THE fragility of democracy has been made brutally clear by the rioters in the US Capitol who were encouraged and praised by outgoing president Donald Trump as part of his campaign to subvert the November election result.

According to US media reports, at least six Republican state legislators “took part in events surrounding the storming of the US Capitol”. The mob, which flew pro-Trump, US and Confederate flags, included holocaust deniers, White supremacists and conspiracy theorists. One police officer and four other people died and scores of law enforcement officials were injured in their efforts to protect the home of US democracy.

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For centuries, Americans have been rightly proud of their constitution and democratic values, including the rule of law. The United States has been keen to promote democratic ideas, including the peaceful handover of power around the globe. Nations throughout the world, especially those emerging from dictatorship, have sought to emulate the US example.

“And yet by far the most important weapon that the United States of America has ever wielded – in defence of democracy, in defence of political liberty, in defence of universal rights, in defence of the rule of law – was the power of example,” Anne Applebaum wrote in The Atlantic. “In the end, it wasn’t our words, our songs, our diplomacy, or even our money or our military power that mattered.

“It was rather the things we had achieved: the two-and-a-half centuries of peaceful transitions of power, the slow but massive expansion of the franchise, and the long, seemingly solid traditions of civilised debate.”

The last four years of the Trump presidency have seriously undermined the reputation of the United States as a beacon of democracy and as a trusted trade and alliance partner.

The boorishness, bullying, and serial lying by the president, supported by a cast of sycophantic lickspittles, has caused untold harm at home and abroad. Incoming president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris have a huge job to do domestically and internationally. It is important to all Americans and the rest of us around the world that they succeed in healing and repairing the damage.

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As Trump leaves the presidency in the next weeks, it should never be forgotten that he was courted, promoted and endorsed by populists and self-styled strongmen from Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, to Hungary’s Viktor Orban, India’s Narendra Modi and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, senior minister Michael Gove and Nigel Farage were among the keenest to have their photo taken with Trump and give him succour, even when it was blindingly obvious how dangerous he is. Johnson went as far as suggesting Trump should receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

This whole sorry saga should make democrats of all mainstream political views think long and hard about what we are doing to defend and strengthen democratic culture and governance.

Most fundamentally, it is for the people to decide who exercises power on their behalf. It is the public that ultimately determines which policies and constitutional arrangements are delivered.

In a democracy, the public has the right to change its mind at the ballot box about who and what it supports. It is not for politicians to limit and control that choice. If the public chooses to change parties, leaders or how they are governed it is their democratic right to do so. History will judge those who subvert or deny democracy very harshly.

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In Scotland, we have seen major democratic improvements in recent years with the creation of the Scottish Parliament elected by proportional representation, local government opened up with electoral reform and the franchise has been widened.

Not only are people able to vote from the age of 16, but international residents will now join Commonwealth, Irish, EU and domestic citizens at Holyrood elections. The public decided in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections that there should be a referendum on Scottish independence. The referendum took place.

Having been told by opponents of independence that they should vote No to remain in the European Union, the public decided against independence. Ironically, Scotland now been taken out of the European Union despite voting by 62% to remain in the EU. Now, a clear majority in Scotland is in favour of independence in the European Union.

Since the Brexit referendum, Westminster politicians have sought to deny the people of Scotland a democratic choice about independence with spurious claims from “now is not the time” to democracy is a “once-in-a-generation” event.

This will not stand. Denying democracy in Scotland will not save the UK. Politicians who subvert or block democracy will pay a heavy electoral price. We have been reminded by events in the United States how precious democracy is. We must defend, support and develop our democracy at home.