LIKE so many people, I’ve walked along Westminster Bridge both as a tourist and on my way to meetings in and around the UK Parliament. It’s such an iconic and familiar setting that many of us will have instinctively recalled previous visits when news came through on Wednesday of the horrific terrorist attack in London.

Yesterday at First Minister’s Questions I wanted to convey my deepest sympathies to the friends and families of those who were killed and to pay respect and convey the gratitude we all feel toward those who step forward in such circumstances – both the emergency services like PC Palmer who lost his life, and bystanders who helped the injured.

Thursday afternoons are normally a chance for MSPs to grill the First Minister on the many issues under the control of the Scottish Government. But the sombre tone taken by everyone this week was very different. At times like these it’s right to put our differences aside and share words that will unite us.

I think those exchanges reinforced for me the reason why suspending the debate the day before, as news began to emerge of what was happening in London, was the right decision. That debate on the need for a Section 30 order to allow legislation for an independence referendum was hugely important in its own right, but to continue when so many people’s thoughts were on the terrible situation at Westminster would simply have been wrong.

I understand why some people were making the case for democracy to carry on in defiance of what had taken place, but the reality is that many people in the chamber were deeply concerned for the safety of colleagues and friends working at Westminster. And to continue a debate specifically about the relationship between these two parliaments would have been profoundly disrespectful. It needed to wait, and it will now be continued on Tuesday next week.

My immediate thoughts on Wednesday were for the safety of my colleagues and friends, the Green MP Caroline Lucas and her team. Of course like everyone else their whole team were “locked down” inside the Westminster fortress late into the evening, and I was soon able to get in touch with them and knew that they were safe.

For many people the barrage of images, comment and analysis about events like this must be bewildering, and I know that many people find it particularly difficult to help children understand what’s happening.

I grew up at a time when the Cold War created insecurity and fears of violent destruction on an unimaginable scale. I can barely imagine the impact on those growing up today of seeing the brutal reality of Wednesday’s attack, and others like it. Their experiences not only of what they see in the news and in the social media torrent, but also their experiences of our response as a society – these experiences will shape their understanding of the world around them.

That’s why we all have a responsibility, in politics, in the media, in our education system and in wider society, to overcome those fears and to ensure that young people grow up with those same values of respect and empathy that MSPs of all parties spoke about this week. We need our young people to have a belief in the capacity of humanity to stand together; and at times that can be a difficult belief to sustain.

It’s vital too that we respond robustly to any increase in hate crime and prejudice in Scotland and that we confront any presence of such far-right threats in our society. It’s a sad truth that the far right are already trying to make political gain out of this attack by attempting to demonise and blame those who are not responsible. There are people in our society, in our media and in politics in this country and others, who are continuing to express racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments, to advance their hateful agenda.

The truth is that those behind this type of terrorist atrocity wish to inflict a lasting injury upon us all – by destroying the empathy and solidarity which a decent society depends upon. They want to use fear, suspicion and prejudice to drive a dividing line between us and our Muslim neighbours. We must deny them what they seek, and in particular we must challenge those who would seek to blame, stigmatise and alienate people on the basis of their religion.

The debate on Scotland’s constitutional future will continue, perhaps intensely for years to come. I hope that as we conduct that debate we can all exemplify that empathy, and that solidarity, making it abundantly clear that our critics who draw false comparisons between Scotland’s independence movement and the divisive populism we see elsewhere could not be more wrong.