In his Remembrance speech at Scottish Parliament Scottish Green Party co-Convenor Patrick Harvie joined Lothians MSP Alison Johnson, John Finnie MSP and Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard and a number of Edinburgh Councillors in declaring support for the Memorial to Conscientious Objectors.
In his statement in support of the First Minister’s Motion of Remembrance Patrick said “On this 100th anniversary of the armistice, Scotland marks the bravery of those who fought, but it still has no memorial to those other brave people who risked imprisonment, torture or execution by their own Government for having the courage to say no, they would not kill their fellow human beings. This, too, must be remembered, and if the proposal for such a memorial becomes a reality, it will offer a place to reflect on the lives of those who have worked for peace in our history and around the world.”
In her letter of support Alison Johnstone wrote: “While British soldiers and sailors who have died in wars are amply remembered with public monuments I believe it is also important that recognition be given to those who, following their consciences, have refused to participate and actively opposed wars. A memorial to COs and war resisters in Princes St Gardens, set amongst numerous war memorials, will rightly encourage visitors to this World Heritage site in Scotland’s capital city, to reflect on the possibilities of peacebuilding and conflict resolution and on the traditions of individual liberty and internationalism that have shaped current political and cultural norms such as tolerance and diversity.
Tommy Sheppard wrote: Conscientious objection and opposition to war has been especially strong in
Scotland, making up a significant part of our shared history, yet there is little space for recognising the voices of those who have resisted wars.”
Following on his call week for the Scottish government to mark remembrance by ending its ties to arms manufactureres. and wearing a white poppy to remember all victims of war Patrick Harvie raised questions that most politicians turn away from in connection with Remembrance: “We must remember and honour those who lost their lives, but to make that act meaningful, we should also remain true to the other sentiment that was expressed so strongly in the years immediately after the war. It was not only “never forget”, but also “never again”. On that second imperative, we have shown far less commitment. As we stand in remembrance of the first world war dead and all the victims of all wars, across the world today, in places like Rakhine, Yemen and Palestine, conflict rages on and the war profiteers in this country and around the world carry on their lethal business. This, too, must be remembered.”
Alison Johnstone also flagged up the fact that the Memorial will not only honour male COs: “Conscientious objectors in Britain have not only been men; women too have refused conscription, particularly during the Second World War. I understand that this memorial will recognise as well the major role of women in peace movements, women like Chrystal Macmillan, who travelled from her home in Edinburgh to the Haig in 1915 to participate in a conference of the Women’s International League that called on the warring countries of Europe to submit to arbitration.”
She went on to were flag up related timely issues like the questions that are being raised around monuments to slaveholders. “In these times when monuments to slave holders are being taken down across the United States it seems only too fitting that a memorial to those who have resisted wars should respectfully raise questions about the assumptions implicit in the predominance of war memorials in our public spaces.”
A number of Edinburgh City Councillors have also voiced their support for the Memorial. Green Cllr Chas Booth said: “I think it’s fantastic. It’s clearly beautiful and it encourages thought, it encourages respect for those who showed the bravery to stand up in the past to war.” Conservative Cllr Nick Cook praised “the consideration and the thought that has gone into this”.
Cllr Lesley Macinnes who formerly worked for a landmine and cluster munition non-governmental organisation said: “I was tasked with dealing with the impact of those weapons both during conflict and post-conflict. I’ve witnessed and understood very clearly the impact of war on human lives – the practical, the social, the very human cost attached to war. I think it’s very important that the voices that represent opposition to that can be heard in every situation. “I think it’s very important that it’s heard in Scotland’s capital city.”
Councillors unanimously supported the proposals with the exact location to be decided by officers. Green Cllr Chas Booth said: “I think it’s fantastic. It’s clearly beautiful and it encourages thought, it encourages respect for those who showed the bravery to stand up in the past to war.”
Conservative Cllr Nick Cook praised “the consideration and the thought that has gone into this”. Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes who formerly worked for a landmine and cluster munition non-governmental organisation said: “I was tasked with dealing with those weapons and the impact of those weapons both during conflict and post-conflict. I’ve witnessed and understood very clearly the impact of war on human lives – the practical, the social, the very human cost attached to war. I think it’s very important that the voices that represent opposition to that can be heard in every situation. “I think it’s very important that it’s heard in Scotland’s capital city.”
We welcome Patrick’s remarks in which he calls upon us all to reflect on what it means to remember: “What can it mean to stand in remembrance of such staggering and unnecessary human suffering? What does it mean to honour those lives? It is, in part, a continued commitment to observe the intention that has been maintained strongly throughout the century quite simply to never forget. However, it must also be a chance to reflect on the nature of that war, an atrocity committed by the powerful against the powerless, as millions of young men were forced to enlist, marched across Europe and sent into fields and ditches to face mutual slaughter. That was, indeed, an atrocity committed by the Governments of both sides against the people of both sides, an atrocity committed also by the companies that sold arms to both sides or told lies to both sides to make war more likely and line their own pockets. This, too, must be remembered.”
We can only repeat with Patrick ” If we are to truly honour those who were sent to that fate, we must be faithful to both imperatives: we must have the continued resolve to say “never forget”, but we must also find the courage to say “never again”.
John Finnie MSP is the first of the Parliamentarians to make a donation in support of the Memorial. We hope more Parliamentarians and Councillors will signal their support.
Everyone who is able to do so is invited to donate and help make the Memorial a lasting sign of our aspirations for a world without war.