State Opening of Parliament 2016

Read my speech from the 2016 State Opening of the fifth Scottish Parliament or click here to watch it.

Your majesty, your Royal Highness, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my fellow MSPs may I welcome you all and thank you for joining us at the opening of this, the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament.

Ceud mile failte gu Parlamaid na h’Alba.

A particularly warm welcome to you Your Majesty – and not just because of the significant milestones you have achieved this year.  Your presence here today and the support you have continued to give the Scottish Parliament from the beginning of devolution, has helped this institution develop the authority it now enjoys.

I know that many people across this country have enjoyed celebrating with you a remarkable year.  On your most recent official visit to Scotland, you became our longest reigning monarch.  Last month I was privileged to represent the Parliament at St Paul’s for your 90th birthday celebrations on the same day as the 95th birthday of your Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh.

It was an enjoyable occasion made all the more delightful when our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon introduced our Secretary of State David Mundell to your guests as her husband.  Inadvertently I may add as the two had swapped places, but as David Mundell himself observed, we didn’t need a referendum to know that was one union doomed to disappointment from the start.

Over nine decades you have witnessed so much; extraordinary social and economic change, phenomenal scientific and technological advances, disturbing and ever increasing environmental anxiety – but critically, you have seen successive generations rise to the challenges before them.

Your majesty, the Parliament before you today stands ready for the challenges that lie ahead of us.  Every MSP in this chamber is proud to represent the people of Scotland.  We have been given the opportunity to serve and to contribute in a parliament which has been refreshed.  Two out of every five MSPs here has been elected for the first time, rejuvenating our democracy, reminding us of the promise of devolution – to work together across Party lines for the good of all.

In these few short weeks, weeks of unprecedented political turbulence, I have already seen a real willingness to work cooperatively and collaboratively. I have seen the emergence of a shared agenda to clarify the identity and role of the Scottish Parliament and a shared recognition that it is more important than ever that Parliament finds its own voice – a voice of hope, to echo Donald Dewar, a voice for the future.

I say more important than ever, because these last few weeks have also borne witness to the politics of hate. Today outside this Parliament we fly the rainbow flag of Pride – testimony to the 49 lives lost in the senseless shootings in an Orlando nightclub, and a flag which displays our solidarity with the families and communities they left behind.

We continue to mourn the loss of our Parliamentary colleague Jo Cox and I believe it is simply not enough to condemn such atrocities.  We have been given the privilege of public office and we need to lead by example

Just this week, President Michael D Higgins of Ireland warned us against “the growth of a temporary, inchoate populism” and he urged us not to react in kind, but to respond “with an informed, open, ..tolerant and engaged discourse”.  It was one of the most erudite and powerful arguments for empathy, for the importance of moral sympathy in our politics I have ever had the privilege to hear.

Yes, our exchanges in this Parliament should be passionate and robust, but they should also be respectful.  Courtesy, compassion and gentleness are a sign of strength not weakness – a lesson many of us could learn from you, your majesty.

When this building was first constructed, Edwin Morgan described the “open..adventurous” parliament Scotland wanted to see in his poem Open the Doors.  He implored us not to let our “hope be other than great”.

I have never given up hope that we can recapture the new kind of politics from which the Scottish Parliament was born.  But it takes determination to move away from the trench warfare of Party lines.  It takes purpose if we are to try to soften the new binary divisions – yes or no, leave or remain.

We need to remember and act on the principles on which we were established – accessible, transparent in our proceedings, sharing power.  It cannot, must not just be today that Parliament opens its doors to the people of Scotland.

Last Friday morning, we all awoke to the monumental impact of the EU referendum result – an event which has already had a profound and dramatic impact on the political landscape.  But I will also remember that date as my daughter Annie’s last day at primary school.  As she moves on to high school, I do not want her to be filled with anxiety.  I want her – I want all our children to grow up full of expectation and excitement – secure in the knowledge that we are shaping a positive future.  I want them to study and learn, to work and prosper, to play and to fall in love – in a world in which humanity can live up to the deepest meaning of the word.

Your Majesty, amidst the bad news over the last month, there was at least one little moment of joy – when your horse Dartmouth won at Royal Ascot and we shared your undisguised pleasure on our TV screens.  Politics is a little like horse-racing in that it can often strike people as the triumph of hope over experience and despite the public cynicism, in my experience, most politicians are incurable optimists.

17 years ago, almost to the day, I was filled with hope as I took my place in the first Scottish Parliament – and as I stand here today I can feel that fire rekindled in my heart.

We stand at the brink of a new session with all the hope and promise that can bring.  We have five years to make a difference – five years to make Scotland a fairer, kinder, more prosperous country – five years to build a better place for all of us to live.  Government or opposition, front or backbench, each one us has something to contribute for, as Jo Cox said in her maiden speech in the Commons – “we have far more in common than that which divides us”.  My hope – like the poet’s – is still great.

Your Majesty, can I call on you to address the Scottish Parliament.

In the few short weeks since I became Presiding Officer, we have voted ourselves out of Europe, the Prime Minister has announced his resignation and the Labour Party has fallen out with its leader.