Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 17 September 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Credit Unions, Family Migration, Business Motion, Decision Time, Macmillan Cancer Support’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning


Time for Reflection

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Good afternoon. Our first item of business is time for reflection, for which our leader today is the Rev Canon David Richards, who is rector at St Paul’s and St George’s Episcopal church in Edinburgh.

The Rev Canon David Richards (St Paul’s and St George’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh)

Presiding Officer, members of the Scottish Parliament, I will begin with the words of the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks:

“There are moments in history, and we are living through one now, when something new is taking shape but we do not know precisely what … The results lie all around us … the fraying of the social bond, the partisanship of politics at a time when national interest demands something larger, the loss of trust in public institutions, the buildup of debt whose burden will fall on future generations, and the failure of a shared morality to lift us out of the morass of individualism, hedonism, consumerism, and relativism. We know these things, yet we seem collectively powerless to move beyond them.”

Jonathan Sacks spoke those words in 2014, before the Scottish and Brexit referendums and before the electoral success of Donald Trump and others. The mind can only boggle at what he would write now.

For 250 years, the enlightenment has shaped and formed us. In the words of Immanuel Kant,

“humankind’s emergence from self-incurred immaturity”

began to shape how we thought and lived, and Scotland was at the forefront. Much good has been accomplished and medical science has made breakthroughs that we thought impossible, and yet, although we can travel further, faster and higher than previous generations could, the question remains whether we are happier. The First Minister raised that in her TED talk in July. Happiness is perhaps a worthier measure of a society’s health than economic prosperity alone.

The reality is that we live in a society and culture that is perhaps the most anxious, uncertain and stressed that it has ever been. Some may yearn for a time in the past when Britannia ruled the waves—and some may not—but what if what we see around us is the new normal? Globally, 700 million people still live in extreme poverty; a million children die of pneumonia every year; half a million children still die of diarrhoea or malaria; and 300 million people are diagnosed as clinically depressed, with 800,000 people a year taking their own lives. The reality is that we are living through five global crises: social, economic, religious, political and environmental.

Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy, a young leader who was struggling to develop an embryonic church in a city full of commerce, political intrigue, sexual politics and dissent:

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

If St Paul had come from Glasgow, he might have said, “keep the heid”. We need you, as our leaders, to keep the heid. We need you to discharge all the duties of your ministries and, through it all, keep your heads—especially if you are playing swingball. Keep calm and work for the common good, even though we—and you—may disagree on how we might get there. [Applause.]