Helen Liddell in the Press

Ur ye nae that bloke whit said thit devolution wid kill ra SNP stane died?

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Mother sets the tone in maiden speech


SCOTLAND's "first mother" gazed proudly at her new flock yesterday as she took to the dispatch box for her maiden commons' question time as secretary of state.

First to welcome her to the "reality of Scottish politics" was David Marshall, Labour MP for Glasgow Shettleston. Mrs Liddell, who was joined on the front bench by George Foulkes, the former junior international development minister, responded to his kind words with a confession.

"I'm very conscious, not just as the first woman secretary of Scotland, but also the first mother," she said. "And I have already welcomed to Dover House six young people going to recite Burns for me."

Dressed in a dark navy suit, high-necked white blouse and purple silk scarf, with her hair swept neatly into a bun she looked more matriarch than mum.

"We will deliver political solutions for real problems," she told the commons. This is a government that is spending 9bn on pensioners." And the first mother was going to waste no time in teaching less experienced members a no-nonsense approach. "There is a helpline for pensioners," she said. "I'm sure parliament won't mind if I read out that helpline. It's 0845 9151515."

With that, business moved on.

Alex Salmond, the former Scottish National Party leader (Banff and Buchan), wanted to know if mother had been "kept in the dark" over Henry McLeish's change of heart on free care for the elderly. His impertinence received prompt chastisement. "How nice to see the honourable gentleman back in Westminster," mother said. "Clearly Edinburgh is not big enough for you and your honourable friend Mr Swinney."

Dominic Grieve (Conservative, Beaconsfield), was the next to receive slapped fingers for his suggestion that Labour's Lord Lipsey had been sent to Scotland to "influence the executive".

"I have known the first minister for 30 years. I have a lot of respect and affection for him. We believe together we can create a better Scotland and a better United Kingdom," she said.

Then it was the turn of the elegant Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest), Tory front bench spokeswoman on Scotland - and the first woman president of Edinburgh university. The first female Scottish secretary would at least ensure a strong voice, she offered. Mother returned the compliment. "What a fine product of St Columbia's School, Kilmacolm, she is. Her former teachers would be proud of her good manners."

It will be first women at dawn.

- Jan 31