For the peo­ple

The Scotsman - - SCOTTISH PERSPECTIV­E -

has al­lowed Scot­land to take dis­tinc­tive steps in ar­eas like health and so­cial care and the en­vi­ron­ment, among oth­ers.

The ban on smok­ing in pub­lic places was some­thing which led the way for the whole of the UK in an im­por­tant piece of pub­lic health leg­is­la­tion. In the same area, the move to in­tro­duce min­i­mum unit pric­ing for al­co­hol is gen­uinely world- lead­ing.

Mean­while, new laws on equal mar­riage have shown that the par­lia­ment is ca­pa­ble of both keep­ing pace with and lead­ing pub­lic opin­ion as so­ci­ety’s at­ti­tudes to fam­ily and so­cial is­sues evolve.

Scot­land has been on a demo­cratic jour­ney for the last two decades. It is a jour­ney which I fer­vently hope – and be­lieve – will see our coun­try be­come in­de­pen­dent.

That is not a view shared by all in our par­lia­ment or in the coun­try as a whole, and I sin­cerely re­spect those dif­fer­ences of opin­ion.

Recog­nis­ing and re­flect­ing those dif­fer­ences, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has re­cently pro­posed the es­tab­lish­ment of a cit­i­zens’ assem­bly ini­tia­tive sim­i­lar to that which has been used suc­cess­fully in Ireland in re­cent years.

A cit­i­zens’ assem­bly will not be a com­peti­tor or ri­val to Holy­rood – rather, it will com­ple­ment the work of the par­lia­ment and al­low the wider pub­lic the op­por­tu­nity to con­sider the kind of coun­try we are seek­ing to build.

When I was first in­volved in politics, in the late 1980s and through the early and mid- 90s, there was a wide­spread con­sen­sus that the sta­tus quo was not an op­tion. The view was that there was a pro­found demo­cratic deficit which could only be ad­dressed with the es­tab­lish­ment of the par­lia­ment whose an­niver­sary we are now mark­ing.

Twenty years on, there is again a grow­ing con­sen­sus that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion can­not en­dure. This time it is a post- Brexit land­scape in which our Par­lia­ment faces the prospect of hav­ing its in­flu­ence di­min­ished for the first time since 1999, and in which even some of the most ar­dent union­ist voices would agree that the cur­rent sta­tus quo is not an op­tion.

Scot­land’s re­la­tion­ship with Europe has been en­hanced and deep­ened by Holy­rood over the last 20 years, with our laws, in­clud­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and em­ploy­ment pro­tec­tions, en­twined and aligned with those of our Euro­pean neigh­bours. But now we face the prospect of be­ing taken out of the EU against the over­whelm­ing wishes of the Scot­tish elec­torate.

The weeks and months ahead will see how we ad­dress the Brexit chal­lenge and how we, as a par­lia­ment and a na­tion, en­vis­age our col­lec­tive fu­ture.

I be­lieve our Par­lia­ment should be an in­de­pen­dent one, but I do not be­lieve that should or would be the end of its demo­cratic jour­ney.

Al­ready we can see how, in ar­eas like tack­ling cli­mate change, the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment can act as an ex­em­plar to the rest of the world.

A par­lia­ment equipped with the full pow­ers of a sov­er­eign na­tion would be able to go even fur­ther in en­act­ing poli­cies to help make life bet­ter for ev­ery­one who lives in Scot­land.

Two decades on from Holy­rood’s es­tab­lish­ment it seems al­most un­think­able that we should have been with­out a na­tional par­lia­ment for over 300 years – or that we should ever be with­out one again in the fu­ture.

The Scot­tish Par­lia­ment has been a force for good, and is the most tan­gi­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of the an­cient Scot­tish con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ple that sovereignt­y must al­ways lie in the hands of the peo­ple.

MSPS met in the Church of Scot­land’s Gen­eral Assem­bly Hall

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