Appropriate behaviour

On social media, and perhaps elsewhere, there has been some questioning of the appropriateness of suspending proceedings at Holyrood in the wake of the incident in London yesterday. Regardless of the merits of this particular case, such questioning raises a valid point. How do we rate these incidents? How do we keep score? What criteria do we use to decide which incidents are worth suspending parliament for and which aren’t?

There will always be somebody who considers any incident serious enough to warrant this kind of response. How do we tell them we regard that incident as relatively trivial?

I’m not saying it was wrong to suspend proceedings at Holyrood. That was a matter for the parliamentary authorities. They had to use their judgement. And there were doubtless practical considerations in this instance. But it is inevitable that, at some point and in some circumstances, that judgement will be called into question.

These things tend to escalate. Once suspending proceedings is introduced as a token of respect, increasing numbers of people will demand that same token as the due response in circumstances they identify as warranting it – genuinely or as a political device. The exceptional gesture becomes first a desirable bauble, then a valued commodity and eventually a general ‘right’.

It also develops into a weapon. Failure or refusal to afford the tribute is used as a stick with which to beat opponents.

It’s akin to the Princess Di effect. Mourning becomes a competitive spectator event. The worth of the deceased is measured by the number and size of the improvised shrines erected in their memory; and the amount of ‘impromptu’ public grieving that is caught by cameras; and the number of times some mawkish message is retweeted.

Afraid to be considered disrespectful, people join in the snowballing process. Unwilling to allow that their favourite dead celebrity is somehow less worthy of celebration than some other dead celebrity, they try to outdo one another in the theatricality of their ceremonials.

Very quickly, it all becomes a bit tacky. Eventually, it gets to be quite obscene.


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About Peter A Bell

Thinker. Listener. Talker. Reader. Writer. None of my attitudes are immutable. None of my conclusions are final. None of my opinions are humble.
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4 Responses to Appropriate behaviour

  1. Orlando Quarmby says:

    Did Westminster completely suspend the business of the day on the day of Dunblane?

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    • Peter A Bell says:

      I don’t know. And it really shouldn’t be some kind of competition. The point of my article being that this is what tends to happen, whether we want it or not.

      Like

  2. Ken says:

    You have to consider the bigger picture. Because of the times we live in and the high security status that the UK is under, the security services have to consider all the aspects of every situation. This attack, on Westminster, by a lone perpetrator could have been a diversion. There could be others with similar ideas deciding to carry out the same style of attack on the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or anything else at the same time. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t just fly one plane into the Twin Towers and the 7/7 didn’t just blow up one bus in London. The FM would have to go and meet with the security services and discuss all the options. So do you think that the debate should just have carried on without the FM’s presence?

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    • Peter A Bell says:

      The decision on suspending proceedings was not for the FM, but the parliamentary authorities in consultation with Police Scotland. Although there may be arguments for having continued with ‘business as usual’, this was probably impractical in the circumstances. As far as I am aware, nobody here has disputed the decision to suspend the debate.

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