By Dr Richard Holloway
This may seem a strange theme for the anniversary of the day that Covid-19 hit us, with all the losses that followed, but I think that our mood today should be one of gratitude. During the shutdown, I remembered the time when another virus hit Scotland, in the late 1980s. That was the human immunodeficiency virus—or HIV—and Edinburgh was dubbed the AIDS capital of Europe. During that struggle, a doctor whom I knew quoted from a famous novel called “The Plague”, by the French-Algerian writer Albert Camus. These were his words:
“to state quite simply what we learn in times of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in us than to despise. The story could not be one of final victory. It could only be the record of what had had to be done and what assuredly would have to be done again by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.”
That has been the story of this year—the story of how doctors, nurses, scientists and care workers and the people who deliver the mail, empty the bins and serve us in shops refused to bow to Covid-19 and strove their utmost to be healers. That is why today, as light glimmers again on the horizon, our hearts should be filled with gratitude for those who helped to guide us through the darkest days.
I want to extend that gratitude to the Scottish Parliament itself, because another virus—the virus of political authoritarianism—has ravaged the world this year. We have watched regime after regime fall to dictators who killed the life of freedom. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin said that the main challenge that faced the human community was that our disagreements were rarely between an obvious good and an obvious evil; they were usually between rival versions of the good.
Democracy was hard, because it was built not on the suppression of disagreement but on allowing it to flourish. You keep that principle alive and well in the Scottish Parliament. Your passionately argued disagreements keep us free. For that, we should also be grateful—so thank you.
Dr Holloway gave the Time for Reflection address to the Scottish Parliament this week.
From Raglan Street in Alexandria to Edinburgh and prestigious appointment as a Bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church, author and broadcaster, Dr Richard Holloway’s excellent memoir is available on-line and at all good bookshops. Pictures by Bill Heaney