LAST week this column majored on Gandhi’s reminder that thoughts become words, become actions, become habit. Leadership matters and the words of leaders can inspire and uplift lives, but they can also set a tone that ends up permitting actions of abuse and violence. Racist words from the most senior politicians in the world can wreak so much damage in so many places for a long time to come.

It is a dark time now. This week’s deliberate intervention by President Trump marked probably the lowest point in his presidency since the Muslim travel ban. In telling four congresswomen of colour to “go back” to the countries “from which they came”, because they criticised how America is run, he was creating permission for the unleashing of extreme racist bile that the United States has spent decades trying to curb and resolve.

Trump’s erstwhile political allies have been active around Europe seeking to unite the extremists on the far right, including Nigel Farage and even less savoury characters across the politics of the continent.

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Vigilance on such activity and behaviour is so important.

Pondering all of this, I was reminded of a remarkable event I attended 18 years ago. At the Marian Catholic shrine near my home town of Wishaw I heard the most important speech I have ever heard from a church leader.

The Very Reverend Dr Andrew McLellan, a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, was at the opening of a memorial to the victims of the Irish Famine at Carfin Grotto.

It was a big event attended by the then Irish premier Bertie Ahern and many others of the great, the good and not so great. Many speeches were given, but the one that impacted me the most was McLellan’s. It was short and simple and his main point was this: “My forefathers did not welcome those who came across the sea from Ireland. I regret that and I am ashamed of it. Together you and I must make sure we do not repeat the mistakes of those who went before us.”

He was referring to the institutionalised, organised and disgraceful policies of the Kirk and the establishment of the time that set out to oppose the interests of the large Irish Catholic community who had come to Scotland for work and to escape the greatest human disaster of the 19th century, the Irish Famine.

Catholics were denied equality of access to education or employment, and the leaders of the country created the conditions that allowed widespread bigotry to fester because they institutionalised such bigotry. The church even called for their repatriation, a call that Trump’s words echoed this week.

McLellan’s historic apology was a fitting and moving moment for me as a non-Catholic with strong emotional respect for the Catholic Church and community. He was contrasting it with the asylum system of the moment and asking for lessons to be learned. Our domestic situation is exponentially better but we still have a lot of work to do.

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Our world is convulsing in the face of colossal challenges like the climate crisis, the unequal divisions of the spoils of globalisation, inequalities in life chances and the opportunities and threats of a new industrial revolution.

The challenge of leadership is to address these crises and manage transitions in a way that secures stability, consent and legitimacy for our democratic way of life. We have not successfully managed transitions for whole generations and communities in previous convulsions. Many lives have been squandered, limited and left behind. We are capable of much more now.

But the worst leaders will continue to seek to blame and divide. Aggression, rudeness and lies abound. I can’t recall as bad a moment as Trump’s statement this week. But the invented “Breaking Point” Brexit migrant poster isn’t far off.

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This presents all of us with a choice about our own conduct and consent. Do we tolerate by action or inaction or do we not?

We have around one million people living in Scotland who were born elsewhere. Our message to them every day must be “you are one of us, please do NOT go back to where you came from”. And to thousands of others across the UK, Europe and elsewhere who are thinking about making their lives here, our message must be similar: “your talents are welcome”. We can’t change the world alone, but we can set our own example. And we must.

Neverendum? It’s never-ending nonsense

A FEW years ago, in my day job, I was asked to produce an analysis of Scotland​’s political and economic position to inform a decision by a consortium of investors to invest in a substantial development in Scotland. A firm of extremely clever advisers in London were working with globally significant investors. They thought the deal was good, but their partners had been put off by all of the noise they picked up in the London media about Scotland. You know the sort of hype.

Was Scotland really investible and stable? Was its politics extreme? They wanted to know the risks because reading the rightwing papers and reports of those papers in the BBC was putting them off Scotland as an investment destination?

The National: The chart above shows the total value and number of commerical property sales in Scotland (2010- 2019)The chart above shows the total value and number of commerical property sales in Scotland (2010- 2019)

In the end I wrote a long analysis of the economics and politics pointing out the centrist, pro-EU, pro-migration stable system that was common across the parties. I highlighted the economic performance, record and outlook. The deal went through and everyone was happy.

But it is worth noting that when Scottish politicians and commentators gleefully suggest, for partisan reasons, that Scotland’s democratic debate makes investment and wealth creation difficult it can cause damage to our reputation.

Loose partisan talk can cost jobs.

We expect better from academics, of course, which is why I was surprised to see media reports from a Scottish-based professor suggesting what he rather unacademically dubbed a “neverendum” was damaging real estate investment.

Having now read the source paper, it is clearly based on a wafer-thin analysis and extremely dubious economics.

He doesn’t explain why the real chaos of Brexit is drowned out to our detriment by a potential choice for Scotland to stay in the EU.

Indeed, he doesn’t attempt to. What he has is interviews with five real estate professionals.

The above chart is actual data that took me five minutes to obtain from the Scottish Property Federation.

It shows actual transactions and value every quarter since their records began.

There is a lot going on obviously, but it appears to offer a pretty clear picture that any suggestion of post-2014 “neverendum” concern is not in this data.

Serious analysis of the real challenges facing the Scottish economy and how we meet them must always be welcome. Cheap headlines based on dubious economics and wafer-thin analysis that can only damage our country’s reputation with actual investors? Not so good.