Euan McColm: A question for the SNP over IS

A QUESTION: How do you go about “winning the peace” with an enemy of such barbarity that it will use rape, torture, murder and the grotesque execution of aid workers to further its cause.

Weve seen photographs of humanitarian workers  including David Haines of Perth  paraded in front of the world and then beheaded. Picture: hemedia
Weve seen photographs of humanitarian workers  including David Haines of Perth  paraded in front of the world and then beheaded. Picture: hemedia

The answer: You don’t. You try everything in your power to destroy them.

For months, Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Iraq and Syria have carried acts of murderous depravity that are hard to contemplate.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

We’ve seen photographs of humanitarian workers – including David Haines of Perth – paraded in front of the world and then beheaded. We’ve read reports and seen pictures of the scenes of mass murders by theocratic fascists.

And we’ve heard the most stomach-churning stories of women being sold to IS killers, kept imprisoned and repeatedly raped.

There is no getting round the table with these people. There is no negotiating to be done. Isil’s killers dream of a global caliphate and anyone of any faith, Muslims included, who doesn’t share their Islamist views is a “legitimate” target.

The idea that there is peace to be won with Isil is farcical.

And yet the SNP’s group of Westminster MPs – along with MPs across the chamber, 43 in all – voted against the government’s motion to involve British forces in bombing raids against these psychopaths on the basis that there should have been such a plan.

The nationalists’ Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, had made the party’s position clear by tweeting during the debate that MPs from the SNP would vote against the UK government’s motion which made “no mention of plan for winning the peace”.

Interestingly, the SNP’s Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney, appearing on BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night, had said that the behaviour of IS extremists merited intervention. Not only this, but Swinney recognised that the current situation was very different to the 2003 invasion of Iraq which he had opposed.

So why did his colleagues at Westminster decide that military action would not be supported?

Cynics might believe a political game was being played out.

A strong, thick thread of the SNP’s message for more than a decade has been that an independent Scotland would not have supported the invasion of Iraq that led to the downfall of dictator Saddam Hussein and left a country in crisis.

In 2004, Alex Salmond was a leading member of a group of MPs who launched an attempt to impeach former Prime Minister Tony Blair over his role in agreeing that the UK would join America on the mission.

And, since then, senior Scottish nationalists have made the argument that an independent Scotland would have chosen a very different course of action.

This message has served the SNP well. Throughout the referendum campaign, the First Minister – and many of his colleagues – argued that a Yes vote would guarantee no involvement in any “illegal wars”.

During Friday’s debate, Robertson made an eloquent contribution. He recognised the horrors of IS and spoke of his and his party’s support for Britain’s armed forces. However, he warned, a great many people listening to proceedings might share revulsion at Isil yet have a “deep, deep scepticism about the potential for mission creep and for a green light for a third Iraq war”.

But it was what he said afterwards that rang alarm bells. Robertson told the BBC that he did not believe that an independent Scotland would have backed air strikes.

This was easy to say, of course. But, given the referendum result, Robertson’s claim is conveniently untestable.

The case that, in fact, the SNP has decided to move forward, in foreign policy terms, by simply opposing whatever position “unionist parties” adopt grows stronger.

Robertson’s colleague Angus MacNeil’s contribution to the debate was to ask whether, had the Prime Minister not lost a vote on intervention in Syria last year, the ensuing action wouldn’t have made IS stronger still.

Yet in the aftermath of David Cameron’s Commons defeat last September, Salmond seemed to suggest that an independent Scotland would have agreed to participate in military action against Syria – if it had been backed by the United Nations.

An independent Scotland would work with allies, he said, and this was an “indication” of the role it would play on the international stage.

There is no requirement for a UN-agreed solution when it comes to the current action against IS. The sovereign government of Iraq has pleaded for help and a coalition of 60 nations – including Denmark, so often cited by the SNP as an example of the sort of country an independent Scotland might be – are involved in this ­mission.

No, there may not be a clear plan for “winning the peace” but it is clear that IS’s maniacal killers would have no interest in such an outcome, anyway. They do not seek peace but domination by relentless, inhuman violence.

Opponents to action – across the political spectrum – continue to cite the aftermath of the 2003 invasion as reason to step back on this ­occasion.

But, even if we accept their rather binary analysis, it hardly seems a compelling reason to let Isil continue. Arguing that one should not try to clean up a mess on the basis that it’s messy does nothing to help the families being slaughtered or the women being sold into rape camps.

Would an independent Scotland have voted against acting to stop IS killers?

We will never know. But, had it done so, then it is hard to see how this would have helped bring about the necessary end to the group’s campaign of terror. «

Twitter: @euanmccolm