It is the greatest honour for me to stand here representing the people of Angus and the Scottish National party. My greatest ambition is to do the very best that I can for the people who have placed their faith in me, and also to play my part in delivering our country from the United Kingdom and back into the international community of nations. I thank all those in Angus who voted to send me to this place, and assure all those who did not of my unconditional service to all. I am so grateful to my amazing SNP Angus team, who worked tirelessly and in all weathers to ensure that we got the job done.
I must also pay tribute to my predecessor, Kirstene Hair, who represented Angus for two and a half years. In that time she sought to advance a range of important issues, the principal one being the seasonal agricultural workers scheme. That is a cause of vital importance to the people in Angus and one that I have already taken up with the Prime Minister. Kirstene fought a hard campaign to be returned to this place, and I wish her—and, more important, her staff—every success in the future.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you will of course recall with fondness my predecessor, and your former colleague, Mike Weir, who represented Angus with distinction from 2001 until 2017. I got to know Mike much better over the last three months as we canvassed the streets of Angus together. It is a measure of his sense of duty that after 16 years in this place, he still campaigns tirelessly for the people of Angus and the cause of Scottish independence.
I am delighted to follow Scott Mann and to be making my maiden speech as we consider the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill, which relates directly to the challenges and opportunities facing many in my constituency. However, if the Secretary of State were still in the Chamber, I would suggest to her that the notion that the Bill affords any reassurance and continuity to farmers is for the birds.
My constituency of Angus showcases the best of Scotland’s landscapes, with some of the richest farmland anywhere on these islands to the east, and the wild uplands, glens and mountains to the west—a haven for wildlife and outdoor pursuits. Our prime farmland extends right up to our dramatic coastline. If, Madam Deputy Speaker, you should ever be lucky enough to find yourself in the picture-postcard hamlet of Auchmithie, you may well see farmers ploughing along the clifftops amid the breathtaking spectacle of our unique landscape.
It is, however, the people of Angus who give life to those landscapes. Angus has a thriving voluntary sector, and there are many outstanding examples of community capacity taking control of key local issues, often in support of our most vulnerable. A healthy rivalry also exists between the burghs but, heeding my strong sense of self-preservation, I will resist airing any views on which might be the best! So, in no particular order, I will highlight just some of Angus’s contribution to innovation, the arts, culinary excellence and Scottish history.
Brechin was the birthplace of Sir Robert Watson-Watt, whose discoveries led to the invention of radar, and the Davidson family, of Harley Davidson motorcycles, hailed from nearby hamlet of Aberlemno. Arbroath, the largest settlement and a much-visited coastal town, is the birthplace of Alexander Shanks, inventor of the lawnmower, and James Chalmers, who created the concept of the adhesive postage stamp. Arbroath, also a retail centre, is home to the famous Arbroath smokie—the delicious smoked haddock delicacy which enjoys the EU’s protected geographical status.
Forfar is the vibrant county town in the heart of the constituency. It is home to significant manufacturing and retail, and Angus Council’s headquarters. But the jewel in Forfar’s crown is the delicious, iconic meat-filled pastry crescent, the bridie. With all due respect to the six Cornish Tories—one is in the Chamber—your pasties are pleasant, but our bridies are brilliant!
Kirriemuir knocks it out of the park with its famous sons including Sir Hugh Munro, who recorded every one of the 283 Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet, 10 of which are in Angus; Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC; and J.M. Barrie, whose works, including “Peter Pan”, the House needs no further introduction to. Montrose is the birthplace of the acclaimed Scots writer Violet Jacob and home to the amazing natural tidal basin—a haven for birds and marine life where, at the appropriate sunset, someone may just be lucky enough to witness the most beautiful array of colours. In addition to its retail centre, Montrose has long been home to state-of-the-art pharmaceutical manufacturing.
And of course it was in Angus—at Arbroath abbey—that, 700 years ago, the nobles of Scotland became signatories to the declaration of Arbroath that was sent to Pope John XXII, which asserted Scotland’s position in the world as an independent kingdom. While this work remains in progress, I believe a satisfactory conclusion to Scotland’s position in the world is close at hand.
I am touched to have been so enthusiastically welcomed by Angus SNP colleagues as their candidate in the first instance, and by the wider electorate thereafter.
Scotland is a country that has always looked outward and welcomed others. My late father was Irish—born in partition, into the grinding poverty of British maladministration. He came to Scotland, working as an agricultural contractor, with his business reaching across the rich farmlands of Fife, Clackmannanshire, Perthshire and Angus. My enduring memory of him was his equal comfort in speaking with the laird or with the labourer, showing each the same respect. I have always sought to emulate his humanity and humility.
Separately, my mother also fled Ireland’s poverty as a young adult. The refuge that she and her family found some 70 years ago was in Forfar, the county town of my constituency. Madam Deputy Speaker, my mother today is what you might call a big age, but the pride that she has in the fact that her youngest child is now the Member of Parliament for Forfar is not insubstantial. My family are indebted to, and a product of, Scotland’s hospitality.
Like many children of immigrant parents, I was brought up to appreciate that while no task is beneath me, no target is beyond me, and that though no one is more worthy than I am, I am no better than anyone else. As we say in Scotland, “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns.” And so it is with my country. Scotland is no better than any other nation but, let us be clear, we are not any worse either.
The people of Scotland are watching the events that happen in this place, and it is they who will be the final arbiters of Scotland’s constitutional future. I look forward to celebrating with them in their wisdom and their ambition.
I conclude on a personal note. My children and my family have been tremendously supportive to me in my long journey to this Parliament. I must, however, express my limitless thanks to my wife. It is by the gift of her strength and kindness that I was able to give up my job in the Ministry of Defence 13 years ago and then go to university, become a councillor, start my business and disappear for months on end campaigning. Over these long years, she has kept our family’s show on the road.
While I am here in this place, I must work within the system. I will do so in the service of my constituents and my country. I hope at all times to be collegiate and pragmatic, but do not confuse that with any acceptance of London rule. I will always seek to be constructive and courteous in transacting our business down here, but do not mistake that for submission or fondness for the status quo. I and my SNP colleagues are here to settle up, not settle down. We are here only to help to open the door to a progressive independent future for our country. And when Scotland walks through, into the progressive future of independence and the normality that that brings, the honour will fall to me and my SNP colleagues here gathered to firmly close the door of this place behind us and leave for the last time, taking Scotland’s brighter, independent future with us. [Applause.]