Katharine Stewart-Murray

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at on 7 December 2023.

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Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

It is my great pleasure to take part in today’s debate. I heartily congratulate John Swinney not only on bringing the debate to the chamber but on hosting the fabulous event that I attended last night, which has already been referenced. Hearing from Katharine Stewart-Murray’s great-nephew, Paul Ramsay, as well as the children of the youngsters she brought to the UK, truly was a mesmerising experience.

More importantly, I must thank John Swinney for bringing the said lady to my attention. Like many, I have to say to my great shame that I had no idea who she was, despite her relevance to my Perthshire South and Kinross-shire constituency, and, most importantly of all, what she accomplished in a quite remarkable life.

As John Swinney said, the fact that she became a member of Parliament is all the more remarkable given that her initial stance was against women’s suffrage. Even after her election, she voted against lowering the age at which women had the right to vote, so to say that she was complex is a bit of an understatement.

There is also the dichotomy between her privilege and upbringing and the causes that she chose to pursue, but, for me, that demonstrates her humanity rather than her heritage. None of us chooses the family or the lifestyle that we are born into, and the important thing is what we do with our lives and how we shape our circumstances.

As a nation, we laud the great men of entrepreneurial spirit who have helped to shape our country, especially the self-made ones, and yet I did not even know who she was. That is a societal problem that we have to challenge to this day.

Kitty Murray might well have been born into privilege, but she used that privilege to great effect in helping others, as colleagues have stated, despite the fact that she got herself into considerable problems in the process. She lost the election that she forced, but she had considerable public support. In “The ‘Red Duchess’—Katharine, Duchess of Atholl”, a book by a gentleman called Mike Levy, he quotes her response to the local Conservative and Unionist CA leader asking her to tone down her support for the Spanish revolutionaries. She said:

“I am sorry that you hear of objections from constituents about my visit to Spain but I hope these will gradually lessen ... I think public opinion down here is turning a good deal since the destruction of Guernica, and I hope that my letters to the newspapers will help to enlighten opinion a little”.

The fracture with her local party would become unbridgeable the following year.

However, she clearly had support, because during the election campaign that she forced and was fighting, the following was written in

The Scotsman by John Dick of Glasgow:

“Defy the Fascist hordes

With challenge strong and clear

Though loud their drums and bright their swords they’re sick at heart with fear.

Scorn Hitler’s blatant nose

And Mussolini’s fray

And when they hear a manly voice

The cads will slink away.

The listen on the air in Berlin, London, Rome;

Then tell the rogues that these mountains bare

Are still the freeman’s home.

The world is on the rack

O Scottish hearts be true

And send the noble lady back

Or—endless shame on you!”

History has shown that she was absolutely correct.

The author Amy Gray is currently writing a book that is due to be published in 2025. I do not normally look forward that length of time for the release of a book, but that is one that I will definitely pre-order so that I can learn even more about the remarkable Kitty Murray, the Duchess of Atholl.