With strong signs that the UK is preparing to join the US in air strikes against the Islamic State (IS), the First Minister has been urged to clarify the SNP’s position on the crisis.
David Haines, a 44-year-old aid worker and father of two from Perth, is being held in Syria by IS fighters who have executed two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
Salmond says he is supporting the UK Foreign Office in their treatment of the hostage issue. But on the wider question of whether the SNP backs military force against the militant organisation, the first minister has yet to clarify his position.
Prime Minister David Cameron last week said that Britain was “not yet” at the point of air strikes but added that “clearly a military commitment is required”.
The UK Government is examining the possibility of RAF bombing missions with the help of the democratically elected Iraqi Government, whose call for assistance could provide a legal basis for intervention.
Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have also laid out their position arguing the military action will not be enough and that political and diplomatic options must be pursued.
Yesterday the Scottish Government was asked if Salmond would back military action against IS.
The question was asked on the grounds that the Middle East situation was likely to be the subject of a vote shortly in the House of Commons, and in the interests of finding out how an independent Scotland might deal with such a scenario differently.
The Scottish Government referred Scotland on Sunday to a statement by Salmond last month in which he said that in terms of military action it was “imperative that the UK Government moves through the United Nations route and does not repeat the tragic mistakes of 11 years ago”
This was a reference to the 2003 Iraq War which went ahead without UN backing amid huge controversy about its legality.
Salmond added: “There can be no effective military action without international legality.”
Last night the Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander claimed Salmond’s reliance on this statement raised “serious and urgent” questions.
Alexander said: “Given all the dangers and uncertainties in the Middle East today, governments around the world are considering how to respond effectively and keeping a range of options open.
“In this context Alex Salmond’s remarks raise some serious and urgent questions. They leave unresolved the question as to whether, given their veto rights on the UN Security Council, Moscow or indeed Beijing, would have an effective veto on any participation by Scottish forces in international humanitarian missions with which Moscow or Beijing disagreed.”
Referring to a magazine interview in which Salmond said he admired “certain aspects” of Putin’s leadership, Alexander added: “Alex Salmond’s admiration for Vladimir Putin is a matter of public record but is that really going to be his approach to foreign affairs? With just a dozen days to go till the referendum, the public deserve the answer.”
An example of a military mission which did not receive support of the UN security council was the Nato bombing of Serbia in 1999, which brought an end to the ethnic cleansing of native Albanian population in Kosovo and led to the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic.
At the time, Salmond described Nato’s action as “unpardonable folly” and of “dubious legality”. His comments caused outrage and was blamed for a sharp decline in the Nationalists’ fortunes in the first Scottish Parliament election. Since then Salmond’s political recovery has been remarkable and he now stands on the brink of securing victory in this month’s independence referendum.
Meanwhile, three former ambassadors today argue that Scottish independence would see a weaker UK in terms of defence, intelligence and diplomacy.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former ambassador to the UN, John Holmes, former ambassador to France and Nigel Sheinwald, former ambassador to the US, argue that the UK is the best platform for Scotland to bring the world its “pragmatism, its inventiveness, its humour and its grit”. Their statement, published online today by Scotland on Sunday, says: “In this complex, unpredictable and sometimes threatening environment, the instinct to return to the tribe is understandable. Yet it is creating momentum for global chaos. The structures that have upheld the long global peace since 1945 are being eroded by the polarisation of identity and culture. A world with a thousand different colours on the map, a mosaic of equal but separate stones, will be close to ungovernable.”