Jim O’Neill reflects on the events of last week and the bravery needed both to stand up to terrorism and to end it.
I had expected this week to be writing about the debate on Indyref2 in the Scottish Parliament. However, some things overwhelm all such matters and the events of last Wednesday on Westminster Bridge and at the Palace Gates constitute such a horror.
First, I would wish to send my condolences and best wishes to the victims of this maniac and to their families. Having worked in the Palace of Westminster for an MP, and later having visited the House on many occasions as a representative of the Co-operative Party, I feel I know the area very well. I have walked over Westminster Bridge too often to mention, and I have enjoyed the courtesy and vigilance of both the police and the staff in the House. It is a great sadness to see that one of them has died protecting the MPs and staff of the House, and also that others have been random victims of Khalid Masood.
However, as everyone has said, terrorism will never influence the commitment to peace and democracy of the British people, and our ability to live in a multi-cultural society happily with our neighbours. Glasgow and Scotland’s response to the attack on Glasgow Airport show where we stand. I stand with the people of London and the many tourists, who I hope will still seek to visit the Mother of Parliaments and the very historic city in which it is situated.
Terrorism can never win, because it is based on conflict and division. Many people who have been branded as terrorists have, in later life, become peacemakers. Nelson Mandela was branded a terrorist by Margaret Thatcher, but subsequently became the Father of the Rainbow Nation, known as Madiba by all creeds and colours and, by negotiation, removed peacefully the scourge of apartheid from South Africa.
As a young man, my family were committed Irish republicans with Irish relations involved in the IRA. I rejected that route because I believed from an early age that violence would never achieve a united Ireland. My violence was confined to the sporting arena where the very strict laws and attitudes of rugby allowed a level of violent contact, but all in a spirit of shared enjoyment.
Some others came to a belief that peaceful negotiations were the way to end the violence in Northern Ireland by a different route. The efforts of both John Major’s and Tony Blair’s governments to engage with the leaders of the republican movement did much to change the view of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Eventually a way of resolving the differences was found and the partnership between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness was something I thought I would never see in my lifetime. They were not known as the Chuckle Brothers for nothing.
This is why I was saddened at the response of some to the death of Martin McGuinness. They seemed to be blinded by his early involvement in terrorism, in some cases understandably, and could not see his central role in bringing peace to the Province. I prefer to celebrate the latter and I am sure that his place in history is assured.
So, the lesson is that we must try to engage with the leaders of the angry and violent side of Islam. Only then can we start to move towards emphasising the things that unify us rather than the things that divide us. Repression will not work. It will only alienate people further. But this takes real bravery, and the courage to be roundly abused for taking that route. If we don’t, there will be more episodes like Glasgow Airport and Westminster Bridge. I stand for peace. I am a Londoner.