Website survey

We want your feedback on the Scottish Parliament website. Take our 6 question survey now

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 21 September 2021

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19 Update, Scottish Ambulance Service, Net Zero Nation, Decision Time, Brain Injury in Football


Time for Reflection

Good afternoon. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The first item of business is time for reflection. Our time for reflection leader today is Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, the Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University.

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer (Chancellor, Heriot-Watt University)

It is a great honour to speak to the Parliament today.

Scotland has historical links with slavery in Jamaica, but today, although our flags have different colours, they are the same. We are different but the same. My late, dear mother migrated from Jamaica to London in 1951 and saved £86 to pay my fare to join her in 1955. She got me a job in a shop, but she was told by the authorities that I had to go to school until I was 15 years old—I was 14 years and 11 months old.

One school rejected me—it said that I was educationally sub-normal. A secondary modern school took me, and, later in 1955, I was transferred to a local grammar school because I was good at cricket. I left school in 1958 and worked as a junior laboratory technician at a college in London. My boss, Professor Chapman, allowed me to improve my qualifications but had to help me to enter the University of Leicester, in 1961.

I left the University of Leicester in 1964, with an honours degree in botany, but the only job available was peeling potatoes in a restaurant. My potato peeling ended when Professor Anna Macleod at Heriot-Watt College offered me a PhD place in 1965, and in 1967 I gained a joint PhD from Heriot-Watt College and the University of Edinburgh. I worked in a research institute from 1968 to 1977, and I returned to Heriot-Watt University as a lecturer in 1977. It has been a privilege for me to have contributed to the science and technology of cereal grains, to have taught many gifted students and to have helped to set up the £1.3 million international centre for brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in 1989.

I started my charitable work in Scotland in 1965, and I recently contributed to a video made for the Parliament called “We are Scotland”. We are Scotland, indeed. My DNA says that I am, in part, a Viking from Shetland. Sadly, the past has given us racism, but I am honoured to be chairing various groups that are examining Scotland’s links with race, slavery and colonialism. Although we cannot change the past, we can change consequences such as racism for the better, using education.

It is a great honour for me to be Jamaica’s first honorary consul in Scotland. I must thank my mother for investing her £86 in my education. Education works. [Applause.]

Thank you, Professor Sir Geoff Palmer.