Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: values in a free world

This week should have been about condemning David Mundell and his hyperbolic claim that the Scotland Bill has fulfilled the Smith Commission recommendations, which was the vehicle to turn the much-vaunted Vow into practical terms. Sadly events in Paris changed this.


Instead my story starts on Friday 6 November as I set off for a long weekend in the Tarn, a rural area of North Midi-Pyrenees not unlike the rich farmlands of Strathmore. I have been here twice before and love the tranquility of my friend’s family hideaway. Arriving in Toulouse, I was struck by the presence of armed police patrolling the railway station. I kind of expect that in airports all over the world but less so at train stations in frankly deepest provincial France.


My week did what I thought it would. Relax me with good food, good wine and an escape from the rat race of work. In making my way back, another sign that something was different was an alert from Easyjet to make more time in getting to the departure gate as there was additional security measures in place. This turned out to be a passport check by the French before boarding the return to London. I’ve only ever experienced this in flying to the US. Still, it was suggested that this was preparations in the lead up to Paris hosting climate change talks at the end of November.


Fast forward to last Friday night and the horror that unfolded in the streets, stadium and concert hall of Paris. The shock to people in this country was palpable and many have questioned why when more people were killed within recent days from suicide bombs in Beirut and Baghdad and the mass shooting of 147 Christian students at a university in Kenya. There are a number of reasons. They are not necessarily scientific. They probably aren’t justifiable. They just are.


The media in Western countries hardly reports deaths in the Middle East and Africa. Many of the places, we can’t relate to. Many people have been to Paris. They can picture the scenes in their own minds, bringing it disturbingly alive. Just as the Troubles in Northern Ireland de-sensitised us to death on our very own doorstep, so it takes deaths in places we least expect it to shock us.


There are, of course, many who are taking advantage of the situation to peddle their base prejudicial fears and bigoted agenda. Step forward the likes of Britain First and the Scottish Defence League. For all their animosity in protesting against ‘Islamist fanatics’, they are not far short in wanting to use similar terror albeit of a more mental version. Yet the reality is that there a tiny number of people in the world who are hell bent on their crusade against the liberal values of freedom, equality and comradeship, in all corners and not all of them use their particular brand of religion to cloak their evil means to power.


Let’s face it. Terror is a tool to gain and maintain power. Power that isn’t won in a democracy where ideas are championed or not by a free people. This is where a minority want power to control those they can’t convince by rational argument. To enforce their views on others by bullet rather than ballot.

The converse of this, of course, is that revenge bombing isn’t necessarily the answer either. Because we are talking of small numbers of people all over the world, obliterating a hardcore rump in northern Iraq and Syria is not going to end the problem.


Tackling the root cause. Seeking a solution that gains international respect and recognition is needed which is why the debate in the coming days and weeks about what the UK will do in Syria and Iraq is so important. ‘Bombing the b*****ds’ may salve the conscious of some but is more likely to lead to conflict in these shores. I wouldn’t pretend to have all the answers but history has taught us that a just resolution is the only sustainable end result.