Scottish Parliament to discuss safety of MSPs following murder of Sir David Amess
Members of the Scottish Parliament’s corporate body will meet to discuss safety arrangements for MSPs following the murder of Sir David Amess, the Presiding Officer has said.
Tributes were paid at what was the first meeting of Holyrood since the Conservative MP was stabbed multiple times during a regular Friday surgery with his Southend West constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.
Alison Johnstone told the chamber that she had written to the Speaker of the House of Commons “assuring him of our sympathy and support”.
She added: “That this attack happened while Sir David was going about his responsibilities as an elected member seeking to engage in his local community, with the people he represented is horrifying for all of us.
“I know that all members of the Scottish Parliament regard understanding and representing the concerns of their constituents and local communities as one of the greatest privileges of being an elected member.
“The parliament seeks to ensure that you have the support you need to enable you and your staff to carry out your duties as openly and safely as possible. Members have received various updates about security in recent days both from the parliament and from Police Scotland. Work is ongoing within the parliament security team.
“The corporate body will discuss member security at its next meeting, and the parliament will continue to keep members informed.”
In her tribute to Sir David, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said he was, by all accounts, “a good and decent man and thoughtful and dedicated MP who served his constituents faithfully for almost four decades”.
The SNP leader said there were “serious issues to be confronted about the security of elected politicians and our staff and I know that the corporate body is considering these in consultation with parties”.
She added: “That is of vital importance, nevertheless, I suspect we are united across this chamber in our determination not to let our democracy be undermined by those who commit heinous crimes or acts of terror. In a democracy we all cherish, politicians must be accessible. For all of us meeting our constituents face to face is not just a duty, it is a privilege and often one of the real joys of the work that we do.”
Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, who knew Sir David well, and was with him shortly before his death, called for an end to the abuse directed towards politicians.
“Whether you're an MSP, an MP or a councillor, you're there to serve your electorate and you should never be killed for doing that, but far too many politicians in Scotland and across the UK face far too many threats and are abused online on a regular basis. A councillor in Scotland right now is leaving politics because his home has been firebombed three times. And the police are no closer to finding the culprit.
“Elected representatives receive a torrent of abuse and sadly, the worst of this is often directed towards our female colleagues. And it has to stop and it has to stop now.”
He added: “When evil visited David's surgery 11 days ago, they robbed us of a true public servant, a colleague, a friend and a passionate campaigner. His staff have lost a kind, caring considerate boss, and they are in our thoughts today. But worst of all, this tragedy has hit his family hardest. His wife Julia was his rock for almost 40 years. And he was a loving father to Catherine, David, Sarah, Alex and Florence. We pray for his family. We mourn with them.”
Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the murder had “utterly devastated everyone who works in and around politics”.
He said Sir David’s death had “shone a spotlight on the abuse, threats and danger faced by those in public life”.
Green co-leader Lorna Slater said the violent attack had made politicians question their safety.
She told MSPs: “It is an incident which shakes our democracy to our very core because it breaks the principle upon which we build our prosperity and security. And that is the peaceful transfer of power. We may call loudly and sometimes emotionally for elections and referendums and votes but not for violence. Never for violence. While we disagree on many things the condemnation of violence is the basis of what we all believe, and where we all agree.”
“David Amess should not have had to risk his life, give his life to do his job. None of us should have to,” she added.
“I look around this chamber and I think, am I safe? Are you?” Slater asked. “How often should I look over my shoulder when I'm walking around town? When should I press the alarm? I think of David Amess' staff and how traumatised they must be. And I think of those who work for us too.
“I think of all the people, particularly young women who I've cajoled, nudged and badgered into standing for election, and I wonder, am I putting their lives in danger? How can I ask people to do this job knowing that this job might cost them their life?”
The Green said MSPs may look over their shoulders more but they will continue to do the job “because peaceful governments, non-violent disagreement and public service are the core of our democracy, the core of our decency, and we will not let this horrific act fundamentally change what is important to us”.
Lib Dem leader Alex Cole Hamilton said he hoped that in “a thousand years from now these islands still enjoy the freedom of a representative democracy”.
He added: “Our society will be unrecognisable but that fundamental pillar of the social contract will remain. A person in need, seeking help and finding it in the hearing of their elected members.”