In so many ways Jo Cox’s death is shocking. It can’t be rationalised because it is irrational. It defies explanation or justification. This is why it troubles us so much. I earnestly hope the trial of the man accused of her murder provides her family with some answers.
Her death has, however, raised questions about the risks our MPs face (along with their staff) and the contempt with which our “political elite” are held. Whilst this debate has resulted in much handwringing in England, in Scotland it is nothing new. During the build up to the independence vote we saw the hate and vitriol in politics increase. We saw people assume the moral high ground and from those lofty heights anyone holding an opposing view was fair game. Many MPs were denounced as “quislings” and were subjected to “community justice”.
For many, opposing views could not be respected or even heard. Public meetings moved from heckling (part of our political culture) to people being shouted down. Our great referendum became, for many, about good versus evil.
The EU referendum has done the same in the rest of the UK. People are being told that somebody else is responsible for their problems and that getting rid of them will solve everything… and we’ll all be richer when that happens. The barrier to reaching this nirvana is, of course, a corrupt political elite, so called experts and a biased media. The parallel with Scottish independence debate is clear.
Outside the binary world of our referendums what people don’t see is that the “political elites” of both sides actually work together on many issues and that much of the work they do in their surgeries makes a huge difference to their constituents. That’s why Jo Cox was respected so much locally – she did a good job of helping people with the boring stuff like noisy neighbours, dog crap, bin collections and planning issues.
I’m convinced that if more people met their local MP, MSP or councillor we’d all have more respect for them. Some are better than others, but the vast majority are well intentioned and want to make a difference to people’s lives.