Goodbye Mary Scanlon

“I thought that I would keep the tears until the end.” So began Mary Scanlon’s valedictory speech, following her announcement that she would step down at the end of session 4. She had served as an MSP since the new Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, albeit with a one-year hiatus when she stood down to contest the Moray by-election in 2006.

She painted a vivid picture of the Parliament’s first day:

“I was marching in between Alex Salmond and Tommy Sheridan. I do not think that any of us could forget that opening day, with Sheena Wellington singing, “A Man’s a Man for A That”.

Her continuing enthusiasm for the Parliament and its work was evident, even after 17 years:

“I still feel excited about coming here. I still feel excited about going to committees.”

A particular high point of session 1, in which Ms Scanlon played a key role, was a members’ business debate on Robert Burns. Apropos of Burns suppers, legendary Caithness and Sutherland MSP Jamie Stone griped that he always ended up doing the toast to the lassies, to which the redoubtable Ms Scanlon swiftly replied:

“Given that Mr Stone is so experienced in proposing the toast to the lasses, does he agree with what Burns wrote on the hand of nature in ‘Green Grow the Rashes’:

Her prentice han’ she try’d on man,
An’ then she made the lasses, O

 Mr Stone’s response?

“As Mary Scanlon knows, I am keen on the lasses O and something of an aficionado…”

When Winnie Ewing MSP lauded the debate as

“one of the jolliest moments that I have experienced in the life of the Parliament”, and mentioned the Burns poem “The Lovely Lass of Inverness”, Mr Stone chipped in once more:

“There she is, Winnie: it is Mary Scanlon.”

Having served for so long, Ms Scanlon was an integral part of the life of the Parliament and contributed to many debates, not least to exchange cross-fire with

“my old friend, the feisty Christine Grahame.”

In paying tribute to the late Margo MacDonald MSP, she reminisced:

“Often after a vote in Parliament or a late meeting of a cross-party group Margo, Christine Grahame of the SNP and I would share a drink in the Parliament bar which we called the White Heather Club. The name had more to do with our vintage years than any form of Scottish Country Dancing …”

Ms Grahame confessed: “During my very first speech in this Parliament—my maiden speech—Mary Scanlon intervened on me with such devastating impact that I vowed that I would never speak again.”

Nevertheless, feistiness was a characteristic that Mary Scanlon, by her own account, came to embody. She played a crucial role in the scrutiny work of the Public Audit Committee and the Education and Culture Committee, particularly when the remits of the two committees combined to require members to hold to account those in charge of Scotland’s further education institutions. As a former FE lecturer, she brought to her work a wealth of experience and insight from her days in the classroom. Her four sessions as an MSP meant that she had a depth and breadth of knowledge to bring to the committee and could take a long-term view on issues when they came up yet again, once noting sharply:

“We seem to have been talking about community planning since 1999.”

In the final meeting of the Public Audit Committee, she thanked Hugh Henry,

“who gave me the courage to be a bit feistier in committee.”

The following exchange was a lighthearted moment from the official report of one of the final committee meetings of session 4:

The Convener: Okay. Thank you. I call Mary Scanlon.

Mary Scanlon: I am sorry; I was daydreaming.

The Convener: You should never say that in the committee.

Mary Scanlon: I know.

Colin Beattie: It is on record.

Mary Scanlon might be forgiven for a moment’s daydreaming after her long years of public service and scrutiny in which she contributed so much to the Parliament and to Scotland’s public life.


by Clare Maddox, Official Reporter

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