AMIDST all the negativity and political gloom that dominates our global discourse, It was a joy to listen to the words of the Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, as he accepted his second term in office last weekend on one of the largest personal mandates in Irish political history.

In his speech to the country, the former politician, poet, sociologist and broadcaster talked of shared possibilities and capabilities in contrast to exploitation, division and fear, of commitment to inclusion, dignity and respect rather than a “retreat into the misery of an extreme individualism”. Higgins emphasised the importance of words, that they can hurt as well as heal and how much words need to draw people together rather than force them apart. He asked the question “what will be the character of [his country’s] Irishness?” His answer was hope.

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What an affirming message to hear in a world of turmoil and uncertainty. What a positive contrast to the vulgarity and cruelty of the President of the United States, or the insanity and self-destructiveness of Brexit, the unfairness of austerity, the rumblings of populism and discontent in Europe or the crude pastiche of the misogynistic, homophobic, extremist far-right President Bolsonaro, just newly elected in Brazil.

Higgins is a President who believes in the core decency of the Irish people, and his re-election symbolises their recognition of that faith. In an age when people are losing faith in their leaders it is wonderful to have a leader with faith in his people. And all this against a backdrop of sensationalism in the press about the also-ran candidate, the controversial Peter Casey, a former Dragons Den TV star and businessman, who had whipped up ugly tensions about minorities living in Ireland prior to the election to gain a fifth of the vote to the Higgins 56%. A defeat by a country mile unless I’m very much mistaken.

But in a world of alarming extremes, we are all on high alert to the growing danger of populism and those who manipulate the electorate by scapegoating and attacking the more vulnerable in society. After all, the Irish only have to take a look over the Atlantic to see how that has worked out for America with Trump, where children cannot attend school, or people worship in synagogues, churches and mosques without clear and present danger of mortal assault at the hands of some crazed gunman.

The Uachtarán role in Ireland is very different constitutionally from the president in America, with Michael D Higgins a head of state with little power compared to Trump. But his re-election is an affirmation of his and his country’s values and what he has achieved in his first seven-year term. To be a president that represents all the people is a tall order when societies seem so polarised. Higgins is asking the real question – how can we bring people back together and stop the growing global hatred from taking root?

Certainly not by allowing the extremists a platform in our daily discourse. Indeed, Trump’s visit to Ireland has been indefinitely “postponed” – whether as a result of protests from the Irish people or not, it is on the backest of burners for now. But the Farages of this world, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, stirring up feelings of resentment and fear based on “alternative facts”, misinformation, subjectivity and downright lies in many cases, have had way too much airtime and media coverage in proportion to other more responsible politicians.

Last week I wrote about the BBC and European Broadcasting Union’s controversial decision to invite the dangerous far-right strategist Steve Bannon to talk at their conference in Edinburgh next month. Everywhere we look, these “sowers” of discontent have wormed their way into our lives, whispering in our ears about “the other”, about it being all their fault, about taking back control and closing our borders and our hearts to those in need. These people are not mainstream. Their kind of subjectivity shuts down proper debate about important issues that can be addressed through fair and democratic means, where all sides get to voice their opinion.

President Higgins’s words of comfort and hope made me think about how we continue to define our version of “Scottishness” in this world of extremes and “fake news”. The sentiments in his speech are echoed here in Holyrood’s continuing commitment to diversity, equality, opportunity and fairness. We’ve a lot in common with our Celtic cousins over the water, not least the word “hope”, which also featured at this month’s SNP conference as a recurring theme in our vision for a prosperous Scotland.

A good example of this was revealed in a recent survey, with 64% of Scots believing that immigration should be devolved. We have lost trust in the UK Government with its aggressive “hostile environment” and realise the benefits that migration can bring to our country.

Scotland is welcoming of new Scots, we recognise the valuable contribution they make towards our healthcare workforce, academic research, tourism and hospitality, arts and culture. We want to protect our EU nationals threatened by a hard Brexit and bring families from all parts of the world together, not tear them apart. Our aging population is growing, and we need to attract talent and hard workers to Scotland to help our country to prosper in the years to come.

It’s this positivity and inclusiveness that is the very opposite of what is happening in not just other parts of the UK, but also in parts of the globe previously characterised by democracy and the rule of law. Hope in the power to create a progressive nation with equality of opportunity for all becomes all the more important when human rights are regarded as disposable, and minorities ostracised. Thankfully, Scotland, like the Republic of Ireland, is looking outwards, or as Winnie Ewing once memorably put it, “stop the world Scotland wants to get on!”