Conservative MP David Amess's murder will not stop elected politicians from meeting the people they represent – Angus Robertson MSP
Everyone who knew David Amess, myself included, has been shocked and horrified by his murder. Although a conviction politician, he was kind, friendly and considerate to all, regardless of their point of view, a committed family man and constituency representative. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
In the wake of any tragedy come a thousand questions about why such a thing happened and what could have been done to stop it. It is right we pose these questions following Sir David’s passing and rigorously explore answers now.
Let me be clear from the off, however. Being with and available to the public is part of an elected representative’s job. Simply put, one cannot adequately represent people if one avoids them.
Nothing is risk-free and we have to take some risks to do our jobs effectively. We are not special in taking such risks in the name of public service. Over the past 18 months, doctors, nurses and millions of key workers have stood bravely and continued to work in the face of enormous danger to themselves and their families.
Moreover, and as many have commented, Sir David considered meeting and helping his constituents to be the central function of his job and constituency surgeries were his key method of doing this. This is the case for most representatives.
So how can we still see and interact with the public while mitigating danger? For a start, members can check in with their respective parliamentary security service to ensure all current safeguards are in place. Then we can begin to turn to other proposals for greater safety.
There are some immediately available and practical solutions. For example, in response to the coronavirus pandemic and in recognition of the need to modernise interactions between the people and their representatives, my team and I developed a virtual surgery booking system.
This allows those who are more vulnerable (or just time-conscious) to select a slot online to speak to me via Zoom instead of face-to-face. As well as being more convenient for many, it mitigates any risk of physical threat to those present during a surgery.
As mentioned, however, we must still be available to the public in person. One suggestion – supported by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown – is making available a police officer to representatives during surgeries, should they wish.
No doubt this would be effective, but we must be conscious of how actions like these affect the constituents. For example, the presence of a policeman or woman may perturb some people from seeking help, especially if their case involves the police or potential questions of lawfulness.
As with everything, it is about finding the right balance. I am confident that the parliament and officials overseeing our safety will find optimal solutions going forward.
But we must keep going forward. Indeed, I cannot think of a single parliamentary colleague, past or present, who will be less committed to their job now than they were prior to Sir David’s passing.
Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary
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