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17 January 2017

Affirming Internationalism

Last week the Scottish Parliament debated two issues that shed light on Scotland’s character.

They allowed us to reflect on important aspects of who we are.

The first debate was on the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). It raised important questions about the origins of the Convention and its purpose. When you boiled it down – it really became a question about what we have learned. Lessons from war and violence, and lessons about ourselves.

Some might think it a distant topic – but I find it much closer. It asks us to decide whether all human beings have an equal right to live. To live as they wish, free from fear and violence. How we answer that question is central to who we are. And the answer always remains with us.

The ECHR does that – it protects everyone, regardless of their beliefs or lifestyle from oppression. It states as it first and most important principle, that everyone has “The Right to Life.” Its strength is in that it is a shared commitment. It is a necessity because, as history shows, sovereign laws can sometimes fail to protect. The Second World War is a prime example of why we should remember that.

The theme for last week was to reaffirm our internationalist identity. Internationalism is a proudly Scottish tradition. A tradition further encouraged by another debate last week. Namely, the debate on Global Goals and international development.

The Scottish Government set before us the plan whereby we might assist the world in achieving Global Goals for Sustainable Development. There is a long list of these goals, but they include, eradicating poverty, hunger, promoting good health and wellbeing, among others. These are goals that the Scottish Government is committed to both in Scotland and in developing countries. In taking this position, these become universal goals; committing Scotland to eradicating poverty on our own doorstep and to the most distant reaches of humanity.

Which raises an interesting point, eloquently made by Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, he said,

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”

The Scottish Government's actions aim to reflect Mandela’s sentiment. In committing to end poverty domestically and internationally, we establish coherence. This coherence, in turn, strengthens our argument to eradicate global poverty and may one day be the reason we overcome it.

The world has taken a strange turn in the last year. Despite that strange turn and the incendiary rhetoric from the hard right, I still have hope. These debates and the place from which they emerge – the people of Scotland, give me hope. I have that hope because Scotland has always been a leader in the world. During the Scottish Enlightenment the world sought out our philosophy and poetry. In the 20th Century the world was awed by our innovation and invention. In this century, I have a great hope that our vision, bound by the deep roots of our traditions, will be sought out by those around the world.

3 January 2017

Vision for a Scots New Year

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone enjoyed the celebrations and I look forward to another year working hard for Banffshire & Buchan Coast.

One of the things I most like about New Year is sentiment of fellowship it creates. During Hogmanay, complete strangers greet one another with hope for the coming year. It is a sign of goodwill and the deep social connections we share.

It shouldn't suprise us. Scotland is partially responsible for imparting that to the world. One of our great traditions on Hogmanay is to sing Rabbie Burns' poem, 'Auld Lang Syne.' The poem calls on us to recall our common humanity and is now a tradition around the world.

In 2017, let us use this to kindle hope. Let us carry those values we sing of on Hogmanay, in 2017 - from start to finish. The world has been riven by the events of 2016. In Scotland, we have a chance to heal these wounds but only if we carry hope.

Over the past year leaders have appealed to fear and anger. Those appeals were powerful and they were dangerous. But New Year is about renewal. It is a chance to begin again. It is a symbol of hope. It tells us to look forward, to remind ourselves of the good in one another.

This year will be better. Our future should be a beacon of light on the horizon. This year we should aim to reach that place together. This year, let us try and carry the sentiment of 'Auld Lang Syne' with us. Let us carry that self reflection and impart the hope it carries to all of our fellows.

That is a vision that is a part of who we are and predates our own generation by several centuries. It is a Scots vision and a vision we can all believe in. It represents a brighter future and our success will be defined by our ability to see that future.

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has set out such a vision. A vision of hope for Scotland and potentially the UK in an uncertain post-Brexit world. It is a vision that keeps Scotland out of the Common Fisheries Policy but still in the single market. The best of both worlds for our fish catching and fish processing industries. A vision that will renew our fishing communities in the North-east and across Scotland.

At the moment, we have no vision from the Prime Minister, Theresa May - only uncertainty and fear. But that is not the case in Scotland - we have a vision.

I wish you all the best for 2017. Let's make it a year of hope, a year of vision and a year of belief. We can always make the world a better place - if we dare to hope, if we dare to believe. Carry the words of Rabbie Burns, "And there's a hand my trusty fiere! and gie's a hand o'thine!" and let's build on that. Happy New Year!

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