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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 23 May 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Attack on Manchester, Topical Question Time, Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Oath, Business Motion, Decision Time, World Hypertension Month


Attack on Manchester

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Colleagues, there is a tangible sense of shock and sorrow in Parliament as we come together today and reflect on the events of last night in Manchester. The fact that those deliberately targeted in the attack were innocent children and young people, who had come together to enjoy a concert, makes the news all the more devastating. However, with our sorrow comes compassion and a sense of determination—compassion for the victims and their families; gratitude for the emergency services and all those who rushed to the scene to offer help and comfort; and determination to stand with the people of Manchester in the face of such horror.

Flags are flying at half mast at Holyrood today, as a mark of respect for the victims. I have, this morning, written to the mayor of greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, on behalf of the Scottish Parliament, sending our thoughts, prayers and support to all those affected by these awful events. Members will also wish to know that a book of condolence has been placed in Queensberry House that all are invited to sign.

I now call the First Minister.


The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

It is with great sadness that I rise to speak today. Last night, in Manchester, we witnessed a horrific attack on innocent people enjoying a pop concert. My thoughts and those of this Parliament—indeed, the thoughts of all the people of Scotland—are with those who have lost loved ones or who have sustained injuries in this dreadful atrocity. There can be nothing more cowardly than attacking children and young people enjoying a fun night out.

Across Scotland today, we stand in solidarity with the people of Manchester—a great city with which so many people in Scotland share a close affinity. This morning, I, too, have written to Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, offering the condolences of the Scottish people and pledging any possible practical support that the Scottish Government or any of our agencies can provide.

We express our gratitude to the emergency services who continue to work to ensure that people in Manchester and around the country are safe. Their dedication and bravery in running towards danger as others run away stands in sharp contrast to the cowardice of those who carry out such atrocities.

Shortly after we received the first substantive reports of the incident, in the early hours of this morning, the Scottish Government’s resilience room was activated. At 8.30 this morning, I chaired a meeting of the resilience committee, which was attended by the Deputy First Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, the Lord Advocate and senior officers from Police Scotland. In the past half hour, I have received a further update from Police Scotland, and I will chair a further meeting of the resilience committee later today.

The Scottish Government and Police Scotland have been liaising closely with colleagues in the United Kingdom Government and with police colleagues in England and Wales throughout the night and during today. I was also updated by the national security adviser earlier this morning.

At this point, as has been confirmed, tragically, 22 people have lost their lives and 59 have been injured—many of them, no doubt, very seriously. Within the past hour, an eight-year-old girl has been named as one of the victims. We know that there will be much more heartbreak like that to face in the days ahead.

Currently, we are aware of four people who have presented at hospital in Scotland. I understand that two have already been discharged and that a third is likely to be discharged during the course of today. Indeed, I have received information that none of their injuries is life threatening. I confirm that Police Scotland are also in contact with and offering support to the families of Laura MacIntyre and Eilidh MacLeod, the two young girls from Barra who are still unaccounted for having attended the concert last night. It is hard for any of us to imagine the anguish that their families are going through right now. They are in our thoughts, and the Scottish Government and Police Scotland will do all that we possibly can to ensure that they have all the support that they need.

We cannot be sure, at this stage, that no other Scots are affected, but we continue to liaise closely with Police Scotland to gather information and to provide all appropriate support. What we do know is that there may be some people travelling home today or in the days ahead who will have been witnesses to the events of last night. Therefore, as part of Police Scotland’s efforts to assist with the on-going investigation, police officers will be present at motorway service stations and will work with the British Transport Police at major train stations to identify any possible witnesses returning to Scotland from Manchester.

What happened last night was a brutal terror attack. At times like this, it is understandable—unavoidable—that people feel scared and anxious. That is why it is my priority, working with Police Scotland, to ensure that we offer reassurance, but also to ensure that all appropriate protective and precautionary measures are being taken.

It is important to emphasise that, at this stage, the security threat level remains unchanged, at severe. I also stress that, at this time, there is no intelligence of any increased threat or risk to Scotland. However, as a precautionary measure, Police Scotland has increased security at key locations such as transport hubs and city centres. There has also been an increase in the number of armed police and armed response vehicles being deployed across Scotland.

Police Scotland will keep all those arrangements under review, as well as the arrangements for security at the various events that we know are upcoming over the next few days, which range from the small daily events and celebrations that make up the fabric of our society to large-scale football matches, marathons and VIP events. That includes reviewing every event that is due to take place over the next 14 days to ensure that a consistent and appropriate approach is taken across the country. For example, a full review of the Scottish cup final will be carried out with the Scottish Football Association to ensure that there is an appropriate deployment of police officers. That is in addition to the work that will be done to ensure public reassurance around the night-time economy and crowded places more generally.

I am being briefed regularly and updated on the police response, and I am sure that the public will draw reassurance from the substantial uplift in visible policing on the streets. However, I stress—as others have done and as it is important to do—that such measures are precautionary. My message to the public is that they should remain vigilant and report any concerns that they have to the police, but that they should also go about their everyday business as normal.

Presiding Officer, as you and others have said, last night’s attack was particularly cruel in its targeting of young people enjoying a pop concert—an event that many of them will have been looking forward to for months. That they should have been confronted with such horror is utterly heartbreaking.

There will also be many other young people across the country who will see on the news and on social media the kind of images that we wish they never had to see, and many young people might feel particularly vulnerable. This is a time to ensure that we talk to our children, at home, at school and when we hear them talking among their friends. We have been in touch with Young Scot this morning, as well as with Education Scotland and local authorities, to provide guidance and support to help with those conversations. Young Scot has issued the details of an information line that offers a safe space for any young person in Scotland to make contact and get information. It is also developing an online resource with key information and content to help meet young people’s needs, which will emphasise the importance of respecting other people and their opinions, the emotional impact of the event and how to differentiate between accurate and false information.

We know that terrorists and extremists seek to divide us and to destroy our way of life. As human beings, we cannot comprehend the twisted motivations that lead people to carry out such atrocities, particularly when they target children and young people in such a callous way. Our best response now—and always—is to stand firm together, with determination and in solidarity, to make it clear to those who seek to undermine our values, target our children and destroy our way of life that they will not succeed now or ever.

Today, there are many people who are suffering pain and grief that we can scarcely imagine, and there are others who are still consumed by worry and uncertainty about their loved ones. Let us hold them firmly in our hearts today and in the many difficult days that lie ahead.

Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

I associate myself and my party with every word of the First Minister’s statement. We extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to all the families of those who were murdered last night. Our prayers, too, are with those who, as we speak, are being treated in hospital, many of whom have injuries that are life threatening.

Today, the terrible personal cost of last night’s outrage is becoming clear, as the names of those who died begin to emerge. We know that many of those affected are young—they are children, teenagers and young people who were experiencing the thrill of a night out. They were enjoying a carefree evening that was ripped apart by terror. They left behind parents, family and friends who are asking why someone they do not know and with whom they had no quarrel decided last night to target their daughter, their grandson or their sister. We simply cannot imagine their pain today, nor can we contemplate how someone could deliberately choose to target innocent children and young people.

It feels beyond our simple comprehension. There are no words, but as the Prime Minister said earlier today and as the First Minister has just articulated, we must try to find them. We must repeat that we will not be beaten by the twisted ideology of terrorism and that we will not ourselves descend into hatred or rage. We will repeat, repeat and repeat that we stand tall, we stand together and we respond to every act of terror that strikes our nation by shouting from the rooftops that our values and freedoms cannot and will not be diminished. They are the values that are shared by people of all religions in this country and of none: the values of tolerance, openness and respect for one another; and the values of common humanity, bravery and generosity that saw hundreds of police, paramedics, doctors and nurses work through the night to respond to a situation that they could never have conceived, and saw householders and taxi drivers opening their homes and offering lifts to help those affected.

Let us all in this Parliament extend our solidarity with the people of Manchester who, like the people of Paris, London, Brussels and Nice, have responded with courage and decency in the face of cowardice and evil. Manchester will now be added to the grim roll-call of those cities across Europe that have been affected by this terrorism. Like those other cities, it will first cry, then grieve and then continue with spirit unbroken, showing that terrorism will never win.

We are informed today that the terrorist threat level across the UK remains at severe. What further reassurances can the First Minister give people that our exceptional police, defence and security personnel are doing all that they can to keep us safe?

The First Minister

I thank Ruth Davidson for her comments. As I said earlier, the security threat level remains at severe. It is of course for the joint terrorism analysis centre—JTAC—to assess the on-going situation. However, Police Scotland has already confirmed to me that, following this incident, it has reviewed security across Scotland to ensure that the right level of policing is in place to meet operational requirements and ensure that the public are reassured that security will be provided to an enhanced level.

As I said in my statement, the police have significantly increased the number of firearms officers who are on duty and there has been a proportionate increase in armed response vehicles and officers on duty. As members will understand, it is not appropriate to go into all the detail of the deployment of police resources, but I am assured that the police are taking all appropriate steps. As I also said earlier, they will review security around all the events that are coming up in the days ahead. I will continue to liaise closely with the chief constable and other senior officers in Police Scotland in the days ahead to make sure that all appropriate steps are taken to keep the population of our country as safe as possible.

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

They would have been dressed in pink and in sparkles, with bunny ears perched on their heads and grins on their faces: the very picture of innocence. The children who went to see American pop star and Disney television actress Ariana Grande at the Manchester Arena last night would have been unable to contain their excitement and the atmosphere would have been electric. Every one of us has been there and been one of them, enthralled by the sound and vision of a pop star at their peak, and desperate to see in the flesh the person whose image we have plastered on our bedroom walls.

Being at a gig is a moment of sheer joy, but last night that joy was destroyed in a despicable act of cowardice. All that excitement and innocent elation turned to fear, shock and horror. Just hours after they arrived, children left that concert crying, screaming and utterly bewildered by what had just happened, their ears ringing not with the echo of pop music but with the blast of a bomb. Today, those children will know that 22 of those who had shared the joy of that concert alongside them are dead, that 59 people are in hospital with terrible injuries and that too many parents are still desperately searching for the children who have not come home.

Those children will know, too, the phrase “suicide bomber” and the appalling reality of what that means. A story that they might have watched on “Newsround”, couched in age-appropriate language to soften the roughest of edges, has brutally intruded into their young lives. For us, as adults, hearing news of terrorist atrocities, be they bombs, bullets or cars mowing people down in the street, is, sadly, all too commonplace now. We tend to cover our children’s ears and eyes to protect them from that knowledge and we hold them closer, all too aware of the fragility of their precious lives. However, for those children and young people who witnessed last night’s abominable act, there is no softening the blow, no making it better and no suggesting that these things do not happen here, or to us, or to people we know. They are now fully aware that, when someone determines to kill others, when someone purposely straps a bomb to their body with a twisted plan to detonate it amongst innocent children, there is nothing that any one of us can do to prevent the inevitable horrific outcome. And we cannot explain it to them. How can we tell an eight-year-old that there is a justifiable reason why children died last night? How can we explain the actions, the thought process, of someone who can look at a concert full of young people and see nothing but a target?

However, what we can do is respond well. We can teach our children that the only way to counter such barbarity is not with hate and fear but with compassion, tolerance, kindness and love, like the people of Manchester did last night, flocking to help, taking people home, offering places to stay and searching for children who had become separated from their parents; and like those who work in our emergency services did—as they always do—running unflinching towards horror rather than away from it, to offer comfort, care and rescue.

No doubt, over the coming days, we will discover the name of the coward who chose to kill excited children at a concert, and there will be attempts to understand why they did it. For those who are grieving, there will be no worthy answers. For those left traumatised, there will be no comprehension. Does the First Minister agree that what there will be, though, is a toughening of our resolve in the face of terror, a renewal of our belief in the enduring British values of tolerance and respect and a determination to make sure that such horrific acts will never undermine our freedom or our democracy?

The First Minister

Again, I thank Kezia Dugdale for her comments. She has described very powerfully and in a very poignant way the excitement that so many children and young people would have felt last night setting out to a concert that, for many of them, would have been their first experience of such an event.

I do not think that a single one of us, when we have been listening today to the news of these events, will not have pictured a child or young person in our own lives—for me, it is my 10-year-old niece, herself a massive fan of Ariana Grande and somebody who could have been at a concert like that last night—and it brings it home so personally to all of us.

The truth is that there is no way that we can explain to young people why those people died last night, because there is no justifiable reason for it, but we can help those young people to process and come to terms with what happened. That is why, as well as the Government’s duty to work with the police to keep our population as safe as possible and the duty that we all have to support and give gratitude to our public services, we all have a responsibility in the days ahead to help not just those young people who were at that concert in Manchester last night but those other young people who will have watched the scenes on their televisions today to understand, to process and to come to terms, and that is why the work that I have described, which Young Scot is leading, is so important.

However, above all else, I agree with Kezia Dugdale that the most important response that we can give to terror and to terrorists is to stand firm in defence of the values that we hold dear. It is those values that they seek to destroy, and it is those values that we must defend and protect with everything that we have got.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

On behalf of the Scottish Green Party, I express our deepest sympathies to those who have been affected by this vicious attack—those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, those who are desperately seeking news and those who are recovering, some of whom may be living with their injuries as well as with the impact of this horrific experience for the rest of their lives.

I express our gratitude to those who responded: the emergency services, the staff at the venue, concertgoers and passers-by, and all those who acted out of common humanity in opening their doors or offering help of any kind to those who needed it in the aftermath.

In recognition of the grotesque motivations behind such an act—the intention to divide our society and to sow further hatred—I agree with the First Minister that our response must be grounded from the first moment in a determination to stand together and to strengthen the bonds between us.

The First Minister said that she is being regularly briefed on the security aspects of the situation, and I am sure that the Scottish Government will wish to keep the Parliament informed. As we move forward in that regard, we must always keep in mind the need to preserve our commitment to being a free and open society, in which security measures are used where needed, but are not allowed to become a way of life.

I wish to ask the First Minister about the Scottish Government’s preparedness for any possible reaction expressed in the form of hate crime. She is right that our best response is to stand firm in solidarity. That means ensuring that terrorism never achieves its goal, and also that those who react to it out of hatred, prejudice or a demand for retribution also never achieve their goals.

What actions is the Scottish Government taking by way of communication between the Scottish emergency services and those in the north-west of England? Are there opportunities for us to share resources, skills and experience and to support one another?

Finally, a brief reflection on Manchester. I lived there for around five years, as a student and shortly after. Not long after I left Manchester, it experienced a terrorist bombing in the city centre. Manchester came together. Its people stood together and supported one another. They became strong and showed their resilience. I have no doubt at all that Manchester will do the same again.

The First Minister

I thank Patrick Harvie for his contribution.

Two points are worth making in response. First, I reassure Patrick Harvie and the Parliament that our emergency services, the Scottish Government and all of our agencies stand ready to provide whatever support and assistance we are able to give, today and in the days ahead. Our police service and our national health service have already made it clear that they stand ready and able to provide assistance, and we will ensure that there is an awareness and understanding of what assistance we are able to provide as the situation further develops. As I have said, Police Scotland, as will always be the case in such situations, is doing what it can to assist with the on-going investigation.

The second point to touch on is that of community cohesion and the need to be vigilant against hate crimes. We must not speculate at this stage about the identity or background of the individual who carried out this atrocity. That information will undoubtedly become known over the course of the next few days. We must be clear, even at this stage, that the individual was not acting on behalf of any section of our community or of any faith in our society; this was an individual committing criminal, terrorist atrocities. Part of the purpose of such atrocities is to seek to divide us and turn us against one other, and we must be absolutely determined that that will not be allowed to happen.

One of the issues that was discussed at our resilience meeting this morning was the need to guard against hate crimes and to do everything that we can to protect the cohesion within our communities. I assure the chamber that that will be one of the priorities that will remain at the forefront of our minds in the next few days.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I thank the First Minister for coming to the chamber to make her statement. I express my absolute condolences to the people and to the children affected, to their families and to the support services that are helping them as best they can.

This morning was a moment when, as we woke up to the news on the radio, we tried to turn it off—as if, by not hearing it, we could make it not true. We are all horrified that such an attack could take place on young people who were full of joy and fellowship.

When we confront such heartbreaking news, we have to be clear in our answer to the question, “What did you do?” Ordinary people in Manchester threw open their homes to give shelter, and there were queues to donate blood. Let it be the case that we said that we will live for hope, joy and fellowship. We will work to end division. We will stand with all those communities who want peace. We will use intelligence and devoted duty to seek out and stop those individuals who choose to kill fellow humans and sow fear. They will not succeed. Our better human values will prevail.

It is hard today, here and in Manchester, to say that, but our better human values will prevail. Will the First Minister take forward those sentiments?

The First Minister

I thank Willie Rennie for his comments. I thoroughly endorse those sentiments. I assure the chamber that, in everything that we do in response to the incident, we will seek to take forward those sentiments and to make sure that they lie at the heart of our response, not just to this or any atrocity, but to how we live our lives.

It is an important point that, out of the darkness, the sadness and the horror of last night’s event, hundreds upon hundreds of acts of simple human kindness very quickly began to shine. Probably more than anything else today, that should give us all strength, confidence and belief that the terrorists will not succeed, because they are up against something that is much stronger than any of them: the kindness of humanity and the values that hold us all together.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you, First Minister. I thank all the party leaders for their thoughtful and moving contributions this afternoon. I ask members, all the staff who work across the parliamentary estate and our visitors to the public gallery, if they are able, to stand and to join together in observing a minute’s silence.

Members observed a minute’s silence.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you. I suspend proceedings until 2.40.

14:32 Meeting suspended.  14:40 On resuming—