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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.]