Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Amongst the great achievements of civilization are democracy and science. They have in common the admission of uncertainty. In science, uncertainty about the external world leads us to carry out scientific experiments to determine the truth, or more likely a further stage in our understanding. In democracy, we must admit our values and convictions are open to debate and scrutiny, and that society should be governed by the majority, albeit with safeguards for the rights of minorities. A danger to both science and democracy is certainty: Certainty for example about moral values.
As Peter Lloyd once wrote “History overflows with misery inflicted by well-intentioned people who were convinced that they had seen the only true moral values, and who sought to convert or destroy those who would not agree.”
The Inquisition was premised on such moral certainty. In more recent times, countries which succumbed to totalitarian ideologies – Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany – created societies in which those in power professed to see the true values which conferred on themselves the right to intimidate, or even exterminate those who disagreed.
For myself, at the heart of the drive for Scottish Independence, is a fundamental desire to create a flourishing democracy. Where everyone, regardless of background and characteristics, is an equal and respected citizen. Where differences of views abound and enrich our society. Where opportunities and justice for all are part of the fundamental values against which we should test our actions. That truly is something worth striving for.
Scotland’s history is permeated by a brand of popular sovereignty that is a dynamic and evolving one, fit to continue to serve our cause. It speaks to a form of democracy where the people are sovereign: not an elite, not elected governments not parliamentarians. I was only too aware when an MP that I was a servant of the people, not their master.
Democracy however requires to be active to be meaningful. In recent days a small number of people have been highly critical of me creating a contest locally for the nomination as SNP Scottish Parliament candidate in Kirkcaldy. In a democracy they should be free to target their criticism of me on my policies, my beliefs, my ideas, but they should ca’ canny when they complain about having a democratic choice. There lies an undemocratic cause. Elections are only meaningful if there is a choice: Contests are healthy. And it is through elections that legitimacy is conferred on the winner.
It is through critical debate and challenge that democratic institutions thrive, it is through complacency and entitlement that they eventually wither or become something very different from a democratic institution. A thriving democracy will develop a culture where ideas can be widely shared and debated, hence a fundamental rock is to value free speech. Competition of views and ideas is no less important than competition for elected office. It is important to distinguish between ideas and people. There is often a lazy tendency in politics to indulge in ad hominem attacks on individuals, designed to turn people against the individual by insult without addressing any of the issues and ideas being raised. I may not be successful in my campaign, but I am determined to let my ideas see the light of day and avoid personal attacks.
Within the SNP and wider independence movement I want to see further development of the “culture” of democracy. We should never be satisfied, but always striving to be better; more open, more transparent.
We must remember too that the SNP is not the only organisation striving for independence. I strongly believe elected representatives, particularly at this time, should offer the hand of friendship and cooperation to others, such as YES groups. When I was an MP I had a particularly strong relationship with YES Kelty. I always tried to accept their invites to meet. I became friends with people in other parties and none who had rallied to the cause of Scottish Independence. We sometimes disagreed on the best policies for an Independent Scotland: But we remain friends to this day. That too is part of being an effective politician. Bringing people into the big tent of Scottish Independence. That is what I am determined to do.