Nicola Sturgeon is to close the SNP annual conference today, and her aides have leaked what she proposes to say about UK military intervention in Syria. I hope there’s time for her to change the text because, as it stands, it’s muddled and rather embarrassing – it suggests that she does not understand the situation at all.
Unilateral air strikes, she is due to say, will merely add to the “already unimaginable human suffering” in the region. She will vaguely urge a diplomatic push at the UN to help bring the four-year civil war to an end (Isis, meet Mr Assad. Now, please shake hands). Of course now that Russia has established a de facto No-Fly Zone over the entire country, which even the Americans are respecting, that it is difficult to believe a parliamentary vote will be held, let alone approved. No matter. Sturgeon sees a good opportunity to underline the SNP’s status, and to draw a dividing line with the UK parties.
Take, for starters, her central question:
“When airstrikes by US, Russian, Arab, Turkish and French forces have not brought this multi-layered conflict closer to a resolution, what possible grounds are there for believing that adding UK airstrikes will do so?”
But UK airstrikes, if approved, would not be aimed at bringing “this multi-layered conflict closer to a resolution”. Rather, they would be used specifically to target the Islamic State in Syria, with the aim of preventing terror attacks at home. Her confusion is compounded by references to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya:
“The should be no more futile military interventions by the UK. No more Afghanistans with no exit strategy, no more Libyas where we spent 13 times as much bombing as we did reconstructing that country, and no more illegal wars such as the one in Iraq.”
Again, UK intervention in those states was with the goal of regime change – not to neutralise specific, localised terror threats within each country. Sturgeon, it seems, wants to endorse a No vote, but appears unaware of what her MPs will be voting against.
Worse, according to today’s press, one motivation for her opposition to airstrikes is that taking such a stand will contrast her leadership, and the SNP’s strong party discipline, with that of Jeremy Corbyn and the ongoing Labour Party turmoil on the issue. Sturgeon will doubtless pretend that if Scottish opinion is fundamentally different to English opinion on this (in fact, a YouGov poll in July suggested Scots back air strikes in Syria by a margin of two-to-one).
It looks as if her real objective is not to help Syrians, but to eradicate Labour from Scottish political life. That at least would explain her token (and often baffling) references to why the airstrikes would be carried out, and the reason for her opposition to them. As long as her anti-war rant plays well to her base, and points to a rift with the English that doesn’t exist, perhaps she simply doesn’t care about the nitty gritty of the issue at all. Which would be as contemptible as the the behaviour of the 50 or so Blairite Labour MPs who are set to vote in favour of airstrikes because they too want to undermine Corbyn’s leadership.
All are using a debate about sending our armed forces into the world’s most dangerous war zone for party political gain. As, in his own inimitable way, is David Cameron. For what was his dramatic decision to “beef up” the SAS as part of the planned strategy to fight Isis in Syria if not a means of drumming up mindless patriotic fervor on the eve of the Conservative Party conference?