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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, November 8, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 08 November 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motion of Remembrance, Care Homes (South Lanarkshire), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Inclusive Education, Business Motion, Prescription (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Prescription (Scotland) Bill, Code of Conduct (Breach), Decision Time, Point of Order


Motion of Remembrance

The next of item business is a debate on motion S5M-14666, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on a motion of remembrance.


It is an honour to move this motion today. I suspect that everyone in the chamber will be able to picture the war memorials in their local communities. The one in Dreghorn, where I grew up, stands on a hill above the village and looks down on the primary school that I attended. It contains just over 50 names from world war one, from James Andrew to Andrew Wylie. The main war memorial of the Canongate kirk—just up the road from our Parliament—contains more than 200 names, from John Aitken to John Young. Those are just two of the more than 5,000 memorials across our country.

In total, the rolls of honour for world war one in the Scottish national war memorial contain more than 130,000 names. Those names include members of the armed forces from Scotland and of Scottish descent along with nurses, munitions workers, merchant navy sailors and others. When 134,712 names are projected on to the walls of the Parliament as part of the armistice day commemorations on Sunday, the display will take seven hours. That fact on its own gives some idea of the sheer scale of the suffering that was caused by the first world war.

It has been estimated that more than 15 million people from around the world died. Every single one of those people was somebody’s son or daughter, somebody’s sibling or somebody’s fiancé or spouse. Many millions more were injured, often grievously.

The psychological impact of the conflict, which was borne mainly by very young men and women in an age that often did not recognise or talk about mental health, is difficult for us to comprehend or even to conceive of.

In November 1919, The Scotsman newspaper called the first armistice day commemoration

“a reminder of vacant niches in our memories … of lost heartache in millions of homes”.

It is maybe hard for us to fully grasp not just the intensity, but the universality of the grief that must have been evident on those earlier armistice days. However, the debt that we owe to those who served does not diminish with the passage of time. It is vital that today we remember and honour their courage and their sacrifice.

Other aspects of world war one are also worthy of reflection. Earlier this year, we marked in this chamber the centenary of the start of women’s suffrage, which was partly a consequence of the war. The map of Europe was completely redrawn after the first world war, and the settlement reached at Versailles would ultimately lead towards world war two. In many respects, therefore, the first world war was instrumental in shaping modern Scotland and determining the world that we live in.

It is therefore entirely appropriate that the past four years have seen a nationwide programme of commemorations to mark the centenary of the war. The programme has been carefully considered and immaculately planned by the Scottish commemorations panel, which has been ably chaired by Norman Drummond, and its team of advisors. The panel’s expertise and hard work have played a significant part in making the events such a success. It is also worth noting that the free books produced for each of the commemorations have been hugely and deservedly popular. As First Minister, I put on record my heartfelt thanks for everything that Norman, the panel and its advisors have done. It is absolutely right that today’s motion gives the Parliament as a whole the chance to demonstrate our gratitude.

The panel has worked with a large range of partners, including the Royal British Legion Scotland, Poppyscotland and Government agencies. The armed services have been heavily involved and have supported all the commemorative events. They have also conducted their ceremonial duties with the professionalism that we have come to expect but which we must never take for granted.

At a local level, hundreds of community groups, faith organisations, veterans societies and many others have organised and participated in ceremonies, gatherings and cultural events across the country. For example, on Sunday after I attend the national remembrance service here in Edinburgh in the morning and the Glasgow cathedral service in the afternoon, I am hugely looking forward to seeing “Far, Far from Ypres”—a production that has received warm praise from audiences right across Scotland on its current tour.

Our schools have been heavily involved in commemorations. Almost all schools in Scotland have played a part in marking the centenary.

I have seen at first hand how successfully those different organisations have worked together at each of the commemorations that I have been privileged to attend, including the Loos commemorations in Dundee and commemorations for the Quintinshill rail disaster, the Gallipoli campaign, the battle of Jutland, the battle of the Somme and the battle of Amiens. The beating of the retreat at Arras last year, marking a campaign where 18,000 Scots died in little over one month, is something that will stay in my memory for a very, very long time. Many of those events have had a strong international element, including, rightly and very movingly, from countries that were opponents in world war one and are now valued friends and partners.

To get back to the point about schools, one of the other things that has stayed with me from the commemorations in Arras is meeting students from Monifieth, Alloa, Duncanrig, Crieff and many other places besides, several of whom had great-grandparents or other relatives who had died or served in the great war. All of them were learning about the conflict—not just its geopolitical consequences, but its impact on people and communities.

The opportunity that this commemorative period has provided for that—not just for school students, but for all of us—may indeed prove to be its most valuable legacy. Service in world war one has now passed entirely out of living memory, and the same will happen before too much longer with world war two, but as those wars recede further into the past, our obligation to remember them is, if anything, greater now than it has ever been. After all, one of the lessons of those conflicts is that peace is something that no nation and no continent can ever take for granted—it requires constant hard work and continued attention and dedication.

When the then Prime Minister David Lloyd George addressed the House of Commons on armistice day, he famously said:

“I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 11 November 1918; Vol 110, c 2463-4.]

His words then expressed a universally held hope that has, of course, never been fulfilled, but it is one that we must continue to cherish and work towards each and every day.

One of the ways in which we can work towards peace—not the only way, but a very important way—is to remember and understand the cost and the sheer horror of war. These centenary commemorations have given all of us an opportunity to do that. Today, as we do every November, we remember with respect and with gratitude all those who died. We honour all those who contributed to the war effort and we resolve once again to do everything in our power to promote a more peaceful world, because ultimately that is the best, the most fitting, and perhaps the only meaningful tribute that we can pay to those who lost their lives.

I am proud to move the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament acknowledges that the First World War had a devastating impact around the world, including on our nation, in which no community was unaffected; recognises the importance of honouring all those who have lost their lives in armed conflicts; notes that 2018 marks the centenary of the First World War Armistice; commends the work of the Scottish Commemorations Panel and partner organisations, which have developed a fitting programme of events to commemorate Scotland’s Armistice centenary, both nationally and for communities; notes that the centenary of the Armistice will be commemorated with a National Service for Scotland in Glasgow Cathedral; recognises the many other organisations and community groups in communities across Scotland that will be delivering commemorative events that inform people about Scotland’s involvement in the First World War while helping them recognise the effects of the war on their local communities and the wider world and its lasting impact on life today, and calls on the nation to come together and pay its respects on 11 November 2018 to ensure that those who suffered so much will never be forgotten, and in the hope that conflicts such as the First World War might end.


I begin by associating myself entirely with everything that the First Minister has just said.

And so, finally, the guns fell silent. In that era, when newspapers were the only source of news, when the pounding of the guns, right up until the appointed hour, could still be heard across the channel, their sudden and longed-for silence spoke volumes. That was 100 years ago.

One hundred years before that were Waterloo and the Napoleonic wars, which were, to those who were emerging from the first world war, a distant memory, but only as distant to them as the great war is now to us—that moment when first-hand knowledge has passed, and when fewer remain with even a strong second-hand recollection. A huge moment in the story of our nation and the world slips into history.

Laurence Binyon’s enduring stanza, which begins

“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old”,

was composed when the war was just weeks old, with all the terror and horror ahead. The poem has served as an inspiration to a nation that is determined to honour and remember the sacrifice of the fallen.

The cenotaph in Whitehall and war memorials across and in every part of the nation and the world will remain at the centre of our collective remembrance this coming Sunday—the centenary of that destructive and desperate conflict.

As the First Minister said, since 2014, we have marked the centenary anniversaries of the key conflicts: Ypres in 1914-15; Gallipoli in 1915; Verdun, Jutland and the Somme in 1916; Passchendaele in 1917; movingly, in April last year, Arras, in which so many Scots perished; and Amiens in 1918. They have been deeply moving events that have been attended, as we might expect, by politicians, members of the royal family, members of our armed forces and, with singular dedication, Royal British Legion veterans. More moving still has been that, as we have contemplated the vastness of the loss, we have witnessed time and again the humility, pride and enduring sadness of the families of those who did not return, and who have themselves returned to where relatives fought and fell.

As a schoolboy at Glasgow Academy—itself a war memorial trust—respect for those who served, whether they fell or survived, was profound. As pupils still do, I passed several times each day two huge memorial plaques that face each other across an atrium, one for each of the world wars, that bear the names of all those from the school who perished. In the 1970s, there were still many veterans and others who knew those names personally. I realised later that there were members of staff and other students who counted family names among those who are listed. It is also true that among those who were teaching us were many men and women who had fought in the second world war.

That proximity to events ought to have been a rich vein of knowledge, but, as we all know, those who survived, in all humility and with respect to those who had fallen, spoke little of their own direct experience. Only towards the end did gallant men like Harry Patch share their stories. He was, at one point, the oldest man in Europe and the last surviving combat soldier of the first world war from any country. He served on the Western Front and died in 2009.

The past four years have seen an extraordinary engagement in communities, in particular through schoolchildren investigating the life histories of the names on local memorials, in order to make vivid portraits of those who died: their families, their lives, where and how they met their end and the legacy that endured. Those creative acts of practical remembrance ensure that the memory of individuals survives.

The past four years have also seen many fine new histories of the great war—none more so, in my view, than Nick Lloyd’s searing account of Passchendaele, which was surely, in that long conflict, the ultimate battle to illustrate the futility of so much of it.

“Between July 31st and November 10th, 500,000 men were either killed, wounded, maimed, gassed, drowned or buried”

he writes, and there were so many Scots among them. Looking at operational maps and seeing the strategic names including Dumbarton Wood, Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood, is vivid testament to an engagement in which so many Scots died.

Lloyd George called it

“the campaign in the mud”,

for it rained mercilessly almost the entire time, and the shelling so destabilised the fabric of the ground that it turned literally to a sea of mud. I recall seeing the Deputy First Minister John Swinney at the Menin Gate, where many of those whose remains were never recovered are listed on the memorial.

Basil Liddell Hart, in his 1930 history “The Real War”, quoted a then un-named general, who said,

“Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?”

and Siegfried Sassoon encapsulated the death of those who fell at Passchendaele, in his poem “Memorial Tablet”:

“Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight
(Under Lord Derby's Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duckboards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.”

As the war ended, and in the months that followed, tens of millions more would die from influenza. All too many who had survived battle succumbed and, at home, civilians who had endured died just as suddenly as many who had fought. The first world war was, ultimately, a series of conflicts between nations and nature. Perhaps the American civil war should have given those who were leading it some premonition of what 19th century military tactics could expect when facing 20th century technology—but, if it did, it was ignored.

In commemorating the end of the first world war, in acknowledging its many horrendous conflicts and anniversaries, and in celebrating the heroism of many individuals, we do so firm in our resolve that it is not, and will not be, to glory in that war, in its ambitions or its monstrous indiscriminate slaughter, in its bloody victories or in its defeats.

Were there positive legacies? It was the beginning of the end of deference, certainly—men of all backgrounds who fought side by side in the trenches came home ambitious and confident of their equal worth. There was women’s suffrage, and there was the ambition of those who had stepped up to fight from around the world to move from Empire to Commonwealth.

Tens of millions would die in the decades that followed. It was not the war to end all wars, when in the peace that was finally struck lay the seeds of Hitler, the global war and the Holocaust, which followed just 20 years later. However, in 1918 the guns fell silent.

Presiding Officer, this debate is a salute from the world of today to the world as it was then. It is an act of remembrance of a conflict that now slips into history, of our forebears, of ordinary men and women from across the world who fought or endured at home, but especially, here in Scotland’s Parliament, of the Scots who gave their all.


I rise in support of the motion. It is important that the Scottish Parliament marks the centenary with the solemnity that it deserves, and with due regard to the commemorative tone of this remembrance.

Many of our own families were directly affected by the first world war. My grandfather, Richard Hopkinson, never spoke of his wartime experiences in France. They were locked away. They were compartmentalised, never to be released, and were taken to the grave—and little wonder. He volunteered with the Bradford Pals, who were part of the West Yorkshire Regiment, at the start of the war in 1914, at the age of 18. He witnessed at first hand the grimmest horror of trench warfare. He fought in the battle of the Somme, where, of the 2,000 men in the first and second battalions of the Bradford Pals, as The Yorkshire Post reported, 1,770 were killed or badly injured as they walked into a hail of German bullets in the first hour.

Over the following 140 days of the Somme, there were 1 million casualties, and we know that the wounds were not merely physical. My grandfather served until armistice day a century ago. In his world that I knew, of bowling greens, of family—a daughter and grandchildren—and an apple tree in the back garden, the snarling cry of the machine gun from half a century before was shut out. That was not the full story of his early life experience. There were also his brothers and sisters, who were themselves slain before the war—lives cut short by tuberculosis and slum housing.

That was a generation that suffered much; a generation to which we still owe an incalculable debt. It is fitting that this Parliament and this country remembers them—those who made it to old age and, more poignantly, those who did not; those who fell on those cold battlefields a long way from home; and those who served on the home front.

At times like this, Parliament is at its best, when we stand together across the political divides—not just to remember those who fought in the first world war, but to remember those who fell in later conflicts in the 100 years since 1918. To the families of those fallen soldiers we also owe a debt, and to the veterans who survive we have a special responsibility. Our duty is to provide them with the support that they need, when they need it. As we commemorate the fallen, we must also speak out and take action for the living. That means that Parliament must do what it can for those who cannot shut out the trauma—the physical and the mental anguish.

We cannot change the past, but we can understand it and so build a better today and tomorrow. We can create a better future and so pay back our debt to those whose sacrifices have been great. We can do that by investing—as a priority—in public health and in public services, by tackling poor mental health and ending the stigma around it, and by working to build a future that is founded on peace and not on war, and which does not lead us into believing that there will, necessarily, be a war to end all wars.

As we commemorate those who laid down their lives, we should recall that the great war poet Wilfred Owen wrote some of the most harrowing poems ever written in the English language—the poem about

“The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est”,

and the “Anthem for Doomed Youth”. He wrote them while being treated for shellshock—which is now known as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder—at the Craiglockhart war hospital in this city.

We should not airbrush from our history, either, the prominent members of the Independent Labour Party, including James Keir Hardie, John Wheatley, Jimmy Maxton, Tom Johnston, and Arthur Woodburn, or those who formed the women’s peace crusade in 1916—Helen Crawfurd, Agnes Dollan, Mary Barbour, Agnes Hardie and Annie Swan—who opposed the war on grounds that were at once both moral and political. It was an opposition which, in the words of Maxton, took “a world-wide humanitarian view”.

We must learn all the lessons of all our history, and remember the 135,000 women and men from Scotland who gave their lives, and whose names will be projected on to the Parliament on Sunday: those who are commemorated in every city, in every town, in every village and on every war memorial, where we will stand in silence and pay our own respects, and draw on our own memories this Sunday, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and resolve, as a nation, that we shall never forget.


I am grateful for the opportunity to add remarks in support of the motion, on behalf of the Scottish Greens. This moment of remembrance, in which we mark the 100th anniversary of the first world war armistice, is a moment of shared recognition of the horrors of a war that took so many lives, touching every community in Scotland and so far beyond.

Every one of those names, and the stories behind them, is powerful, but the scale of what we are here to remember is breathtaking: nearly 10 million military dead and twice as many wounded, most not there as volunteers but through conscription or under the threat of conscription. There were millions more civilian deaths: people from all walks of life were the direct victims of the war and unknown millions more died as a consequence of the war, as hunger, disease and emotional trauma followed conflict, as they so often do. This, too, must be remembered.

What can it mean to stand in remembrance of such staggering and unnecessary human suffering? What does it mean to honour those lives? It is, in part, a continued commitment to observe the intention that has been maintained strongly throughout the century quite simply to never forget. However, it must also be a chance to reflect on the nature of that war, an atrocity committed by the powerful against the powerless, as millions of young men were forced to enlist, marched across Europe and sent into fields and ditches to face mutual slaughter. That was, indeed, an atrocity committed by the Governments of both sides against the people of both sides, an atrocity committed also by the companies that sold arms to both sides or told lies to both sides to make war more likely and line their own pockets. This, too, must be remembered. It should have stood throughout those hundred years as the ultimate lesson on the futility of war.

We must remember and honour those who lost their lives, but to make that act meaningful, we should also remain true to the other sentiment that was expressed so strongly in the years immediately after the war. It was not only “never forget”, but also “never again”. On that second imperative, we have shown far less commitment. As we stand in remembrance of the first world war dead and all the victims of all wars, across the world today, in places like Rakhine, Yemen and Palestine, conflict rages on and the war profiteers in this country and around the world carry on their lethal business. This, too, must be remembered.

On this 100th anniversary of the armistice, Scotland marks the bravery of those who fought, but it still has no memorial to those other brave people who risked imprisonment, torture or execution by their own Government for having the courage to say no, they would not kill their fellow human beings. This, too, must be remembered, and if the proposal for such a memorial becomes a reality, it will offer a place to reflect on the lives of those who have worked for peace in our history and around the world.

We are right to keep in our collective memory the horrors of war and the lives that were so needlessly destroyed, but remembrance is not an end in itself. It matters because human beings matter. It is an attempt to keep us connected with the reality of war that exposed what Wilfred Owen called “The old Lie”, when he urged us not to let it be the fate of the next generation to die for their country and think it noble.

If we are to truly honour those who were sent to that fate, we must be faithful to both imperatives: we must have the continued resolve to say “never forget”, but we must also find the courage to say “never again”.


On this, the 100th anniversary of the armistice, there is rightly a focus on the first world war. It is, after all, where the poppy symbol comes from. Rather than fading from memory, service in the first world war has been growing in the public’s mind in recent years. Some of that comes from the work that is being done in schools, where new resources have made it easier for children to learn about what life was like for those who served in that war. There are photographs, letters, poetry, art and links through ancestry that capture the imagination and make us want to know more.

This year, 100 years on, there is a new way of looking at the first world war, the lives it took, and the devastation that it caused. Peter Jackson’s film “They Shall Not Grow Old” has been in cinemas and will be on television this weekend. It brings film footage from the first world war to life through film that has been repaired and turned to colour. The result is a whole new way of seeing that history. The faces of the soldiers look like the faces of people we know and see around us. They might have been us. They are no longer remote, historical people.

The story told through the film is also remarkable. It surprises us in every way, and sometimes in uncomfortable ways. We do not expect to learn that men were enthusiastic and keen to join up and go to France, but they were. We do not expect men to say that they enjoyed much of their life in the Army in the war, but they do. We are sad beyond belief to know that, when they returned to Britain in 1918, many were devastated that their families did not want to hear their stories and find out what they had gone through, the lives lost, and the hell of war.

That is the point of remembrance this week—to hear, to listen to and to learn of those who served their country, whether they were conscripts or volunteers, and to remember their sacrifice.

Wilfred Owen described the mechanised slaughter of the western front as being “as obscene as cancer”. The Scottish Poetry Library ran a public competition to choose whose words should be engraved on a new monument to commemorate the first world war. The lines that will appear on that monument are taken from Neil Munro’s poem, “Lament for the Lads”:

“Sweet be their sleep now wherever they’re lying,
Far though they be from the hills of their home.”

13:18 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—