It was 72 years ago that George Orwell was in Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride, being treated for tuberculosis. He began writing his famous novel – 1984 – during that hospital stay; a novel that still gets referenced regularly.
In Orwell’s novel the major world powers are constantly at war, one with another – sometimes two are allied, sometimes the same two are enemies. And so it goes on. It was this aspect that was referenced by folk in East Kilbride over the weekend at various community events I had the privilege to attend. Syria, for example – over the years we’ve been Assad’s ally, and we’ve been Assad’s enemy. Same with Russia and Iran. We wakened up on Saturday morning to find out that the UK Prime Minister had sanctioned, along with the USA and France, air strikes in that country.
Now, I do not know whether President Assad ordered chemical weapons to be used on a civilian population. I do not know what discussions Theresa May has or has not had with intelligence experts. I do not know how much propaganda is out there from various sources. I do not know whose opinions on TV, radio, press or social media are correct.
One thing I do know though is that air strikes by US and UK forces have not resolved the situation in Syria in the past, and there is genuine concern that this will further escalate international tensions. Another thing I do know is that to order air strikes without discussion and parliamentary scrutiny is completely unacceptable – we’re supposed to live in a democracy after all!
A clear precedent was set in 2015 ahead of the targeted strikes against Daesh, yet here we are, with a Prime Minister leading a minority Government who believes that democracy can be ignored. She has ploughed ahead with military intervention, without the backing of parliament, and with no short or long-term plan or clear strategy to benefit civilians in Syria. And, is there an exit strategy?
Right from the first hint of potential military action – which appeared to be by Presidential Tweet – the SNP pushed for the UK Parliament to be recalled to allow MPs to be briefed on the Syria situation. With chemical weapons experts just beginning work on the ground, with the disputed legal basis on which the UK Government was basing its decisions, it was surely vital that the Prime minister set out her reasoning and strategy and looked for Parliamentary approval. But no, she chose not to.
The Prime Minister has now agreed, following pressure from the SNP Group in Westminster, to a debate – after the event. Not only that, at time of writing I understand that the method of debate is one that can be used just for technicalities. That is rather than a proper debate at which the UK Government can be held to account and justify such serious action without Parliamentary agreement.
All too often, the Westminster Government acts unilaterally, with no respect given at all to democratic processes, and indeed Scotland’s position. We have seen that all too clearly through the Brexit process and now we are seeing it about a matter as serious as ordering airstrikes. Surely there should be no further action and no change to the role of the UK military in regard to Syria without a full debate.
Some years ago concerned citizens of East Kilbride planted a Peace Tree in the centre of the town. There are regular gatherings at the Tree to commemorate those who have lost their lives in external aggression or internal oppression. And to quietly contemplate how much better it would be if we lived in peace. Now there’s an aspiration worth having.