- 12 Apr 2021
The tributes paid to the Duke of Edinburgh over these last three days show the affection in which he was held – here in Scotland, across the United Kingdom, and indeed around the world.
On behalf of the people of Scotland, I express my deepest sympathy to Her Majesty the Queen - who is grieving the loss of her ‘strength and stay’, her husband of almost 74 years - and also to the Duke’s children, and to the wider Royal Family.
Of course, before he became the public figure so familiar to all of us today, the Duke of Edinburgh had already led a life of distinction.
Like so many of his generation, he endured difficulties and faced dangers that generations since can barely comprehend.
As a naval officer in World War Two, he was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the Battle of Matapan.
In 1943, his courage and quick-thinking helped save HMS Wallace from attack in the Mediterranean.
And during a two year spell at Rosyth, he was responsible for escorting merchant vessels on a route known as “E-boat alley”, because of the frequency of the attacks from German vessels.
For these contributions alone, he - like all of our veterans - is owed a significant debt of gratitude.
The Second World War was, however, just the beginning of the Duke of Edinburgh’s life of public service.
From 1947, he was the Queen’s constant companion.
And from 1952, he was her consort.
As has been much noted in recent days, he became the longest serving consort in British history.
That role, in a constitutional monarchy, cannot be an easy one - particularly, perhaps, for someone who is spirited and energetic by temperament.
And of course, he faced the additional challenge of being the husband of a powerful woman - at a time when that was even more of an exception than it is today.
That reversal of the more traditional dynamic was highly unusual in the 1940s, 50s and 60s – and even now, isn’t as common as it might be.
Yet the Duke of Edinburgh was devoted to supporting the Queen. They were a true partnership.
Indeed, like First Ministers before me, I got to witness the strength of that partnership at close quarters during annual stays at Balmoral.
I always enjoyed my conversations with the Duke of Edinburgh on these visits - indeed on all of the occasions that I met him - and I was struck by how different he was in private to the way he was sometimes characterised in public.
He was a thoughtful man, deeply interesting and fiercely intelligent. He was also a serious bookworm, which I am too, so talking about the books we were reading was often, for me, a real highlight of our conversations.
Prince Philip was without doubt a devoted consort to the Queen – but of course he also carved out a distinctive individual role.
He took a particular interest in industry and science, and he was far-sighted in his early support for conservation. Indeed, as far back as 1969, in a speech here in Edinburgh, he warned of the risks of “virtually indestructible plastics”.
And of course, in 1956 he founded The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, which now every year provides opportunity, hope and inspiration to more than 1 million young people in more than 100 different countries across the world.
In addition, the Duke of Edinburgh was patron of more than 800 charities. At the time of his retirement from Royal duties, he had completed well over 20,000 engagements.
Many of these engagements were of course here in Scotland - a country that he loved from a very early age.
He was educated in Moray, taught to sail by a Scottish trawler skipper, and as has been mentioned already, was based at Rosyth for two years during the war.
When the Duke received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1949, he spoke then of the “numberless benefits” that Scotland had given him.
Some of his very first duties with the Royal Household were undertaken here in Scotland.
In July 1947 - just a week after the announcement of his engagement to the then Princess Elizabeth – the couple travelled here to Edinburgh.
And in the years since, the Duke has been present at many of the key moments of our modern history - including, of course, the official openings of our Scottish Parliament.
He has served many Scottish charities and organisations – indeed, he was Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh for more than 50 years.
Throughout all of that time, the public has held him in great affection.
On that first Royal Visit to Edinburgh in 1947, people gathered just across the street, in the forecourt of Holyrood Palace, and celebrated the Royal engagement with country dancing.
More than 70 years later – shortly after he had announced his retirement from public life – I witnessed the warmth of the reception he received as he accompanied the Queen to the opening of the Queensferry Crossing.
This is an event I had known he was determined to attend - he was fascinated and deeply impressed by the feats of engineering that each of the three Forth Bridges represent.
One of the Duke of Edinburgh’s early engagements in Scotland, shortly after the Queen’s Coronation, was to plant a cherry tree in the grounds of Canongate Kirk, just across the road from here.
It stands directly opposite the tree planted by the Queen a year previously.
These trees are just about to bloom, as I am sure they will do each spring for decades to come.
I am equally sure that - not just in the weeks ahead - but many years from now, people will think fondly of the Duke of Edinburgh as they pass Canongate Kirk and look across to Holyrood Palace.
It is right that our Parliament pays tribute to him today.
In doing so, we mourn his passing and we extend our deepest sympathy to Her Majesty The Queen and her family.
We reflect on his distinguished wartime record; his love and support for the Queen; and his decades of public service to Scotland, the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth.
Above all, Presiding Officer, we celebrate - and we honour - an extraordinary life.
I move the motion in my name.