16th September 2022
Twenty years ago, I could be found carrying my Evening Times paper bag around Auchinairn.
At that time, I could scarcely have imagined that I would one day be writing a fortnightly column for this great newspaper, and that my debut would come at a time of such profound national significance.
In a way it is rather poignant, as it was around the same time, 20 years ago, that I first met Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in George Square as she visited the city for her Golden Jubilee tour.
Thankfully I was allowed to leave my Evening Times paper bag at home, but even at that young age it was a truly surreal experience to finally meet someone in person who had such a continual presence in our lives.
When news of The Queen’s ill health reached Parliament last week, there was an eerie air of uneasy inevitability that this was not just another routine update from the palace.
As my train from Edinburgh passed through Bishopbriggs, the news finally flashed on my phone that The Queen had passed. I am sure I will not be alone in remembering where I was when I heard the news.
Upon walking out of the aptly named Queen Street station, I arrived just in time to witness the Union flag being raised to half-mast on the City Chambers, and my mind was transported back to that moment in George Square two decades earlier.
For lots of Glaswegians they will have similarly personal recollections of Her late Majesty. She was a great friend of Glasgow, and her longevity and constant presence meant she bore witness to some of the most remarkable events in our city’s story over the last century.
Her introduction to Glasgow came at the age of just 12 as she joined her parents to tour the iconic Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston Park in May 1938. The exhibition was a gleaming white Streamline Moderne city within a soot-blackened sandstone city, celebrating the plethora of world-leading industrial and commercial achievements of what was then the ‘Second City of the Empire’ as it emerged from the Great Depression.
Four months later, the young princess was back in Glasgow to witness her mother launch a true triumph of Scottish design and engineering, the largest liner in the world, RMS Queen Elizabeth, but which would soon become the world’s largest troopship.
Her Majesty’s time in Glasgow was far from over and just six years later, The Queen would be back on Clydeside in the midst of the Second World War. This time, it was her turn to launch HMS Vanguard in Clydebank, the last battleship to be launched in the world.
That outing may have been the first solo ship launch undertaken by the future Queen Elizabeth II, but it would not be the last. Instead, it would be the beginning of a tradition of celebration in front of thousands of proud Glaswegians on six further occasions, most notably the launching of her beloved Royal Yacht Britannia in 1953 and her namesake, QE2 in 1967. Each launch day brought delight that the Queen recognised and valued the industrious achievements of this great city and its people.
It was this tradition that gave me perhaps my proudest memory to date. Before entering politics, I worked in the shipbuilding industry, and in 2014 it was a moment of great pride for me to witness the late Queen smash a bottle of single malt whisky on the hull of the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship ever built for the Royal Navy, as she christened it at Rosyth Dockyard. It was a ship I had helped build.
To many, Queen Elizabeth II was the ultimate embodiment of public service. Her selfless, unwavering commitment to her duties was unrivalled. Regardless of what we think of the institution of monarchy and concept of hereditary succession, now is a time for paying tribute to a constitutional monarch who dedicated her life to her country.
That personal sacrifice, and commitment to public service, has too been felt acutely by colleagues in the City Chambers as they mourn the passing of one of their own, bailie Malcolm Cunning.
He was a kind, gentle man. A man with an unrelenting passion for Glasgow and its people, his constituents and his community. He will be sadly missed by all those who knew him.
It is that same passion for Glasgow and its people that motivates me every day. As a politician, it is all too easy to get caught up in the trivial arguments; the constitution, Scotland’s place in the world, and the archetypal merry-go-round of party politics.
But what really matters is the people of this great city, your priorities and your concerns.
With the economy faltering, your wages stagnating, and the opportunities for your family diminishing, the coming months will be far from easy and we must work collectively to alleviate the pressure faced by thousands of Glaswegians.
Those are the issues this column will attempt to get to grips with. I won’t be seeking to score points, but instead to build a consensus; a consensus on how we fix Scotland’s drug deaths crisis, reverse Glasgow’s continued industrial and architectural decline, and put our great city back on the world map.
But for now, we mourn the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, and together we celebrate her life.
See this column on the Glasgow Times website: Paul Sweeney: Twenty years ago I was carrying my Evening Times paper bag around Auchinairn | Glasgow Times