Before we move on to today’s business, I would like to say a few words to the chamber, after which there will be an opportunity for party leaders to speak.
I know that all members will have shared my sense of profound shock and sadness on hearing the news of the death of Sir David Amess MP. On behalf of the Scottish Parliament, I extend our deepest sympathy to his family, friends and colleagues. I know that the death of Sir David will also have had a devastating effect on his fellow members of Parliament and all those who worked alongside him at Westminster. Members will wish to be aware that I wrote last week to the Speaker of the House of Commons, assuring him of our sympathy and support.
That the attack happened while Sir David was going about his responsibilities as an elected member, seeking to engage in his local community with the people whom 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 being among the greatest privileges of being an elected member.
The Parliament seeks to ensure that you have the support that 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 on-going in the Parliament security team; the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body will discuss members’ security at its next meeting, and the Parliament will continue to keep members informed.
Presiding Officer, I join you in sending my condolences to the family, friends, constituents and colleagues of Sir David Amess. Since his death, we have heard many moving tributes to Sir David from across the political spectrum. Together, they speak to what has been lost: a good and decent man and a thoughtful and dedicated MP, who served his constituents faithfully for almost four decades.
The fact that Sir David was killed while serving his constituents adds an extra dimension to a crime that would have been unspeakable in any circumstances. Because of that, it is a tragedy that all of us who are in elected office have been shaken by—as, indeed, we were by the dreadful murder of Jo Cox MP. No parliamentarian or councillor, nor anyone who works with us, should ever face the threat of violence as we represent our constituents. There are serious issues to be confronted about the security of elected politicians and our staff; I know that the corporate body is considering those, in consultation with parties, which is of vital importance.
Nevertheless, I suspect that we are united across the chamber in our determination not to let our democracy be undermined by those who commit heinous crimes or acts of terror. In the democracy that 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 is often one of the real joys of the work that we do. That has come across vividly in the many tributes to Sir David.
His death, devastating though it is for all the people who loved him—and, indeed, for our society as a whole—must not diminish our efforts to represent our constituents. Instead, his life and his example should inspire us, as we rededicate ourselves to the idea that politics and public service can be a force for good. It should remind us that parliamentarians here, across the United Kingdom and beyond often have more that unites than we have that divides us. All of us are passionate about serving the people whom we represent. All of us want to create a better society. If we can remember and summon that sense of common purpose more often, even in the heat of a debating chamber, it will improve politics in Scotland and elsewhere and would, I think, be a fitting further legacy of Sir David’s distinguished life and career.
Sir David Amess was first elected to Parliament in the year that I was born, so when I first met him in 2017 he was already more than well established in the House of Commons. However, there are among us on the Conservative benches, in the Scottish National Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, people who have served both here and in the UK Parliament. It did not matter what our intake or political party, David made us feel welcome. That was what he was all about. He loved Parliament and used it to promote the causes that were closest to him. He achieved far more as a back bencher for 38 years than many ministers will achieve in their entire ministerial career. The fact that Southend will now be a city is a lasting legacy to the campaigning of Sir David Amess.
There are many heartbreaking elements to the murder of Sir David, Presiding Officer, but as you and the First Minister have said, the fact that he was so cruelly taken during a constituency surgery brings into sharp focus the role that we all play as representatives. Whether we are MSPs, MPs or councillors, we are there to serve our electorate and should never be killed for doing that.
However, far too many politicians in Scotland and across the United Kingdom face far too many threats and are regularly abused online. A councillor in Scotland right now is leaving politics because his home has been fire bombed three times, and the police are no closer to finding the culprit. Elected representatives receive a torrent of abuse and, sadly, the worst of it is often directed towards female colleagues. That has to stop, and it has to stop now.
I want to use the remainder of my time to remember Sir David. As I said, I got to know him in 2017, when I was first elected. I had an office two doors down from his. He made me welcome and invited me round to his office. Parliamentary authorities had told me very strictly what I was allowed in my office—I could not even change the colour of the furniture. I went into Sir David’s office and found that it was full of budgies and fish. It was a sight to behold.
I also had the cleaners’ cupboard next to my office, but I never saw a cleaner going into or out of that cupboard. However, one day, I saw Sir David coming out of it, with Christmas decorations. At Halloween, he would put up outside his office witches and other ghoulish ornaments, which would make a noise as people came out of the elevator. After Halloween, he would put those decorations back in the cleaners’ cupboard, then bring out his Christmas decorations. It is very sad that we will not see the Santa figure outside 1 Parliament Street, which was where his office was for a long time.
For a period, I was Sir David’s whip. He was not an easy member to whip—he was always very courteous, but he would never give away which way he was going to be voting. Most recently, I spent a week with Sir David in Qatar in a cross-party delegation that he led. On that trip, I was reminded about being his whip, because I sent him a message about something that we were doing and he responded in a matter of minutes. I looked back and noticed that all the messages that I had sent him as his whip had not been opened or read. He clearly paid more attention to me as a colleague on a delegation than he did when I was his whip. He led the delegation with great dedication and enthusiasm. I saw him less than 48 hours before he died.
When evil visited Sir David’s surgery 11 days ago, it robbed us of a true public servant, a colleague, a friend and a passionate campaigner. His staff have lost a kind, caring and considerate boss, and they are in our thoughts today.
Worst of all, the tragedy has hit his family hardest. His wife Julia was his rock for almost 40 years and he was a loving father to Katherine, David, Sarah, Alex and Florence. We pray for his family and we mourn with them.
Rest in peace, Sir David Amess.
The killing of Sir David Amess has utterly devastated everyone who works in and around politics. Sir David built a reputation for kindness, generosity and decency. The thoughts of everyone in the Scottish Labour Party are with his friends and family, and with his colleagues in the Conservative Party, who are hurting at this difficult time.
Sadly, this has also brought back memories of the horror of Jo Cox’s murder, just five years ago. That is not least because Sir David epitomised Jo’s belief that we have far more in common than we have that divides us—a sentiment that was repeated by the First Minister today. His dedication to public service was driven by the simple principle of helping others. The outpouring of admiration and grief in his Southend West constituency from people from diverse backgrounds shows just how much he meant to the residents for whom he campaigned so passionately. In the granting of city status for Southend, his legacy will endure for generations to come.
Sir David was killed while doing what democracy is fundamentally all about—meeting the people. We must ensure that we do not let violence and extremism win, and we must remain steadfast in our defence of the very essence of our democracy. Sir David’s killing may have been an isolated incident, but his tragic death has also shone a spotlight on the abuse, threats and danger that are faced by people in public life. It is too easy for people to think that that means just directly elected politicians. There are support mechanisms around politicians and their families, but it also means their staff, who are going about their daily work and just trying to make a difference to people. Regardless of what sector a person works in or where they work, no one should feel unsafe at their work—and no one should be killed at their work.
This moment has reminded us of the need for greater kindness and compassion in our public discourse. Yes—there is a place for disagreement and for anger in politics. We sometimes demonstrate that in this very chamber, in Westminster and in television studios. However, there is a difference between expressing disagreement and anger and letting them turn into dislike and hatred. They should never turn into dislike and hatred. Sadly, too much of our politics, particularly on social media platforms, is about othering of communities, dehumanising of individuals and creation of division. We all have a fundamental responsibility to call that out and to face it down.
In memory of Sir David Amess, therefore, and in memory of Jo Cox, we must make a firm commitment that we will never allow those who seek to divide us to win.
I am very grateful for having time to reflect on how sad and horrifying the murder of David Amess is, and to offer my sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of that hard-working MP.
David Amess was stabbed as he carried out his duties as an elected representative, working for his constituents conscientiously and courageously. Such a violent attack disrupts our democracy and makes us all question our safety. The incident has shaken our democracy to its core, because it has broken the principle on which we build our prosperity and security: the peaceful transfer of power. We may call loudly—and sometimes emotionally—for elections, referendums and votes, but never for violence. Although we disagree on many things, the condemnation of violence is the basis of what we all believe and is something on which we all agree.
I did not know David Amess, but I know that MPs and MSPs work very hard for their constituents, and that they embody the service role of the public servant. David Amess should not have had to risk—nor to give—his life in order to do his job. None of us should have to do that. I look around the chamber and think, “Am I safe? Are you? How often should I look over my shoulder when I walk around town? When should I press the alarm?”
I think of David Amess’s staff and how traumatised they must be, and I think, too, of those who work for us. I think of all the people—young women in particular—who I have cajoled, nudged and badgered into standing for election, and I wonder whether I am putting their lives in danger. How can I ask people to do this job, knowing that it might cost them their life?
It was only a few years ago that another MP, Jo Cox, was murdered. Even after that, all members of this Parliament have stood for election. They have all had the courage to put themselves forward and to take on public service. I applaud and recognise their courage. Following the murder of David Amess, we will do the same. We may look over our shoulders more and will, I hope, look out more for each other, but we will do our job because peaceful governance, non-violent disagreement and public service are at the core of our democracy and of our decency, and we will not let that horrific act fundamentally change what is important to us.
I did not know David Amess, but I recognise him. I recognise the descriptions of the warmth and generosity with which he greeted members of all parties. I recognise his commitment to, and work towards, good causes including fire prevention and animal welfare.
In particular, I recognise the description of the final moments before he was attacked. Sir David was murdered at work, in a constituency surgery not unlike those that are held by each of us in church halls, offices and libraries the country over, week in and week out. He was killed while performing one of the fundamental duties of a representative of democracy—he was making himself available to his constituents, offering them help and receiving their instructions.
What happens in those venues is often more important than anything that happens in this chamber; there is no more important function in the role that we perform as elected public servants. We never know exactly what is coming through the door. Sometimes, it can seem straightforward; at other times, it will be deeply complex.
At face value, the issues are sometimes mundane and sometimes earth shattering, but the unifying theme in almost every surgery appointment and case-work meeting is that the issue that is described to us is the most important thing in the person’s world. For the passage of half an hour or so, we have to make it the most important thing in our world. By all accounts, Sir David’s time revolved around his constituents.
Discussions about the safety and security of our elected members have once again begun in earnest. That is understandable, but this act of remembrance is not the time for such debate. All I will say is that, whatever what has happened gives rise to, it must not make it harder for people to come and see us.
I hope that a thousand years from now these islands will still enjoy the freedom of a representative democracy. Our society at that time will be unrecognisable to us now, but that fundamental pillar of the social contract—a person in need seeking help and finding it in the hearing of their elected members—will and should remain.
I offer my sincerest condolences and those of my party to everyone who knew and cared about Sir David.