NICOLA Sturgeon has warned airstrikes would “help rather than hinder” terrorists on the eve of today’s Commons vote, which will see MPs back a RAF bombing campaign in Syria.
he First Minister raised concerns about civilian casualties and criticised David Cameron’s strategy on the ground as she confirmed that the SNP will vote against military action.
The real danger, in our judgement, is that a military intervention would result in civilian casualties and more chaos on the ground in SyriaNicola Sturgeon
The Prime Minister looks set to win the clear majority he needs to press ahead with his plan to target Islamic State from the air when the issue is put to the House of Commons in a day-long debate.
With strikes expected to begin within hours of the vote being held, Mr Cameron chaired a Cabinet meeting yesterday that saw UK ministers approve a motion authorising airstrikes and setting out plans to pursue a political solution to Syria’s four-year civil war.
After Cabinet unanimously agreed the motion, Mr Cameron appealed for MPs “across all parties” to support him.
Many Labour MPs are expected to back Mr Cameron after Jeremy Corbyn agreed to allow his party a free vote on issue – handing the Prime Minister a comfortable majority.
But at a press conference at Bute House yesterday, Ms Sturgeon outlined her misgivings about the UK extending its bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria.
The First Minister said she shared the aims of showing solidarity with France in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and achieving peace in Syria. But she expressed reservations about David Cameron’s plan to use 70,000 moderate Syrian soldiers to fight the ground war against IS, also known as Daesh.
“The question is whether UK airstrikes in Syria will help to meet that objective and our judgement is that the case has not been made,” Ms Sturgeon said. “The case has not been made that adding UK airstrikes to those already being carried out by a range of other countries and in the absence of a ground strategy will make a meaningful contribution to defeat of Daesh.
“The point about reliable, effective and co-ordinated ground forces is is not an academic point. Without them, the targeting of airstrikes is more difficult and the likelihood of civilian casualties is greater. Without effective ground forces the question of who takes, retains and governs territory vacated by Daesh remains unanswered.”
She added: “The real danger, in our judgement, is that a military intervention would result in civilian casualties and more chaos on the ground in Syria, [which] ends up, albeit entirely inadvertently, helping rather than hindering Daesh. It is for these reasons that I can confirm that SNP MPs will vote against airstrikes in the House of Commons tomorrow.”
Describing IS as a “evil death cult”, Ms Sturgeon did not dispute the “serious and very real threat” posed to Scotland and Europe.
And she praised the tone struck by the Prime Minister when he made his case for dropping bombs in the House of Commons, but said there was an “honest disagreement” about how to tackle IS.
Ms Sturgeon said there will still be questions about the ground strategy, describing the Prime Minister’s claim that there was an army of 70,000 moderate Syrians to help achieve his objectives as a “heroic assumption”.
She said: “There is no real answer in terms of who these people are. Whether they are effective. Whether they are co-ordinated. They are not under any central command. Many of them are focussed on fixing not Daesh but the Assad regime.
“I certainly hope that I am not standing here and making any irresponsible predictions about whether airstrikes in Syria will increase that terror threat when it is already at severe. That is a very serious position to be in. But nor am I convinced that it will make us safer.”
Ms Sturgeon was also concerned about the lack of plans for the reconstruction of Syria after the conflict and argued that more needed to be done to cut off money, weapons and access to IS propaganda.
Last night it emerged that an anti-bombing amendment supported by the SNP, some Tories, some Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the SDLP will be put before parliament today.
The UK government motion authorises airstrikes in Syria, sets out plans to pursue a political solution to the country’s civil war, commits Britain to humanitarian support and assistance with post-conflict reconstruction and rules out the deployment of UK ground troops.
Speaking after Cabinet met in Number 10, Mr Cameron said: “That motion talks about, yes, the necessity of taking military action against Isil in Syria as well as Iraq, but it is part of a broader strategy. It’s about politics and diplomacy and humanitarian aid, all of which we need to bring to bear to bring peace to Syria, but to make sure we protect our national interest of fighting against this appalling terrorist organisation.”
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn claimed there was “no hiding place” for Labour MPs after he agreed to the free vote.
Mr Corbyn gave in to demands to allow his MPs to vote with their consciences after facing a rebellion from members of his shadow cabinet who support airstrikes. He had originally wanted to whip his MPs into voting against Mr Cameron and the Conservative Party.
“I agreed to a free vote that recognises there are differences of opinion within the party,” Mr Corbyn said.
“The vast majority of party members are opposed to war in Syria, the majority of Labour MPs are opposed to war in Syria, but I have a spirit of democratic openness in which I agreed on a free vote, so every member has their responsibility to make their decision on whether this country goes to war.”
He added: “It seems to me that we are stepping into something that is potentially very dangerous and rather unknown.”
Mr Corbyn said that any bombing campaign would result in civilian casualties.
“Is that actually going to help the political process or should we not be putting our efforts into a political settlement in Syria, supporting the Vienna process and what is going on with that? Surely that is a much more profitable way forward than this?”