The Runa Mackay Lecture

In October 2022, Medical Aid for Palestinians and the Global Health Academy of the University of Edinburgh hosted the first ever Runa Mackay Memorial lecture. It was an evening celebrating the life, work and continuing influence of Dr Runa Mackay, her personal journey with the Palestinians and her commitment to peace and justice - including the first Runa Mackay lecture given by Dr Philippa Whitford MP.

After the success of the evening, we are planning on making this a returning event to honour Runa and her legacy.

We wanted to say a huge thank you to all of the speakers, and to everyone who attended the event. We’d also like to extend special thanks to Graham Watt for being the driving force behind the whole event, to Philippa Watford MP for being such an incredible keynote speaker, and to Liz Grant and the team at the University of Edinburgh for generously hosting us.

If you'd like to read the transcript of the event, you can do so here:


This event on Thursday 20th October 2022 was hosted jointly by the Global Health Academy of the University of Edinburgh and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

It took place in the Playfair Library at the University of Edinburgh and was introduced by Professor Liz Grant, Vice-Principal and Director of the Global Health Academy.

ROHAN TALBOT – Interim MAP Director of Advocacy and Campaigns

It is such a huge privilege to be with you all today to pay tribute to a wonderful humanitarian, and to extend our thanks and welcome to you from Medical Aid for Palestinians, an organisation so close to Runa’s heart and to which she dedicated so many years of her life.

The work of Medical Aid for Palestinians is guided by the clear principle that solidarity is not some passive sentiment, but rather an active commitment to better the lives of those suffering injustice.

And there are few who have suffered so many injustices for so long as the Palestinian people.

In the mid-1980s, when MAP’s early humanitarian pioneers (including Dr Swee, who I am so pleased to see join us today) arrived into the bloodshed and massacres of the Lebanese civil war, the Palestinian refugees that they travelled to care for had already endured more than 34 years of exile.

In the forty years since, these injustices have only grown, with deepening occupation, fragmentation, blockade, conflict and deprivation – often all at once.

We need only look to what is happening in the West Bank right now – daily military raids, children shot and killed, medics under attack – to understand that the Nakba that began in 1948 continues to this day.

The ability of the Palestinian people to withstand this onslaught is a result not only of their remarkable steadfastness and the vibrancy of Palestinian national and cultural identity, but also the active solidarity of people like you at moments like this.

From her years providing medical care to Palestinians in Nazareth in the 1950s, to her work with MAP in Lebanon in the 1980s, to the tireless fundraising for MAP in Scotland right up to the end of her life, few people can be said to have embodied active solidarity more than Dr Runa Mackay.

Today, MAP continues to carry her important legacy forward in everything we do. MAP in 2022 is reaching more people in more places than ever before.

In the West Bank, a MAP-funded mobile clinic is ensuring that Bedouin communities in the shadow of illegal settlements, suffering the worst excesses of Israel’s occupation, are able to access basic primary healthcare.

In Gaza, cut off from the world by blockade, MAP works side-by-side with local medics to treat the shattered limbs of those caught up in conflict and to ensure that the services on which they rely are sustainable into the future.

And in the refugee camps in Lebanon we continue to equip the Palestinian Red Crescent Society hospitals in which Dr Mackay worked all those years ago, while our team of community midwives ensure that the newest generation of Palestinian refugees have the chance of a healthy start in life.

All of this is made possible by a remarkable network of individuals. People who are committed to making a difference in any way they can, be they medical volunteers, fundraisers, campaigners, donors, or those who simply refuse to stay quiet in the face of injustice.

Our work together is not just to provide medical care to Palestinians in need, but also to uplift them through our solidarity.

All of us at Medical Aid for Palestinians are deeply grateful for the life of Dr Runa Mackay, whose work continues to inspire everything that we do today. And we are thankful to all of you, who are helping carry forward her important legacy.

ANNA WOOLVERTON – Niece of Runa Mackay

Shookran. Ahlan wa sahlan. Anna bint oucht Doctora Runa Mackay.

I am Runa’s niece and thought I would say a little about Runa’s early life and how she was such an important part of our family here in Edinburgh.

Runa Blyth Mackay was born in Hull on 30th July 1921, the third of 5 children of Duncan Mackay, an eye surgeon, and Anna Train, daughter of the minister at Southend, Kintyre. She had 3 sisters: Inez, Moira, and Pat, and one brother, Gilkison, who was sadly killed in North Africa in 1942.

Runa attended school in Hull, then boarded at Esdaile College in Edinburgh with Moira and Pat. 

Runa had been inspired by her father to study medicine and started her student life here at Edinburgh University in 1938.  During the war years, she spent summers on a farm in the Scottish Borders as a Land Girl, with our mother, Moira.  

The family home in Hull was blitzed during the war. Her father and brother searched through the debris, but were only able to salvage a few books and china. At this point, her parents decided to leave Hull and relocate to Campbeltown, to be closer to other family.      

After the War, Runa shared a flat with Moira in Edinburgh and they also shared an MG sports car, as this was the only vehicle they could buy quickly.  (She was a doctor so deemed a priority driver).  

While my brothers and I were growing up in Edinburgh, Runa was mostly away. We only saw her when she came home on furlough, for 3 months every 3 years.  In the 1960s, we could still stand on the roof at Edinburgh airport and watch for the plane, and wave when we saw her coming across the tarmac. We found it strange for a few days each time, getting to know her again.  3 years is a long time when you’re young. She would send us a big wooden crate of Jaffa oranges at Christmas time. Duncan remembers her once bringing an exotic pomegranate!

I had a gap year between school and university and was able to go out to Nazareth as an au-pair for the Martin family, who worked with Runa at the Hospital. I also did housework for Runa in her flat, though I’m not sure my ironing was up to scratch.  It was a wonderful year – meeting so many of Runa’s friends and colleagues, some of whom I know are here today.

When Runa finally returned to Edinburgh in the mid-80s, we were able to see much more of her.  This was when she returned to Edinburgh University, to focus on an Arabic & Islamic Studies degree, doing some locum work in West Lothian and scooting about on her moped!

We had many adventures in recent years – and she very much enjoyed our trips to Kintyre, when we took first Inez’s and then Pat’s ashes to Keil, at Southend, a beautiful cemetery by the shore with views across to Ireland.  She especially enjoyed the opportunity to sail on the CalMac ferry from Ardrossan to Campbeltown.

She liked to be on deck watching the rugged coastline and sunsets. We re-visited the lighthouse at the Mull of Kintyre, where one of our Train ancestors had been an early lighthouse keeper. Runa had also worked as a locum in the area and knew so much about the history and the people living there after the war.

Runa’s brother’s grave is in one of the War Cemeteries in Tunisia, and Runa and Inez were able to visit some years ago. But there is also a memorial stone at Keil for him, and also two of his cousins who were also killed.  Runa died during the early months of Covid which meant we could not plan a big funeral or travel. We were finally able to get the family together in October 2021, organising a long weekend near Campbeltown, when we took Runa’s ashes to join her brother, sisters and parents.

Runa was much loved by her great nephew and great nieces, Thomas, Eva, Emilia and Inez, and great great nieces Nico and Robin, becoming honorary granny after our mum died.  She always enjoyed hearing our news and joining family activities.  Her birthday fell at the end of July, so we always held a big family get-together at our home in Carlops, which often included a round of golf in the garden!   Thank you for being here with us today.

At the end of her talk Anna drew attention to the collage, shown below, and created  by Lizzie Findlay in memory of her friend Runa Mackay.

DR HATIM KANAANEH – Co-founder of the Galilee Society

Dr Kanaaneh could not attend the event in person but shared a video message about his experiences with Runa.

DR SWEE ANG – Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Founder of Medical Aid for Palestinians, Author of “From Beirut to Jerusalem”

It is great to be here with all of you and feel the presence of Runa among us.

In 1987, I met Runa who had volunteered her medical skills at the height of the siege and attacks against the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. She had come out of retirement after serving 30 years as a missionary doctor in Nazareth. At first sight a quiet, kind, diminutive, yet regal looking lady, going to Burj el-Brajneh refugee camp blockaded and shelled heavily since 1985 – and many would wonder if it was appropriate for MAP to send her. But this belied her strength and courage. We became friends for life.

Our Norwegian co-ordinator needed a competent doctor for the Palestinian refugee camps in South Lebanon, to look after the impoverished Palestinians and Lebanese there. Runa was “deployed“ to Qasmiyeh, to work with the Palestine Red Crescent clinic. My visits bringing supplies to her clinic gave me the opportunity to see Runa at work – not only an extremely competent doctor fluent in Arabic - but also beloved and respected by the residents of the camp.

When you read her book Exile in Israel, you will find her opening paragraph on Abu Hassan, a Palestinian Bedouin turned refugee, driven out from the beautiful hills of Galilee in 1948 – hills obviously so familiar to Runa during her years serving as a missionary doctor there.

A few years later she and other MAP volunteers made regular trips to No Man’s Land at the Lebanese Border bringing medicines, food and friendship to the 85 Palestinians deported there by Israel. All this you will find in Runa’s book. Please read it. It is fascinating and inspiring.

Now, about Scottish MAP. Prior to the formation of MAP there was West of Scotland Friends of Palestine, and I want to pay my condolence to the late Pam Lister’s family. We salute Pam’s unwaveringly support of Palestine from the days when it was an act of supreme courage to do so. So it was natural that the first home for Scottish MAP was in Glasgow. Years later, Runa Mackay worked from her home in Edinburgh, organising Scottish MAP and holding fundraising events for MAP.

She hosted me on countless occasions, first in her beautiful family home in Inverleith Terrace and later in her retiree apartment. I had not realised what I was in for the first time I stayed in her retirement home. It was a tiny one bedroom flat, neat and well organised. I was wondering where she was going to put me that night. Then she took out an air mattress, inflated it and gave her own bed to me. There was no way I could accept that. Her hospitality matched that of the Palestinian refugees in the camps. She did not see the tears in my eyes.

As Runa grew older, her mobility and cardiac capacity also grew old, but her intellectual capacity remained razor sharp. The last time I attended Scottish MAP’s fundraising was in 2017. The air mattress business came to a halt and she booked and paid for the guest apartment in her retirement home, to house Dr Yoga and Mary, who worked with her  and me in South Lebanon.

On that occasion, she donated the only precious object she took home to Scotland when she retired from her hospital in Nazareth – a large beautifully engraved table top metal platter - to auction for funds for MAP. It was in her Nazareth doctor’s flat when she first arrived there in the 1950s. A dear supporter of Scottish MAP donated a huge sum of money for it and gave it to me to take to the MAP office in London. It was large. I had no idea how to take it to London. But Runa wrapped it up carefully and then tied strings round it so that I could carry it on my back up the train from Edinburgh to the London MAP office.

Dearest Runa, we miss you so badly. I dare not ask to be as steadfast and devoted like you. You had given your entire life to humanity and to God. I know yours was a special calling. But I will live by your advice that I will do my best and the rest is up to God, as you said.

GHASSAN ABU-SITTAH – Professor of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Professor Abu-Sittah was unable to attend in person and his tribute below was read by Swee Ang.

It was during my second year of medical school in Glasgow in 1989 that I was asked to join Scottish Medical Aid for Palestinians. Pam Lister who unfortunately recently passed away, had founded it with Runa to support the work of MAP in London.

It was there that I first met Runa. She was finishing up her degree in Arabic at Edinburgh University and was in between missions to South Lebanon.

I was immediately struck by her quite strength, the way she was always understated even when describing what can only be described as acts of bravery.

Over many events and meetings, I got to know Runa. Her decision to go to Palestine in 1954 to work in Nazareth as a young doctor was described to me in matter-of-fact detail. In the summer of 1992 she was kind enough to allow me to join her in South Lebanon, working in a mobile clinic serving unrecognized Palestinian refugee camps and Lebanese villages in the area immediately adjacent to the Israeli occupied part of South Lebanon.

She would spend the week running clinics in these camps and villages driving her station-wagon from one place to another in an area frequently shelled by the Israeli army. It was during that summer that I learnt from Runa things to which the humanitarian sector would only later ascribe names and descriptions.

She always gave agency to her patients, insisting that they made the final decision and that she was only there to give advice and help. Her kindness and dedication were always apparent.

She knew the names of the patients and their families, the staff in the clinics and their kids and her colleagues in the area. She could remember everybody’s name and spoke to them with such kindness and humility that for them she was a member of their communities.

One night a child that she had treated for his blood condition, sickle cell anaemia, was admitted to the hospital in Burj Al-Shamali in excruciating pain associated with a sickle crisis. She stayed all night titrating the pain relief to the child until he finally managed to sleep in the early hours of the morning.

She later told me that she had a list of all the families with this hereditary disease and would visit them when she had free time to check up on them.

Throughout Runa’s life, her religious belief was the most revolutionary thing about her. It shaped her sense of justice and her duty to defend the humanity of others when it was being violated. It took her to projects in Hebron and Gaza before she retired.

Her steely determination, her kindness and empathy and her ability to find the common humanity with her patients were founded on her faith but were always so understated.

Runa lived an outstanding life dedicated to helping others in the face of great dangers. She always did that in a matter of fact way because for her it all seemed very simple. It was the right thing to do. My life is richer because I met Runa at a critical stage. She taught me medicine as it should be practised and in the process she shaped my future choices. I will forever be indebted to her.

CAROL MORTON AND ROSS CAMPBELL – Founder of Craftaid and Hadeel and former assistant manager at Hadeel, respectively.

My name is Ross Campbell.  For ten years I was assistant manager at Hadeel, the Palestinian fair-trade shop in Edinburgh. Carol Morton, the founder of Hadeel, wrote the following:

Runa’s relationship with Hadeel began long before there was an Hadeel. Sometime in late summer 1988, shortly after Colin and Carol Morton moved to live in Jerusalem, Runa stopped by for a visit. Over a cup of tea she cautioned Carol to take things slowly: listen, listen, listen and observe before acting.

That wasn’t so easy when living at the top of St Andrew’s Guest House in West Jerusalem. As the Church of Scotland Minister, Colin learned to negotiate the thin lines between ecclesiastical and political  boundaries in Jerusalem.

An American member of the congregation introduced Carol to embroidery and olive wood cooperatives, all of whom were looking for marketing opportunities.

“Take it slowly “, Runa’s warned. But a few months later the first Palestinian Crafts Bazaar in West Jerusalem was held in St Andrew’s’ lounge overlooked the life size portrait of General Allenby.

After that, the single gents toilet was converted into a tiny shop. Five years later the shop moved across the hall and became Craftaid. A registered charity under Israeli law, Craftaid was the parent of not only Hadeel but also Sunbula the Fairtrade shop in East Jerusalem.

These were the days when the colours red, green, black and white were banned. As was the word Palestinian, never mind Palestine. Not everyone in West Jerusalem approved of Craftaid -  certainly not all of the Church elders. But Runa did approve and her support made all the difference.

In the early 90’s Runa brought a Craftaid hand embroidered waistcoat. She loved it and wore it whenever there was a suitable occasion.

Here is Runa with Margaret Mungavin in 2003, at Hadeel’s official opening at what was then St George’s West Church, in Shandwick Place. She is wearing the Crafaid waistcoat.

Ross continued, “Around this time I drove Runa to the STUC Women’s conference in Perth were we had a stall. I was chatting away about how much I enjoyed reading Victorian accounts of visits to Palestine. “Except for the bits about where Jesus walked.” Runa turned and said “those are the bits I like”. I am reminded of what a religious person Runa was.

Ten years later Hadeel moved to George Street. At the official opening of the new shop Runa cut the red, green, black and white ribbon.

How happy she was. How much she enriched the company and made us feel that the project was truly worthwhile. That in its own way it could contribute towards the cause of justice which was her real passion and joy. Thank you Runa. Thank you MAP.

SALWA JONES – Member of the SMAP Fundraiser planning group

This is your invitation to our SMAP fundraiser 2022!

One of the first things that Runa did when she launched SMAP in the mid 90s was to secure a bigger venue for our annual fundraiser, at Christ Church, Holy Corner, Edinburgh.  Prior to that, Runa’s dear friend Nasra Affara had organised smaller annual fundraisers at 'The Open Door' in Morningside. However, under Runa's leadership, all efforts were focused on one larger event. 

Runa always managed to invite inspiring speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds – poets, doctors, nurses, MPs, volunteers in Palestine/ Israel, and of course, speakers from MAP.  Although the key speech is the highlight of the event, there’s plenty of socialising before and after, as friends and supporters catch up on news and introduce newcomers. The hall is filled with colourful stalls – tables are piled high with delicious Palestinian dishes and mouth-watering Scottish cakes, biscuits and jams. All this is lovingly made for the big day year after year by loyal supporters and helpers. Some stall holders plan well ahead of time, nurturing plants for weeks, then displaying them beautifully for sale, while others set up a book stall, a bric-a-brac stall and, of course there is the MAP stall. The Women In Black, who were especially dear to Runa, always run a stall, as does Hadeel, the Palestinian shop with its rich embroidery, crafts, olive oil, soaps and books. Food eaten in the hall (or taken home for later) is enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea and there is also Arabic coffee, freshly made on the spot by our own barista.

To add a little excitement to the day, we employ the persuasive skills of our 'auctioneer extraordinaire' Wael, which boosts the final sum.

One of the lovely things about the fundraiser is that people come from all over: Glasgow, the Borders, Fife, the Highlands and even from Ireland.  Everyone is welcome, from young and old to new faces and more familiar ones. Folk are very generous with their time, for organising such an event requires many individual contributions.

All this was set in motion by Runa, and lovingly nurtured by her.

Runa was an amazing woman with a sharp mind, excellent organising skills, incredible energy well into her nineties, and an uncanny ability to bring calm to any situation. You just knew it would be alright!  Not only did she ensure the hall was booked well ahead of time and the speaker was organised, but also that everyone involved knew what was happening and what their role was. Runa was always at the church hall the evening before armed with a bag of laundered tablecloths to help get the hall ready. She was one of the last to leave after the event, insisting on helping to tidy up. Her energy and enthusiasm were boundless.

Sadly, Runa was too frail to attend the last two coffee mornings but we all knew she was at home, willing us on. Her eyes would light up when I told her how it went on my visit straight after clearing up.

For us here in Scotland this is not just a fundraiser but a shared community event for those who care about Palestine. We have missed our face-to-face meetings over the last two years. They help to promote a feeling of solidarity, raise our spirits, and keep us going.

Runa really enjoyed the annual fundraiser as she, in her calm, quiet way mingled with everyone, talked to her many friends and admirers, and collected the bank notes for safe keeping. Runa, a diminutive woman with a welcoming smile, was made of steel!

And were she with us today, she’d be making sure you all put Saturday 29th October in your diaries! So come along to this year’s fundraiser!

PAT BRYDEN – Representing Edinburgh Women in Black

Runa was with us for many years in the Edinburgh Women in Black (WIBE) -  a women's vigil for peace wearing black to signify mourning for all those dead in or from conflict, or violence. It began in Jerusalem, in protest at the occupation of Palestine, and in the UK has stood in London and Edinburgh since 2001, in response to the Us/UK invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq. There are groups elsewhere, such as Leeds and Bradford, and far beyond. The women involved stand up for alternatives to war  and oppose the escalation  of violence caused by war.

The vigil is silent, and in Edinburgh we stand for one hour on Saturday at the East End of Princes St. All women are welcome.

Runa was for years my church elder, and a faithful one, so before WIBE I got to know her and something of her life in Nazareth, in the camps of Sabra and Shatila, and of her inner strength, through many cups of tea and meetings at her and her sister, Inez' home.  When I saw her on the very first WIBE vigil at the time of Afghanistan, I knew I would also become part of the vigil. If she was part of it, it mattered.

There were and still are other fine women involved - women with a longstanding commitment to anti-nuclear protest and justice for all oppressed people.

The picture of Runa at the Saturday Women in Black Vigil outside Register House whether standing or latterly sitting with her determined smile, calm but committed.

Although the Women in Black vigils deal with peace throughout the world, she is remembered for her love and concern especially for the people of Palestine. On a banner made this year for an event on Women for Peace initiated by Penny Stone her name is sewn with the Palestinian flag behind it.  The silence of the vigil was important to Runa, though she would talk as much as anyone at any tea afterwards, and sometimes a meal together.

Another women who contributed much over the years says of Runa: 'One of my memorable learnings from Runa came out of a discussion about Sumud – hope and perseverance - in which she spoke of the danger of despair. She was bold enough to recognise and acknowledge her fears as well as her hopes. Her  presence was warm and gentle but staunch in her commitment to those weekly peace and justice vigils, and of course so much more.'

Palestine was home to her, and she conveyed this to the rest of us, inspiring a group to go and see for ourselves in 2003, when she would also be there, though not always with us. Through her contacts, we found friends, and with her encouragement, we engaged in some tough situations.

Some of us returned several times and always people asked about Runa . In Nazareth, I am told, her name was enough to light up the eyes of young nurses who never knew her. Runa supported new as well as old friends in Palestine, notably the Jenin Creative Cultural Centre, set up by a former community policeman, Yousef Awad, with whom we are still in touch.

She inspired us as a person by her wisdom, her faith and the way her faith held her to her commitment to truth, peace and reconciliation. She was also a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and during a week on Iona organised by the FOR, I witnessed the respect and love she inspired. It was a recognition of her depth as a Christian, her faith in human beings and her complete integrity.

Thank you, Runa, for the gifts you have given us.

COLIN DOUGLAS – Retired Church of Scotland Minister

Runa became a member of the Iona Community in1986 shortly after leaving Nazareth.

And here she is at Camas on the island of Mull at a gathering of New Members. On the top step above all the rest! And below, washing up on a New Members Cross-Mull walk to Iona.

As well as gathering together annually on Iona, the Community meet together more locally and more regularly in Family Groups, where we seek to support each other and hold each other accountable to our fourfold rule.

When I moved to Edinburgh in 2007 I found myself in the same Family Group as Runa. She was a very regular and faithful member of the Group right up until the end of her life. We are an ageing community and I can recall several occasions when members would share with the Group some of their ailments and complaints. But I do not remember Runa ever once complaining about her health, despite being by far the oldest member of the group.

In 2017, aged 96, Runa was on Iona for Community Week. She had asked me if I would be willing to give her a lift. At that time I didn’t know that the CalMac ferry from Oban had a lift from the car deck up to the main deck. This didn’t seem to worry Runa, who duly made her way from the car deck up to the main deck via the 25 steepish steps.

During one session that week Runa spoke to the assembled members, and on another occasion she led the daily prayers for Justice and Peace.

As I said Runa wasn’t one to complain. On the contrary, at one Family Group meeting, I think after that Iona visit, Runa came with photocopied handouts for each of us from a book entitled FACTFULNESS by a fellow medic, Hans Rosling, now deceased, who had been a Swedish Professor of Global Health. In this book Rosling maintains, that although there are a lot of really bad things going on in the world, the scale of improvement in health and poverty levels and much more over the years and decades and indeed centuries has been remarkable. Runa had seen more of the suffering that exists on this planet than most of us, yet she wanted us to know that there were indeed signs of great hope.

Fellow Iona Community member Jan Sutch Pickard writes of Runa, ‘I have many good memories, from walking with her through the Hospital in Nazareth during the (Iona Community) Youth Associates visit in 2004, where she was welcomed like royalty on every ward, and hearing her wise reflections on the Israel/Palestine situation then, to standing with her years later during a Woman in Black demonstration in Edinburgh. Such a privilege to have met and learned from Runa.’

Finally, let me reiterate how faithfully Runa participated in the life of the Iona Community of which she was a member for well over thirty years. I see from my pocket diary for 2020 that on the 24th of April of that year I have an entry which reads ‘Runa 11am.’ We were still in lockdown and forbidden to meet up with anyone outside our own home. I’m pretty sure that that diary entry was to alert me to return a call from Runa, in which she had been asking some questions about her due diligence in fulfilling all the requirements of our annual economic accounting. I returned the call and was able to reassure her that her accounting to the Group for her use of her disposable income was totally in order. Less than six weeks later her earthly life had ended. She had fought the good fight, finished the course, and her work was done.

Thank you Runa, for your life and work, from which we as a Community have learned so much.

The series of presentations ended with an impromptu song by four members of the San Ghanny (“We shall sing”) Choir.

PROFESSOR GRAHAM WATT - Emeritus Professor of General Practice at the University of Glasgow

When Runa stepped down as MAP’s Scottish Trustee in her early 80s, finding the quarterly trips to London a bit much, she knew of my academic links with Birzeit University in the West Bank and suggested I might replace her, which I did and have done for 15 years.

I take a size 11 but Runa’s shoes were big shoes to fill.

When MAP awarded Runa its Lifetime Achievement Award, in the Garden Lobby of the Scottish Parliament back in 2014, I remarked to the audience how remarkable it was that Runa was so active at the age of 93.

Later, she put me right – she was “only 92”.

Runa was the “Real Mackay” – a phrase coined in 1856 to advertise a brand of Scotch whisky and later adopted by Robert Louis Stevenson to indicate the “genuine article”, “the real thing”.

Runa was certainly the genuine article, and she shared something else with Stevenson who in exile in the South Pacific took the side of the local Samoan population against British, American and German imperialism. In the same way that Lord Byron, brought up in Aberdeen, took the side of the Greeks in their fight for independence. And in our times, William Dalrymple, the Scottish historian from East Lothian living in Delhi, has retold the story of the British Empire in India, including the Indian point of view.

So Runa was and is part of a tradition, in her case not so much seeking short term victories against the Occupier, as supporting the Palestinian presence and future in their own land, which she did with commitment, consistency and, to borrow a Palestinian trait, steadfastness.

Having celebrated her life the challenge now is what we can do to continue in her footsteps?

She had a favourite saying

Beyond right and wrong, there is a field. I will meet you there.

What does this mean? I think she was thinking about the future and how we get there.

At the start of the Covid pandemic, a group of Scottish and Palestinian health professionals and students met to establish what we call the Scottish Palestinian Health Faculty, which sounds grander than it is – a loose network of colleagues, sharing their experiences of working for the health and health care of Palestinians, and following Runa’s example.

There’s a lot going on, probably more than most of you know, captured in a newsletters every six months, which you can see if you wish by scrolling down the website of the Scottish Palestinian Forum to find weblinks to the five newsletters so far.

For the first newsletter in 2020 we headlined Runa’s “Personal journey with the Palestinians”? Before publication checked with Runa that I had got the facts right.

How many of us will be corresponding by email in our 99th year?

Another article in the first newsletter was by Philippa Whitford, the first presenter of the Runa Mackay Lecture, which we hope to establish as an annual event, carrying the torch that Runa lit.

Philippa was born in Belfast and moved to Scotland when she was ten. She was the first female in her family to attend university, graduating in medicine from the University of Glasgow and for 18 years she was a breast cancer surgeon at Crosshouse Hospital in Ayrshire. In 2015 she was elected as SNP MP for Central Ayrshire, retaining the seat in two subsequent elections. She is the SNP’s spokesperson for Health and Social Care at Westminster and is a fierce opponent of NHS privatisation. She is a European and is married to a European, her husband a German general practitioner working in the Scottish NHS. Like Runa she has a story to tell and it is a pleasure to hear her story now.

NOTE : Unfortunately, we do not have a transcript of Dr Philippa Whitford MP’s keynote lecture. She is pictured below with Dr Swee Ang on the evening of the lecture.

Thank you for taking the time to read through the full lecture. If you would like a copy of the transcript, please do email [email protected].

Stay updated – join our mailing list

* indicates required
Your Interests