I, like many, was moved by the stories of the battle of the Somme which began 100 years ago on Friday. Nobody is still alive who was witness to the events that unfolded or to speak to us of the hardship bourne by the families left behind. The stories, the pictures, the scenes and tales of the horrors live long in the memory.
In Parliament at Westminster we held a minute’s silence to remember them. For remember them we must – and remember spiral of fear and hate, manipulation and mistrust that leads to war.
John “Harry” Patch, the last British survivor of the First World War, was a proud military man – a hero with a chest full of medals. Yet he always spoke frankly about the spoils of wars – the waste of generations and the ultimate futility of it all.
Aged 106 and 107 respectively, in 2004, Harry met Charles Kuentz who fought for Germany. Despite expressing doubts before the meeting, when asked about Mr Kuentz, Harry simply said: “He is all for a united Europe and peace and so am I”. Harry earned his wisdom the hard way. A way that we should never wish to see for any of our children or our neighbours.
We enjoy peace not only because of those who fought for it but also those who have worked to maintain it since. The success of peace within the EU is down to the cooperation of the independent nations within it.
It will come as no surprise that I believe that EU membership, for many reasons, is best for Scotland and the UK. Whilst it saddens me greatly that the overall UK vote was to Leave, I was glad that here in the Highlands we voted to remain. Indeed all of Scotland’s 32 council areas voted remain – an unequivocal 62% of people.
It is important that we respect those who voted to leave and whilst views may differ I am very glad that of all the reasons for voting to leave I have heard from constituents, none have been about immigration or the ugly sentiments of parts of the leave campaign.
For those who have been in touch, there have been two asking me ‘get on with Brexit’ however the overwhelming majority of constituents are asking me to do what I can to make sure that we stay as members of the EU.
I have also received lots of correspondence from constituents who are EU citizens living and working here – in some cases their families have been here for decades – their own children born and raised here. People who are, simply, part of the fabric of this place, feeling a sense of unease over their future.
Nicola Sturgeon moved quickly to reassure people from other countries that they are valued and welcome in our outward looking and modern nation of Scotland. We must do what we can to echo this to ease the worries of our friends and neighbours.
This message and her subsequent discussions in Europe has received welcomed support across the political divide.
There are questions to be asked on securing EU investment promised for the Highlands, people looking to Government for assurances. Now, the most important assurance that needs to come from the vacuum of Westminster is the right for those people who have made this place their home to be told that they can stay and are valued.