‘The price of liberty requires eternal vigilance’ was first recorded in 1809 in a biography about Major General James Jackson and later became the better known phrase “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” accredited to the anti-slavery campaigner Wendell Phillips.
This famous saying immediately came to mind following Wednesday’s terrorist attack outside the Houses of Parliament. It had resulted in (as I write) three innocent deaths, and their murderer had to be shot dead to stop more carnage.
Those mowed down by the attacker driving his car at children, commuters, workers and tourists could not be more innocent. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A place where I happened to be walking only last week as I attended meetings in Westminster and walked past the Parliament’s gates and into the busy tube station around the corner.
The police officer too was innocent and his bravery was total. I expect he was unarmed, for the police at the front gate where cars and taxis enter the Parliament can normally be found in their white short-sleeved shirts and custodian helmets helping answer questions, give directions and appearing in thousands of selfies, displaying the good manners that one would expect of self-deprecating London bobbies.
Usually a few steps behind these avuncular constables are the firearms police, ready to intervene if a problem arises.
Brave Pc Keith Palmer could only delay the progress of the murdering intruder, but his colleagues fortunately were able to stop him before he killed anyone else – and maximising death was his goal. Twenty more yards and he would have been inside Westminster Hall itself.
If we are to retain the cherished openness of our parliament – and it is the manner of this accessibility that represents our liberty – then it is to the sacrifice from eternal vigilance by Pc Palmer and his comrades that we owe our thanks.
Ask his victims if McGuinness was ever truly a man of peace
The death of Martin McGuinness dominated the headlines for a day and a half until the Westminster attack, and predictably opinion was divided between those who saw him as a convert from IRA violence towards peace – while others argued that as a man who caused the deaths of many innocent people he had never truly repented or shown remorse for his victims. McGuinness was not an advocate of change through non-violence; he was, from his youth, an operative and then commander advocating the deaths of innocents irrespective of their views or religion.
He broke away from the official IRA that had abandoned violence to join the Provisional IRA and remained in its chain of command even after the peace process was made real. Despite his denials, repeated testimony came forward about his role and knowledge of many of the bloodiest terrorist incidents that are now etched in our history – such as the Poppy Day massacre at Enniskillen that killed 12.
Yes, McGuinness became an advocate of a peace agreement – but let us not forget that if he and others like him had not turned to horrific violence but had advocated peaceful change then the “peace process” would not have been required in the first place.
He was no Mahatma Gandhi nor was he a Nelson Mandela. To associate him with these towering figures is to demean their achievements and give democratic republicanism a bad name.
The cracks are beginning to show for Nicola
So far all the moral indignation and political tantrums about Brexit from our First Minister have not shifted public opinion towards having an independence referendum. Indeed, if anything, the posturing and mock outrage has only hardened people against the SNP leader.
The cracks are now showing, with senior party hacks voicing their concern. But, hey, don’t take my word for it, just look at the polling that week after week points to the trend of declining affection. The latest comes from Sky news that found the following rating in Scotland for five political leaders as:
Ruth Davidson: Good 53%, Bad 36% (+17%)
Theresa May: Good 48%, Bad 47% (+1%)
Nicola Sturgeon: Good 42%, Bad 54% (-12%)
Kezia Dugdale: Good 36%, Bad 50% (-14%)
Jeremy Corbyn:Good 16%, Bad 77% (-61%)
Notice the only positive ratings are for the two Tory leaders – Yes, Theresa May rated better than Nicola Sturgeon? Who’d have predicted it? MSP Liz Smith put it best: “For the SNP to have one Tory leader more popular than Nicola Sturgeon is misfortune. To have two looks like carelessness.”
Mr Findlay’s casebook condemns First Minister’s stance
There were some very good contributions in the Holyrood debate about the need for an independence referendum on Tuesday and Wednesday but the best by far was that of Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who challenged Nicola Sturgeon on the issue of respect for the will of the Scottish Parliament. Neil pointed out in a lucid, rational but still passionate manner that the First Minister cannot pick and choose which motions should be listened to. He rattled off a long list of defeats the SNP government has endured without changing its policy and offered to give way to the First Minister if she could explain why. She refused to take up his challenge.
Holyrood has no legal power to hold a referendum that will break up the United Kingdom; that remains at Westminster where everyone’s interests – including those Scots who live and work in the rest of the UK – can be taken into account. Theresa May has not said “no” she has simply said “not now”. That is only reasonable. For the First Minister to portray it as otherwise is truly disrespectful to the Scottish Parliament.