‘Bairns not bombs’ isn’t an adequate response to Syrian atrocities
By Graham Grant
IN the face of the unspeakable horrors being perpetrated in Syria, the SNP – with its usual ‘message discipline’ – stands united.
Its response to the chemical attack on Syrian civilians, including children, has been implacable opposition – to the UK Government.
Yes, it has condemned the atrocity, but most of Nicola Sturgeon’s ire has been directed at the ‘macho stand-off’ between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
No less a political heavyweight than Paisley SNP MP Mhairi Black has weighed in to warn that ‘throwing more missiles at the war-torn country will help nobody’.
Expanding on her theme, she said Theresa May had acted ‘off the back of what President Trump decided to tweet that morning’.
She also lambasted the UK Government’s failure to hold a Commons debate on the subject – thus depriving us of the opportunity to hear more of Miss Black’s wisdom…
Glenrothes SNP MP Peter Grant tweeted that ‘if [the] early timing of military strikes was decided on the basis of what was politically advantageous for the Prime Minister rather than for any military benefit, it’s a gross betrayal of UK service personnel’.
Mr Grant was praising former BBC journalist Paul Mason who backed a suggestion by his ex-colleague, Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America editor, that Mrs May pushed for early strikes ‘to avoid having to get parliamentary consent’ (Mr Mason added: ‘That’s the democracy you now live in.’)
Could it be that the timing of the attacks wasn’t quite as mysterious as these commentators suggest?
If more time had been lost, the chemical stores obliterated in the air strikes early on Saturday would have been moved, ready to be deployed again in yet more monstrous acts of depravity.
Miss Black also reminded us of the Commons vote in 2015 which authorised air strikes against Islamic State in Syria – when the 54 Nationalist MPs all obeyed the instruction of party whips and rejected the plan.
Back then, Ian Blackford, Nationalist MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and now SNP group leader at the Commons, tweeted: ‘The Labour summing up has just been enthusiastically clapped and cheered to the rafters by the Tories. Better Together lives on.’
Indeed several contributions from the SNP followed the same lines, implying that the desire to defeat terrorists was an imperialist ambition of the reviled British state.
Just as much intellectual heft has been exhibited by the SNP’s big hitters this time around, as they speak up for the voice of an institution – the Commons – which is normally the target of their naked contempt.
While most of us are equivocal about intervention in a long-running conflict, the SNP’s apparent uniformity of opinion fails yet again to represent the diversity of views in the country it represents.
Alex Salmond – now host of a TV chat show on a Russian propaganda channel – has said ‘if this reversion to Royal prerogative is allowed to stand it makes UK participation in future conflict much more likely’.
But then again in 2013 he asserted that an independent Scotland would not have rejected the prospect of military intervention against President Assad, as the Commons did at that time.
And he infamously spoke out over the air strikes against Serbia in 1999, branding them ‘unpardonable folly’, when in fact, the British intervention in Kosovo ended what the United Nations (UN) later described as ‘a systematic campaign of terror’.
One has to question then just how much credibility the SNP can muster on foreign affairs, particularly when the party, which backs Nato membership, is signed up to the alliance that approves the air strikes.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, said the aim of the attack was ‘to reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the Syrian people with chemical weapons’.
He called for a ‘collective and effective’ approach by the international community, but the SNP disavows that response – while simultaneously issuing strong moral condemnation of the chemical attacks.
Miss Black wants to ‘increase our efforts to document those involved in chemical warfare infrastructure to help back war crimes prosecutions’.
But as Mrs May has said, there were ‘clearly attempts to block any proper investigation [of the chemical attack], as we saw with the Russian veto at the UN’.
Miss Sturgeon claims Western allies had failed to exhaust all diplomatic means to pressure the Syrian government into abandoning its chemical weapons.
But it would be an understatement to say there is little available evidence that the regime in Syria is willing to listen to reason.
The SNP in effect is supportive of a position of relative inertia in the face of wholesale slaughter, advocating conversation with a man who is murdering his own people.
‘Bairns not bombs’ was the slogan bandied around by supporters of a Yes vote in the run-up to the 2014 referendum, -but when the ‘bairns’ are being gassed, the scope for this kind of wilful naivety dramatically narrows.
If there had been more decisive action back in 2013, when MPs including the SNP (and 30 Tory rebels) voted against air strikes in Syria, it is at least possible that the bloodshed would have been curbed..
Ed Miliband, who opposed joint UK and US intervention, said that David Cameron must ‘find other ways’ to put pressure on President Assad, similar to Miss Sturgeon’s stance now.
Presciently, former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown said at the time that by doing nothing, chemical weapons ‘will become more commonplace in the Middle East battlefield’ and ‘we will feel the effects of that as well’.
Barack Obama, facing a hostile Congress, backed away from air strikes after President Assad said he would agree to give up his regime’s chemical weapons, in a plan engineered by the Russians.
In the years that followed, the ‘other ways’ advocated by Mr Miliband, and now by Miss Sturgeon, have failed – while the death toll in Syria has continued to rise.
Meanwhile other sections of the Nationalist movement are in full flight from reality in the realm of international affairs.
Former SNP MP Phil Boswell retweeted a comment by ‘The Black Saltire’ suggesting that the nerve agent used in the attacks on Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yulia last month was ‘in service in the US [and] UK’.
Another former SNP MP, George Kerevan, wrote yesterday that ‘the West is talking up the threat from Russia’ partly because ‘it needs a bogeyman in order to justify increased defence spending’.
For SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald, a concerted attempt to prevent further savagery by the Assad regime is nothing more than ‘gesture bombing’.
This is trite nonsense that mocks the bravery of our servicemen and women.
It is also a ‘gesture’ that could yet have serious repercussion in the form of cyber-reprisals designed to destabilise the British state.
The scores of innocent civilians who died in the chemical attacks 10 days ago deserve more than the student union politics of the SNP and its sixth-form soundbites.
*This article appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail.