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.