Motion of Condolence

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th November 2013.

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Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

The next item of business is a debate that I know that we would prefer not to be holding. It is a motion of condolence, in the name of Johann Lamont, on the death of Helen Eadie.

This is another sad day for our Parliament as we pay our tribute to Helen Eadie, our friend and our colleague. In doing so, I welcome to the Parliament Helen’s husband Bob, her daughters Fiona and Jemma, and their family and friends.

Helen had already announced that she would not stand at the next election. She wanted to spend more time with her family—more particularly with her grandsons, who brought her such joy. Sadly, that was not to be, as she was taken from them, and from us, much too soon.

I knew Helen for at least 25 years, from the time when she was a Fife councillor. We were both delighted to be elected as MSPs in 1999. Helen was quite unique. She was kind, caring and compassionate, not just to her constituents but to her colleagues. Many of us can tell of her personal kindness to us in times of illness or difficulty.

During her time as a parliamentarian, Helen served on many committees of the Parliament, including the Public Petitions Committee, the Equal Opportunities Committee and, latterly, the European and External Relations Committee and the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, where she served as deputy convener. She worked tirelessly for her constituents and the communities that she served.

Helen was never afraid to be different or to be true to her own beliefs, even if that meant disagreeing with the prevailing view. She always argued her case with passion and conviction. We will all miss her.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Presiding Officer,

I move,

That the Parliament expresses its deep regret and sadness at the death of Helen Eadie MSP; offers its sympathy and condolences to Helen’s family; recognises her proud record in Scottish politics as a parliamentarian, a campaigner and a constituency MSP, and acknowledges her as a true champion for the Fife communities that she represented for 14 years.

I rise to move the motion of condolence with a heavy heart and a sadness at the loss of Helen Eadie that I know is shared across the chamber and far beyond, and still shocked at the suddenness of her illness and her passing.

I know that Helen’s family, who are here today, have been touched and moved by the warmth of the tributes to Helen and the support to them at this terrible, rawest time of loss, when they will so keenly feel the gap left by the passing of Helen.

I thank the party leaders, the Presiding Officers, members of the Scottish Parliament past and present, members of Parliament, councillors and folk from all airts and pairts—Fife and elsewhere in Scotland—who joined us at her funeral to mark her passing and celebrate the life of a woman who defied simple definition.

Helen was one of the class of 1999. She was part of that group who came together as the Scottish Parliament was created. She was marked out from the beginning as a woman of deep passion for a politics that was inclusive, and as a woman who was driven by a desire to create a better, fairer Scotland. She was spurred by a deep conviction that injustice, whether social, political or economic, could be tackled—it did not have to be this way.

From the start, it was evident that Helen, as a socialist and co-operator, did not simply talk about what she cared about; she campaigned, she championed and she got things done.

Born in Stenhousemuir, Helen had a lifelong commitment to the values of the Labour and co-operative movement. Leaving school at 15, she quickly became involved in trade union activity—and I understand that, equally quickly, she was sacked for that trade union activity. She went on to work for the GMB in London for many years and she influenced the Labour Party at its very heart and centre throughout the 1970s, an achievement that she was so modest about that most of us were not properly aware of what she had done.

When Helen and her family returned to Scotland in the mid-1980s, she was appointed to the post of manager of West Fife Enterprise, starting her new job on the first day of the miners strike in 1984. Her evident love for all of Fife’s communities and her passion in support of the ex-mining communities in particular, working with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust among others, was shaped by the impact of that strike on the families and communities whom she tried hard to support through those times.

Helen’s CV is a rich one of great achievement from a time when women were far less visible in political life than they should have been. She was a pioneer for women and a lifelong commitment to equality shaped her every action.

Helen was far more than her list of achievements. She was a woman of great warmth and compassion and I was struck by the fact that the new members of our group after the 2011 elections all gave testimony to her warmth and her welcome to them when they first came to the Parliament at what was a very difficult time for the Labour Party. She could inspire great loyalty and affection, and that is no more evident than among her constituents. That, I believe, was because of her focus on making things happen. Not only did she talk about what she could do; she actually delivered. I understand that her commitment to childcare brought her to establish a co-operative nursery in London many years ago that is still going strong.

Watching Helen champion the cause of disabled workers at Remploy or speaking out on behalf of families without the proper care and support that they needed, I was always struck by the almost physical impact on her—the emotional drain on her of the desire to give them a voice. She did not simply represent people; she stood with them. Going beyond simple empathy, she felt their troubles and that gave her an even steelier resolve to get the help or action required. When, on occasion, she incurred the wrath of the Presiding Officer, it was always her overwhelming sense of injustice and her desire to make the case for action that led her to ignore the warnings from the chair to draw her remarks to a conclusion.

There is no doubt that some people underestimated Helen’s capacities and abilities. She did not fit the stereotype of a politician. It is equally true to say that it was her unique, non-stereotypical approach to politics that engendered such love and affection from her constituents and all those who needed her to work as effectively as she did in the cross-party groups on which she served.

Helen was an unlikely rebel—and we all know how much party leaders love rebels. But rebel she did on occasion, always driven not by a desire to be noticed but by her absolute conviction of the right or wrong of an issue, which led her to act.

Helen was a fine parliamentarian, taking her role on committees seriously and tirelessly looking at legislation and interrogating ministers to ensure that they were held to account. She was an internationalist, proudly and fiercely pro-Europe when being so was not always in fashion in the Labour Party, and until her death championed the interests of people across eastern Europe, most recently Bulgaria.

Her constituents’ love and admiration translated into political support at elections, not least in 2011 when many of us suffered electoral defeat and difficult times. I believe that that support was a harvest that she earned for the work that she did, but that harvest was not the purpose of her work. Her work, her motives and her campaigning were not about securing votes but about making a difference in people’s lives and I believe that that is one of the many lessons that we can take from Helen Eadie about how to do politics.

Helen was a woman with a twinkle in her eye and a woman of modesty, loyalty, great warmth and deep compassion, and I count myself privileged to have been for many years a recipient of her kindness and generous praise. Above all, however, she was a woman who knew love in her long and happy marriage to Bob and who in equal measure loved and was loved by her daughters, her son-in-law, her beloved grandchildren and her family. Those who attended yesterday’s funeral and saw all those wonderful photographs of Helen’s life must, like me, have been struck by how happy she always seemed, how warm and enriched her family life was and how much more bitter it now makes the loss that her family is to be denied her planned retirement, when she was going to be able to spend even more time with her precious boys.

I was asked what Helen Eadie’s legacy would be. I think that it is this: that politics can be honest; that political action can be part of, not separate from, communities; that politicians doing their job can make the world a better place; that as a society we can co-operate, not compete; that it is possible to do things in a different way; and that injustice in all its forms should be refused. Above all, her legacy to her beloved family is to know and understand the values of equality, justice and community and to know what love really is.

We salute Helen in all her many facets; thank her for all she did; and mark the passing of a wife, mother, mother-in-law, sister and grandmother, whose loss to those who loved her most is beyond words.

Farewell, Helen. We shall miss you. [Applause.]

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

On behalf of the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Government, I join in supporting Johann Lamont’s motion, paying tribute to Helen Eadie and, of course, expressing our condolences to her family, her husband Bob and her daughters Fiona and Jemma.

This is the third motion of condolence that we have had in this chamber in the past few months. We have had motions for Brian Adam, David McLetchie and now Helen Eadie, all three of whom were lost to cancer and all three of whom were members of this Parliament from its beginning in 1999. All three combined a deep sense of public service with a high level of personal popularity and, as part of this Parliament’s founding generation, they helped to establish it as a positive force in Scottish public life. They remind us that the many successes of this chamber—and there have been many—are due to members of all political parties.

Helen was committed to politics and the trade union movement from a young age. However, her greater service to public life came after her return to Scotland, first as a councillor and then as an MSP for Dunfermline East and, more recently, Cowdenbeath. She was a dedicated parliamentarian and a tireless constituency MSP who never shrank from championing her constituents and the causes they believed in. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be at yesterday’s funeral service—and I say fortunate because of the wonderful insight that it gave us into Helen’s life—were not surprised to hear that she worked on constituency business even from her hospital bed for as long as she possibly could.

As Johann Lamont has rightly said, that commitment was reflected in her popularity with her constituents. At the last election, she not only retained her seat but increased her share of the vote. In some ways, the ultimate test of any politician’s connection with their constituents is whether they can do that against a prevailing tide or wind, and Helen succeeded marvellously in that at the last election. I did not necessarily think that at the time; nevertheless, she succeeded marvellously against the prevailing wind.

Helen’s motivation for entering politics was her passion for social justice and desire to see everyone get a decent shout and a fair chance. She fed her commitment to the European cause and, in particular, her concern for the integration of eastern Europeans into Scottish society. Tam Dalyell, who is no mean judge of these things, defined Helen as

“the best kind of honourable and tolerant issue politician” when he described how, in her 20s, she helped the Polish population of Fife to integrate into the local community. That interest endured throughout her political career and was underlined by her role as the honorary patron of the Scottish Bulgarian Association.

We were reminded yesterday at the funeral service that Helen could be stinging in her put-downs of political opponents. Who could forget that, in 2007, when she resigned two of her committee posts in protest at the appointment of a Conservative MSP as convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, she described the move as putting Attila the Hun in charge of community care?

Helen’s commitment to social justice did not ignore party boundaries, but transcended them. I will give two examples. Helen convened the cross-party group on industrial communities, reflecting her concern for the people and communities who were most seriously affected by mining closures and industrial decline. It was an issue on which she had real authority, given her experience as a research assistant for her late father-in-law, Alex Eadie. I shared an upper committee corridor in the House of Commons with Alex Eadie and remember him coming in one day and telling us that we were breathing dead air. It turned out that the air conditioning system was attempting to suffocate the upper committee corridor and Alex, with his practical experience of mining, recognised the problem straight away. Helen came from a family background that gave her an insight that few had into the coal industry and industrial communities. Therefore, it was entirely fitting that her last speech in the chamber, in September, was on the harm that is caused by unrestored opencast mine sites.

Earlier this year, Helen served on the working group that Fergus Ewing chaired, the aim of which was to provide and share information on the support service for Remploy employees. Party affiliations were not an issue—Helen was committed to doing the right thing and finding solutions for people who needed help. Fergus Ewing testifies to Helen’s exemplary approach to that cross-party group.

Most of all, the compassion that was apparent in Helen’s politics was part of her personality. That was the insight that Johann Lamont correctly said that we got from the wonderful photographs that were displayed at the funeral yesterday. Helen was a caring, dedicated and warm-hearted individual, which is why she was held in genuine affection across the political divide and why the tributes of the past week have been so numerous and heartfelt. I hope that it is of some comfort to her loved ones to know the high regard in which Helen was held by all members of the chamber. She will be sadly missed by every member. [Applause.]

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

The shocking suddenness of Helen’s illness and loss has deprived Fife of one of its most dedicated servants in the chamber and of one of its most principled parliamentarians. Although we in this place are rightly talking about Helen’s contribution to politics and public life, I recognise that it is undoubtedly as a wife, a mother, a grandmother and a friend that her loss will be most keenly felt. I extend the thoughts and prayers of myself and my party to Helen’s family in supporting the motion of condolence.

In all the tributes to Helen Eadie over the past few days, two themes have emerged. The first of those is Helen’s fundamental care for people. Although I did not know her as well as other members did, it was evident to me that she was driven by a deep concern for others, be they her constituents, her colleagues or her family. That care for people and desire to help others shaped much of her career and many of her views. She was a vocal opponent of the local government reorganisation that introduced multimember wards largely because her experience as a councillor in Fife taught her that smaller wards allowed her to represent the interests of her constituents more effectively. Whether she was campaigning to improve the care of pensioners in Fife or working on behalf of the Polish and Bulgarian communities, Helen’s priority was always her constituents rather than her career or status as a politician.

I was telling Johann Lamont that, when I first arrived here as an MSP, I was a little intimidated by Helen, which seems strange in retrospect. I knew that she had resigned from several committees in protest that a Conservative could take any sort of leadership role in equal opportunities. I had watched as Helen would raise herself in the chamber, trembling in paroxysms of anti-Tory ire on—well, actually, on almost any given subject that one cares to mention.

Helen caught me in the corridor a few weeks after I became leader and I have to say that I thought that I was for it. However, I was not, because in private Helen was both warm and kind hearted. She had stopped me to ask whether I would pass on a letter to a United Kingdom Cabinet colleague, because she needed help to help others in her constituency and wanted to know whether I would oblige.

That was not the only time that Helen asked me to help intervene on one issue or another on behalf of her constituents. I always did help, because her requests were so modest and her wish to help was so heartfelt. They almost became personal missions to her and she was always on the side of the weak and the poor—the people who just needed a big sister to wrap an arm around them and tell them, “Let’s see if we can’t make this better.”

Neither the letters exchanged nor the back-door channels ever made it into the press, even when the situation was not resolved to Helen’s liking. She was much keener to do whatever it took to help than to grandstand or gain credit just for trying. Not everyone in the chamber can say the same thing.

It has been said in newspaper tributes, at yesterday’s funeral service and here again today that, even when Helen was confined to her hospice bed, she insisted on carrying on her duties as a local MSP, replying to correspondence and sending instructions to her colleagues—I hope that members have all done what she asked. That sort of dedication is remarkable, but I did not think that it surprised anyone who knew Helen, as they would not be able to imagine anything else. Her life and career were characterised by absolute honesty, decency and integrity.

We have lost too many of our class of 99 this year. With every Scottish election, new people have the privilege of taking their seats in the chamber. Helen was an example to all who came after of what a people’s representative should be and of how to put your constituents first. She showed that, although one can put one’s argument with force and passion in the chamber, one can work with others as colleagues—no matter what party—to make a difference.

The story of Helen’s indignation and subsequent resignations at my colleague Margaret Mitchell taking on the convenership of the Equal Opportunities Committee is legend and, as the First Minister mentioned, it came with a withering comment about Attila the Hun. Less well known is that under Margaret’s guidance, that same committee produced an in-depth report on women in prison and their rights and treatment. Helen sought out Margaret especially to tell her what a fine and important piece of work that was. That was Helen’s other side: completely supportive and generous with her praise when she saw someone else standing up for the overlooked, the oppressed and the vulnerable.

Helen had unshakeable political convictions and passion for expressing her beliefs with full force. One would be hard pushed to find a more decent, honest or principled parliamentarian than Helen Eadie. For me, her most abiding quality was to care: to care for her constituents, to care for the difference that she could make and to show care and respect for her opponents as well as her friends.

As our thoughts and prayers go out to Bob, Jemma, Fiona and the wider family at this time, we remember with affection one of Holyrood’s most honourable members.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Yesterday at the service at Dalgety Bay we sang the hymn “Will Your Anchor Hold”. The refrain was particularly apt. It talked about anchors that keep the soul

“Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,

Fastened to the rock which cannot move,

Grounded firm”.

That summed up Helen Eadie extremely well. She was very firm. No matter what happened around her, she was determined to carry on and achieve what she had set out to achieve.

I shared a constituency with Helen for four years, and I saw at first hand the quality of service that she provided to her constituents. It was therefore no surprise when I turned up—early, I thought—at the service at Dalgety Bay and found that the hall was already packed. There were several rooms to go into, and people were standing outside. To me, that showed the respect that people in the constituency and in the Labour Party had for her. She attracted the great and good of the Labour Party, with a former Prime Minister making a tribute and her friend Baroness Ramsay making such a personal contribution to the service. We also had Cathy Peattie singing a beautiful song and members of her family doing a reading during the service. That showed that she had so many dimensions to her life, and there was clear affection from her constituents.

Like Ruth Davidson and many others, I feared Helen Eadie. It was not a secret that she did not really like Liberal Democrats. She did not like Jim Tolson—[Laughter.] Now, now. I do not think that she liked me too often, or certainly not my views on proportional representation, and I do not think that she was the greatest fan of the coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Labour, and she certainly let me know it. In what I think was her last speech in the Parliament, she accused me of several things, but the very next day she was out being kind and warm and smiling, with that huge grin that immediately put people at ease. She was able to separate the personal from the political. Some of us find that hard, because we have great passion for our politics, but not Helen—she could separate the two.

I remember once campaigning in Cardenden in the Glenrothes by-election when it was bucketing with rain. A car screeched to a halt, and I saw Bob Eadie in the driving seat, then Helen bounced out to berate me about my latest misdemeanour in the constituency. However, the very next day, she had a big smile and a kind heart—she recognised that we were politicians together and we had a battle together.

Helen was colourful. I have laughed many times and so fondly at some of her enterprises, such as her demand about the Equal Opportunities Committee and her escapade in Cowdenbeath when she challenged young people on an estate, managed to escape and then called for a curfew in Cowdenbeath. She had a one-woman campaign to ban the amber traffic light to bring Scotland in line with Bulgaria, which she loved so much. She was not afraid of sticking out, saying different things and being colourful. We need colourful politicians like Helen, as they contribute so much.

Helen was clearly a socialist. I am not a socialist, but her commitment to socialism inspired me. She was never cynical at all, and she always believed and was optimistic. She was driven, passionate and optimistic and she cared for her constituents. I saw that at first hand as an MP in the constituency that we shared—she was often there before me on issues. She cared and she delivered results. She was a warm personality, with that huge big grin of hers.

Helen, today, we are celebrating your life. This is about you and, if you are watching, I hope that you appreciate it.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The paths of my family and Helen Eadie’s family crossed a long time ago, when Alex Eadie was a candidate in Ayr and my husband, Jim, was his election agent—that is a team, if members can imagine it. When Jim was elected to Westminster, he went to live with Helen, which is something that not everybody knows. He was there with a clutch of young members of Parliament, and she was the landlady. He says that, even then, her characteristics were kindness and consideration, which everybody has spoken about today.

I am glad that people have spoken about the fact that she could do one. When she heard some of the things that I said about Europe and the European Free Trade Association, she did one. However, I appreciated her, because she was that rare animal—she was loyal to her party, yet she walked to the beat of her own drum, which is a difficult feat to pull off.

Helen was a very admirable woman; she was a serious woman. A lot of people did not realise just how serious she was, but she was a mine of information on Europe, for example, because she took the research seriously and did not only read the first pages the way that most of us do.

We will miss Helen in the Parliament; she was so obviously a good person. She sought nothing more than to pursue what she saw as righteousness and people getting a fair deal. In that, I admired her, because she was never knocked off that course. Her intention in politics was to do good; she succeeded.

The Presiding Officer:

I advise members that a book of condolence is available for members to sign in the black and white corridor. We will make sure that the book is passed on to the family as soon as practicable.

I now allow a short suspension before we move to this afternoon’s business. The Parliament will resume at 14:45.

14:30 Meeting suspended.

14:45 On resuming—