Fist Pumps and Constitutional Novichok

Independence is an inherently radical rupture, its time to act on that argues Jonathon Shafi.

Theresa May had finished giving her statement on Salisbury to the house. Much to the braying consternation of the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn rose to give only qualified support to the governments claims. He argued for evidence, scrutiny, and for any action to be conducted through international bodies. Before he had even finished his speech, commentators and politicians alike had made their disdain known. Many labelled him a traitor.

This was a crisis that demanded immediate and unconditional unity behind Mrs May and the British security state. And yet it is precisely in those moments that we need brave and questioning voices. It is at those times that the national conversation runs the risk of being shut down. Leadership is required to keep it open in the public interest. That is not always and easy thing to do. But it is the right thing to do.

The SNP on this occasion failed. Instead of being chastised by the Tory benches for having the temerity to make further enquiries into the Prime Ministers statement, Ian Blackford MP aligned the SNP position in unison with the governments – without question or qualification.

“Thats how you do it!” Was heard from the Tory cohort. Suddenly the SNP had become the loyal opposition inside the British State, and Labour the critical voice.

This fits a wider picture. Nicola Sturgeon said “Russia simply cannot be allowed to launch attacks on our streets with impunity.” Stuart McDonald, SNP Defence spokesperson, was to make a deeper argument for bonding Scottish foreign policy with the imperatives of the British State.

He said, “Our single most important security relationship after independence will be with rUK and we have a responsibility to demonstrate that independence is no threat, but instead delivers a true ally to the North.”

At first glance this may not seem controversial. But what does it mean in practice? Independence should not be a threat to peace and security, of course. But it should be critical of the the foreign policy establishment that runs U.K. affairs. Dismantling the British State, scrapping Trident, opposing wars. These all run up against the existing foreign policy order.

In these terms independence is an inherently radical rupture. After decades of failed U.K. foreign policy that is a good thing. But it seems McDonald is keen not to rock the boat. “The world has changed a lot since 2014 and as such we must continuously challenge assumptions that many took for granted at that time.” This leaves much up for grabs, and SNP members who campaigned against the change in position in relation to NATO should be on their guard.

Indeed, SNP members seem to be in advance of their leaders on this question. They cast a more cautious eye on events Salisbury. But the SNP spokespeople on defence, foreign affairs and the First Minister were all too keen to emesh themselves into the government line.

This suggests a degree of trust in the British state that is unwarranted. Alex Salmond, well aware of the complexities in such matters, put a much shrewder line. He backed up Corbyns not so radical call for due process, examination of the facts and to keep debate about the way forward animated. A better alternative than getting sucked into the black hole that is failed UK foreign policy interventions.

And what failure we have seen. As it turns out the source cited categorically pinning the blame on Russia by the Foreign Secretary has been shown to be a lie. Boris Johnson contrary to his claims was never told by Porton Down that the Russians were responsible. The Foreign Office even had to delete a tweet referencing this falsehood in what is now an international humiliation for Britain.

While the commentariat, and the Tory MPs and the foreign policy establishment have lost all credibility on this matter, Jeremy Corbyn walks the field as the person who withstood immediate pressure to do and say what a real leader of the opposition should if they are worth their salt. He says now that Boris has “egg on his face” and “questions to answer” while his own foreign policy prowess has grown. The same can be said of Plaids Leanne Wood.

This cannot said for the SNP. Yes – they received immediate plaudits in media circles. Yes – they avoided being slated from the usual suspects (something they care far too much about). But in the end, they have weakened their position.

Scotland should be articulating a bold new relationship with the world, not merely integrating itself into dominant Western narratives of global power. Independence should be about forging a new direction. It is an opportunity to detach ourselves from imperial ambitions and to develop new international links based on solidarity against repression and war.

Britain in reality wants various forms of conflict with Russia for its own reasons – none of them to do with Putin. They know that Putin galvanises domestic support at moments when there are external threats in particular. But that is not their concern – and neither is the Russian money flowing into Tory coffers.

They want to reclaim space in the global stage and to somehow build a level of coherence in the population behind the government – at a time of deep political crisis and polarisation in relation to Brexit, economic injustice and alienation from the political system. The job of the SNP is surely to provide an alternative – not to fall behind this power play.

Now they cannot call for Boris to go over this issue with any gusto. They have entangled themselves uncritically in the latest episode of Tory amateur hour for no good reason. This is not to support Putin. Far from it. We should remember that as a result of this debacle it is Putins Russia who have been granted a global propaganda victory.

It should never have been thus. It is time the SNP leadership realised their project is inherently radical. They should take strength in being the ones being prepared to ask awkward questions. That is what reaps rewards in the long run. It is incredulous that they would have such faith in an establishment that brought us Iraq and who are clearly spiralling into geopolitical decline – and therefore desperate. Dare I say it – the SNP think a little more independently of the British state.

Comments (16)

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  1. Fiona MacInnes says:

    I agree with most of what you say but I also understand the wm snp not wanting to invite yet another battering from the usual critics and guess that the double edge of Salmond/Blackford was structured to enable the facing of 2 directions. The messes of the British state are not our battles. I wholly support Jeremy Corbyn’s principal in the affair. A reminder though to all who eat drink and sleep the minutae of geo politics and the consitutional debate,is that there are large swathes of the population for whom this is still just distant background noise. What percolates through to them is framed through opportunites to captalse on the bogey man – in this case the Russian baddy trope. And that association would stick and take some unpicking in a totally hostile environment with the bogus view of course that an iScotland would hitch itself to Putin’ s regime. I agree Our future international links should be independent.

    1. Jo says:

      Fiona
      I’m sorry but it is ludicrous to suggest that the separate statements by Salmond and Blackford were a sort of joint effort to enable the SNP to cover all angles. Salmond isn’t an MP any more. His statement was a personal one. Blackford’s was a Party statement, a very foolish one at the time but, in light of later revelations, an even more foolish one now!

      If, as you say, the SNP bottled it in case the big bad media would call them bad things – as it did to Corbyn – then I really do despair. Corbyn said the right thing and showed courage for he’d have known what the media would hurl at him for doing so. Sturgeon and Blackford chose to fly wi’ the craws. They shocked many out here in the process.

      There was a clear process to be followed here. May ignored it, as did Johnson and the Foreign Office. The OPCW weren’t even involved for more than a week by which time May had already announced Russia was the culprit and had hauled in many, many other countries to take action against Russia…..when there was no evidence that she was right.

      Given the UK’s past record I still can’t believe that Sturgeon and Blackford jumped right in. I am horrified they did and I’m sure of one thing. There was no excuse for such stupidity.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        Spot on Jo!

    2. Jo says:

      Fiona
      “wm snp”
      One of the points the SNP always make powerfully is that it doesn’t do branches of the Party! So they don’t have Westminster and Scottish branches.

  2. Bob Costello says:

    Nicola and Ian Blackford have just shown that they are indeed driving along following a roadmap to unionism. It is time for a change at the top to allow us to get back on the road to independence. Listening to Sturgeon and Blackford’s speeches on the Skripal poisoning made my skin crawl.

    1. Rory Winter says:

      Looks like the worst fears of SNP-watchers are coming true:

      Not only is the WM leadership moving inexorably to Right-Wing Atlanticism, they are abandoning the party’s more neutralist past to fully embrace neoconservative politics. Through how many red lights must they go before they’re shown up for their deceitful game?

  3. Jim Fraser says:

    I do wonder what compelling evidence it was that was shown to the Scottish government (and to other governments around Europe and the world, prompting them (let’s not forget) to eject Russians embassy officials from their own countries).

    We may indeed have been guilty of being hood-winked by Westminster but, if so, we’re in good company.

    I don’t mind Stuart McDonald acknowledging the reality that rUK will inevitably be our closest single security relationship after independence. What we’ll have to guard against is believing them on all occasions, just because they are important allies. But the same proviso goes for our relationships with all countries, doesn’t it?

    Perhaps the more important aspect of this debacle is that all of those other governments will trust Westminster a little less than they do now.

    1. Jo says:

      Jim
      Perhaps those other countries may not trust the UK again.

      The people of these islands, however, have been here before when another PM misled Parliament. Guy called Blair. Remember him?

      There was no “hoodwinking”. Nicola decided to take a particular decision without any independent investigation. She chose badly. Don’t make excuses.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I notice that in the age of infographics, a picture of world (illegal) chemical weapons stockpiles in conspicuous by its absence. Perhaps because if you showed it to scale, the illegal USAmerican stockpile would make anything else less than a squashed pixel on-screen. Or perhaps because the scales of justice in this case, as in so many, are shamefully tilted:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_Weapons_Convention#World_stockpile_of_chemical_weapons

    Seriously, “30 Years of Successful Action”?!
    https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/demil/30-years-infographic.htm

  5. Goordon McAuslane says:

    I wonder if there was any poisoning by means of any nerve agent. We haven’t seen any pictures of the victims as we did with Litvinienko. In any event, no one has died, so the expulsion of diplomatic staff from the embassies of the world seems a bit over the top.
    The evidence that the Government has come up with so far would be thrown out in a court of law and if there were an international law of libel, the Russians would be awarded billions.
    I too am disappointed by the SNP reaction. I can only suppose they have been provided convincing evidence that is not available to the rest of us, but I also hope that they checked the veracity of that evidence.

    1. Jo says:

      “I can only suppose they have been provided convincing evidence…..”

      Perhaps they heard similar claims to those made in the (now deleted) Foreign Office tweet! And I doubt the SNP would have been invited to test the veracity of the evidence.

      In any case, Corbyn pointed out the correct process. This was to allow an independent investigation to commence rather than to make formal allegations and Parliamentary statements ahead of this. I’m as yet unsure how this didn’t occur to Nicola and Mr Blackford. Making the SNP party to such dangerous games by the UK government was reckless indeed. Nicola should have known better.

  6. Pogliaghi says:

    I’m afraid this is fairly specious logic.

    Boris’s false statements don’t discredit Sturgeon, they discredit Boris, and in fact redound to Sturgeon’s credit, because what they in fact show is that the SNP would objectively make a more competent sovereign NATO and EU government than the current Westminster one. Because even when they happen to be on the same page as the UK government, the SNP can manage its communications better; better in fact than both May who has been embarrassed by her lieutenants, and Corbyn, who has prevaricated.

    Boris’s false statements, even if they were over-reaching and lies, are not integral to the UK government’s position on Skripal, which is that Russia is the only likely culprit.

    The Kremlin poisons dissidents; it developed Novichok. A Kremlin dissident (and bystanders) were poisoned with Novichok; the diplomatic response was expulsion of spies. To posit another narrative implies an extraordinary conspiracy theory without extraordinary (in fact, without any) evidence. Conspiracy theories are great but not when they ignore Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is usually the best.

    Expulsions are NOT a casus belli for WW3. if it were, what would become of the critique of Trump-Brexiteer-Russia collusion; the remedy of sanctions, stopping Russian money laundering etc. ? Well, nothing! Because all of that would be “starting WW3”. In other words, let Putin fuck with our democracies, or we’re risking nuclear conflagration; and that is *our fault*. (Because reasons, presumably to do with neoconservatism).

    The nub of the matter, and the reason Shafi’s arguments are specious, is that there is a third way between complete supine indifference to Putin’s bellicosity and “atlanticist” neoconservatism. And in fact, Sturgeon’s current stace and her entire career record on foreign policy shows *just how* to strike this balance.

    In a drearily predictable way ‘Russia’ is becoming a virtue signal in a culture war within the independence movement, and indeed, within the British left and Boris’s gaffe or lie has naturally opened the floodgates of the usual fairly self serving, RT-seeded sophistry which characterizes debate on all things Russia.

    Strangely, left apologetics for Putin, whilst they normally come with boilerplate stuff about “how bad” he really is, always give the Kremlin the concrete benefit of the doubt in every possible way. Not least, one presumes, because of the selection of facts in the filter bubble. How easy it is to forget the catalogue of anti Kremlin dissidents ‘mysteriously’ poisoned and shot. This is simply *something the Kremlin does*. Or, if even if one is aware of this, but then cites lack of proof of the actions of an undemocratic state whose critics are “mysteriously” eliminated, this is simply to excuse that state and its lack of civil liberties. But this is exactly what the RT left does, having been repeatedly encouraged and manipulated into doing it until it becomes automatic. Simple confirmation bias.

    In the internal left-right culture war, there’s much for the left to reasonably criticize Sturgeon on, but not this. This is, and categorically should not become, some kind of proxy for how you feel about council tax etc. This is about geopolitics, the EU, Russian imperialist revanchism in Eastern Europe, the balkanization of Syria, yes neocon plans for the region but much else besides. It is far too complicated to be reduced to binaries and formulae, which are, it must be said, what both the BBC and RT-informed public are getting.

  7. Gordon Benton says:

    We can guess that many SNP members, Indy supporters, and indeed Scots of every political persuasion were surprised that our FM supported the Tories’ view on the alleged poisoning based and justified on the comment “… from the information made available to us”. We, who have long lost trust with anything the Establishment says, were prepared to believe that Russia and Putin were behind this attempted assassination of their spy, but withheld our condemnation until clear proof was proffered. What was the ‘clear evidence’ that 27 EU countries – and our FM – heard from PM May that had them support her view? It may be that Corbyn was kept out of the security loop, so he had to, like us punters, take a view. He, and we, may still be cynically wrong in suspecting that there might be more than meets the eye in this case, but now we respectfully ask for an explanation from our PM as to why the hurry to support the Tories, based on their word. We want Scotland to be on the winning side when it comes to giving our support for the truth in these matters.

    1. Jo says:

      Gordon
      “It may be that Corbyn was kept out of the security loop.”

      You’re not seriously suggesting that could have happened! The leader of the opposition denied access to information? Behave! No government could do that to the opposition without VERY formal processes kicking in beforehand. It’s ridiculous.

      There was NO “clear evidence”. In any case there was a process to be followed in referring the matter for independent investigation. That’s all Corbyn asked for. It’s what any responsible person would want before hurling accusations around and dragging other countries into it.

  8. Bibbit says:

    I think the SNP played the ball where it lay, very well.

    The SNP face relentless, 99.9% smearing from MSM.

    Sturgeon simply took a view that giving her MSM arch enemies a golden opportunity to launch another salvo of that vile-SNP, anti-British, pro-Putin vilification, is just not worth the candle. Salmond suffered the same faux pro-Putin MSM shite-throwing, you’ll recall.

    Sturgeon is keeping the SNP deliberately, in my opinion, well under the MSM radar at the moment.

    Give the tory fools enough rope and they will hang themselves, seems self-evidently the right course to have chosen.

    I noticed, coincidentally, that Sturgeon hasn’t even made it onto the new series of HIGNFY studio backdrop caricatures! Always a good wee political signpost on how the MSM views one! Arlene Foster’s there, as is Corbyn (two quite grotesque Corbyn caricatures, BTW, to just one strong and stable looking May). Indeed, Corbyn looks positively unhinged. There’s even an evil gnome of Donald Tusk but no Sturgeon. Excellent. They no longer think we are any danger to their rule. Poor saps may even be swallowing their own propaganda along with Ruth Davidson’s ‘I’m next FM’ shite.

    I call it lulling your enemies into a false sense of security; til its too late, of course.

    Like in thon Jurassic Park movie,where the Big White Hunter thinks he’s the top of the food chain, only to find out, too late, that he’s not.

    Good girl, Nicola. Good girl.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Bibbit, hmmm. Nicola Sturgeon: ‘SNP only real opposition to Conservatives’ (13 May 2017):
      https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/general-election/nicola-sturgeon-snp-only-real-opposition-to-conservatives-1-4444954

      I’d say that keeping under the radar and not holding the government to account are incompatible with this promise of being the only real opposition, wouldn’t you?

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