Thursday, May 31, 2012

Holyrood honours the Queen

I've just been reading through the Parliamentary Debate which honoured the Queen's Diamond Jubilee yesterday. Each Party leader, including Patrick Harvie, made a short speech and I felt that they captured what the Queen means to Scotland and its people. Even though they weren't all united - Patrick wanted to discuss the possibility of an independent Scotland not having the Queen as Head of State. I'd have quite liked to have seen that pressed to a full debate, just to see whether the SNP would have held together. You get the impression that some of them aren't so keen on the "don't scare the horses" strategy taken by their leaders.

For the record, I would quite happily see us do away with the Monarchy. I'm not into inherited position. However, I realise that I'm in a significant minority. I have two options. I can sit and strop because I'm not getting my way, or I can appreciate the hard work that the Queen and members of her family do. The second option isn't really that hard to choose.

Having said all that, Alex Salmond gave a really good and warm speech. I loved the references to the previous Diamond Jubilee, of Victoria, in Scotland - and how there was a plot afoot to embellish Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen but it was his genuine appreciation of the Queen's relationship with Scotland that made me pleased.
Of course, many things do change. Over the six decades of the Queen’s reign, Scotland has altered dramatically and for the better. Constants have been the Queen’s dedication, impartiality and service. On her coronation day, the Queen said to her people:
“I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”
Perhaps the highest praise that can be given to the Queen is that, throughout her reign, she has lived up to that pledge. 
Today, the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to place on record our respect, admiration and gratitude for that service. In doing so, we recognise that, although the Queen is the head of state of 16 different nations and the head of the Commonwealth of 54 nations, she has always been a particular friend of Scotland. Indeed, she is more than a friend—she is family. She performed her first official opening duty here in October 1944, when she opened the Aberdeen sailors’ home. On one of her first engagements following her coronation, more than 60,000 Scots packed into Hampden park to welcome her on a visit to Glasgow. We look forward with particular pleasure to welcoming her back to Glasgow and Hampden park in 2014 for the opening of the Commonwealth games.
Willie Rennie gave a really sympathetic insight into what the Queen's life has been like, even talking about the risks she's faced, her own daughter being kidnapped in the Mall and finding Michael Fagan in her bedroom that morning. He talked about her bringing "real joy" to people's faces.

 I thank the First Minister for the gifts that he has chosen, which I think will gain widespread approval across Scotland. They are appropriate for the occasion, and I thank the First Minister for choosing well.

The Queen did not choose this life. Neither she, nor her father before her, expected to fulfil the role of monarch. It is against that backdrop that we judge and admire Her Majesty’s commitment to public service. I enjoy going to events such as the Fife show or to places such as Carnegie College. I enjoy meeting people on such occasions, but I think that I would find it hard if I faced doing that almost every day for the next 42 years, as I would have to do to match the Queen’s diary. If I particularly enjoyed a visit, I would not be able to extend it to find out a bit more about what went on behind the scenes, as I can do as a private citizen. If I did not like something, I would not be able just to nip off early and go to something else or go for a cup of tea. I would have to stay, do my duty and do the right thing, as the Queen has done for the length of her service. She has committed so much in personal duty and service.

My point is that although, from the outside, her life might look fantastic with all the palaces and the jewels, she took the role on at the age of 26 and could have given it up when she was 60, 70 or 80 but did not. She has chosen to carry on and to continue her service, despite the evident downsides. In 1974, her daughter was almost kidnapped. The security threats are real; she has faced intruders in her home.

Even today, after 60 years, the Queen brings more to public life than people ever expect. When we leave the Parliament late in the evening, we see people from all backgrounds leaving the Palace of Holyroodhouse after enjoying a reception in the palace or its gardens. It is clear that her hospitality goes way beyond what people expect. Across the country, when the Queen goes on visits, she brings joy to people’s faces and manages to create excitement and a real sense of celebrity. We should never ignore and should always admire that.

We should also remember how well judged her attendances at the Scottish Parliament always are. She displays poise and her speeches are always of the best class. The Queen always delivers much more than people expect. Therefore, after 60 years, on her diamond jubilee, it is right that Parliament takes time to mark and appreciate the service of Her Majesty.

I wasn't particularly struck by either Ruth Davidson's or Johann Lamont's speeches on this occasion. They didn't say anything  bad - more that they didn't say much at all. There just didn't seem to be any heart in them. 

I liked the presents that have been given - frugal by royal command - a redesigned garden at Holyrood Palace, a donation to a veterans' charity and an app celebrating the Queen and Scotland. I'm assuming it's the one called Queen of Scots which is free. Having looked at it, I could have done more with it given half a chance. It's a bit thin on detail - and there's nothing about Balmoral, or Crathie or the Braemar Gathering, for example. 

This weekend I'll certainly be raising a glass to toast a remarkable woman who has been at the forefront of the nation for all my life and beyond.  The first time I ever saw her was when she came up to take Prince Edward to Gordonstoun. I must have been 4 or 5. I remember being in a crowd queueing near the station in Inverness to see her. When I spent my Summers in Braemar working at the Youth Hostel, it was an everyday occurrence to see various royals driving or walking around the place. She has been prepared to change with the times and listen. I wish she'd do the one thing she's never done, though. I think an interview about her life would be absolutely fascinating. I hope that at some point we will hear what she has to say on the main events of her reign. 

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