On 11th March Iain Gray MSP made his final final speech in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament having served as leader of the Scottish Labour Party but also as the key Scottish Labour Party figure in education in that time. He spoke to the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill. In his speech he reviewed the parliament over his 22 years as MSP and offered a vision of the work of the Scottish Parliament needing to shine light on darkness! We share his speech and share our view that he will be missed.
Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab): Thank you, Presiding Officer. I speak in support of the bill, which finally promises some redress for people whom we collectively let down so badly for so long. As children, they looked to us for care and we delivered them up to hurt, terror and torture, sometimes for years. Then, as the cabinet secretary said, for decades we refused to listen to them, but, in their courage, they would not be silenced. The bill has taken too long to achieve, and it could have been better. I wish that we had removed the waiver on rights to civil justice, but the bill is a substantive acknowledgement—at last—of survivors’ suffering and our responsibility for it.
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. [Laughter.] It is better to make that decision ourselves than to have the electorate make it for us. I am glad that my final speech is about righting a wrong of the past.
I am privileged to be one of the class of ’99, as I believe that, over 22 years, we have put right many such wrongs. I helped to take through the very first act of this Parliament—the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000—which supported families who had been stymied in their care for loved ones by cruel incapacity laws, some of which were 400 years old. We abolished a feudal system that, for 1,000 years, had excluded the people of this country from vast swathes of their own land, and we opened it up to all. We closed down the long-stay hospitals in which our brothers and sisters with learning disabilities had been imprisoned for generations. It has been a privilege to be just a small part of all of that and of so much more that the Parliament has done when it has been at its best.
On that unforgettable opening day in 1999, Donald Dewar said that the Scottish Parliament is about “how we carry ourselves”. I do not believe that he meant how we strut on the world stage or swagger along the corridors of power. He meant how closely we are willing to walk alongside those who need us most and how willing we are to stand with those who are hungry, who are hurting or who have no hope—not craving the limelight, but rather braving the darkness that it is our duty to try to dispel. We have not always succeeded, of course.
There are plenty of present-day wrongs that I will be looking to those members who come back in May to put right. After all, we opened up access to our land, but it is still owned by a tiny, wealthy, powerful elite. We liberated people with learning disabilities from long-stay hospitals, but into a social care system that fails them again and again. There were precious few food banks back in 1999. What were we doing that so many came to depend on them? Child poverty is rising. Drug deaths are Scotland’s shame.
The Parliament’s best days are the days when we refuse to accept that we cannot change those things and we believe in our power to do that. The Parliament that I leave is not the one that I entered 20 years ago. Following the Smith commission, on which I had the privilege of serving, it is one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere. I know that many members will continue to argue for its sovereignty, and that is their right. However, I sincerely believe that the pandemic has demonstrated the power of devolution, taking our own decisions here—some of which I agree with, others which I do not—about public health measures, schools, the national health service and how we support business. However, we do so while we are underpinned by being part of a bigger economy with a broader tax base, more borrowing power, greater research funding and greater purchasing power for vaccines and personal protective equipment. In any case—pandemic or not—our daily obligation is to use every power that we have, with all the urgency that we can muster, to right those wrongs of poverty and injustice.
I turn to that Donald Dewar speech again:“A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends. ”A noble end—like today: a measure of justice at last for survivors of abuse. It has been a privilege to be part of that. It has been an especial privilege to represent East Lothian for the past 14 years, so let me place on record for the last time that East Lothian is the best constituency, the best county and the best part of Scotland in which to live or work. [Laughter.]
I could not have be part of any of that without the support of so many staff in Parliament, the Labour researchers and the staff in my local office—currently Chris, Ryan and John, but many others over the years, not least Pat and Simon, whom we miss. Above all, my thanks go to my family, especially to my wife, Gil. I would never have been here without her encouragement nor have survived without her holding my hand through the ups and downs. This bill is an up. It is a good bill—some light in a terrible darkness. We will support it this evening, and that will be me loused. Thank you. [Applause.]