Your Majesty, on behalf of the people of Scotland, can I thank you for declaring this fourth session of the reconvened Scottish Parliament open – although as some of our friends in the press will most assuredly point out, we will then immediately move into recess!
Your Majesty has been the firmest of friends of this Parliament, particularly in some of our early and difficult years, and you now return to demonstrate that confidence as we move into a different age.
Scotland, and Parliament, have changed since you first came to congratulate our newly-democratised nation in 1999. We have grown in esteem and ambition and we wish to grow more.
Since May, a whole clamour of voices have been scrambled to debate the road ahead. Some urge us to ignore Edwin Morgan’s call – repeated by our new Makar – to be “bold”. But the “nest of fearties” approach is for another time and place.
This is a country increasingly comfortable in its own skin.
We aspire to be more successful, more dynamic, fairer and greener.
We want to uphold the values of the Commonweal – to protect the vulnerable and nurture the young. We want to emerge from current economic difficulties into better times.
Your Majesty, can I quote from a recent speech which you made to another nation of these islands, and one that was received with great praise and warmth. At a banquet in Dublin Castle – after an impressive opening in the Irish language that I will not attempt to emulate – you said:
“Together we have much to celebrate: the ties between our people, the shared values, and the economic, business and cultural links that make us so much more than just neighbours, that make us firm friends and equal partners.”
Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales – together we do have much to celebrate – the English language of Shakespeare, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas and Edwin Morgan himself. One of the greatest works in that language of course is the King James Bible, which is 400 years old this very year.
The translation was first suggested – not at Hampton Court as is often claimed – but at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Burntisland, Fife, in 1601. It was driven by Scottish egalitarianism and commitment to education – the desire that everyone should be able to read and understand scripture.
The idea travelled south with King James VI of Scots when he accepted the English Crown two years later – and it was brought then to life by scholars in Cambridge, Oxford and Westminster. It has given us some of the most common phrases in the language we share – for example a thorn in the flesh (Corinthians 12:7); a fly in the ointment (Ecclesiastes 10:1); turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6); and a law unto themselves (Romans 2:14).
Phrases which occasionally resound around this Chamber – and not always deployed in the interests of the Government!
So there is much we share, that is a given. But the nations of these islands are also distinctive, with our own unique history and culture, our own economic challenges and our own opportunities. Some of us believe the best way to articulate that uniqueness and tackle those challenges lies within ourselves – and should be fully expressed within the work of this Parliament.
However, whatever constitutional path that the people of Scotland choose – and it is their choice to make – we will aspire to be, in your words, “firm friends and equal partners”.
It gave me great pleasure recently to represent Scotland at the wedding of your grandson in Westminster Abbey. And we look forward, as you do, to another wedding, that of your grand-daughter Zara, in the Canongate Kirk – a holy place which you first visited in the first day of your first visit to Scotland as our Queen.
It is worth remembering that the Canongate was commissioned in 1688 by James VII, King of both Scotland and England when these two countries had their own parliaments in Edinburgh and London. From 1603, until this Parliament entered a rather long adjournment in 1707, your predecessors reigned over two sovereign nations – and there was nothing particularly unusual in that arrangement.
And today, Your Majesty, you come here as Queen of Scots but also as head of state of 16 different realms – and leader of a Commonwealth comprising 54 nations.
It is a role which you have always taken seriously and discharged flawlessly. I look forward to welcoming you to the Commonwealth Games which take place in Glasgow in three years time. In your last Christmas address, you mentioned the Delhi Games and observed that the smallest nations get the largest cheers. The City of Glasgow therefore can guarantee a deafening welcome in 2014 when Scotland will compete in the Games as the host nation.
We are a proud people, keen to contribute to the global Commonweal, and that marvellous egalitarian principle which inspires the modern Commonwealth.
Or as the King James Bible would have it: “To everything there is a season and a time.”
For Scotland, for this Parliament, this can be a good season and a good time.