"We are challenged to do democracy better" - President Higgins addresses Scottish Parliament

The President addressed MSPs in Edinburgh today as his official visit to Scotland continues

president, higgins, scottish, parliament, edinburgh

Image: Scottish Parliament TV

President Michael D Higgins addressed the British vote to leave the EU during a speech in the Scottish parliament earlier today.

The Irish President is in Edinburgh as part of his official visit to Scotland. He has already met with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Addressing MSPs, President Higgins said the EU vote was an affirmation "of the importance citizens attach to the democratic system.

"It takes bravery to challenge consensus, but it also requires courage to commit to governing co-operatively, collaboratively, and with respect," he said. "The growth of a temporary, inchoate populism in Europe and America shows that the values we have strived so hard to put into practice in our democratic systems, and the forms of communication and connection upon which they relied, are not impermeable".

President Higgins added: "We must respond to demagoguery with an informed, open, respectful, tolerant and engaged discourse, and with respectful debate. We are challenged to do democracy better, rather than resile to old and divisive myths based on exclusion, and often to what is thinly veiled hate or racism."

He said that Scotland has "led by example" when it comes to empathy in politics, but added "our responsibility is greater than ever".

During his speech, President Higgins spoke about the "shared and complex history" between Ireland and Scotland, and how the European people are "bound together by values, lifestyles and institutions".

He also paid tribute to Jo Cox, the English MP who was killed two weeks ago.

"Jo exemplified the very best of principled public representative politics," he said. "We, all of us who share her fearless commitment to principled and respectful political debate, owe it to her memory to work harder than ever at this crucial moment to strengthen our democratic system and make it work to meet the needs of our people, and not to surrender to fear or bend before the politics of fear."

President Higgins' speech came as Ms Sturgeon held meetings with EU officials in Brussels to explore potential ways of keeping her country in the union after 62% of the Scottish people voted 'Remain' in last week's referendum.