Jo Cox MP is dead. Murdered, in cold blood, in the street, in her constituency. Anyone who heard her speak, saw her with others, knew exactly what she stood for. Who knows what she would have gone on to bring to the field of politics had her life not been so brutally stopped short. Most importantly, Jo was a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister and, to many, a friend and neighbour. They did not deserve to lose her and she did not deserve to die.
Jo and I didn’t spend any time together, apart from in the chamber and some cheery hellos’ and good nights’. I’m sure we would have had some differences but, when it came to the way to treat people, I know there would have been much we would have agreed on.
Before the tragic events unfolded, I spoke in parliamentary debate on this week’s EU Referendum. I talked about the relationship we have with the EU in this constituency, the Highlands & Scotland. I pointed out that, contrary to what some people might expect, out of a population of nearly 5.4 million people, there are only around 175,000 EU Citizens living in Scotland, the vast majority of whom are in work and contributing a whole lot more than they take out – as all figures clearly show.
But for a moment, let’s put the numbers to one side. There is something much more important to the Highlands; for it is a place that, at its core, understands the value of people.
Throughout the centuries we have lost people to other lands, especially our young folk – so we don’t see people who come to live here as just numbers. We welcome them into our communities, we see them as neighbours and often as friends.
We don’t just build our communities by being welcoming and open to those from other nations – we have also built a successful tourism economy around it. We welcome many thousands of visitors who can come here hassle free. They don’t need a visa to visit and spend here and that helps us all. It is a two way street, we can visit them, cheaply and safely thanks to the fair rules and health protection we get in the EU. We can do business and work across Europe, indeed many from the Highlands do, including my own sons who are both working in Europe.
We have benefited much from our membership of the EU and, those of you old enough to remember a time before the Scottish Parliament, will recall that back then there certainly wasn’t much being done from Westminster for the Highlands. Yet thanks to the EU, we have the Kessock Bridge, built along with a long list of other projects. We benefited from our membership of the EU then as we do now. Indeed, from 2014-2021 we are receiving €192m in special EU funding for the Highlands and Islands.
This should, however, not be a story about economics, this is about people – it is about remembering our neighbours, co-workers and friends who are at the heart of the statistics, the rhetoric and the politics.
So I would like to like to finish this week’s article by quoting Jo’s husband, Brendan: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.” I am sure you will agree; immensely brave words from a man who has just lost his wife. Jo Cox is already being missed, but if her legacy is a challenge, a change to the lazy rhetoric that seeks to blame all of society’s ills on immigration, then her message will live on.