MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
There are people missing today…
We know now, though, that we can weather the storms together, we know that we can face the toughest of challenges
All across the country there are empty seats on the sofa, voices that never answer, beds unfilled. Grief haunts us. Loss is everywhere, as the pandemic stalks the streets, so does the sadness of the bereaved.
People die all the time, life is finite, we all march down that road to that same destination; always and always people die. To keep on living is that bit harder now.
In usual times, in times without the virus, without the fear and without the restrictions, we have the rites to hold us up. The habits of the generations, the comfort of friends, the touch of loved ones, the rituals of the funeral, the muttered condolence, the tenderness of strangers - these things carry us until we can, once again, carry ourselves. If you’ve lost someone in these times, though, those comforts were missing.
No crowd of friends to witness the last ceremonies of life, no line of mourners sharing condolences, no neighbour helping to make tea and to cut sandwiches. We will all promise that we’ll meet ‘after this’ to remember, to celebrate a life, to talk about the times we had, to offload some of the grief but we know it’s not the same.
After this - a time that cannot come too soon - will be a time when many of us put our lives back in order, perhaps do things a little differently, maybe have different priorities or new challenges. But after this will also be a time when those who have lost so much will feel that loss again, this time without the solidarity of society.
It’s spring in Scotland, a time of hope, of renewal, of rebirth and we have a lot to feel grateful for. Researchers have done amazing work in creating vaccines so quickly; scientists have helped us understand what is going on and the health service is saving lives and vaccinating us.
Scotland and her people have come through the early parts of this pandemic together; we’ve built a stronger community in some ways, learned a bit more about our neighbours, reached out to volunteer to help strangers; we’ve built a resilience out of the necessity to support each other.
We have a long way to go - I don’t know medicine or epidemiology so I can’t tell you how long this virus will threaten us but I look around at the devastation that it has brought and it’s not too hard to tell that it will take years, many years to rebuild.
We’ll need each other for a long time yet, even after the pandemic has passed. Lives will need to be rebuilt, people will need to find ways to earn a living, and we’ll need to learn to cope with the aftershocks of Brexit while we rebuild.
There will be politicians telling us we need to repay the cash spent during the pandemic while they spend billions more on nuclear weapons.
There will be people saying it all proves that they were right all along. There will be economists saying the poor have to be poorer because there was a pandemic.
We know now, though, that we can weather the storms together, we know that we can face the toughest of challenges and meet them as a society, as a community, as Leithers, as Scots, as friends, and, as neighbours. If we can get through this, what is there left that we cannot do?
We can choose what kind of future we want, we can choose how to go forward - we don’t have to stick with the old ways. There is promise in the future, excitement… Optimism even.
As this pandemic fades into memory and then into folk memory and onward into the history books, there will be new dreams, new lives, new ways of working and new ways of socialising.
When restrictions ease we need to get out there and start rebuilding, start creating opportunities, make a better place to live in.
And when you’ve done that, remember the people who have been lost. Pop into your neighbour’s house and drink that tea and eat those sandwiches and when there’s a memorial service make sure you go because it’s not only about the people who have died. It is also about the people who are still here. And some of them will have that empty seat beside them still, and that wee insistent silence where there used to be a voice.
We’re going to need a lot of kindness. We’re going to need the best of our society, the best of ourselves.
We are going to have to reach out and become a friend.