Current political debate sorely misses former Lib Dem leader’s “sense, good humour and wisdom”.
Delivering the Charles Kennedy Memorial Lecture this evening in Lochaber High School, Fort William, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to say:
“Charles was an ardent supporter of the European Union. He once described himself as a Highlander first, Scottish second, British third, and European fourth. However he was proud of, and comfortable with, all of those identities. In fact, he served as president of the European Movement from 2004 until his death.
“I can’t be the only person, during the last year, who has thought about the contribution Charles could have made to the UK wide discussions on EU membership. His sense, good humour and wisdom have been greatly missed in that debate.
“The Scottish Government is campaigning hard to retain the benefits of the European Union as possible – including single market membership.
“That is partly about recognising the democratic outcome of the EU referendum – where every part of Scotland voted to stay in the EU, and the UK as a whole only narrowly voted to leave.
“It is partly about our sense of who we are – most people in Scotland want to continue to co-operate and work with our European partners. We value free movement and free trade.
“And it’s partly about our economic interests. I believe that business across the country will be better off in the single market – and that’s something this government will continue to make at every opportunity.
“In his maiden speech to the House of Commons, Charles talked about the lack of opportunities that young people at that time faced – in Lochaber and across these islands.
“He went on to argue that a loss of opportunities has economic, social and political consequences.
“Versions of that argument have been heard a great deal in recent months about voters of all ages, not simply about young people.
“They have often been made in relation to Brexit, and indeed last week’s US elections.
“Unless parliaments and governments work for every individual in society, disillusionment in politics and in society will grow.
“I believe Scotland, and Lochaber, is in a better place now than in 1983. I believe that devolution has helped, as Charles predicted it would.
“Economically, unemployment is far lower than in 1983, and business prospects for Lochaber are brighter. And in terms of democratic engagement, 16 and 17 year olds now have the vote for Scottish elections. Local initiatives, such as the newly announced Highland Commission on Local Democracy, will I am sure play an important role in engaging voters of all ages.
“But there is no room at all for complacency. We need to do far more to build a truly inclusive society – one where everyone knows that their voice matters, and that they have a fair chance to succeed; one where no individual, and no community, ever feels left behind.”
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