Leaders: Reshuffle not good news for Scots

Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore was replaced as Scottish Secretary by Alistair Carmichael. Picture: PA
Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore was replaced as Scottish Secretary by Alistair Carmichael. Picture: PA
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Michael Moore has some reason to feel disappointed at being sacked as Scottish Secretary. And if the reason for his replacement by Alistair Carmichael is that Mr Moore was too level-headed when dealing with political opponents and a more abrasive approach is needed, then this re-shuffle is a gamble, the wisdom of which has yet to be proven.

Mr Moore was not a minister given to over-trumpeting his achievements, but in truth they were considerable. He managed to pilot the Scotland Act through the House of Commons, enhancing the fiscal powers of the Scottish Parliament by a considerable margin.

This was achieved against considerable opposition – some of it overt but most of it covert – not from the Labour opposition, but from back-bench Conservatives highly suspicious of anything which looks like appeasement of Scottish nationalists or which hands greater power to a devolved parliament which they think is already too big for its boots by far.

Mr Moore was also in charge of securing the Edinburgh Agreement on terms on which the Scottish Parliament could legislate for the independence referendum. Not only did he have to find ways through interminable obstacles, but he also had to stand aside (as is often the lot of relatively junior ministers) to allow David Cameron and Alex Salmond to claim all the credit.

Perhaps he has also suffered a penalty inside his own party, the Liberal Democrats, for his relative modesty. Its members regard themselves as the only true home for home rule, often misunderstood as a synonym for independence, which it is not.

And when the party has grasped a prize it thought well nigh impossible – one of its own holding the second most important political office in Scotland and advancing closer to genuine home rule within the UK – its members may well have thought that the holder would use it as urgently as possible to restore the party’s languishing fortunes.

That, however, is not Mr Moore’s style, even if it were possible. It is much more Mr Carmichael’s way of operating. But whether his tenure does anything to enhance the party’s standing in Scotland is of secondary importance, by quite some distance, to the main task of being the face of the UK government in the year of referendum campaigning ahead.

In Mr Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon, and John Swinney, the Nationalists have three of the best performers on the political stage today, having proven themselves highly capable in government and in political public debate.

In place of the image as the voice of reason that Mr Moore appeared to be cultivating, Mr Carmichael is being billed as a more combative personality. Is this the right approach, amid signs that the higher the volume goes in these debates, the more confused they get? This sends a bad signal about the expected level of maturity and thought we can expect.

America must tread carefully

The United States special forces raid on Baraawe in Somalia did not achieve its objective of killing or capturing an Islamist terrorist believed to have been responsible for the Kenya shopping mall atrocity. But at least, reports so far suggest, no innocents were killed either. So, no great damage to Western interests then?

Well, actually, there may well be quite serious consequences.

The US seems to be intent on pursuing its global policeman’s role, but the operations in Somalia and Libya represent unusual tactics of snatch squad-style ­incursions aimed at specific ­individuals.

Good intelligence identifying and locating the targeted terrorist is essential. Small inaccuracies (one report suggests the person being sought was there, but in a different house) can cause the mission to fail. And the consequences may amount to a reverse. Al-Shabaab, the terrorist organisation targeted, will now be able to claim as proof of its power that it could repulse and damage the finest fighting unit that the mighty US could send.

Such claims are invaluable in attracting money and recruits. Giving recruits a sense of invulnerability is an important factor in being able to send them on missions to kill and destroy people and property regarded as the enemy – which is to say, pretty much everybody and everything.

Behind that lie lurking doubts about the morality of such operations. This one was known to the Somali government in advance and thus legitimised to some extent. But how long will it be before the mark is over-stepped in the name of an over-riding US self-interest and innocents get killed? Then the consequences may be much worse.