Holyrood should be a place of inspiring debate

IN nearly 10 years as a Glasgow MSP I cannot remember the tone of debate in the Scottish Parliament hitting such a low point as we have seen over the last few days and weeks.

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There is a real danger we will spend the next two years turning our national Parliament into the worst possible advert for the role of politics.

Not that politics has enjoyed a great reputation previously: expenses scandals, broken promises and pointless squabbling have all increased the disdain many people feel for politics.

When people were campaigning for a Scottish Parliament in the 1990s there was genuine hope for a kind of "new politics". But the reality never quite lived up to the hype.

In its early days there were cutting-edge ideas, such as public petitions and innovative use of the internet, but in truth the hostile and tribal nature of Scottish politics never went away.

Now, as we approach a referendum that offers the first chance for the electorate to resolve the great dividing line in our political landscape, that hostility is growing day by day.

Last week, the Presiding Officer dealt the harshest punishment the rules allow (suspension), to an MSP who heckled her and questioned her conduct.

This came on a day when it seemed every other speech contained accusations of lies and contempt.

Both the biggest parties at Holyrood have members capable of an excellent quality of debate, and who can disagree forcefully, but respectfully. But both also have members who are intolerant of criticism and conduct themselves with insults and aggression.

It is vital that across the whole Parliament we stop letting those attitudes dominate.

The next two years should be a period of creative and inspiring debate about the future of Scotland.

A two-year long rammy will not serve the interests of our country, either in making the crucial decision about independence or in taking the country forward when the result is known.

It would help if, instead of blaming the other side, every MSP would ask, "What can I do today to raise the tone of our national debate?"

Local government

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