Ordinary people speak truth to power at unique Scottish Parliament election hustings event

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(Left to right) - Iain Gray, Patrick Harvie, John Swinney, Dr Angus Morrison, Willie Rennie and Annabel Goldie.

Hundreds of people attended a unique Scottish Parliament election hustings event in Edinburgh last night organised by the Church of Scotland.

Leading representatives from the country's main political parties responded directly to five ordinary people who spoke powerfully about their personal experiences and concerns on a broad range of issues including education, in-work poverty and community empowerment.

Georgina Shields, 22, Courtney McMurray, 18, Marie-Therese Martin and Tricia McConologue, who are all from Glasgow, and Blair Green from Bellshill spoke powerfully and passionately about their lives, prompting candidates to explain how they would use the Scottish Parliament's powers and budget to improve society.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney of the SNP, former Scottish Labour Party leader Iain Gray, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie and former Scottish Conservatives leader Annabel Goldie also fielded questions from the audience.

Fairer, more equal and more just

The People's Politics event, attended by more than 400 people, was chaired by the Moderator of the General Assembly the Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison.

He said that while the Church would never take sides in party politics it would always "speak truth to power" and give a loud and clear voice to people who were seldom heard.

The event was part of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council's Speak Out: 10,000 Voices for Change campaign, which last year asked people to identify the core issues which will enable Scotland – and the world – to become fairer, more equal and more just.

Dr Morrison told the audience that the hustings event to better inform voters ahead of the election on May 5 would cover three themes:

The need to invest in young people

The need to trade in an economy that is more equal

The need to enable local communities to flourish.

Refugees

The first part of the 90-minute event at the General Assembly Hall in Edinburgh, where the Scottish Parliament sat between 1999-2004, focused on the experiences of the five people from Glasgow and Bellshill.

The politicians were asked to respond to each of them one at a time and explain how their respective parties would help Scots create a better future for themselves.

The panel were then asked a broad range of questions on issues such as how they would use the Scottish Parliament's new tax powers to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and whether Scotland should take in more refugees beyond the 2,000 Syrians set to be resettled by the end of the decade.

They were also quizzed on education, poverty, the economy, taxation and mental health.

One man told the politicians that he believed Scotland should adopt a high tax, high spend Scandinavian-style society to drive down "scandalous" levels of inequality.

Truth to power

Unlike television hustings, the discussions were polite and respectful although Dr Morrison did at one stage joke that a bout of bickering reminded him of the General Assembly.

Bringing the event to a close, the Moderator said he thought the audience had been "deeply impressed" by what they had heard from the five people who shared their stories.

"The Church should not and will not take sides in party politics," he added.

"We have members who are active in every political party and who will vote for everyone.

"We are, however, called to take sides in the way Jesus took sides – to speak truth to power and to allow those who have voice to be heard loudly and clearly. Not as victims but as friends."

Miracle worker

Dr Morrison rounded off the evening with a prayer

He said: "Lord, friend of the rich and friend of the poor, we seek your guidance.

"God - storyteller and miracle worker we thank you for you presence.

"God of the past and God of the future, be with us as we leave this place.

"And may your grace, mercy and peace be with us and remain with us tonight and always.

"Amen."