Alex Cole-Hamilton’s debut speech: EU is most important charter for freedom the world has ever seen

There is a reason I have spent so much time and energy over the past decade trying to get Alex Cole-Hamilton elected to the Scottish Parliament. I hope the video of his debut speech this morning will help you understand it too.

I had pretty high expectations, if I’m honest. The subject, the EU, is one of his strong points. Last year he won best speaker in the Charles Kennedy Memorial Debate on our continued membership of the EU. Alex managed to exceed even my lofty expectations today.

He paid tribute to his immediate predecessor and to Margaret Smith, who, as Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh West until 2011, had played such a huge role in getting Free Personal Care through.

On Europe, he highlighted the role of the EU in preserving the peace. Only the last two generations of his family have been free from the losses of European war. As well as preserving the peace, the EU helps us tackle the challenges facing our world which know no borders, like climate change and human trafficking, he argued.  The case he made for the EU was persuasive, inspiring and optimistic.

The full text is below:

As I rise to deliver my first speech in the Scottish Parliament, I feel the sense of awe that I have seen on the faces of my fellow newcomers to this place; they have given excellent speeches, both yesterday and this morning.

My journey to this chamber has been a long one, and I am grateful for the kindness of parliamentary staff, journalists and indeed members of all parties for the good will that they have shown me in these first weeks. It has been good will tinged with surprise, I might add, at my appearance here, but that surprise was eclipsed by my own when I was plucked from the ranks of new Liberal Democrat MSPs and immediately promoted to the front bench. That was something of a shock. [Laughter.]

Before I address the substance of the debate, I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Colin Keir. He is a kind and generous man and I wish him every success in his future. I also pay tribute to the previous Liberal parliamentarian to represent Edinburgh Western, Margaret Smith. Margaret served in this Parliament for 12 years and delivered many of the changes that brought about free personal care for the elderly. All of us can attest to the honour that it is to represent the great communities of Edinburgh Western. The constituency is steeped in history that goes back to Roman times and it flanks the beautiful fringes of the Forth estuary. It is in the shadow of our own world heritage site: the Forth rail bridge. I am sorry to say that, following my election, the area is no longer available to the SNP for parliamentary group photographs. I am sorry about that.

My first act as a parliamentarian for Edinburgh Western is to make the case that my constituents—and yours, Presiding Officer—are demonstrably better off as part of the European Union. One hundred years ago almost to the day, my great grand-uncle, a private in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles out of Saskatchewan, at the age of 23, was killed along with 80 per cent of his battalion on the first day of the battle of Mont Sorrel on the Ypres salient. His name was Alexander Bennett and I am named for him. Just a generation later, his sacrifice was met by that of two of my grandfather’s four siblings, who were killed on active service, this time in world war two.

It is a measure of the success of the European project that I am only the second generation in the recorded history of my entire family to never have to contemplate taking up arms against our nearest European neighbours. It is a comfort that I would extend to my three children, Finn, Kit and Darcy, and to theirs to come. It is from the shared desire for a continued and lasting peace that the originating treaties of the European Union emerged. First, there was the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, so that no country could ever again build a war machine, and then there was the treaty of Rome, which led to a single market in which the free movement of goods, people, capital and services has come to represent the most important charter for freedom that the world has ever seen. It is a solidarity of nations that has become a family.

The Brexiteers such as Margaret Mitchell and her colleagues paint a very nice picture of what it would be to reclaim all our sovereignty, but it is a doctrine of isolationism, pure and simple. I put it to you, Presiding Officer, that in this increasingly globalised world, human traffickers will never recognise that isolation. Climate change will not recognise it, and neither will terrorists. If we were to leave, we would be a tiny archipelago of islands adrift in a sea of economic uncertainty. That is why those on the Liberal Democrat benches are so proudly and full-throatedly backing the remain campaign.

I am delighted, and heartily glad, that my first speech is on an issue on which there is such consensus, and that I find myself on common ground not just with those in other Opposition parties but with those on the Government benches. I hope that there are many days like this to come in my parliamentary service because, with consensus, this place can move mountains and it has done so. When I worked in the children’s sector, from outside the chamber I helped to broker a consensus that led to a change in the age of leaving care and that will change lives as a result. However, there will be days of discord, and that is good and right because, as John F Kennedy said, without criticism and debate no Administration can succeed and no republic can survive. It is incumbent on Opposition parties, particularly in a minority Government situation, to challenge and scrutinise, so I will offer that debate and scrutiny. It will at times be fierce, but it will always be reasoned and it will always be Liberal.

However, today, let us put aside those differences and embrace that common ground on which we find ourselves. A sense of real optimism is currently sweeping the Liberal Democrats, and I know that it is sweeping other parties as well, because we have so much to gain by remaining as members of the European Union, so we must gather together to vigorously campaign for a remain vote on 23 June. Thank you.

That was well worth the time, energy, paper cuts and shoe leather.

By any standards, the EU campaign has so far has been profoundly depressing. At times it’s made even the awfulness of the Scottish Independence Referendum look like quality debate.  Alex’s speech, Shirley’s from Monday and Tim’s from the other week form a rousing, compelling and infectious melody which should be out there. Their heart and soul is the perfect antidote to the barrage of negativity that makes people want to eat their own toenails in preference to switching on the news. The Remain campaign should put them on repeat for four weeks. People need to be inspired to getting out and voting on 23rd June, and, as inspirational speeches go, Alex’s is up there with the best.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • paul barker 26th May '16 - 5:05pm

    The particular problem with this debate is that 95% of voters dont think its very important. Left to themselves most would not vote & the outers would be a majority of those who did. We can enjoy ourselves inspiring the tens of thousands who want to be inspired but we need millions of not very bothered voters to vote & vote with us.
    Pointing out that The Leave campaign have no real plans for after Brexit is reasonable. Scaring voters about Jobs & cheap holidays is actually part of our duty as Democrats. Uninspiring but neccesary.

  • Well said indeed about the economic effects. The ‘keeping the peace in Europe’ argument for the EU is equally daft.

  • David: keeping the peace is daft. Well I am old enough to remember the war and one of the aims of many who supported the EU was to ensure the neverending wars on our continent stopped. Thje bringing and assisting ex eastern bloc states to emerge into the democratic daylight is not daft either. Bo opposed to staying in but see the risks for what they are,frightening.

  • EU is most important charter for freedom the world has ever seen. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Jun '16 - 8:33am

    I come to see you as a constituent. We have problems in the EU under the Brussels 11a, we need £ 10,000 plus to enforce a return on illegal retention. We need to have all the legal paperwork translated.

    The was a pro bono completed for ECAS 31 October 2006, highlighting the failings on working together.

    What would you suggest? Not an uncommon situation, I can you. Try ringing Reunite International, they work with the justice system, providing support.

    This alone is a good reason to close the door, freedom and justice?

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Jun '16 - 8:36am

    This is what happened to my family, I went to see Don Foster MP and Graham Watson, 11 years ago, it still remains, the same unfair situation.

    They could do little.

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