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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 9, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 09 June 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Treaty of Perth (750th Anniversary), Dignity, Fairness and Respect in Disability Benefits, Decision Time


Contents


Treaty of Perth (750th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00193, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on the 750th anniversary of the treaty of Perth. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the 750th anniversary of the Treaty of Perth; understands that the treaty, along with the Treaty of York set out much of the modern boundaries of Scotland; recognises that the treaty ended the military conflict between Magnus VI of Norway and Alexander III of Scotland over the sovereignty of the Hebrides and the Isle of Man; notes that Norway initially had control of the Hebrides and the Isle of Man after Edgar of Scotland signed them over to Norway; recognises that the Treaty of Perth was signed after Scottish victory at the Battle of Largs; believes that Norwegian envoys sailed up the River Tay to meet the Scottish King and the treaty was sealed on 2 July 1266 at Blackfriars monastery on the north side of the city; understands that visitors to Perth can see the earliest surviving text of the treaty, recorded in the "Black Book", at Perth museum; notes the various civic activities taking place on 21 August in Perth to recognise the treaty’s importance, which include a mini tattoo, complete with the King’s Guard of Norway, and hopes that the commemoration of the Treaty of Perth can help foster closer links between the Fair City and Norway and also act as a focal point for attracting visitors to the city over the summer.

12:45  

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I thank all members across the chamber who signed my motion to allow it to be debated.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard many maiden speeches from new MSPs, who have taken to the chamber to boast about their constituencies. There has been talk about the biggest, the most populous, the most diverse and the most scenic constituencies. Today, I thought that I would stake a claim for the most historic constituency.

From the battle of Bannockburn to the Protestant reformation, towns and cities across Mid Scotland and Fife have witnessed some of the most important events in Scottish history. Perth was once one of Scotland’s most prosperous royal burghs, with established trade links to the continent via the River Tay. That trade brought wealth, status and power, and Perth was the de facto capital of Scotland, thanks to the presence of the royal court at Scone. The stone of destiny, on which Scotland crowned its kings, was also housed at Scone. That further enshrined Perth as a place of real importance during the later middle ages. As is famously known, James I, King of Scots, was murdered in Perth, and he is buried there. I will not recount that whole story, but it is a salutary lesson on the fatal consequences of playing tennis.

This debate is designed to commemorate the treaty of Perth, which was signed some 750 years ago, in 1266. The treaty is important because it set forth the boundaries of much of what we call modern Scotland, with, of course, the exception of Orkney and Shetland, which joined subsequently. Despite the significance of the document, it is relatively unknown to most Scots. I hope that this debate can help to shed light on an important moment in our history.

Before the signing of the treaty of Perth, the Hebrides were controlled by various Norse and Gaelic rulers who owed their allegiance to the kings of Norway rather than the kings of Scots. Back then, Scotland was not the nation that we know today; rather, it was a collection of different regions, each with different allegiances, languages and kings. That would all change with the Scottish victory at the battle of Largs in 1263—I am sure that Kenneth Gibson will tell us more about that in his contribution. Victory over the Norwegians by the Scots ensured that the Western Isles and the Isle of Man would be Scotland’s to control.

The story goes that, while King Alexander was banqueting in Perth for the feast of St John, the Norwegian king Magnus VI travelled up the Tay to meet him, and the treaty was duly signed at Blackfriars monastery on 2 July. In return for a payment of 4,000 marks and an annual tribute of 100 marks, the Norwegians surrendered sovereignty over the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. In some ways, that was Scotland’s very own Louisiana purchase.

Although Scotland was still a country in its infancy, stereotypes that survive to this day might have been born from those incidents. Our reputation for thriftiness was clear, as the Norwegians not only had to wait several years for us to pay the full 4,000 marks but eventually stopped collecting the annual tribute of 100 marks, after we defaulted on paying the yearly dues. In the current financial climate, it is perhaps better to gloss over Scotland’s defaulting on its debts.

A copy of the treaty can be seen in Perth museum. The earliest surviving text of the treaty is recorded in the “Black Book” and is on loan from the National Library of Scotland. The special display and exhibition will also form part of the commemorative celebrations. I encourage all history buffs and fair city residents to visit the museum to learn more about a document that was so important to Scotland’s early years.

Now that we have established that modern Scotland was forged in Perth, we should hear a bit more about what we are doing to commemorate the treaty, 750 years on.

Perth and Kinross Council has announced a number of special events, which are important for a number of reasons. VisitScotland’s winning years strategy has shown the success of history in attracting tourists to Scotland, and I believe that Perth can benefit from that approach. In the past, Perth has often felt left behind when it comes to cashing in on its past. In 2014, its neighbour to the west, Stirling, enjoyed not only the battle of Bannockburn re-enactment celebrations but armed forces day, but Perth has been at the back of the queue when it comes to attracting high-profile events.

I was therefore delighted to learn that the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will be performing a mini tattoo in Perth on 21 August to commemorate the treaty. The 600 performers at that event will be joined by the King’s Guard of Norway, whose wonderfully choreographed marching routines not only are viral hits on YouTube but have entertained tattoo crowds around the world for many years. In addition to the tattoo, the council plans to host various medieval and Viking-themed events around the city on the same day. As well as those public events, there will be a private event marking the treaty at St John’s kirk, which will welcome guests from Perth’s twin cities and the honorary consul general of Norway.

To digress for a moment, the debate can serve another purpose, which is to highlight Perth’s unique history in the year when it makes its bid to be United Kingdom city of culture. The events to mark the treaty anniversary underline just how strong Perth’s bid is for the 2021 award. Perth is a city full of history, art and culture and I can think of no better expression of that than the events that are planned for this summer.

The treaty of Perth was hugely important to the first days of Scotland and, 750 years on, it can be equally important to Perth as a city. The celebrations can help to foster closer ties between Perth, our Norwegian neighbours and our twin cities around the world, and they can illustrate the depth of history and culture that we have in Perth. As I said, that is particularly important as we look to secure city of culture status. I wish the council all the best in its work to deliver the programme of events and I encourage people across Scotland to learn more about a document that is so important to our history.

In my research for the debate, I found a cutting from The Glasgow Herald, as it then was, from 1966. There was a letter on 27 January 1966 from John Mackechnie, of the department of Celtic at the University of Aberdeen, lamenting that nothing was planned to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of Perth, which was to take place that year. I hope that Mr Mackechnie, should he still be with us, will accept that at least this year, which is the 750th anniversary, something is being done in the Parliament and in Perth to recognise this very important anniversary, and I hope that he will join us in celebrating it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Fraser—you have not let Perth down.

I have a little time in hand, so I can give members up to five minutes.

12:52  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I thank Murdo Fraser for securing time in the chamber for this debate. Mr Fraser has a proud record of submitting motions on matters relating to Scottish history, from the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn to the 450th anniversary of the reformation. However, I doubt that we will ever see a motion from him to commemorate the battle of the shirts in 1544, which was a catastrophic defeat for clan Fraser.

As someone who studied history for five years at secondary school in the 1970s, I consider it shameful that not a single minute of Scottish history was taught. We were not taught about the unification of Scotland in the four centuries or so to 1266, the wars of independence, the union of the Crowns and Parliaments, the enlightenment or the industrial revolution—nothing. It was Peterloo, poor law reform, chartists and the Tolpuddle martyrs. I trust that there has been an improvement since then. In 2002, when my son was nine, he was in a primary school play to commemorate the Queen’s jubilee, which considered the salient events of the previous 50 years. Although the climbing of Everest, England’s wholly contentious world cup win and Abba’s Eurovision song contest victory were included, the reconvening of this Parliament in 1999 was not.

As Murdo Fraser pointed out, the treaty of Perth is not widely known about. Like Mr Fraser, I hope that the debate contributes towards changing that. Nevertheless, the treaty was vital to Scotland and followed the strategically decisive battle of Largs in 1263. Largs is in my constituency, and, even after 750 years, the battle still plays an important part in the town’s culture. Now popular for water-based sports and especially with day trippers, Largs is famous for the battle, which continues to be commemorated to this day.

Although the Viking cinema, with its Viking ship prow, has sadly vanished, the battle of Largs monument—the pencil, as it is known—which was built in 1912 through public subscription and is a prominent part of the town’s charm, remains a popular spot for many visitors. Largs recognises the importance of the battle and the treaty by holding an annual Largs Viking festival for a week, beginning on the last Saturday in August. The festival focuses on the battle of Largs and Viking life, and involves a re-enactment of the battle, the burning of a longship, a beautiful fireworks display and a party at the pencil.

The festival is an excellent opportunity to have fun and enjoy numerous social and cultural events, while engaging with and educating people about the historic events that helped to shape Scotland. I warmly invite all members to come along. It brings together a wide variety of people from across the community and beyond, encouraging people of all ages to come together, be more active and take part in events in their town.

The battle of Largs and subsequent treaty of Perth, along with many rarely remembered battles, such as Nechtansmere in 685 and Athelstaneford in 832, determined forever Scotland’s slow march towards nationhood, as Gaels, Picts, Britons, Angles and Vikings slowly fused into the nation that we now know as Scotland—like Fraser, Gibson is a name of Norse origin.

The treaty of Perth between Norway and Scotland returned the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to Scotland, and the islands of Arran and Cumbrae, in my constituency, were at last freed from Norse rule. Given Norway’s high standard of living today, that could be considered to be a mixed blessing.

The treaty came just 29 years after the signing of the treaty of York, which more or less delineated the border between Scotland and England and was thus another vital cog in the creation of modern Scotland as we recognise it today.

I hope that this year many visitors from Norway will join us in Scotland to commemorate the anniversary. I look forward to August and the events and festivities in Perth that are planned to recognise the treaty’s importance, which will play an important part in forging closer links and an even better relationship between Scotland and Norway. In Largs, links with Norway are strong and there is always Norwegian participation in the Viking festival.

The anniversary is an opportunity for people to commemorate, engage and learn more about the decisions and actions that created the Scotland that we know today. I wish all the events associated with it every success. I also hope that it contributes substantially to helping Perth to secure city of culture status in 2021. The treaty of Perth must be recognised for the key part that it plays in Scotland’s history and our heritage, and I am delighted that Murdo Fraser brought the debate to the chamber today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Gibson. I now call Alexander Stewart. This is your first speech, I believe.

12:57  

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I start by declaring an interest as a serving councillor on Perth and Kinross Council, and I direct members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

As someone who was born and raised in Perth and comes from a long line of residents of the fair city, I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in today’s members’ business debate on the treaty of Perth, which is sponsored by my Mid Scotland and Fife colleague Murdo Fraser.

This year, 2016, marks the 750th anniversary of the sealing of the treaty, which was signed in Blackfriars monastery in July 1266. The treaty was the culmination of discussions between Norway and Scotland over a two-year period and saw Norway cede the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. The Scottish Crown took that on board while confirming—for the time being—Norwegian sovereignty of the islands of Orkney and Shetland. Thus ended the conflict between King Alexander III and his Norwegian counterpart, Magnus VI.

The people of Perth are proud that their fair city had the opportunity to be involved in such a momentous event, and I am delighted that Perth and Kinross Council is ensuring that a number of celebratory events take place.

The people of Perth will have the opportunity to see an exhibition in Perth museum and art gallery, which runs from 7 June until 28 August. A variety of related cultural activities will also be held in the museum during that period, to celebrate and inform people about the history of what happened 750 years ago in our fair city.

We are delighted to be welcoming the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. A mini tattoo will take place on Sunday 21 August. More than 600 individuals will participate in that. It will be an enormous event for the city and I hope that the weather will be kind. The Norwegian consul general will attend the event.

In the spirit of the bilateral co-operation that was exemplified by the treaty of Perth, the mayors of Perth’s twin towns across the world will have the opportunity to participate in the celebration and give it an international flavour. They will come from Aschaffenburg, Cognac, Bydgoszcz, Pskov, Perth in Ontario, and Haikou. It is a fantastic opportunity for us all to participate in the celebrations, which will culminate in a big dinner in the historic St John’s kirk, where individuals will enjoy traditional food and musical entertainment with a Scottish theme.

The treaty of Perth marks the end of a sustained conflict and centuries of battles between various nations. The whole point is to set that aside in favour of the theme of reconciliation. To that end, Perth will have the great privilege of hosting, at the award-winning Black Watch museum at Balhousie castle, the highly anticipated weeping window poppy display, which drew immense crowds when it was first installed at the Tower of London.

The treaty of Perth has played an important part in the stories of Perth and Scotland, and I am glad that we have the opportunity to mark its anniversary in the chamber today. I hope that many people will take the opportunity to visit the fair city during the celebrations. Perth has a fantastic past. Its present is a bit uncertain, but it has to have a future, and events of this nature will give it the impetus and give us the opportunity to secure that future. [Applause.]

13:01  

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Murdo Fraser on securing the debate. He is right to note the historic importance of the treaty of Perth, especially the fact that it marked an end to long years of conflict between the kings of Norway and the kings of Scots. To commemorate the treaty is a good way to highlight the historic role of the city of Perth, and it also allows us to celebrate the rich diversity of Scotland’s history and culture.

A treaty agreed at Perth is a reminder that power in the early years of the Scottish kingdom was dispersed, not concentrated. Momentous decisions were as likely to be taken on the banks of the Tay as within sight of the Forth. The mighty castles of Edinburgh and Stirling are recognised the world over, but it is important to celebrate other places of equal significance for their role in Scotland’s rich history. Dunnottar, on the north-east coast, is an ancient and splendid place that still looks and feels like the stronghold that it once was. Dumbarton castle, on the Clyde, celebrated a thousand years of its history at the rock of ages event only last weekend.

Just as the treaty of Perth reflects how power within the medieval Scottish kingdom was dispersed, so it marks the expansion of that kingdom into neighbouring regions that added to the diversity of the Scotland we know today. Murdo Fraser rightly said that the way in which Scotland stands now was not how it stood then, and nor was it pre-ordained. It is easy to make the mistake of reading history backwards and assume that things that happened in the past were bound to produce the outcomes that we see now.

The end of Norwegian claims south of the Pentland firth might have been a likely outcome, but it was never a certain outcome. However, a claim to rule the Hebrides from the Scottish mainland was ultimately easier to sustain than a claim to sustain sovereignty from the other side of the North Sea. The truth is that the islands had resisted rule and claim from both Norway and mainland Scotland, and even after the treaty of Perth it took the kings of Scots another 200 years to overcome the political autonomy of the lordship of the isles. Indeed, as Kenneth Gibson reminded us, conflict continued thereafter, not least when the Macdonalds routed the Frasers at Blàr na Lèine in 1544. [Laughter.]

The Gaelic lordship in the Hebrides was not the only place to resist royal encroachment on local autonomy in medieval Scotland. Galloway too was a Gaelic lordship with a Norse heritage, and it was able to look across the Irish Sea for allies in opposing Scottish royal power. The lands bordering the Moray Firth produced their own claimants to the Scottish crown, most famously Macbeth, and when they lost the dynastic struggle they fought for centuries to maintain local autonomy.

As Murdo Fraser reminded us, Orkney and Shetland remained subject to the Norwegian and then the Danish crown for several generations after the treaty of Perth, while the borderlands between Scotland and England were contested over those same generations. For all those reasons, the early history of Scotland is about a lot more than simply the development of the Scottish state or the growth of the Scottish nation.

When we tell Scotland’s story to our visitors and to our children—Kenneth Gibson is right to highlight the importance of telling Scotland’s story in our schools as well as in the informal ways that it has always been told—it is important that we do not tell that story only from the centre. The treaty of Perth, for example, marks the addition of the Hebrides and, for a while, the Isle of Man to the Scottish kingdom, but it is also a chapter in the histories of all those islands—which the minister Alasdair Allan will know—and those are histories that are worth telling in their own right.

We should celebrate the history of the Scottish kingdom and commemorate its great events, as will happen in Perth this summer—as Mr Stewart so eloquently described. However, we should also celebrate all those other histories of people and places that asserted a different identity in historical times, because they too have contributed to the wealth and diversity of the Scotland that we know today.

13:06  

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I congratulate my good friend and colleague Alexander Stewart on his maiden speech. Alexander Stewart, Murdo Fraser and I have been on a long political journey over many years in Perthshire—not quite 750 years, but nonetheless it has been a long political journey—and it is so good, in light of our much better results in the recent election, that Alexander has been elected to this place. I am sure that he will be a great credit to this Parliament.

I also congratulate Murdo Fraser on bringing the issue to the chamber. I was a little relieved when he read out the letter that was in The Herald from the department of Celtic, because when I saw it first on his desk I thought that it was a communication from Celtic Football Club, which might have been a rather different issue.

As I was looking through the research on the topic of the debate, I was struck by the complex tapestry of the origins of Scotland. As Lewis Macdonald pointed out, the Scotland that was taking shape in the 13th century existed in a very embryonic form, and that shape has changed so many times in the centuries since.

One of the things that we have to recognise in Scotland and be immensely proud of is that tapestry that Murdo Fraser has described and the way that we have fashioned our culture, our social network and our economy around all of that.

When the treaty was signed, the various peoples of Scotland would have spoken very different languages: Gaelic—I expect that the minister will be delivering his speech in Gaelic; Old Norse; a mixture of the two in the Outer Hebrides; Middle English and Scots in Edinburgh and the Borders; and possibly also Cumbric in Dumfries and Galloway and in Clydeside.

Cumbric is now extinct. It would have been not dissimilar to the Welsh language. In fact, some of my colleagues on the Scottish National Party benches may be interested to know that their hero William Wallace, who was born around the time that the treaty was signed, could have been a Cumbric speaker himself. The name “Wallace” is a corruption of “Welsh” and his name would have meant “William the Welshman” or “William the Briton”.

Learning all that made me wonder how the average inhabitant of this nascent nation really thought of themselves—whether they identified as Gaels, Vikings, Scots or Britons or whether they even really knew or cared that they were part of the kingdom of Scotland at all and how that all came together.

It has always been one of the wonders of this country that it brings together so many people—perhaps Perth itself exemplifies that. Alexander Stewart referred to the fact that there has been a bit of a sticky patch for Perth and its surrounding communities in recent times, but he is right to say that it is a superb city. We need to bring everybody together to ensure that it is rebuilt and can look to the future in a way that makes us proud again and so that it can deliver on all the rich resources that are so much a part of what we love, as people who represent it.

Whether it is from an economic perspective or from the rich arts and cultural history in the city, or just from its presence at the centre of Scotland and its historical past, Perth has so much to offer, and I hope that it will continue to have that in the future. I thank Murdo Fraser for bringing the topic to the chamber, and I look forward to the minister’s comments.

13:10  

The Minister for International Development and Europe (Alasdair Allan)

As the treaty of Perth is—as far as I can tell—a live international treaty, the happy task of responding to the debate on the Government’s behalf falls to me as Minister for International Development and Europe. I refer members to my entry in the register of interests as a member of the Norwegian Scottish Association.

I congratulate Murdo Fraser on bringing to the chamber a debate that allows me to talk about two of my favourite countries, and more specifically the Hebrides—including my constituency—which are, as members have mentioned, the central subject of the treaty itself. Innse Gall, which is one of the Gaelic names for the Western Isles, means “the isles of the strangers”. It refers to the fact that the “strangers”—in this context, a euphemism for the Vikings—had exerted political control over the islands until the signing of the treaty that we are discussing today.

At this point, I sense that some members might be slightly anxious that I am going to break into Gaelic. However, in deference to our treaty partners—and to reassure Liz Smith—I will instead use the debate as the moment that I break cover and identify myself as an enthusiastic, if still very hesitant, learner of Norwegian.

The minister spoke in Norwegian.

[Applause.]

The minister repeated the remarks in English:

When King Magnus VI of Norway and Alexander III, King of Scots, made their treaty in Perth, they may have ended Norse rule over the Hebrides but—as Lewis Macdonald pointed out—they did not end the many cultural connections between the Hebrides and Norway. Those connections are most obviously exemplified in the islands’ Norse place names and in the famous Lewis chessmen. The national importance of the treaty, especially when taken together with the 1237 treaty of York, is significant. As Murdo Fraser and other members have pointed out, those two treaties essentially created the borders of Scotland that we know today—even if it is to be hoped that, as members have mentioned, Norway has forgotten that Scotland has long stopped paying it the 100 merks a year that the treaty requires.

The minister continued in English:

It is perhaps—

Kenneth Gibson

Will the minister take an intervention?

Dr Allan

Yes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

In Norwegian, please, Mr Gibson. [Laughter.]

Kenneth Gibson

The obligation to pay the 100 merks per year was actually cancelled following a marriage agreement with the daughter of the king of Denmark some five centuries ago.

Dr Allan

Kenneth Gibson is of course right, and I was only joking, but nonetheless my comments point to what is in the treaty, some of which, as Mr Gibson mentions, has changed.

It is worth reflecting briefly on the human dimension of the treaty, which specifically ensures that

“if in the said islands under the dominion of the said lord the King of Scotland they wish to remain, they”

—the Norwegians—

“may stay in the land freely and in peace, and if they wish to leave they may depart with their goods freely and in complete peace”.

This exemplary foresight did much to guarantee the peaceful coexistence between the two peoples. We still see the deep friendship between Scotland and Norway today, as Scotland pursues co-operation with Nordic countries as part of our Nordic Baltic policy statement.

In addition to the events mentioned by Mr Stewart, I welcome the academic conference taking place in Perth on 27 and 28 August, which is jointly organised by the Scottish Society for Northern Studies and Perth Society of Natural Science. I am sure that it will be a very rewarding way to recognise how much the fair city of Perth—just as much as Largs—affected for ever the fates of Scotland, Norway and, indeed, the Isle of Man. To return to the point made earlier by Mr Gibson, I hope that such events are also evidence of our increased willingness as a nation to celebrate and teach our own history.

The anniversary is an opportunity not just to look back at the middle ages but to think about the on-going connections between Norway and Scotland in our own age.

The minister spoke in Norwegian and repeated the remarks in English:

Norway and Scotland are much more than allies; they are firm friends, as witnessed by the frequent presence of King Haakon VII and the Norwegian armed forces in Scotland during the second world war, and—looking to the future—by the many on-going economic and cultural ties that bind us now.

The minister continued in English:

I leave it to others to work out when Norwegian—beyond the word “ombudsman”—was last spoken in this Parliament, but I hope that the act is not as politically charged as it might have been a few centuries ago.

I take this chance to thank Mr Fraser and all others who have contributed to this very welcome opportunity to celebrate the long, productive and—at least since the treaty of Perth—very amicable relationship between Scotland and Norway.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Takk skal du ha, minister—thank you. That concludes the debate.

13:17 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—