‘OTHER men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again and free men will walk through them to construct a better society.”

In his final words before his death during a 1973 coup, Chilean president Salvador Allende saw a brighter future for his people. Beyond the guns, the bombs, the bullets, he saw the flower of human potential that was, temporarily, being crushed by General Augusto Pinochet’s thugs. Now, Chile stands at another historical moment in the history of Latin America, with lessons for us all.

Last week saw Gabriel Boric, the young bearded progressive, defeat his far-right opponent Jose Antonio Kast in Chile’s second presidential election round. The result was clear with Boric winning 56% of the votes.

His victory did not come out of nowhere. Chile is a rich country but also one of the most unequal of the mostly developed countries in the OECD. The top 10% hold around 80% of the total wealth in the country. In 2019, Chile had an income gap 65% wider than the OECD average. A 2018 government study showed that the income of the richest was nearly 14 times higher than that of the poorest.

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When the price of Santiago’s subway tickets rose by 3.75% in October 2019 people snapped. Widespread protests broke out, with more than a million pouring on to the streets of the capital. The pressure subsequently resulted in a referendum where people voted to replace the Pinochet-era constitution with a new one. A constitutional convention is currently under way and will present a new constitution next year.

Boric himself is no stranger to left-wing protests. In 2011, he emerged as a student leader during mass demonstrations calling for cheaper and improved education. Abandoning his law studies, he was elected to the Chilean Chamber of Deputies in 2013.

Several years later he is now president-elect. Born in Punta Arenas in the far south of the country, he will be the first president not to originate from the Santiago or Valparaiso regions in central Chile. Elected with the largest turnout since the end of mandatory voting in 2012, Boric can, perhaps, be a president for all Chileans.

His opponent’s campaign was straight from the Trumpian textbook, playing on a narrative of fear and controversy. Yet, when it became clear Boric had won, Kast tweeted a photo of him phoning his opponent congratulating him on his victory. Hours after the election another photo emerged of the two men sitting together chatting amicably (Brexiteers take note!).

The road ahead for Boric will not be easy. The parliament is divided whilst authoritarian elements remain a potent force in both Houses. Yet there is hope that under Boric, Chile can bury the demons of the Pinochet era for good and redress the stark inequality that exists.

Chile’s success is also encouraging for progressives around the world. After several years of populist and far-right victories, the political pendulum seems to have swung the other way. Boric’s victory follows those of the Social Democrats in Norway and Germany in the autumn. In May, the SNP won the Holyrood election and now lead a progressive government alongside the Greens. And, whisper it quietly, but it finally seems that people are waking up to the scandals, incompetence and blatant corruption of Boris Johnson’s Brexit chaos.

There are lessons we can take from Chile’s democracy. Change is possible but it is always hard won, especially when it is progressive reform. Patience is required as battles are fought in the court of public opinion. When our opponents resort to slurs and slander, we ought to remain dignified and gracious, powerfully persuading through our words and actions.

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Boric won not because he shouted the loudest but because he pragmatically assembled a coalition of different groups united by a common purpose, with a message persuasive to moderates turned off by Kast’s vitriol.

There are also opportunities for us to develop closer ties with the region. Chile and the wider Latin American region is one of untapped potential for Scotland. Between 2015 and 2019, the region was the only part of the world to see a decline in Scottish exports even though total Scottish international exports have increased year on year since 2005. In 2019, the total value of Scottish exports to the region was £1.49 million – only Africa and Australasia produced lower figures.

This is despite the extensive historical ties that exist between Scotland and Latin America. In Chile, it was a Scot, Thomas Cochrane, who formed and organised its navy as the country won its independence. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of Scots from the Highlands and islands made their way to Punta Arenas and Patagonia, playing a crucial role in kickstarting sheep farming in the region.

Many of their descendants remain there today.

Other Scots went to the likes of Buenos Aires and formed a substantial capitalist section of society. Argentina today has more than 100,000 people claiming Scottish heritage, the largest single Scottish diaspora outside of the English-speaking world. Scots also brought football to the country, meaning that in a parallel universe, Lionel MacMessi has just won us the World Cup.

Europe and our northern neighbourhood will inevitably take precedence for Scotland’s foreign policy especially in the short term as EU accession will take a lot of government energy. Yet it would be foolish if we did not tap into the potential of the global Scottish diaspora. Looking forward to 2022, Scotland will continue to become more and more self-confident on the world stage, re-engaging with auld acquaintances and forming new partnerships for the 21st century.

As both countries face an important year for their political futures, these words attributed to Chile’s Rabbie Burns, Pablo Neruda, ring true: “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming”.

Not a bad thing to remember as we put 2021 behind us and look forward to the next stage of Scotland’s independence journey.