Martin Hannan: Make refugee crisis our finest hour

A Syrian man carries a child in a thermal blanket as they arrive at the at the Greek coast after crosing on a dinghy from Turkey. Picture: PA
A Syrian man carries a child in a thermal blanket as they arrive at the at the Greek coast after crosing on a dinghy from Turkey. Picture: PA
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While David Cameron dithered, it took compassionate women to bring home to many of us just what the Syrian refugee crisis really means to people.

The tears of Nicola Sturgeon showed that the drowning of little children was affecting everyone across Scotland, while the anguished words of Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson were an indication that souls in her party are still capable of being roused to righteous anger by injustice and inhumanity – it was her finest hour.

This could be just the challenge Edinburgh and the Lothians need

Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson also caught the mood of the moment. Even lesser Tories at Holyrood were clearly ill at ease with the way their party in Westminster is approaching this crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel then hit the nail on the head when she said yesterday: “Only together with the rest of Europe can we meet this challenge . . . we were quick to rescue banks. Now we have to act fast.”

She added something quite staggering: “What we are experiencing now is something that will occupy and change our country in coming years. We want the change to be positive, and we believe we can accomplish that.”

Compared to the intellectual paucity of the UK government’s response, how astonishing is that prognosis by Chancellor Merkel? She is defying the assertions by politicians and pundits alike that this modern generation does not wish to burden itself with so many incomers, that we would be unable to cope with the refugees.

I well remember the same reaction when civic Scotland and trade unions combined to welcome refugees from Chile who were fleeing the regime of General Pinochet after his military coup in 1973. The Dunbartonshire area where I lived back then distinguished itself by taking more than its fair share of those people from Chile, many of whom went on to become much liked and respected members of the local community.

Scottish society today is no less able to deal with an influx of people fleeing the horrors of war and tyranny. Indeed I think this could be just the challenge that Edinburgh and the Lothians need in order to show the true worth of our local communities.

I believe the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians want to display an inclusiveness, a generosity that perhaps has not always been present in our polity. After all, there is not much point in getting a £1 billion deal to improve the city and the region if that is only for making rich people richer. Everyone should benefit, including refugees.

What better way to show that Scotland’s capital is a city with a big heart than to welcome hundreds of refugees, because I believe we are well capable of handling such numbers.

Yes, there is a shortage of housing in Edinburgh and the Lothians, but there are plenty of empty properties which could be turned round and made habitable quite quickly. But it is not about housing alone – what also needs to happen is that everyone in the charity, care and education sectors works together to ensure that the refugees and their children get a fair start when they come here.

All of Scotland’s councils should take their share, and all should concentrate on the quality of life that we can give the refugees.

We are called to action and compassion. Let us not be found wanting.