Terror in Westminster

SCOTTISH politics took a back seat this week, as events were dominated by the terror attack in London. Arguments about the date of a possible independence referendum, were overshadowed by the terrible news from 400 miles south.

By chance, I was in the capital on Wednesday with 3x1 colleague Lindsay McGarvie. We’d arranged a series of meetings in the capital, including some in and around the House of Commons. We heard about the attack – though details were still sketchy at the time – as we travelled from the airport into the city.

The whole area of Central London for a distance around the Houses of Parliament was sealed off. I called an MP on his mobile and he explained that everyone who’d been in the Commons chamber at the time the alarm was raised had been locked in and weren’t allowed to leave. In the event, he and his colleagues were kept in the chamber for six hours, before being released.

Later, after everyone had been allowed to leave the Palace of Westminster premises, we spoke to another MP, who explained that he’d left the chamber just as the alarm sounded, so he’d been able to sit out the crisis in the comfort of his own office.

That evening what struck us was the resilience of Londoners. Bars and restaurants seemed even busier than would have been normal for a Wednesday evening. It was as if people were making a positive statement that they were not going to be cowed, or change how they live, by a terrorist attack.

Next morning, we walked to Westminster along the banks of the Thames. Non-Parliament passholders were allowed no closer than the bottom of Horseferry Road, at Lambeth Bridge. There, the banks of TV cameras were set up, with presenters from around the world sending their reports, with the Houses of Parliament in the background.

Of course, no system is perfect, and the security services say that they have prevented a dozen terrorist attacks on the UK in the past 18 months. However, serious questions must now be answered, such as should all police at Westminster – or for that matter, at Holyrood – be routinely armed?

A balance between individual freedoms and a surveillance society has to be struck, and that’s a debate which must now take place urgently.