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.