A Europe of two halves...
"When Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things
"The fate of empires and the fall of kings
"When quacks of state must each produce his plan
"And even children lisp the Rights of Man."
Robert Burns, 1792
Last week the world’s power list met in Davos with storm clouds gathering around the international economy.
This week European parliamentarians meet in Strasbourg in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe and the political environment is no less troubled.
The Council of Europe is not the Council of the European Union. It is bigger for a start and it is also older.
The Council of Europe has 47 member states, the European Union a mere 28 nations. The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 in the Treaty of London. The Common Market came into being some eight years later in the Treaty of Rome.
The difference between the two organisations is more than age or size. The member states of the European Union agree to pool sovereignty over specific areas. In the Council of Europe member states maintain their sovereignty but commit themselves through conventions and cooperate on the basis of common values.
At first sight this would seem to be a Euro-sceptics’ dream. Here incarnate in the Council of Europe is a broadly based European organisation pledged to co-operation between countries but one which doesn’t involve the sacrifice of sovereignty or being in thrall to the hated Brussels bureaucracy.
The trouble is that the greatest single achievement of the Council of Europe is the Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted in 1950 following a report by the Parliamentary Assembly. The key man in drafting the report which led to the convention was the brilliant Scottish advocate and Tory MP Sir David Maxwell-Fife.
And this very convention is also a favourite target of the Euro-phobes. Now it has to be admitted that a few of the Strasbourg Court decisions can be seen as a giant pain in the backside.
However, there is little doubt that there are substantial gains to be made. It is highly embarrassing for any country to be “in the dock” of the European Convention and great efforts are made by all states to be influential in the Council of Europe.
In other words the states with the worst human rights records have to go through the hoops to stay within convention law. Those with better practice have a little inconvenience.
I can speak from experience. Almost uniquely the re-convened Scottish Parliament in 1999 was established with the European Convention embedded in its founding statute. That means that not only the legislation of the Parliament but every single ministerial action must be compliant with the Strasbourg Convention.
That could be occasionally irritating. For example, I was not a great enthusiast for the proposition that Scottish prisoners were being denied essential human rights by having to use chemical lavatories in prisons!
However, sorting that out was a minor matter in return for helping to secure far more fundamental human rights in other countries. Significantly the Scottish law officers have won each and every judgment in recent years when in front of the Strasbourg court.
With a European Union in trauma over its inability to deal with a humanitarian crisis on its doorstep, the Council of Europe’s concentration on practical achievement looks like a considerable success story.
Meanwhile in the Brexit referendum campaign, both sides are competing to produce the biggest scare story – the “Out” campaign on the nonsense that most laws are made in Brussels and the “In” on the equally silly canard that international trade would somehow grind to a halt if Britain left the EU.
In contrast, the practical concentration of the Council of Europe on human rights, on campaigns against racism, the battle against drugs and the promotion of minority rights looks like an island of sanity amid a sea of troubles.
Today it was announced that Inverurie Academy will be rebuilt as part of the Scottish Government's Schools for the Future programme. Inverurie Academy has served its students and community well over the years, not forgetting the important role it had to play sheltering people during the recent floods.
However, the current academy has remained relatively unchanged since the 1980s and many of the buildings are nearing the end of their life. The new Inverurie Academy will ensure that pupils have the best access to the latest facilities and provide an excellent learning environment for pupils of today and well into the future.
I contributed to "The Mad World of Donald Trump" and discussed "The Donald" with Matt Frei. Click on the image below to see the programme in its entirety.
I attended a moving service outside the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. During the ceremony, I noticed that a group of Kurdish protesters paused their demonstrations in an admirable mark of respect. It was an important symbol of the international community's ability to stand together in remembrance of an event that must never be forgotten. I also took the opportunity to discuss the day during my phone-in on LBC.
After travelling back to the Scottish Parliament from the Council of Europe, I was interviewed on Euskal Irrati Telebista, the public broadcasting service of the Basque Country, in conjunction with my nomination as a 2016 recipient of the Sabino Arana Foundation award.
You can watch a clip from the interview on EiTB's website by clicking here.
"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, great chieftan o' the puddin'-race!.."
Burns' immortal tribute to our national dish is best delivered among friends, and all in attendance at the SNP Ellon & District Burns Supper enjoyed a night to remember. I was thrilled that MP for Banff & Buchan, Eilidh Whiteford, and MP for Aberdeenshire South, Callum McCaig could join MSP candidate Gillian Martin and I at the Victoria Hall. I must also give a special mention to former Head Teacher of Ellon Academy, Alan Cameron, for a memorable address to get things underway.
I was proud to see Jamie Murray and Gordon Reid battle their way to victory at the Australian Open in their respective finals in a day to remember for Scottish sport. Well done!
I was in Bilbao to receive an award from the Sabino Arana Foundation and joined six other winners with special ties to the Basque Country. Congratulations to CEAR Euskadi, United States Congressman John Garamendi and Olympic kayaker Maialen Chourraut Lasarte as well as Leopoldo Zugaza and Biscay-based industrialists Velatia. My thanks go to my hosts for a wonderful day at the Arriaga Theatre and I hope that the Basque people enjoy the Basque edition of my book, Ametsa Ezin Da Sekula Hil.