Middle East - Scotland

2007 - 2021

Reading between the lines of the Scottish Government’s statement on Israeli attacks on Gaza


I have been waiting with interest to see how the SNP responded to the Israeli actions in Gaza. The reason for my interest is to see if there is any identifiable change in tone in its comments now that it is a NATO-wannabe. I have predicted that, over time, the SNP will start to sound more and more like the US in its positioning on geopolitical issues. This is not a difficult prediction to make – NATO is as much about organising and managing the US’s allies as it is about defending them. The desire to be seen to be in what some in the SNP have called ‘the big league’ usually comes with a price and the price is self censorship. It is probably a bit early to expect a full-scale shift in approach, but are there any hints? (In what follows I may use ‘NATO countries’ and ‘the west’ interchangeably, neither particularly accurate but neither as unwieldily as ‘the US and its geopolitical allies in other governments and the corporate

So it is important that I note that there has now been a statement from the Scottish Government in the name of Humza Yousef. And it is only fair to point out that in fact this is a pretty strong and pretty balanced statement. It runs through the usual stuff about ‘wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone just stopped killing themselves’ and of course runs through the line that Israeli families ought to be safe in their beds (even though they really are). So far so blah. But it does do four things that deserve credit. First, it gives an outright condemnation of civilian deaths on both sides. This is important because too often this is just presented by the west as ‘Israel must try not to kill too many children’. An outright condemnation is important.

Next, it uses the crucial word ‘disproportionate’. It is this above all that NATO countries tend not to say, because a disproportionate response is an illegal response. No-one is in any doubt that Israel’s responseis disproportionate – hideously so. But most won’t say it since it would in effect condemn Israel for war crimes. At best politicians usually stick to ‘must be proportionate’ and seldom then offer an opinion on whether or not it is. (This only applies to Israel of course.) A clear statement that Israel is acting disproportionately is important.

Then the statement goes on to put direct pressure on Westminster to do something. This is also outside the usual narrative on Israel/Palestine. Generally the west accepts the doctrine that ‘only dialogue between the two parties’ can have any impact on a resolution to conflict. All external influence is put directly in the hands of the ‘troika’ – which unbelievably means ‘Tony Blair’ – and in the UN, where the NATO parties make sure the UN can’t do anything. The belief that ‘we can’t do anything about this’ is a crucial part of the plan to keep Palestinians in the horrendous  position in which they find themselves. It is an outright lie – a concerted US/EU position would pull Israel to heel in no time. But it is stuck to rigidly. That the Scottish Government is implying that inaction is not the only option is important.

Finally, the statement puts this conflict into the essential context – it calls for the immediate end to the blockade of Gaza. This is very far outside the NATO playbook. It is taken as axiomatic among NATO governments that under no circumstances can Israel’s actions ever be put into the wider context of its behaviour in the Middle East. Simply to imply that its illegal acts are in any way linked to conflict does not usually make it into the press releases of US-allied political parties. Simply to link the Gaza blockade to the illegal actions of Israel is important.

So this is not going to solve Middle East peace nor is it going to make much difference generally; Scotland has no ‘right’ to comment on foreign policy. And of course I would very much like to see an even angrier statement – Israel has crossed so many lines that it no longer recognises the concept. It should be condemned utterly and become the subject of sever international sanctions until it obeys the basics of international law and displays even a passing knowledge of the norms of decent human conduct (a government official threatens to ‘bomb Gaza back into the middle ages’ sounds awfully like a call to genocide to me). But I’ve been pretty hard on the SNP Government for its pitiful stance on geopolitics and its naive and confused attempt to be clever-clever on Scotland’s international role. So it is only fair to say that, as far as could be expected, this is pretty strong and independently-minded stuff.

If in doubt, let’s have a look at the position of a party that really has fully aligned itself with US policy over the last decade. This isn’t Scottish Labour. Because Scottish Labour does not appear to strive to the level of seriousness to actually comment on the Gaza conflict. The party has offered no statement and made no comment. Like all things Better Together, Scotland just isn’t important enough to form an opinion. So let’s look instead at what mummy and daddy at Westminster are saying (Douglas Alexander in fact – Scots can have an opinion on foreign policy but only if they work in London).

The most up-to-date Labour statement I can find is the one linked above from Saturday. No condemnation of Israel? Check. No mention of proportionality? Check. Ask the UN to do something (knowing the US will veto it) to absolve yourself of any responsibility to act? Check. No mention of context at all, as if this is a flare-up out of nowhere? Check. Instead of any meaningful comment, a paragraph of drivel about how killing people isn’t nice? Check. This is designed to look compassionate. What is really is is a free pass from Labour for Israel to do as it pleases.

Oh if we were permitted (by the constitution, by the Scottish media) to talk about world events. But no, in your box Scots. Independence or no independence, Scottish politics needs to reject the suggestion that we’re just here to empty the bins and hand out contracts to multinational corporations. One suspects someone somewhere in the SNP will be getting a phone call just to have a chat about how these words tally with the US/NATO position, just to make sure everyone understands what is expected of them. But it doesn’t seem to have arrived just yet. In so much the SNP has disappointed. At least it is still willing to engage with big issues on the global scale in a direct and independently-minded manner. For now.

Robin McAlpine, Director of The Reid Foundation

Comments (5)

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  1. Even David Cameron called for the blockade to be lifted and described Gaza as “an open air prison” in 2010. Admittedly, he was trying to suck up to the Turkish Government but it shows that the SNP stance is no big deal, but I reckon is a cynical attempt to assuage Scottish fury at the bombing, more for the Radical Independent Conference than NATO ‘allies’. I’m surprised Robin ignores the flurry of debate on BC about the Israeli ambassador Taub’s first official visit to Scotland a few weeks back. If what was reported of Taub’s meeting with Salmond is true, and there’s been no denial by SG, action is shouting a lot louder than any diplomatic words- plans to explore links between Scotland and Israel in various fields at a meeting between the Israeli Embassy and Fergus Ewing. I and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign have tried to get to the bottom of this. Kevin has written on BC about it. But nothing has come out from the SG and as Gaza is pummelled, that silence speaks bloody volumes.

  2. picpac67 says:

    The reality of life in Gaza by Jennifer Loewenstein (a “self-hating” Jewish American):

  3. bellacaledonia says:

    It is worth comparing the Scottish government’s response to the Israeli onslaught with that of the UK Labour Party’s Defence Spokesperson, Jm Murphy.


    This feeble mealy-mouthed blog post is the sum total of Murphy’s commentary on events of the last week. When the Israeli shells rain down on Palestinian women and children Murphy, as always, hides in his bunker till the smoke clears.

    As can be seen on his blog post, Murphy refuses to condemn the IDF barbarities. Unlike the Scottish government Murphy refuses to even recognise the IDF actions are “disproportionate” – a term which, as Robin McAlpine explains above, has significance and meaning at the UN. Murphy prioritises the plight of Israelis over Palestinians, and does a passable 3 monkeys impression when it comes to the inexcusably barbaric actions of the IDF.

    Does this matter? Well yes it does. Although Jim Murphy is undoubtedly a creepy individual with strings attached on each wrist to the Pentagon and Tel Aviv he is also the UK Labour Party’s Defence Spokesperson.

    Labour supporters who justifiably feel nauseated by the current round of Israeli state terror against Palestinians should be fully aware of their own party’s Defence Spokesperson’s unwavering support for the Israeli war machine.


    1. The whataboutery in the last paragraph of Murphy’s statement is telling. I think i’m right in saying that Murphy is a member (and former chair) of ‘Friends of Israel’ too? Not the most impartial of adjudicator’s i’d suggest.

  4. Robin, you said, “I have predicted that, over time, the SNP will start to sound more and more like the US in its positioning on geopolitical issues.”

    Well, that means Scotland wants a two state solution, (as does US), where Israel and Palestine are separate Nation-States, with a recognition of the agreed 1967 borders, (as does US), with a Universal Declaration of Independence to be presented at the UN conference in a few days time, (Nov’ 26)?
    Can you please confirm I’m right, Robin?

    Robin, we all feel terrible about this situation, but we must leave it to those who are embroiled in this matter every day of the week, every week of the year; the UN. Russia has already declared they are saddened by the position of the Security Council to reject the rebels authority, and install a ceasefire in Syria; Ban Ki Moon has reiterated such a ceasefire in Gaza. No doubt a UN resolution has already been drafted to accommodate these ceasefires, but if perpetual conflict is the answer, (and not peace), to centuries-old religious intolerance between Islam & Judaism, then what can the governments of the world do to stop these middle-east Hatfields & McCoys dealing in death?
    Again, waiting for your pearls of positivity.

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