International theme for Festival of Politics

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The Scottish Parliament’s Festival of Politics will this year take on an international outlook.

The annual event, which will be held from Friday 14 to Sunday 16 August at Holyrood, will feature contributions from all over the world including a keynote speech from one of the most popular political philosophers of his generation, Harvard Professor Michael J Sandel.

Picture: Scottish Parliament

Picture: Scottish Parliament

Announcing the 2015 programme Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP, said: “Scotland has always been an outward looking nation. This year we want people to be inspired to see the world differently and generate conversations on the international issues that are dominating the headlines.

“From migration to freedom of speech, our 2015 Festival programme is guaranteed to look into some of the most talked about topics of the day.”

Sir Tom Devine will deliver a lecture on Scotland’s historic links to slavery.

He said: “I am delighted to return to speak at the Festival of Politics which is now such a well-established forum for the exchange of views on key topics. This year’s theme is especially to be welcomed as it encourages both speakers and audiences to look outwards and examine Scottish issues within a broad international context.”

Tom Devine. Picture: TSPL

Tom Devine. Picture: TSPL

Professor Michael J Sandel said of his first appearance at the Festival:

“It is a great privilege to be invited to speak in the Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament for the Festival of Politics. I take special pleasure in knowing that my lecture is in association with the John Smith Centre for Public Service. In keeping with the celebratory and democratic spirit of the occasion, I look forward to engaging the audience in a lively discussion of ‘Public Service and the Future of Democracy.”

The Festival Café Bar will include a programme of music, poetry and dance with a new Festival Youth Café also hosting a number of workshops this year on subjects ranging from vlogging to cartooning.

The event will also include a film strand with a number film screenings on key festival topics including showings of 12 Years a Slave and Made in Dagenham.



Scotland and Slavery

16:30 - 18:00, Debating Chamber, £8.00/£6.00

While Scotland likes to promote its role in the abolition of slavery, the uncomfortable truth that Scots were also involved in the earlier exploitation of the practice has been somewhat erased from our history books. What was the real role of Scots in the slave trade and what was the legacy? Sir Tom Devine will give a lecture based on his book Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection. The lecture will be followed by a panel discussion chaired by the Presiding Officer.

The Democratic Challenge

16:30 - 18:00, £6.00/£4.00

Voter apathy has become a common complaint from political parties. Yet changes could be afoot with overall voting turnout in Scotland at the recent UK general election at 71.1%, with that figure at 85% in the Referendum last year. So is the tide turning? Join Chair Professor Nicola McEwen, Associate Director, Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change as she examines the importance of voting and the challenges democracy faces in the 21st century and how a younger generation can drive the democratic process.


Muslim Women – Freedom, Femininity and Faith

10:30 - 12:00, £6.00/£4.00

Join Chair Mandy Rhodes, Editor, Holyrood Magazine and panellists to talk about freedom, femininity and faith for Muslim women, featuring journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who advocates and reclaims female human rights and freedoms in her book Refusing the Veil. They are joined by British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai who uncovered a Tehran riddled with contradictions in her book Tehran: City of Lies and Smina Akhtar, Director of Amina, the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre.

Privacy or National Security - have Spy Agencies gone too far?

11:30 - 13:00, £6.00/£4.00

Is terrorism being used as an excuse to curtail our personal liberties? Are we content that our intelligence services are operating within laws that are fit for purpose? Join Chair Professor Alex Danchev, School of International Relations, University of St Andrews, to discuss these issues with panellists Luke Harding, Guardian journalist and author of The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man; Nigel Inkster, The International Institute for Strategic Studies; and Professor Alan Miller, Scottish Human Rights Commissioner.

Public Service and the Future of Democracy

16:00 - 17:30, Debating Chamber, £8.00/£6.00

Hailed as the most popular political philosopher of his generation and a legend in the lecture hall who regularly draws audiences of thousands, Professor Michael J Sandel will give a keynote speech on the subject of Public Service and the Future of Democracy followed by a question and answer session chaired by the Presiding Officer.


Workers’ Rights in the 21st Century – do we need them?

11:00 - 12:30, £6.00/£4.00

Unions are in decline across the world, although they have been synonymous with industrialisation for more than a hundred years, detractors believe unions are outmoded institutions. Yet many believe unions still have a role to play in the workplace. Join Chair Deputy Presiding Officer Elaine Smith MSP as she discusses these issues with Ann Henderson, Assistant Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress; Professor Mike Gonzalez, formerly Head of Latin American Studies, University of Glasgow; and Colin Borland, Federation of Small Businesses.


15:30 -17:00, £6.00/£4.00

Join Chair Bernard Ponsonby, Political Editor, STV to reflect on the British Anti-Apartheid movement and discuss contemporary South Africa following the end of Apartheid. Panellists include Joyce Sikakane, South African writer and film-maker; Brian Filling, Honorary Consul for South Africa; and Jean McFadden, former Leader of Glasgow City Council.

China as a Global Super Power

16:30 -18:00, £6.00/£4.00

According to Deutsche Bank, China could account for a larger share of global GDP than any other country in the next 5 years. What is the basis of this prediction and how will China and America respond? Join panellists Professor Leslie Young, Professor of Economics, Cheung Kong Graduate School of

Business, Beijing; Jeremy Peat, Economist and Former Head of the David Hume Institute; Robert Moran, U.S. pollster; and Peter Budd, Vice Chairman of China-Britain Business Council.

Programme availability and tickets

Tickets will go on sale online via at 10.30 am on Tuesday 23 June

A limited number of tickets are available via the Scottish Parliament in person and via telephone on 0131 348 5200.

Full details of the festival programme are available from

Hard copies of the programme are available from most Waterstones and Blackwells bookstores.