Ben Macpherson MSP
Edinburgh North and Leith
Taking Positives into 2021
2020 has been a momentous year across the world, mostly because of coronavirus but for other reasons too. As I wrote about in the last edition of the Leither, locally this year we’ve been marking the 100th anniversary of Leith’s controversial “amalgamation” with Edinburgh. And, internationally, in America there’s been the most significant election in recent decades, which has coincided with another important centenary.
This year also marks 100 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment to the American Constitution, guaranteeing and protecting (white) women’s constitutional right to vote in the USA. The struggle continued long into the 20th Century for the inclusion of African American and other minority women.
With all that in mind, hasn’t it been fitting that in recent months we have witnessed the most remarkable, though long overdue, culmination of the struggle for universal suffrage and equal political participation in America, in the form of the election of the trailblazing, Vice President elect, Kamala Harris?
Her and President elect Biden’s victory has been widely referenced as a long-anticipated beacon of hope for progressives around the world, and an opportunity to heal from the dangerous rhetoric of the last 4 years of the Trump administration. However there are of still really tricky and challenging days ahead for America and the West generally, though plenty of reasons to be optimistic too.
And now we are counting down the days to a Biden inauguration on 20 January 2020, the seeds of doubt and division that have been sown over the last 4+ years of Trumpism will not be easily forgotten by either “side”. Democracy has taken its course in the United States, but unfortunately it does not mean that Trumpism is over. Work still needs to be done to fully restore faith in institutions, facts, and democracy itself. That also matters here in Scotland. During this period of economic difficulty, we must all be wary of right-wing populism seeking to whip people up against each other.
Trump’s divisive language has been used in a similar way by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, his transatlantic friends and allies. In both the 2016 referendum campaign and since, Johnson, Farage and others have employed comparable sensationalist, populist and hostile sentiments in pursuit of their vision of a right-wing Brexit Britain.
Unfortunately we will start to face the real damage of Brexit once the Transition Period ends on 31 December. However, we must also keep in mind that Scotland remains well thought of across the Member States and institutions of the EU, because of our resolute and consistent position of wanting to stay in the European Union. And as we have worked through the pandemic together, Scottish institutions have continued to collaborate well with those across Europe, as well as with colleagues in the rest of the UK.
The pandemic has reshaped the structural disparity and inequality that was already blighting the lives of too many, locally, nationally and globally. In the UK, surveys by a number of agencies, including the Office for National Statistics, have found that people from deprived and ethnic minority backgrounds are being disproportionately impacted by coronavirus.
That is why, whether it’s Biden’s America or Leith in 2021, out of this period we should and must endeavour to put austerity and populism behind us, and renew and strengthen action for social justice and internationalism. I have been proud to support such ambition at the heart of the Scottish Government’s ‘Programme for Government’, and in its response to the pandemic and its strategies for a green and just recovery.
When I was first elected Leith’s MSP in 2016, the first major event after the election was Hibs winning the Scottish Cup. That was obviously brilliant! But, unfortunately, what followed was Brexit and then Trump’s election. These two outcomes, outwith Scotland’s control, have had negative consequences for us all in recent years. And sadly these difficulties will continue, especially from Brexit.
However what has been uplifting in 2020 is this. Despite how challenging the year has been, through the pandemic communities have come together, internationalism has been strengthened (the shared work between scientists to develop effective vaccines and treatments) and Trump has been defeated.
So, as we move out of this awful pandemic, we have the chance to build a fairer society where we better value the contributions of all and better recognise our reliance on each other.
In 2020 we have been reminded that collective responsibility matters, valuing all people matters, looking out for each other matters, and voting matters. Consequently, as we hopefully move on next year, let’s try to keep all of those proven truths in mind - whether that means voting in the Scottish Parliament elections in May (whoever you vote for, please vote) or continuing to look out for our neighbours, colleagues and fellow Leithers as best we can.
Let’s take all positives we can from 2020 and hopefully add some new ones in 2021.
In Leith we have a word for that… Persevere!