The first item of business is a motion of condolence. A public book of condolence has been made available in the main hall of the Parliament for members, staff and the general public to sign. This morning I have written to Siegfried Bracke, President of the House of Representatives in the Belgian Parliament, to express all our condolences. Our flags have been flying at half-mast since yesterday afternoon and will remain so today as a further mark of respect.
Presiding Officer, I am sure that the motion of condolence will be supported by every member of our Parliament.
The terror attacks on Brussels yesterday morning were appalling, devastating and cowardly. They follow the recent attacks in Ankara and Istanbul and come just four months after the dreadful attacks on Paris. Today, we mourn all those who died yesterday, we hope for a speedy recovery for those who were injured and we send our thoughts and best wishes to all those affected. In doing so, we show our solidarity with the people of Belgium and with victims of terrorism across the globe.
Yesterday afternoon, I spoke to the ambassador of Belgium to express Scotland’s shock and sorrow over what had happened. I made it clear that Scotland stands in solidarity with the people of Belgium at this time of extreme sadness.
Attacks on our neighbours understandably provoke anxiety here at home. Yesterday, I chaired a meeting of the Scottish Government’s resilience committee. An immediate priority is to help anyone who has been caught up in the attacks or who is concerned about loved ones. We are working closely with the United Kingdom Government, Police Scotland and other partners and agencies to ensure that those people have access to the advice, help and information that they need.
I can also tell the chamber that we are, as would be expected, monitoring the security situation in Scotland closely. Police Scotland and others are responding proportionately and have increased patrols at key locations, such as airports and railway stations. However, it is important to remember that there is no specific threat in Scotland. Of course people should be vigilant, but they should go about their daily business without fear.
We are also seeking to provide reassurance to communities here who may feel particularly threatened. As news was breaking yesterday of the atrocities in Brussels, I was on my way to a conference in Glasgow dedicated to tackling hate crime. One of the points that we discussed was that, after terrorist atrocities, members of our Muslim community often feel a double burden: they feel the same shock and revulsion as everyone else does; but they also have to cope with knowing that there are some who would point the finger of blame at them. It is important that we provide reassurance and additional protection if necessary—we stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
In doing that, we will reaffirm a fundamental truth: that all of us benefit hugely from being a diverse, multicultural society. That diversity should be cherished and celebrated. It is a source not of weakness but of great strength for our society.
Terrorist attacks are intended to divide us; they are intended to undermine the freedoms and the way of life that we all value so highly. We must unite as a community here at home and in solidarity with those in Brussels to make clear that the terrorists will never succeed. The evidence from yesterday suggests that that is what is happening, and it was obvious that condemnation of terrorism is something that unites people of all faiths and none.
Today’s motion gives all of us an opportunity to play our part in promoting that sense of unity. It enables us to put on record our deep sorrow for those who lost their lives yesterday, to show our solidarity with the Government and people of Belgium and to reaffirm once again our everlasting commitment to promoting an inclusive, tolerant, diverse society.
That the Parliament expresses its heartfelt condolences, and those of the people of Scotland, to all those affected by the appalling terrorist attacks in Brussels on 22 March 2016; stands in solidarity with the people of Belgium, and all those communities that have been the victims of terrorism in recent weeks, including the people of Turkey following the terrorist attacks in Ankara; reaffirms its commitment to a diverse and multicultural society, and calls on people across Scotland to unite as one community, both here at home and in solidarity with all those countries affected, to make clear that acts of terrorism will not succeed in dividing us or destroying the freedoms and way of life that we value so highly.
On behalf of my party and the communities that we represent, we offer our condolences to the loved ones of those who lost their lives in Belgium yesterday and say that we stand with the people of Brussels today.
As always in such tragedies, we watch with utter admiration the work of the emergency services and armed forces who choose to put themselves in harm’s way, running against the flow and towards the danger, thinking only of how they might help others. We choose to remember their heroism, not the acts of cowardice that they were reacting to.
If the attacks in Paris felt so wrong, in a city that we associate with love and culture, the attacks in Brussels are against a city that represents peace and co-operation. For most of us, Brussels—the centre of political co-operation between European nations—is a city that we know well. It is where our party colleagues and friends live and work. We know it as a cosmopolitan and vibrant city.
There is another reason why yesterday’s events felt familiar. There can be few of us in Scotland, watching the terrible footage from inside the airport terminal or outside metro stations, who did not immediately call to mind events at home—the thought that we were watching what could have been after the failed attack in Glasgow and the terrible loss when the underground was attacked in London.
We know from bitter experience that the evil that visited Brussels yesterday knows no borders and recognises no one as innocent. We also know this: the terrorists represent no religion and no moral cause; they represent only their own perverse and primitive anger against the modern world.
Let us also say loud and clear that we know that these attackers do not represent refugees. More than that, we understand that they represent the ideology of violence that the refugees are fleeing from. As we did after previous outrages—in Paris; London; Chibok in Nigeria, where the girls were taken; the Swat valley, in Pakistan, where Malala was shot; Madrid; Ankara; Istanbul; and New York—we resolve today to defy those who view difference with fear and anger. We defy them by celebrating our diversity, by living a life of freedom and tolerance, and by offering, in place of the fear and division that the terrorists seek, love and solidarity to everyone across the world who is affected by this pointless violence.
We stand with the people of Belgium and repeat the words of their national motto: l’union fait la force—unity makes strength.
I support today’s motion and, in so doing, I extend my condolences and those of my party to the people of Brussels in the wake of yesterday’s tragic attacks.
As with Paris four months ago, the Parliament stands united with the families of those who have been lost to another senseless act of murder, and with a city in mourning.
As with Paris, this will feel personal to many of us. Yesterday, I watched the TV bulletins as my colleague and friend lan Duncan spoke from his office in the city. As always happens in such cases, there is a sense of unreality in seeing a familiar face in a familiar place now having faced up to this modern form of barbarism. For all our friends who work and live in Brussels, the coming days will be difficult and unsettling. I hope that they know that they are in our thoughts.
I also want to pay tribute today to our own police and security forces who once again face a period of heightened alert. It is only when incidents such as yesterday’s happen that we remember their constant watch over us. I thank them for everything that they do.
The debate will now turn to our reaction. I hope that it is calm, steadfast and resolute. I hope that we remain united and that we remember that these people do not act in the name of religion. They are members of a millenarian cult that is already losing support.
As we mourn for the people of Brussels, I hope that we also keep Paris in mind. Yesterday, four months on from that terrible attack on the Bataclan theatre, the city was going about its business. The cafes were back in business, and people were back at work. The killers there wanted to halt our way of life and to bring a stop to our civilisation. The wounds in Paris will take years to heal for those who lost loved ones, but the killers’ attempts failed. They did not win. Paris won. Brussels will win too. The killers are doomed to fail.
Let us extend our condolences to Brussels today, but let us also have confidence in our values, and redouble our determination never to be cowed.
A resident of Brussels said on the radio this morning:
“Are we going to stop going to the cinema, travelling on the train, shopping in the centres, flying on the planes? No, that is what we do. But am I afraid? Yes, I’m afraid.”
As we witness the scenes of devastation in Brussels, it is only natural and only human to be afraid but it is to be hoped that if this gathering and similar gatherings across the world provide anything, they provide some degree of solidarity with the victims and the families and friends of people who have lost their lives not only in Brussels but in Istanbul, Ankara, Baghdad and many cities and towns across the globe.
The people who set off the bombs in Brussels yesterday are the kind of people from whom the Syrian refugees are fleeing. That is why we must make it clear that those terrorists do not speak for the people of the Muslim faith. They speak only for their distorted, cruel ideology.
When we are afraid, there is a temptation to turn in, to blame, to generalise and never to trust others, but this is exactly the moment when we must reach out to strengthen our relationships with the good people throughout the world.
On behalf of the Green and independent group, I, too, offer my thoughts and the comfort that I can to all the families and friends of the people who were killed and those who were injured or affected by yesterday’s terrible bombing in Brussels. It was a shocking event, perpetrated by criminals, but one to which people are demonstrating incredible resilience. Reports on the radio this morning talked of people going back to work, restarting the city after the shock and demonstrating a determination not to be cowed.
I am sure that many members have friends or family in Brussels. Colleagues from our Green office in Parliament who now work in Brussels have confirmed that they are okay. However, for too many other families, the news is devastating and their search has ended in grief. I can only imagine that it is a demented, confused grief that is filled with questions such as, “Why now, and why here?”
As MSPs, we are used to standing up to explain why things have happened and to dictate thoughts about what should happen, but at this point there is little that can help directly except for us to offer our solidarity.
Belgium and its neighbours—Scotland and the UK included—woke up today with hot memories of what happened yesterday, but also with memories of other attacks. They include Paris, of course, and my colleague Patrick Harvie spoke of others in November, reminding us of the global nature of violence and of the solidarity that we need.
To people in Brussels and across the world, we offer our commitment to overcome hate with human compassion, to overcome division that is based on prejudice or fear, to focus our actions on criminals who seek to divide, and never to fall into the trap of mistrust based on religion or colour.
That concludes the debate on the motion of condolence for Brussels. Before we move to the next item of business, we will have a very short break to allow members to get into position.