Publised date : 08 Dec 2023

John Swinney, MSP for Perthshire North, has hosted a number of events to mark the centenary of the election of the Duchess of Atholl Katharine Stewart-Murray, Scotland’s first female MP.

Katharine Stewart-Murray, who served as a Scottish Unionist MP for Kinross and West Perthshire from 1923-38, led a remarkable political life. Indeed, just ten years prior to her election she was a leading opponent of women’s suffrage. Following her election, she became an outspoken opponent of totalitarian regimes. Indeed, she was one of the most vocal critics of Adolf Hitler well before the threat he posed was widely accepted by the political establishment. She also took a keen interest in the Spanish Civil War, raising money for the Republican side and ensuring that 4,000 child refugees from the conflict were granted access to the UK. She resigned the whip in 1938 in opposition to Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement and lost the subsequent by-election as an independent candidate despite securing over 47% of the vote.

Mr Swinney hosted a reception on the evening of Wednesday 6th December at the Scottish Parliament. This marked, to the day, 100 years since Katharine Stewart-Murray’s election to the House of Commons. This event, which was attended by descendants of the Duchess, family members of refugees she had helped save from the Spanish Civil War and Perthshire school pupils, heard from a number of speakers with different perspectives on Katharine Stewart-Murray’s life. Speaking at the event were: Paul Ramsay, the great-nephew of the Duchess; Amy Gray, the author of an upcoming biography on the Duchess; Dr Carmen Coupland, the daughter and niece of refugees saved by the Duchess; Jane Anderson, the former archivist at Blair Castle and Elizabeth Quigley, a BBC journalist who has broadcast extensively on the Duchess.

As well as holding a reception at the Scottish Parliament to mark the anniversary, Mr Swinney also secured a Member’s debate. This was held yesterday (Thursday, 7th December) and allowed MSPs of all parties to pay tribute to Katharine Stewart-Murray’s political legacy and achievements.
 Commenting, Mr Swinney said: “I am honoured to mark this very significant milestone.
“While there are undoubtedly aspects of the Duchess’ political career that I and others will disagree with, it is undeniable that she led a remarkable life and proved to be very much ahead of the time with much of her thinking.

“Indeed, her tireless opposition to totalitarian regimes of all political persuasions and her attempts to get her peers to take seriously the threat posed by Hitler were remarkably prescient. Her support for the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, which included raising money for the cause, clearly demonstrated her belief that fascism must be vigorously opposed. Her subsequently successful efforts to convince the UK Government to accept 4,000 child refugees from this conflict will undoubtedly have saved many lives and demonstrated a deep compassion for those who were most acutely affected by the conflict.

“It is a source of regret that Katharine Stewart-Murray and her legacy are not more widely known. Her election as Scotland’s first female MP would, in itself, be a powerful legacy, but the remarkable and often enigmatic nature of her political career is worthy of study and wider public knowledge.

“I am therefore very hopeful that both the Parliamentary event and Member’s debate that I hosted will help raise awareness of the Duchess’ incredible political life. It was particularly pleasing to see so many school children attend my event, and it is my hope that they will be inspired to learn more about the Duchess. I am also pleased that, with the upcoming publication of a new biography and heightened media coverage of the Duchess in the run-up to the centenary of her election, there seems to be a public appetite to learn more Katharine Stewart-Murray and her legacy.”

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