Mr Salmond speaking today (Friday 3 March 2017) in Coventry Cathedral at the memorial service of Scottish religious and political campaigner, Canon Kenyon Wright, whose chairmanship of the Scottish Constitutional Convention lay the ground-work of the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. 


Given at Coventry Cathedral, Friday 3 March 2017

"This is one of a number of celebrations to mark the contribution to public affairs and the ministry of Canon Kenyon Wright. There will be a service at the St Mary's Episcopalian Cathedral in Edinburgh on the 10th of this month and a memorial lecture as part of the Festival of Politics in October. I am sure that all of these occasions will be well supported in recording our thanks for a remarkable life. 

"I am grateful to Canon David Stone for his helpful advice to me today, including the phrase "the acoustics of the Cathedral favour a relatively measured delivery". Clearly you have heard me speak before David.

“Two or three years ago when I was First Minister, I was performing a similar duty to today at the funeral service of the great Clydesider Jimmy Reid. As I was moving to my peroration it is clearly visible in the video recording that someone passed me a note. I have often been asked what it said. Was it a developing great issue of state or perhaps intelligence on the thousands lining the cortege route? I can reveal that information today. 

“The note said: ‘The crematoria is booked for 2 pm. Can you hurry up please, First Minister?’

“The best thing about that story is that Jimmy would have found it incredibly funny as indeed would Kenyon Wright.

“I was tempted to open this eulogy to Kenyon by comparing him to Thomas Becket.

"’Who will rid me’, asked Henry II, ‘of this troublesome priest?’ Unfortunately, a number of his retinue took the moaning monarch too literally and did exactly that.

“This thought came to mind when I came across a quote from Malcolm Rifkind responding to the formation of the Scottish Constitutional Convention with our very own Grand Canon as its chair. The then Secretary of State for Scotland is said to have volunteered to jump off the roof of the Scottish Office if ‘these disparate parties reach a common conclusion.’

“I suppose the difference was that Henry wanted to bump off Becket while Rifkind was offering to bump himself off.

“However, the ability to rock the foundations of lay power was the similarity between the two clergymen.

“And so it is entirely fitting to reflect on Kenyon's life here in Coventry Cathedral where he spent a happy decade in the 1970s as Canon Residentiary and Director of International Mission.

“Before that, he had been ordained as a Methodist Minister, who when posted to India developed a great interest in liberation theology and created a powerful urban evangelism. I can add little to these fruitful years in Kenyon's life beyond saying that the choice of geography and the subject of his calling testify to a strong sense of mission.

“I can also say from my own experience how devoted he was to his wife Betty who died some three years ago and how proud he was of the achievements of their three girls; Shelagh, Lindsey, and Shona. A reminder that however important we regard the impression we make on national events for each of us the personal can be more important than the political.

“It was on his return to Scotland in the 1980s and as General Secretary of the Scottish Council of Churches that Kenyon engaged in the politics of his home country. He thus joined a roll call of formidable men and women of religion who have left an indelible mark on the public affairs of Scotland. The division of the lay and the spiritual has never cut much ice across any denomination in Scotland.

“And in entering the national struggle Kenyon followed in a long and honourable line stretching back to the Middle Ages and Bishop Wishart of Glasgow - the "good Bishop" according to the Scottish chroniclers, the "bloody Bishop" according to the English ones - without whose stalwart support Robert the Bruce would never have found his way to the throne of Scotland and Scotland may never have consolidated her independence.

“Let me be clear, without the stalwart work of Canon Kenyon Wright the modern Scottish Parliament may never have been reconvened in 1999. 

“For Kenyon, his re-entry into Scottish public life was in every sense a homecoming since he had been involved in the early marches against Faslane and other protests while a student at Glasgow University. His family joked that you could take the boy out of Scotland but never Scotland out of the boy.

“The politics of the Scotland that Kenyon returned to in the 1980s were in a dark place. The referendum of 1979 had produced a 52 per cent majority in favour of devolution but the incoming Tory Government of Margaret Thatcher had refused that mandate.

“This is ironic, given the clamour to implement Brexit today on an identical margin of the percentage vote. We are told that the wish of the people must be followed on full-scale Brexit, but Scotland was told in the 1980s that 52 per cent was not a sufficient mandate to even proceed with mild devolution. 

“And the person doing the telling was Margaret Thatcher. Few Scots ever got the better of that Prime Minister, but it was Kenyon who ultimately supplied the definitive granite rock answer to the Iron Lady:

‘What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying 'We say No and we are the state? Well we say Yes - and we are the people.’
“If today's news is anything to go by, it may be that these same famous words will soon assume a new relevance for another lady Tory Prime Minister. 

“In recent years, Kenyon became convinced of the case for Scottish independence and the thread of his thinking which led him to that position was both rigorous and consistent.

“From his re-entry into politics, Kenyon saw that the key to the future was the ancient Scottish concept of popular sovereignty. He helped craft the Claim of Right for Scotland in 1988, declaring the sovereignty of the people. Remarkably, the following year it was signed by every Scottish Labour MP with the sole exception of the redoubtable Tam Dalyell. Tam, of course, passed away within a few days of Kenyon in January.

“It is worth reminding ourselves of the ringing words of the declaration:

‘We hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.’

“The intricacies of Scottish inter-party politics stopped me from signing it back then, although I agreed with every word of the Claim of Right. However, Kenyon was exceptionally pleased when, in 2011 as First Minister, I revived the Claim of Right and took it to the Scottish Parliament to have it overwhelmingly endorsed.

“By this time Kenyon's own thinking was evolving on the constitutional question, but always keeping true to that golden thread of popular sovereignty of the Scottish people. That was his pole star. 

“I discovered on YouTube yesterday, a speech of Kenyon's in the last week of 2014 independence referendum when he sets out his thinking and transition to a YES vote. It is a model of measured delivery - David would be pleased -, clarity of thought and lucidity of expression. 

“So how do I sum up a contribution such as this? Well perhaps in these words adapted from an English poet:

“Canon Kenyon Wright performed the Scottish people some service - and we know it. For this we shall be forever in his debt. 

“May God rest his brave spirit."