Nicola Sturgeon: Reading fiction can give political leaders empathy

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Nicola Sturgeon has declared it should be compulsory for US president Donald Trump and other major political players to read fiction.

Making an appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last night, the First Minster spoke to acclaimed author Ali Smith about her love for reading and how it helped in her role as SNP leader. She said the pastime could offer “the ability to escape and switch off from whatever it is that’s worrying me at the time”.

The First Minister with author Ali Smith.

The First Minister with author Ali Smith.

“I think reading for anybody deepens your sense of understanding and empathy with people and experiences and cultures and countries that you have no direct experience of,” she said.

“If there was one thing I could make compulsory for leaders across the world it would be to read fiction.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “For me fiction, much more than non-fiction does, allows situations that I have no direct experience of to be really conjured up and for me to develop an understanding in a way that is different to reading non-fiction.”

READ MORE: Ali Smith: Novel needed more than ever in dark times of Brexit

Ms Smith is writing a fiction series set in the backdrop of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

The author of Autumn and Winter – two books from a planned quartet of contemporary novels tackling Brexit – told Ms Sturgeon the art form could be a “unifying force” in the face of division.

The First Minister acknowledged politicians were often the cause of such division.

She told the Charlotte Square event: “As a politician I’m acutely aware, and it’s something I think about a lot, that politicians by definition we’re opinionated, we put forward strong views on policies, we’re sometimes the cause or a cause of the division.

“Also how we communicate now seems to reinforce those divisions. It pushes people to take sides and simplify things.”

Ms Smith said this was “the darkest time that I’ve ever lived in”.