An SNP MP has described the “enormous honour” of being invited to deliver the annual Thomas Muir lecture to commemorate the life and work of the 18th century Scottish radical.
Tommy Sheppard said the event was a chance to reflect on the radical tradition in Scotland and “the synergy between the nationalist and socialist movements”.
The MP for Edinburgh East will speak at St Mary’s Cathedral in the capital on Thursday, August 24 at 7pm.
Born in Glasgow in 1765, Muir dropped out of his divinity studies at the University of Glasgow at the age of 17 and began studying law. Following the outbreak of the French Revolution, he associated himself with the radical wing of the Whig party and began openly calling for political reform.
He was charged with sedition and stood trial in 1793 for “exciting a spirit of disloyalty and disaffection”, recommending Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’, and for distributing and reading aloud inflammatory writings. Muir defended himself at the trial but was found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years transportation to Botany Bay in Australia.
He escaped in 1796 but died in France three years later having been seriously injured on his return to Europe.
Sheppard, a former Labour party official who joined the SNP in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum, said: “Muir’s trial was a clear example of political abuse of the justice system by the ruling classes. But the publicity given to Muir and his ideas during the trial actually helped the cause. In Muir they had a martyr whose treatment articulated the need for reform and strengthened the movement.
“Parliamentary reform is still needed today. Yes, we have the basic elements of democracy in place but there are still fundamental problems with the system. I have long been involved in with the Electoral Reform Society and the Make Votes Matter campaign for proportional representation. We need to get rid of first past the post, the rotten borough of today. A system which perpetuates a two-party political state and neuters smaller parties even when they have a significant portion of the vote across the country.”