IT’S taken the harrowing photograph of a dead child to change public attitudes en masse. People who just a few weeks ago were more upset by the disruption to their holiday arrangements than by the plight of desperate refugees have suddenly had a lightning jolt to their consciences. Now even backbench Tory MPs and right-wing tabloid newspapers have discovered that the people they demonise as “illegal immigrants” actually love their children, just like everyone else. Let’s hope it’s not just a passing fashion.

It’s shocking that little Alan Kurdi’s dignity in death had to be sacrificed in order to let some light into the dark recesses of our prejudiced society. All year, refugees, including children, have been dying as they try frantically to escape the international horror movie directed by the leaders of the West.

Refugee organisations, children’s charities and individuals and those honourable politicians with the courage to stand against the stream have tried to get everyone else to sit up and take notice. They might as well have been shouting in a dark cave, their voices echoing back unnoticed by the outside world.

While people were washing up on the beaches of the Mediterranean, falling from the undercarriages of trains, and dying from dehydration in the back of trucks, the UK held a General Election where the two main UK parties danced to the racist tunes blasted out by DJ Nigel Farage. And when the votes were counted, England voted resoundingly for a Prime Minister who referred to the human beings fleeing wars designed in Washington and London as a “swarm”.

David Cameron has claimed that rescuing drowning people will only encourage them to board rickety boats. But let’s be clear: the surest way to stop people handing over their life savings to traffickers so that they can board these rickety boats is to provide safe routes out of the war zones and the economic deserts.

In Scotland, there is clear government and public will to open our doors. But immigration, refugee and asylum policy is under the control of Westminster. Had the referendum gone the other way, Scotland would now be ready to take its place at the international table of nations, influencing the whole of Europe and the rest of the Western world to show a bit of humanity.

In the absence of compassionate leadership by governments, people have taken things into their own hands. In Hungary, people are driving to the border to pick up refugees because the government refuses to provide transport. Social media is ablaze with offers of spare rooms, putting the governments of the West to shame. This outpouring of generosity stands out in luminous contrast to the callous indifference of the political and business elites.

Those who are in a position to help could start by looking at the website of the Scottish Refugee Council – – which has published a 10-point guide showing how people can offer effective help.

While the organic, spontaneous response by millions of caring individuals is heart-warming, it should not obscure the fact that the global refugee crisis is a political problem that needs political solutions. Sending toys and teddy bears to children without food or blankets may be well-intentioned, but it is no substitute for coordinated action by governments, backed by expert agencies.

The Scottish Refugee Council itself suffered a 62 per cent cut in funding from the Home Office in 2011. Other agencies elsewhere in the UK have also been slashed and burned by this government.

Meanwhile, the UK Government bars its door to all but an infinitesimal minority of the millions of global refugees. Up until now, just 187 Syrian refugees have been granted asylum in Britain, according to Amnesty International, while debt-ridden Greece has seen 700 times that number enter its territory.

This crisis should force us all into a fundamental rethink of immigration. For too long the right wing has set the tone, with its incessant torrent of bigotry. The message is daily drummed into us that migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are barbarous hordes that will destabilise our supposedly civilised society.

The reality is the people who make it to Europe are resourceful, resilient and talented. More than 40 per cent of Syrian refugees are graduates. With political permission to work, they could help build any additional infrastructure necessary.

Look around you – at the potholes, the derelict land, the empty buildings. There is plenty that needs to be done. But we live under a distorted economic system that sees people as mouths to be fed rather than as assets that can help us build a better civilisation. Why do we see human talent as a problem and not an opportunity?

Back in 1848, 43,000 people from Ireland arrived in Glasgow within four months – a rate of 2,500 a week into a city of less than half a million. That scale of immigration is mind-boggling compared to the paltry figures we are dealing with today. Not only were they absorbed – they helped make Glasgow the great city that it is today.

We’re all people of the world. We all love our children. We all want to live and thrive. It’s not too much to ask for. When little Alan has faded into memory and the thousands of teddies are dog-eared, I hope our compassion, our humanity and ability to connect with fellow humans across the globe is still alive.

Donations pile up as Scots respond to refugee crisis

Kevin McKenna: Are we really willing to open our homes to refugees?

SNP renew attack on Cameron over slow response to crisis

Call to halt demolition of Red Road to provide housing for refugees

Letters to The National, September 7: Shocking image is moving us to question the UK Government’s feeble response to refugee crisis

The National View: Refugee crisis must bring out the best in human nature

Cheering crowds offer a welcome to refugees in Munich

Nicola Sturgeon keeps pressure on the UK to do more, saying she would welcome refugees into her home

George Kerevan: Don’t believe the lies about UK support for the Kindertransport