2014 Referendum, Alex Salmond, Antiwar, Iraq, Iraq War, ISIS, Islamic State, John Swinney, New Labour, Opinion, Pete Wishart, Politics, Scottish Independence, Scottish National Party, Scottish Nationalism, SNP, Tommy Sheridan
One of the most stirring and heart-warming fables from the history of the Scottish National Party recounts how, back in 2003, they “opposed” the second Iraq War. Indeed, it is by now impossible for anybody in Scotland to forget about this fact.
In 2003, the Scottish parliament, which does not have any say on UK foreign policy, held a non-binding debate about the looming invasion. The SNP’s John Swinney tabled motion S1M-3760, which stated that, “Resolution 1441 does not provide an authorisation for military action in Iraq and… any such use of force would breach international law.” The motion was amended by Labour to assert the contrary and the SNP original was defeated by sixteen votes. Whilst the Lib-Dems sided with the SNP, Labour voted en-masse for the war, with only three Labour MSPs abstaining.
S1M-3760 has since proved a shrewd political investment for the SNP. Indeed, the profits have increased year by year. For a centrist party with a penchant for introducing startlingly authoritarian legislation, the SNP has relied upon its war record to maintain a durable connection to the Left. Of course, the SNP is an existentially parasitic organisation which, just like UKIP, seeks to bloat its nationalistic membrane with old, sucked-up Labour voters. The continuous reminder that Labour had supported the Iraq war only exacerbates this haemorrhage.
And so in a Scottish parliamentary debate last year, the First Minister Alex Salmond told a Labour opponent that “people died because of his votes in this parliament.” An SNP press release from the same time, entitled “SNP marks 10 years since Holyrood Iraq debate,” only manages to crowbar in a mere ten references to the current Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s vote for the war. The SNP’s Westminster MP Pete Wishart is characteristic of that unique lyricism which his party always achieves on the topic of Iraq: “Scottish Labour ignored the will of the people and pressed on with a disastrous war policy, resulting in the death of tens of thousands of people.”
Wishart repeats the standard SNP refrain that “the people didn’t want it,” even though a majority of the people’s representatives had actually voted for the war. With this, we arrive at the most fundamental implication of S1M-3760: the SNP had come to naturally reflect the “will” of the Scottish people, even though they hadn’t been elected to do so. The SNP simply know and reflect what the Scottish people want, apparently through a process of mysticism.
Well, thank goodness for the SNP! Because the US’s military–industrial complex and its allies are presently sliding into a third Iraq war, meaning that we are now attacking this beleaguered country at a rate of once every decade (excluding those US air strikes which act in lieu of civil policing). Moreover, Iraq War III threatens to be even more murderous than previous outings. In 2003, the “coalition of the willing” was fighting a state apparatus with identifiable military infrastructure. Today, however, the targets include whole cities which will have to be mysteriously subdued by aerial bombardment, with the bombs alone somehow ushering in the required political and cultural changes. The Islamic State (an organisation which we have such an advanced, interventionist knowledge of that we can’t even agree upon what to call it) is also, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, camouflaging its fighters as civilians. America will no doubt recruit the Kurdish sector as “boots on the ground” but there will have to be substantive air support before the Kurds ever show their faces.
When Alex Salmond was confronted on the BBC’s Scotland 2014 with news of this intervention, he knew exactly what to do. He drew upon the “lessons of the past” and the SNP’s famous anti-war principles:
In not every international situation are we going to depart from the policies of our friends and allies. Why should we? On the contrary, when they’re acting collectively, properly, within the rule of international law, then of course we would support that… the UK government thus far has acted within the rule of international law, but I would like a very clear statement that that’s what they intend to do in future. I think that the United Nations should be mobilised far more in the crisis we’re seeing in Iraq and Syria than it has been to date… Why don’t we use and trust in the international institutions?
What the hell does this gibberish even mean? For the past decade you’ve been selling yourself to the Left as the man who opposed the Iraq war. Now, when there’s finally another Iraq war, or at least a situation in which Iraqi cities are being already subjected to US or US-backed air strikes, you’re suddenly talking this strange, airy language about diplomatic courtesies.
It’s as dismaying as learning that the lifeguard who always sits overlooking the pool is not automatically going to enter the water when somebody is drowning. For the SNP’s opposition to the (second) Iraq war was perfectly principled; it is merely the way in which it was spun that is humbug. Tychy doesn’t believe that international law even really exists, instead defining this phenomenon as the cloaked will of the most powerful sovereign states. Salmond, on the other hand, has no objection per se to war and all of its abominable consequences, so long as somebody has glued together a “legally” permissible right to intervene.
Perhaps this reflects the SNP’s rather brainless acceptance of international bodies, most conspicuously the EU, as being essentially benign. Yet it’s possible to interpret Salmond’s periods of long, loud silence on the Islamic State as constituting a similar anti-war stance to that shown in 2003. Some members of the UN Security Council might veto a motion to formally invade Iraq (rather than the dressed-down bombing which is already taking place), and this would oblige Salmond to withhold support from a third Iraq war. Admirably, the same logic had led him to condemn the NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999. Unfortunately, given the diplomatic responsibilities of an aspirant state-builder, Salmond is unlikely to say anything very assertive about this latest Iraq adventure. It’s no longer 2003 or 1999 and this decadence is no longer an option.
It’s important to note that in 2003 the SNP were only anti-war max rather than outright anti-war. When good old Tommy Sheridan tabled an amendment to S1M-3760 which stated that, “there is no moral, humanitarian or military reason to go to war with Iraq whether or not the UN gives its approval,” the only nationalist politician who supported this out-and-out anti-war position, Margo MacDonald, would be expelled from the SNP days later (for unconnected reasons). Incidentally, the Green MSP, Robin Harper, one of the five other MSPs who supported the amendment, is today on the No side. The nationalists joined Labour and the Tories to indicate that if Hans Blix had found some morsels of yellowcake uranium in Iraq, the UK could have freely invaded one of the poorest and most demilitarised countries in the world on the “legal” basis that it was a threat to our security.