The single issue overriding all others right now is without a doubt the complexities of the civil war in Syria and the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons on the Syrian people.
It is becoming clearer each day that the Assad administration is believed to be the perpetrators of the latest in a long line of what can only be described as crimes against any sense of humanity.
The US, depending upon the actions of Congress, looks likely to deliver at least some form of physical response in the country. Precisely how and upon which targets remains to be seen.
In terms of the catastrophe afflicting the Syrian populace, it now knows no borders. The UN reports that 2 million people are believed to have fled the wartorn region to neighbouring countries, passing on other huge issues of sustainability and human strain to places like Lebanon and Jordan. The mass influx of refugees into Jordan itself has created the country’s fourth largest city – a phenomenal humanitarian disaster of a refugee camp in the middle of the desert. A place where people have only the clothes on their backs and face scorching summer heat along with the prospect of viciously cold winter months ahead.
This population displacement spreads much wider however. As time passes on, and military action looms, it will penetrate further into Europe. This week Sweden became the first country to grant Syrian refugees permanent resident status, already having taken in almost 15,000 since 2012.
Scotland as we know has a long history of taking in asylum seekers from various parts of the world, enriching our land, culture and providing historical continuity for a country which has long exchanged people with locations far exceeding our geographical placing on the map. The eighteenth century enlightenment had its origins informed by Scots travelling and furthering their learning elsewhere before returning to pass this on, and its subsequent legacy affirmed by those products of Scottish schools and universities leaving with their education to deliver theories of modernity to other nations.
Scotland’s global reach can be said to be well ahead of many of our neighbours. What we lacked in constitutional independence, and thus sovereign empire-building in our own name (something which few regret), we made up for in the exchange of ideas, values, education. Quibbles over whether someone from the other side of the globe could point to us on a map aside, there is something tangible and material about ‘Scottish values’, which we know to be distinct, and so do others. Both sides of the independence debate are unlikely to fight over this point. Those most assiduously in favour of retaining our place within the UK would, I expect, defend distinct ‘Scottishisms’ whether that be something in the way we follow sport or the principles underlying our system of education and schooling.
Which is why it seems inherently sensible for us to have the constitutional clout to go with that.
Of course we can operate perfectly sensibly and continue to carp at the Westminster government when things are put in place, or actions taken, we don’t agree with. In many ways all of us would like to live in a problem-free world when we didn’t have to think of thorny matters to do with where our legislators are based. The argument will be put “why change?”. People will disagree with actions by a government taken in Edinburgh. Many do.
The difference is – of course – that with Westminster, their continues to be a gaping democratic gap between the will of the Scottish electorate and the creation of a UK government which represents this will. Over a number of years the Scottish electorate have become invisible to London’s policy-makers. This fundamentally underpins any Yes voter’s view.
On the point of Syria, and by extension international diplomacy, however, Scotland ought to have the constitutional foundation to respond with its own voice. Whether we agree with Westminster’s decision to vote against military action or not, this kind of debate and how far we go to help displaced refugees are ones we absolutely need to be having in a Scottish forum and context.
With an electoral map which divides the UK into distinct political outlooks, so should our response to international diplomatic and political situations reflect this.
There are no easy answers to human tragedies affecting peoples across the globe, as Obama and Cameron have found. But just as they have had to turn to their political debating chambers on home soil, it is the responsibility of any sovereign nation to form a view and respond within the context of its own unique political, social and moral outlook.
Currently we have a distinct political culture in Scotland which is entirely silent on such matters. Just as in a European context we have no voice, the same can be said of us internationally.
If we are to make good the global exchange of ideas and principles we have done over so many centuries, as a grown-up nation we need to be able to respond with our own Scottish voice to situations such as Syria at the international table.
Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause
To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland; Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire, and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956 – 60; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
We are 13 months from a Referendum on Scottish Independence, which was unthinkable in 1955; Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85. We intend to publish all Jimmy’s articles in the Scots Independent from August 2004 up to 2011, all the ones we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book on Jimmy’s contributions over many years, but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.
A brief rise then decline – May 2005
IN 1970 Donald Stewart in the Western Isles gave us our first victory in a General Election. In 1973, after good results in Stirling and in Dundee East, Margo MacDonald won Govan. Seven seats were won in February 1974 and eleven in the following October. Membership soared and branch recognition went on apace. An impressive new Headquarters was purchased and staff were appointed to cope with the increased work which growth involved.
Presiding over this success was Billy Wolfe. Like Arthur Donaldson before him he was an amateur in the sense that he was unpaid. But an amateur, in ability and achievement, can match professionals provided he can give the full measure of his time and energy to his cause. Billy gave this full measure at great cost, material and emotional, to himself. The Party’s confident vigour in those years testifies to his devotion to duty.
How then did it happen that from the heights of 1974 we were cast into the depths of 1979 when we retained only two of our eleven seats?
To this day there is no consensus as to what went wrong, and at the time any appropriate inquest was discouraged. We can assume that we were to some extent victims of circumstances beyond our control but that we also made mistakes that contributed to our setback.
Now, on the eve of yet another election, we can leave any brooding over mistakes till a later date, and instead draw what lessons we can from the situation thirty years ago.
Our first problem was one of number. Two or three MPs are in the position of scouts or pioneers engaged in a kind of reconnaissance. They are in enemy territory and look home for instructions, or at least advice and comment. Thirty or more MPs however, view things differently. They have a sense of corporate identity and become very much the public face of the party. With eleven MPs it was not at all clear or agreed where power in our Party lay.
Number was not the whole story. Personality mattered too. The key members of the NEC, in addition to the Chairman, were Margo MacDonald, Isobel Lindsay, Tom McAlpine and Willie Macrae. These four were the engine of the committee. In any party list system they and the Chairman would have been MPs but they weren’t, and the Party paid for their absence.
Finally, timing as always was vital. We saw our October 1974 gains as the latest exciting step in our unbroken progress. Not so. In fact that election saw Labour desperately but successfully fight us off, break our momentum and leave Scots with the belief that we had had our chance and bungled it.
The procedures of the Westminster Parliament hastened our decline. Days and weeks passed in niggling debate on devolution and the public became first irritated and then bored. There was a moment in 1977 when the polls indicated that we would make major gains if an election were held at that time. Liberals destroyed the Scotland and Wales Bill by refusing to vote to limit time on debate and thus prolonged discussion. In any election at this moment Liberals stood to suffer as badly as Labour as they were unlucky enough to have a former leader facing a charge of conspiracy to murder. These companions in misfortune huddled together in an electoral pact, denying us our opportunity and our moment passed.
National morale suffered a further blow as Scotland’s footballers returned ridiculed from Argentina. Scots, always keen to be their own first and sternest critics, drew their political conclusions. “See Scotland?” they sneered. “Scotland’s finished”.