Ian Swanson: Scots MPs stop UK entering Syrian war

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FORMER chancellor Alistair Darling claims an independent Scotland would struggle to have the same diplomatic clout in international crises as the UK.

Pro-
independence campaigners argue Scotland would have more chance of influencing the world for the better as a nation in its own right rather than as part of a former imperial power. Perhaps the unfolding of British policy on the question of an attack on Syria over the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a suburb of the capital Damascus should give everyone pause for thought.

Imagine if last week’s House of Commons vote had gone the other way and MPs had backed the move towards military action.

An attack on Syrian targets may well have taken place by now, with who knows what consequences. And the SNP would be complaining that Westminster had once again dragged Scotland into an illegal war, just like Iraq ten years ago.

That didn’t happen. Instead, MPs voted by 285 to 272 against giving David Cameron the go-ahead to prepare for attack.

MPs from all parties and from across the UK voiced concern and cast their votes accordingly. But if it had not been for the votes of the Scottish MPs, the result would have gone in the Government’s favour.

Arguably, it was those Scottish votes that stopped the rush to war.

The United States had been expected to launch a strike against Iraq at the weekend – the very reason the Commons was recalled from recess just a few days before MPs were due back anyway.

Instead, President Barack Obama announced he would consult Congress and a vote will take place there next week.

Of course, no-one knows how the situation will evolve. Many Americans are deeply opposed to the proposed strikes against Syria and the president has been accused of flip-flopping on the issue.

Everyone is rightly appalled by the chemical weapons attacks and the horrific suffering inflicted on men, women and children, graphically shown in television news reports. But beyond the outrage and the demands that “something must be done” there are many questions over what a punitive strike will really achieve, the risks involved and what would happen next.

Public opinion in the UK seems to be firmly against an attack – 69 per cent now declaring themselves opposed to such a move and 73 per cent saying parliament was right to vote as it did.

The issue of Syria is set to dominate the G20 summit in St Petersburg over the next couple of days.

Scotland, as part of the UK, can be argued to have played a small part in preventing precipitate action which could have made the conflict worse.

Independence campaigners say the narrow Commons vote is the exception that proves the rule.

“We only avoided going to war by the skin of our teeth,” says one senior source.

He points out the majority of Scottish MPs backed the Labour amendment, which was also defeated, but which would have left the door open to military action so long as it was legal and the United Nations was properly consulted.

Nevertheless, in contrast with the US-led invasion of Iraq when Tony Blair took Britain to war over non-existent weapons of mass destruction despite widespread opposition, this time the UK parliament reigned in a government readying itself for attack – and Scottish MPs played a vital role in that.