My speech at the 13th Doha Forum in Qatar - the world’s foremost arena for discussions on democracy, development and free trade in the Middle East.
"At yesterday’s opening session the first speaker you heard from was a Scotsman, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown and now at today’s opening session you are being subjected to another Scotsman – you can see we are quite a persistent lot and not so easy to get rid of!
Moderator, Distinguished Guests, I believe that the title of today’s session highlights part of the problem with our thinking. Instead of focussing on the “Challenges Facing New Democracies in the Region” – I believe we should be viewing them as opportunities.
Winston Churchill first said:
“Never let a good crisis go to waste!”
With every challenge comes an opportunity.
Distinguished guests, from the outset I would like to say that I do not wish to lecture the emerging democracies in the Arab world on how to do democracy.
We in the West do not have a monopoly on wisdom – far from it, even though we sometimes too easily forget this lesson. I think there are lessons that we can learn from Libya, Tunisia and Egypt and others as they embark on their respective constitutional journeys.
Journeys that have featured the mass mobilisation of young people, powered by social media and a desire for change.
This morning there are two aspects I would like to focus on that if they are cultivated properly they will be a great opportunity and a new beacon of light for the world emanating from the Middle East, however, if ignored will be a huge challenge in advancing social justice in the region.
Those two aspects are the young people in the region and the importance of inclusion and participation.
One of the biggest opportunities in this region, particularly with the Arab Spring, is the young people. Two-thirds of the population in the region is under the age of 30 – what a great opportunity but of course a great challenge too with youth unemployment at unacceptably high levels.
The Arab Spring and new democracies showed us the voice of the youth cannot be ignored.
Through embracing social media in particular, we saw a mechanism whereby young people could express themselves and their popular will. That popular will grew and became an unstoppable force. Where political veterans of the past had failed, young people succeeded in overthrowing some of the region’s most brutal dictators.
The danger is that those voices are ignored, the young people discarded and not included in the rebuilding of their nations. We will then find an entire lost generation who will turn against the very structures they helped create through their revolution.
Many of us have met and experienced the youth of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab Spring countries and we will no doubt all agree that including them in the dialogue as new democracies are formed will only be of great benefit as their innovation, drive and determination will help those countries reach beyond the limits of their own ambitions.
The second aspect which I believe is a great opportunity if done correctly, however, a great challenge if not is the idea of true social inclusion of all elements of civic society. The concept of widening the tent to include as many voices – opposing or otherwise – to help us fulfil the ambitions of the popular will.
What distinguishes the dictatorship from the democracy is the tolerance of views that oppose you. What makes you a truly enlightened democracy is not only tolerating those opposing views but learning from them.
This is by no means a lesson for new democracies in this region but also for established democracies like the UK.
Next year Scotland will hold an historic referendum on her Independence on the 18th September 2014. This will be the most important decision Scots make in 300 years, the opportunity for them to determine their own future.
We have a Scottish Government and UK Government completely ideologically opposed to each other on the independence question, however, still the theme of mutual respect and “inclusion” runs through our approach to Scotland’s constitutional future.
On 15 October 2012 the First Minister of Scotland and the Prime Minister of the UK signed the Edinburgh Agreement agreeing the terms of the independence referendum to be held next year.
Clause 30 of this agreement states that “both governments will work in the interest of the people regardless of the result”.
After the vote we are committed to maintaining this spirit of co-operation.
The first thing that we would do in the event of a Yes vote for Scotland’s independence referendum on 18 September 2014 will be to sit down on the 19th September with those who were defeated in that vote to work out the best way forward in the mutual best interest of Scotland.
Many new democracies in the Arab world have already led the way with that approach, bringing in defeated opponents in elections but more importantly including as wide a section of the country as possible including women, minorities and young people in the rebuilding of their nation and writing their constitutions.
With that all the people will have ownership and truly feel a part of the fabric of their society – even when they disagree with certain decisions.
A famous slogan was adapted by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and which I believe rings true for all of us involved in policy development – be we new or old Democracies:
“Nothing about us, without us, is for us”
The inclusion of Civic society is therefore one of the greatest opportunities this region has. If people are included in the development of policy and are able to participate in that process then we will flourish together.
As HH Emir said yesterday – Democracy is more than just going to the ballot box once every few years; a lesson we in the West could also learn from.
Distinguished guests, to conclude – although we must be realistic and pragmatic to the challenges this region faces, we must also be alert to the huge benefit and advantage the world will see if the opportunities present in new democracies are seized upon.
We cannot directly compare the situation in Scotland or the UK today with the situation in new democracies in the Middle East. However, I think that there are lessons that we can learn to mutual benefit.
In Scotland we need to do more to increase participation, especially of young people, in our politics.
We need to learn more about how we can use digital media as a means of consulting with the youth, to make young people feel more engaged.
The challenges for the new democracies are many and varied.
However, in our experience, a framework that is, respectful of the views of others and respects social and political freedoms can help frame the environment in which peaceful transition can take place. More importantly than anything it must be inclusive of women, young people, minorities and even of our opponents.
That great campaigner for Justice Desmond Tutu said:
“If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
With those wise words I have no doubt we can all, Arab or Non-Arab, overcome even the most difficult barriers put in front of us and achieve peace, reconciliation and freedom for all of our nations’ citizens.