We had thought that by this time the Scottish Parliament would have voted in favour of holding a second independence referendum, and the Scottish Government would be formally requesting a Section 30 Order from Westminster. Due to Wednesday’s tragic events in Westminster, that hasn’t happened yet. According to reports, the Holyrood debate is due to resume on Tuesday next week. By this time next week, the Scottish Parliament will have voted to give the people of Scotland a voice on our own future, a voice that Theresa May seeks to deny us.
Initially I wasn’t sure that it was a good idea to suspend the debate in Holyrood. My opinion had nothing to do with the importance of the debate or its subject matter. It had nothing to do with wanting to gain a majority in Holyrood for a referendum, because that’s nailed on and is going to happen anyway. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of any sympathy or feeling for those who were bleeding and dying on the streets of London. It was simply because I felt, and continue to feel, that governments should strive to do all they can to ensure that the influence and effects of terrorist outrages should always be as limited and contained as possible. The greater the contagation into the rest of our democracy, the greater the impact and effect that an evil individual with evil intent can have. When institutions and organisations which were not directly targetted close down, it magnifies and spreads the ability of terrorism to disrupt our democracy and destroy the peace.
One of the greatest threats to our civil liberties isn’t terrorism, it’s the response that governments make to terrorism. When the effects of terrorism are magnified and spread to a greater extent than is necessary to ensure public safety and to deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis involving those directly affected, it increases the impact that terrorism has on everyone’s lives, and makes it easier for governments to introduce repressive and anti-democratic measures in response. Then we all lose. We become a society which is shaped, or more accurately deformed, by a terrorist threat, when there are other threats which we blithely ignore or shrug off which extract a far greater toll in terms of suffering and death.
Threats like, for example, air pollution, domestic violence and abuse, or road deaths, all of which kill many more people in the UK than terrorism does. They get far less attention, far less concern from those in the seats of power. We are blinded by the bloody spectacle of terrorism, leading us as a society to prioritise it over threats which in terms of the numbers of lives they destroy are far more lethal and have a far greater death toll. This is not to diminish or downplay the suffering of those caught up in Wednesday’s tragedy. Their pain is real. Their blood is real. Their deaths were real, and were tragic. We should all mourn for them. We should all offer our sympathy and compassion. But as a society we must be careful to avoid allowing the attention grabbing barbarity of a terrorist attack to define our democracy. Theresa May has plenty of authoritarian tendencies as it is, the last thing we need is to allow her excuses for any more.
However it’s only human that legislators in Holyrood were concerned and worried about their friends and colleagues in the other parliament. It’s only human that they’d find it difficult to concentrate on the topic at hand while people lay bleeding and broken on a London street, people who for all they knew could have been their friends and associates. So I don’t have a problem with the fact that the proceedings at Holyrood were suspended. Humanity and compassion should always trump any point of principle.
I did get angry on social media in the immediate aftermath of the attack. I got angry with people, both individuals and news organisations which really ought to have known better, publishing photos showing dead and dying people. Can you imagine the pain of discovering that a friend or relative had been killed in a terrorist attack because you happened to chance across a photo of their bloody end on Twitter. It treats death as spectacle and display. It reduces suffering to social media content. It’s the vampire search for clicks from the blood of the dying. If your immediate reaction on seeing a person bleeding and dying on a bridge is to reach for your camera and not to rush to give aid, your own humanity is bleeding and dying too.
I got angry with the conspiracy theorists who immediately began to speculate about false flags and how the tragic events might be an attempt by the “deep state” to disrupt the Scottish debate. Not everything is about Scotland you know and you do the cause of independence no favours by associating it with paranoia. The only thing deep about such comments is the depth to which the people making them, while others bled to death on a London bridge, are up their own arses. For those of us not directly involved the only appropriate response in the immediate aftermath of a violent attack is concern for those wounded, grief for the dead, and compassion for those caught up in the events.
I got angry with those who sought to score political points on the back of the dying. People who rushed to condemn the Scottish Parliament for not suspending proceedings immediately and trying to put the blame at the door of the SNP. It’s not up to the SNP to suspend proceedings in Holyrood. That’s a decision for the Presiding Officer, who happens to be a Labour MSP. It was not a party political decision. But that didn’t stop some people from finger pointing and trying to use Wednesday’s tragedy as a stick which which to beat up the Scottish independence movement. The desperate straw clutching game plan of Better Together Mark II will be that Scotland is too wee, too poor, too stupid, too racist, and too sympathetic to terrorism.
Normal service will be resumed. On Tuesday next week the Scottish parliament will return to its debate. Democracy will continue. The Scottish people will have their voice. Our democratic process will heal and will go on. But we should always remember with compassion and concern that the wounds of those injured will take longer to heal, and that the broken hearts of the friends and relatives of those killed will never be put back together. For them, normal service will never be resumed.
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