which I have been privileged to represent, and for the country as a whole.

“There must be no switching off jobs and livelihoods in oil and gas in the way that there was in coal and steel a generation ago. The last thing that we need is another generation of energy workers thrown on the scrapheap because of decisions over which they have no control.”

Mike Rumbles, north-east Liberal Democrat MSP, said: “Since I was first elected some 22 years ago, I’ve seen a marked change, if I may say so, in the independence of mind of MSP colleagues – across the board, I’m not singling anyone out – when it comes to voting in the Scottish Parliament. We have collectively become far more tribal.”

Ms Lamont said: “We are now in terrible times and fearful for the future, and the consequences of these times, although largely unknown, will, I am sure, amplify the inequality that people in our communities already suffer.”

Adam Tomkins, Conservative MSP for Glasgow, said: “When it comes to the other key function of parliament, which is holding the government effectively to account, I am afraid that the Scottish Parliament still leaves a great deal to be desired.

“It is not because we lack powers — it is more disturbing than that; it is because too many of us lack the will to use them.”

And hopes too…

MSPs retire
Alex Neil.

West Scotland Labour MSP Mary Fee said: “I hope that, in the next parliamentary session, parliament continues to work to make our society fairer, more equal and more protected and that the members who remain here are a positive example of how we can enhance equality and protect human rights.”

North-east Labour MSP Jenny Marra said: “I am allowed to be honest today: I think that the hard edge of nationalism has worn some of us down, for now. I am glad that our party is presenting new energy and vitality for the next parliament.”

Alex Neil, SNP MSP for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “Until my dying day I will be very proud, like the deputy presiding officer, to be have been a founding member of the Parliament — the first ever democratically elected Scottish Parliament. We have proved that Jimmy Maxton was right when he said that a Scottish Parliament could achieve for Scotland much more in five years than Westminster could achieve in 25 years.

“That said, we have a lot more to achieve, so I hope that in future years we will not be timid, but will instead be a bit more radical in what we try to do for Scotland.

“We will democratise the parliament internally by strengthening the role and power of back benchers and committees, which I hope will happen soon.”