Donald Dewar – 1999 Speech at Opening of the Scottish Parliament


Below is the text of the speech made by Donald Dewar on the Opening of the new Scottish Parliament on 1st July 1999.

Your Majesty, on behalf of the people of Scotland, I thank you for the gift of the Mace.

This is a symbol of the great democratic tradition from which we draw our inspiration and our strength. At its head are inscribed the opening words of our founding statute: `There shall be a Scottish Parliament’.

Through long years, those words were first a hope, then a belief, then a promise. Now they are a reality.

This is indeed a moment anchored in our history. Today, we reach back through the long haul to win this Parliament, to the struggles of those who brought democracy to Scotland, to that other Parliament dissolved in controversy over 300 years ago.

Today, we look forward to the time when this moment will be seen as a turning point: the day when democracy was renewed in Scotland, when we revitalised our place in this our United Kingdom.

This is about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves.

In the quiet moments today, we might hear some echoes from the past: the shouts of the welder in the din of the great Clyde shipyard; the speak of the Mearns, rooted in the land; the discourse of the Enlightenment, when Edinburgh and Glasgow were a light held to the intellectual light of Europe; the wild cry of the Great Pipe; and back to the distant noise of the battles of the days of Bruce and Wallace.

The past is part of us, part of every one of us and we respect that, but today there is a new voice in the land, the voice of a democratic Parliament. A voice to shape Scotland, a voice above all for the future.

Walter Scott wrote that only a man with soul so dead could have no sense, no feel for his native land. For me, and I suspect also for every Scot, today is a proud moment: a new stage of the journey begun long ago and which has no end. This is a proud day for all of us.

A Scottish Parliament, not an end: a means to greater ends. And those, too, are part of our Mace. Woven into its symbolic thistles are these four words: `Wisdom. Justice. Compassion. Integrity’.

Burns would have understood that. We have just heard – beautifully sung – one of his most enduring works. And that half of the song is a very Scottish conviction: that honesty and simple dignity are priceless virtues, not imparted by rank or birth or privilege but part of the soul.

Burns believed that sense and worth ultimately prevail. He believed that was the core of politics and that without it, our profession is inevitably impoverished.

Wisdom, justice, compassion, integrity; timeless values. Honourable aspirations for this new forum of democracy born on the cusp of a new century.

We are fallible, we all know that. We will make mistakes. But I hope and I believe we will never lose sight of what brought us here: the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the common weal.

I look forward to the days ahead and I know there will be many of them when this chamber will sound with debate, argument and passion. When men and women from all over Scotland will meet to work together for a future built on the first principles of social justice.

But today, we pause and reflect. It is a rare privilege in an old nation to open a new Parliament. Today is and must be a celebration of the principles, the traditions, the democratic imperative which has brought us to this point and will sustain us in the future.