Monday, 23 January 2012

The Truth about Wisdom, Justice, Compassion and Integrity

Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity - these words are set in gold on the ceremonial mace in the Scottish Parliament. They assert the Scottish people's aspiration for the character of its government. Whether we are heading towards `devo max' or full independence, you are almost certain to hear much more about them in years to come. 

A future history of Scotland might begin, "In the beginning, were the words.. ."

And - you might not know this - just like the Beatles there was nearly a fifth one, but  more of that later.

The Mace was presented to the Scottish Parliament by the Queen, but the words first entered the nation's consciousness through Donald Dewar's speech at the opening ceremony: "Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity - timeless values, honourable aspirations for this new forum of democracy."

I don't remember giving the words much thought at the time. I may have assumed they were either Donald Dewar's own idea  or borrowed from the writings of  someone like David Hume. Or perhaps the selection was approved by some grand overseeing committee for the new Parliament.  

The Mace was presented by the Queen on the opening of the Scottish Parliament

It was a few years before I heard mention of the four words again. Keir Bloomer, a titan of educational thinking in Scotland, was addressing a gathering of aspiring Head Teachers in Seamill Hydro. His exhortation that day was that these four qualities - wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity - were just the values that should underpin the endeavours of all those working in Scottish Education. Not long afterwards, they were. Officially. The founding committee of Scotland's new Curriculum for Excellence decreed that these words should be at the very core of everything the education system should aim to achieve. I am sure it was no coincidence that their most vocal champion, Keir Bloomer, was a prominent member of this committee.

The Scottish Education Weave - an aide memoire for teachers to help them recall key principles of the Curriculum for Excellence. Everything flows from the four values: wisdom - justice - compassion - integrity

I was yet to be convinced, however. These are great-sounding words, I thought, but why these four in particular? There are lots of other great-sounding words after all - honesty, fairness, tolerance, trust for example. And since we are talking about Scotland, how about thrift, prudence or financial propriety? (This was of course in the golden age pre-Fred Goodwin.)

But the more I thought about it, the more these four words in particular seemed especially well chosen. Just as the primary colours can be mixed in different ways to produce every other colour, it struck me that these four `primary' values could be used to generate the other contenders. Honesty and trust, for example, can be seen as implicit in integrityMercy? I would say it is mainly  compassion, with a dash of wisdom, and maybe a soup├žon of justice.

That thought got me wondering once again about the origin of the four words. I was astonished when, on using wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity as the search terms in Google, the first document listed was a blog posting of my own from 2009! I took this as a sign that I needed to do something to justify this ludicrously exalted position and repay Google for its misplaced faith in me!

Bizarrely an earlier posting of mine was #1 on Google. I took it as a message to get busy.

Enquiries to the Scottish Parliament produced an abundance of helpful information, including this: 

"The four words inscribed into the Mace of the Scottish Parliament – wisdom, justice, compassion, integrity - were selected by Michael Lloyd, the silversmith who designed the Mace. It is believed that Mr Lloyd selected these words as the ideals that the people of Scotland would aspire to for their Members of Parliament."

So I would need to speak to the creator himself. Michael Lloyd is a highly respected silversmith, one of ten invited to submit a design for the mace. He lives in Galloway, and his work reflects his love of nature.

Beyond `Galloway' the internet was silent on how I might contact Michael. More traditional methods were called for. Scotland, it is sometimes said, is just one big village. My mother happens to live in a Galloway village. A family friend, the traditional clogmaker Godfrey Smith, lives in the next village. Godfrey duly intervened and soon afterwards Michael Lloyd phoned me up.

Michael Lloyd, with the mace that he designed and made.

Michael told me how the brief he was given for the design of the mace was that it was to represent the authority of the Parliament, and that this authority would only be valid if given by the Scottish nation. The Queen had announced that she would present the mace herself. Everything was on a very tight timescale - he had just three months to design and make the mace.

"And what about the four values - Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity - what gave you the idea for them?"  I asked. "I felt that these values and hopes were very much in the air to be collected and celebrated," he told me. He went on to explain his surprise that they were simply accepted, without the need for debate or approval by a grand committee.

Grand committe or not, I felt honoured to have the opportunity to congratulate him on his excellent choice.

"Oh I nearly forgot," he said. "There was another word that I thought would be very suitable, but there was no room for it." And he told me what it was.

The fifth word. What do you think?

I will reveal all, but it would be fun to hear some suggestions first. Over to you!


Kadath said...

Fascinating blog, and certainly an important historical story :).

So... What's the fifth word?

I think my choice would be 'Tolerance'.

uruisg said...

Tolerance is a good. The strong, active tolerance - as exhibited, for example, by the Glasgow Girls - is something that feels characteristically Scottish.

But perhaps tolerance can be seen as springing from compassion (caring about others) and justice (wanting all to be treated fairly), in which case it is in there already.

Anyway, it wasn't Michael Lloyd's fifth word. Neither was `hope', another suggestion I have had.

Tomorrow I will reveal the mystery word!

Olivia Brooks said...

Is this blog still active? Communication with the author would be much appreciated.

uruisg said...

Olivia, I have neglected the blog for a while as I have been busy with other things, but I do intend to be more active. What would you like to communicate about?

Olivia Brooks said...

I'm writing my dissertation on the four values and your blog has proved extremely interesting. Communicating about that would be great!

uruisg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
uruisg said...

Hi Olivia, thanks for your interest in my Four Values posting. I am happy to communicate if I can be of any assistance. You can email me on

Lemuel said...

I have come across similar words in Bible, Proverbs 1:3
Obviously it was 'Bible loving Scotland' then.

uruisg said...

Thanks for this interesting link Lemuel.