Eilidh Whiteford – 2016 Speech in Tribute to Jo Cox

Below is the text of the speech made by Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP MP for Banff and Buchan, in the House of Commons on 20 June 2016.

Today, this House is united in grief. In Jo Cox we have lost a respected and treasured colleague and friend, and on behalf of SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs and the people we represent, I want to pay tribute to a remarkable woman whose passion, determination and dedication characterised the short time she was with us, and rubbed off on those around her.

I was lucky enough to know Jo long before either of us was elected to Parliament, when we both worked for Oxfam. Jo was an inspired and inspiring colleague. When we first met, Jo, still only in her twenties, was already heading up Oxfam’s advocacy office in Brussels, lobbying to make trade fair for developing countries, and she was a joy to work with.

Jo was incredibly talented. She was very smart, focused and driven, but it was the way she worked with others that really marked her out: she was supportive, inclusive and generous, and she radiated positive energy. Jo really was a bright star who helped others to shine. She could have done anything with her life, but she chose to spend it helping others and making the world a better place.

Inevitably, over the last few days I have been sharing memories of Jo with many of our former Oxfam colleagues, some of whom worked far more closely with her on a daily basis than I did. I want to share with the House just a few of the things they said, because they sum up well the sort of person Jo was before she entered Parliament and the values that she brought with her. One of her friends says:

“Jo brought energy, fun and an absolute focus on wanting to improve the lives of those living in poverty. She was determined to make Governments do more to end the conflict in Darfur and protect civilians. She embodied what it meant to be a true humanitarian.”

Another says:

“The wonderful thing about Jo was how much she genuinely cared—for those around her and for those far away. She was not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve.”

Another friend describes her as:

“A massive bundle of brains and energy—a woman who radiated friendly warmth and intellect.”

Almost everyone I have spoken to has mentioned how connected Jo was to her Yorkshire roots. As one friend observed:

“She was proud of where she was from, but rightly saw no contradiction between that and caring about the lives of people on the other side of the world.”

We often witnessed that here in Parliament too, where Jo fought with equal resolve for refugee children fleeing Syria and the children in her own constituency growing up in poverty. I like to think that it was those deep, strong roots in her own Yorkshire community that enabled Jo to branch her arms around the world with so much love. She was proud of Yorkshire; Yorkshire should be immensely proud of her. I laid white roses for Jo at the vigil in Aberdeen on Saturday organised by Lewis Macdonald MSP and Dame Anne Begg, but I know that Jo’s friends and former colleagues have been holding memorials for her in countries all over the world.

The last time I saw Jo was at the Macmillan Cancer Support parliamentary tug of war event just a couple of weeks ago. The conventional wisdom is that height and weight are distinct advantages in tug-o-war. [Laughter.] Jo had neither of those attributes: her stature was quite possibly the only thing about her that was diminutive. Nevertheless, there she was pulling for the women MPs’ team with every ounce of her strength and every fibre of her being, and with sheer, dogged determination. That is how I want us to remember her: this strong, brave, determined woman giving her all with absolute commitment. I want to remember Jo Cox for how she lived, not how she died. I want her to be a symbol of the politics of hope, not the politics of fear.

This Parliament is a lot poorer for Jo’s passing, and we in the SNP and Plaid Cymru extend our sincere condolences to her colleagues and friends in the parliamentary Labour party. Jo’s constituents in Batley and Spen have been robbed of an outstanding and dedicated MP—the person they chose, democratically, to be their voice in this place.

To Brendan, Cuillin and Lejla, and the Leadbeater family: we know your loss is immeasurable and that your lives have been changed irrevocably. We hold all of you in our hearts. I hope that in time, when they are older, Jo’s children will come to understand more fully just how much their brilliant, beautiful mother was able to contribute to humanity in her short, purposeful and well-lived life. Jo, those of us who knew you will never forget you. I hope you rest in peace.