Paris attacks: Solidarity in the face of tragedy

Nicola Sturgeon with other MSPs in Holyrood Image copyright PA
Image caption Holyrood heard First Minister Nicola Sturgeon say that Scotland should reject "fear and division"

Scotland has a long history of solidarity with the people of France at times of crisis. For example, the French consular residence in Edinburgh was formerly the Free French House, opened by General de Gaulle in 1942.

And so there was shared experience and common outlook behind the emotions on display at Holyrood today as MSPs voiced their sympathy for the people of Paris. The city of love, as Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats noted, now "wounded by hate".

Refugees from Syria

There were other emotions too. Chief among them solidarity, determination, resolution. And anxiety. The motion before parliament addressed each of these motivations.

It openly offered condolence and sympathy - but it also obliquely addressed the concern potentially present among the people of Scotland over the arrival in Scotland today of further refugees from Syria.

I understand that issue also featured in the Scottish Cabinet discussion earlier. Ministers were keen to condemn those organisations which might seek to foment discord in Scotland over asylum - but to distinguish between that and wider opinion among the fretful Scottish population.

Syrian refugees

How many are coming?

20,000

to be resettled in UK by 2020

  • 1,000 - arriving in UK by Christmas

  • 350 - arriving in Scotland by Christmas

  • 100 - arriving in Scotland on 17 Nov

Reuters

It was, as one insider readily acknowledged, a nuanced standpoint. It would be all too easy to issue a blanket appeal, disdaining anxiety. Such would be wrong. It was better, instead, to understand the anxiety and to offer answers.

To stress that the refugees were themselves fleeing here to escape a version of the very terror inflicted upon Paris. To stress that they desperately needed help and succour. To stress, further, that they had been screened before gaining access to this country.

It was "normal", said the First Minister, to feel anxiety. About the events in Paris themselves and the aftermath. But the people of Scotland, she said, must resist the "instinct to retreat". They should reject fear and division.

'Open and loving arms'

Certainly, there was impressive solidarity on display at Holyrood. Ms Sturgeon's opening remarks were a deft blend of sympathy and determination. Labour's Kezia Dugdale urged people in Scotland to welcome the new refugees "with open and loving arms".

Ruth Davidson, for the Conservatives, said it was vital to confront extremists, not to surrender to them. Division in the west, she said, was precisely what the terrorists sought.

And Patrick Harvie of the Greens said the people of Scotland and elsewhere must pre-empt such a response. The values which mattered were liberty, equality and fraternity. Each speaker rose to the occasion, including the Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, who essayed a statement of sympathy, in French.

The final word went to Christian Allard, the French-born MSP. With the French deputy consul and members of the French community looking on, he explained why solidarity truly mattered at this time of tragedy and concluded, simply: "Merci."

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