This is a shocking story.
I’ve lived next door to my neighbour for many years. We’ve had our rough patches but basically we get on fine and have much in common. The other week, some thugs broke into his house and perpetrated acts on his family that scarce bear repeating. Let me just say that extreme violence was involved and the place was trashed.
Naturally, everyone in the street wanted to help the neighbour and once he’d recovered from his initial shock he did indeed ask us to give him some much needed support. But this was not the first incident in the neighbourhood recently and we went to see our local councillor about the problem.
The experience was disappointing to say the least. He told us, rather patronisingly I thought, all about the growth of violence in the area (as if we hadn’t heard) and described what he saw as its causes. Unsurprisingly, they mostly seemed to relate to what other political groups on the council had done or not done in the past. He hardly mentioned our poor neighbour at all and started speaking about how the council should mount a publicity campaign against the perpetrators of violence, ‘take down’ a website some of them were associated with, and cut off their finances. He also said we shouldn’t call the people who did this thugs but by their proper name of ‘Daesh.’
It was a pretty pathetic response wasn’t it? But I expect you’d reached the end of the story before me. My ‘councillor’ was of course Alex Salmond, the SNP’s Commons spokesperson on international affairs. And I didn’t go to see him. He was writing about Syria yesterday in my local paper, the Press and Journal. You can fill in the rest of the gaps yourself I’m sure.
Tomorrow the prime minister will bring a motion, wording unknown as I write, to the House of Commons seeking the extension of British military action against ISIS from Iraq to Syria (I call them ISIS not Daesh: I’ll concede ISIL but I’m using my language not Salmond’s) . This is not an article for or against taking military action but a comment on the inadequacy of the SNP’s response.
You’ll note that Salmond’s prescription for taking action against ISIS boils down to three things – countering them through a publicity campaign (tellingly perhaps, he calls it a propaganda campaign in his article); ‘taking down’ ISIS websites, although I’m not sure he really knows if or how that could be done; and cutting off their sources of finance, assuming they can all be found. Meantime, elsewhere in the SNP firmament, our first minister has announced that ‘Scotland is to help train Syrian women who are involved in the peace process’ (The Scotsman). She must have spotted a process invisible to the rest of us. It would be funny if it weren’t so desperately naïve.
Come any Commons vote tomorrow, you can be sure of one thing. The SNP will vote as a group against action, their two suspended members Mesdames Thomson and McGarry tagging along with them. They will be high on indignation and what’s wrong. They will be light, very light, on what to do. You will not hear any talk of the Auld Alliance or Franco-Scottish solidarity. President Hollande’s appeal to the neighbours will go unheard and at some stage I guess his foreign minister may receive a report including a footnote about the SNP’s fleabite of rejection. And that’s about it.
One or two SNP MPs may be agonising about how to vote and going through the motions of seeking at least some constituents’ views on the subject. But in truth their energy will be wasted. The line has been laid down from the centre and they won’t really need to bother about why they’re doing what they will. The contrast with the two larger parties in the Commons couldn’t be starker. There will be people in both Labour and Conservative parties who have agonised about how to vote. There will be ‘rebels’ on both sides. The debate will probably see the Commons at its best. But don’t expect much beyond ritual hand-wringing from the SNP.
A shocking story indeed.
Footnote. The P&J haven’t put Alex Salmond’s Monday column on their website as I write but there’s a video of him saying pretty much the same thing if you can bear it.