There is real respect for the role world-leading Scotland is aiming to play

Reading the words of Martin Luther King engraved into the monument which now stands in his honour in Washington DC is a humbling experience.

The memorial carries some of his more famous quotations, including this one from 1959. In that year, Dr King said: “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”

I saw those words etched into the pale granite of the memorial during my visit to the United States last week and was reminded that, half a century on from his death, the values and vision he espoused are as vital to our times as they were to his.


The struggle for equality which he so courageously pursued has seen many victories along the way, but so much remains to be done to make our world a better, more equal, more peaceful place.

That was brought home to me even more powerfully in a meeting I had the later the same day with Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F Kennedy, who works tirelessly to promote her father’s legacy, partly through a range of education initiatives worldwide.

She recounted how, in the wake of Dr King’s assassination, her father counselled against vengeance as tensions rose in cities across the US. She also recalled how her father, in his time as attorney general in JFK’s White House, constantly made the case for seeing things from the perspective of others – a perhaps obvious observation, but one that nonetheless can so easily be forgotten in politics, diplomacy, commerce and our everyday dealings with those around us.

Seeing the world from the perspective of those we must share the planet with is a prerequisite if any of us are to live up to the ideals expressed by King and Kennedy.  And while Scotland may be a relatively small country, and one which does not yet have the powers of an independent nation, we should be in no doubt how highly regarded our country is when it comes to playing our part in meeting those ideals.

My visit to the US and Canada began in Washington, where I delivered an address at Georgetown University, on Brexit and the future implications for Scotland.


I was struck, both there and elsewhere in DC and beyond, at the mounting disbelief there now is in academic, diplomatic and business circles for the reckless approach to Brexit being taken forward by the UK Government.

Because, as I made clear to all who asked about the issue, while I disagree with Brexit in principle, there was absolutely nothing inevitable about the utterly chaotic shambles into which it has now descended.

During my visit, I was regularly met with the observation from Americans that they were in despair at the state of their own politics and at many of the actions of the Trump administration, but that having visited the UK recently, or even just tapped into the news from here, they at least felt relieved that their own domestic situation would only endure for the period of the current administration – unlike Brexit, which has potentially very long lasting effects.

That is perhaps the most damning verdict possible on the farce which Brexit has now become. And while those remarks were often made jokingly, there was also a serious point underlying them, which demonstrates just how far the UK’s reputation has now slipped as a result of the Brexit shambles, and the Tories’ complete and utter inability to translate the Leave vote into a workable and deliverable plan.

It is, as I observed to many of those I met on my visit, a great misfortune that both the US and UK appear to have been gripped simultaneously by political dysfunction at precisely the same moment, with neither being in a position to counterbalance the other.

But the visit also confirmed there is real and palpable recognition and respect for the role Scotland is aiming to play on a range of fronts.

The world-leading efforts we are making on climate change are widely acknowledged and I was delighted to sign a joint declaration on that front with Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who is deeply interested in our work in renewables.

When it comes to supporting the global equality agenda, I was pleased to meet in New York with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women. And I was deeply honoured to be appointed by UN Women as their inaugural #HeforShe global advocate – an initiative which aims to engage men and boys as advocates for gender equality.


My visit also included a range of engagement with business leaders and potential investors in the US and Canada – where I was privileged to open the Toronto stock exchange on Friday. I was keen to stress that, whatever the challenges of Brexit, Scotland remains very much open for business, Indeed, the reality of Brexit means it is more vital than ever that we promote Scotland to the world.

And when we do rejoin the global community as an independent nation, Scotland, I hope, will already have gone some way to meeting the ideals of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.