Leaders: Foreign policy test for Salmond

Mr Salmond's response to the IS threat could play significant part in independence referendum. Picture: Michael Gillen
Mr Salmond's response to the IS threat could play significant part in independence referendum. Picture: Michael Gillen
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THE threat by Islamic State (IS) militants to murder kidnapped Scottish aid worker David Haines brings home the global reach of the Islamic jihadists who are currently running amok, with gruesome consequences, in Iraq and Syria.

Western intelligence agencies now assess the threat from IS as greater than that from any other terror group, eclipsing even al-Qaeda. The leaders of the three main UK political parties, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, have over the past week been edging towards a common position on IS that would allow for British warplanes to join the United States in attacks on IS positions, aimed at halting their progress across the region and disrupting their command and control operations. A co-ordinated response from the West is taking time to come together, due in large part to the complexity of the international partnerships – some with countries that have previously not been counted among our friends – that are necessary if a military campaign against IS is to be successful, both in the short and long term.

While Cameron says such military action would not necessarily require the agreement of parliament, it seems likely that this issue will, before too long, be put to MPs in the House of Commons. At this point it is unclear whether the united front being presented by Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will be joined by Alex Salmond on behalf of the Scottish National Party.

This is of more than just academic interest. In less than two weeks time Scots will go to the polls to decide this nation’s constitutional future. Part of the debate about whether Scotland should be an independent country concerns itself with the role a Scottish state, outwith the UK, would play on the world stage. As such, it is entirely reasonable to examine the views and instincts of the man who would be prime minister of Scotland on the first day of independence, and would subsequently seek to govern the country on the world stage. His actions now are the best possible guide to his actions in the future. So, what is Salmond’s position on IS?

The First Minister’s response is explored in detail in our news pages today, and will come under increasing scrutiny in the days to come. But already some difficulties for the SNP are becoming clear. The nationalists have modernised a key part of their defence policy by ending their opposition to membership of Nato. But the other pillar of their defence stance – the nostrum that any military action by an independent Scotland would have to be under the authorisation of the UN’s Security Council – remains untouched. It is this policy, at a time when Security Council member Russia is led by the belligerent Vladimir Putin, that now looks potentially troublesome. Ultimately, could this effectively give Putin a veto over military action by an independent Scotland? Could it, for example, prevent an independent Scotland’s involvement in any Nato military effort to limit Russian expansionism in Eastern Europe?

In the shorter term, in the coming weeks, would the SNP’s policy on the UN prevent Salmond from giving his blessing to UK military action against IS? This may prove to be a moot point. The first minister may have no intention of lending his support to the third Western military intervention in Iraq in 25 years. Indeed, he may see such an intervention as reinforcing his political point in the referendum about the need for Scotland to have its own foreign policy.

All this has still to play out, and it is not yet clear what the views of Scottish voters are on the prospect of UK military action against IS, and therefore what impact such decisions might have, if any, on the referendum. But with the vote so finely balanced, foreign affairs could be set to play a far more significant role in deciding Scotland’s future than could have been confidently predicted at the start of the campaign.

Deliver a gentle entrance to this world

ANY parent can attest to that combination of exhilaration and naked fear the moment a baby, swaddled in a brand-new blanket, is carried from the maternity ward to the waiting car, leaving the hospital to go home for the first time. It is quite a disconcerting transition – from the reassuring medical support that is obvious in the hospital ward to the bracing fresh air of the outside world, when the parent or parents are on their own. So there is an appealing logic to the plan being announced by Greater Glasgow Health Board for a half-way house – a “dedicated discharge area” between ward and home, where the mother can rest and be assessed before a decision is taken to let her take the baby back to its freshly painted room.

In recent times many women have been of the opinion that giving birth has become too “medicalised” – that what should be a perfectly normal human function has become more and more like a medical procedure. This has produced a desire among some women for an experience as close to “natural childbirth” as possible. And yet at the same time the majority of mothers still want the security of knowing sophisticated medical back-up is available should it be required. The half-way house area can be seen as a creative response to those apparently competing desires.

The suspicion will be that this is just a way of saving money, This new arrangement in Glasgow will ensure mothers are not lying in hospital beds for longer than is necessary, ensuring a faster turnaround. But as efficiency measures go, this is one that can be said to have a human rationale as well as a financial one. The hospital ward is still the appropriate place for the period of time immediately after the birth, but once it can be established there are no complications, a less formal setting is a good idea.

Of course, this can only work if there is no diminution of the quality and consistency of care provided by qualified doctors, midwives and nurses. Not every post-natal problem is evident immediately after a birth. And not every mother is comfortable being pushed out of the door of the hospital just a few hours after walking in pregnant. As always, what is needed is a system that takes mothers’ views – and interests, medically and emotionally – fully into account.