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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 7, 2023


Time for Reflection

The first item of business this afternoon is time for reflection, and our leader today is the Rev Norma Moore, Church of Scotland.

The Rev Norma Moore (Church of Scotland)

Thank you, Presiding Officer and members, for the opportunity to speak to you today.

When I first became a minister, I discovered that the Church of Scotland is awash with committees. We have committees for everything, and they take up an inordinate amount of time and energy.

In every one of those church committees, there are the yes men and women, who usually vote with the chair, no matter their own true feelings. There are the single-issue folk—whatever you happen to be discussing, the issue is raised at every meeting. Then you have the awkward squad, who always have a different opinion, and so the discussion goes round and round. It is exhausting and time consuming, but if you want to take folk with you, such discussion is the only way to get things done—or at least the only way to get things done where even those who do not agree cannot say that their voices have not been heard and that no one has listened to their views. That is democracy and, as Churchill said,

“democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

In the democracy that you are dealing with here, you have committees at all levels. Like the church, you will have the yes folk, the single-issue folk and, of course, the awkward squad.

Being the age that I am, my mind slips back to Tony Benn and Tam Dalyell. Man, were they a problem for the leaders of the day—but we most definitely need such people. We need the people who keep prodding us with the things that we had not thought of, the things that we would like to go away, the things that directly oppose our own view and the things that will make our lives difficult.

That is democracy at work, and no one can say that they were not listened to or that their concerns were not taken seriously. They will not all agree or, indeed, be happy, but they will have been taken seriously. You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Your job may not be to please the people, but it is to do the best for them—and for “people”, read “individuals”.

That is a very tall order, but by listening to the opinions of all those around you and seeking to bring as many of the strands together as is humanly possible, it seems to me that you are providing democracy, and—with apologies to Churchill—it is the best of all forms of government.

Thank you.