Latest Stories

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): The immediate decision before us in this debate is about military action, but behind that, this is about values. This is not a war against Islam. Islam is one of the great world religions, which is practised freely, without any harm to anyone, by millions of people in this country and around the world. This is not about Islam, but about co-existence.

Co-existence is absolutely fundamental to our society—the ability to elect Governments who are freely chosen by the people, equality of rights between men and women, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fundamental—but ISIS rejects every tenet of it. That is why ISIS kills, with impunity, fellow Muslims, Christians and Yazidis; engages in sexual exploitation of, and the trade in, women; and cares nothing for anyone who does not sign up to its single truth. This is not about Islam, but about co-existence.

The shadow of past decisions—particularly the 2003 decision to invade Iraq—is a long one in debates such as this one. That is because there is a live debate about the degree to which we are responsible for creating or fomenting violent jihadism. It is important to be clear about that. I accept that past decisions have angered jihadists and perhaps encouraged some people to join them, but it is a fundamental mistake to think that we are responsible for violent jihadism. Let us not forget that the bombing of the World Trade Centre on 11 September took place two years before the invasion of Iraq. Syria, until recent days, has been a byword for non-intervention by the west; yet it is now the headquarters of the global jihad.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Is it not also the case that there was a plot against the World Trade Centre in the 1990s, that the bombing of USS Cole was in 1998 and that al-Qaeda carried out plots and activities of a similar kind well before the intervention in Iraq?

Mr McFadden: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is worth stressing that the United States Administration’s policy for the past five or six years has been absolutely to resist intervention, but we still have violent Islamic jihadism and ISIS.

Mr MacNeil: I just want to query the hon. Gentleman’s history. What is the connection between the twin towers attack and Iraq?

Mr McFadden: The point I am making is that violent Islamic jihadism was around long before the decision in 2003.

Beneath the argument that this is really our fault lies a new imperialism—an imperialist conceit that, in foreign policy terms, seeks to divide the world into adults and children. The United States, the United Kingdom and other countries are defined as adults, and movements elsewhere, including the jihadists, are defined almost as children who react only in response to what we do or do not do. That is not the case: they are responsible for their own actions and their own ideology.

No one has forced anyone to behead innocent journalists and aid workers on the internet. No one has forced anyone to go from this country to join a group that carries out such acts. No one has forced anyone to carry out the terrorist acts that we have seen on our own streets. We cannot say this loudly and clearly enough: those who carry out these actions and foment this ideology are adults who are responsible for their own actions.

That brings me to the motion, which sets out a plan for military action in Iraq. I will vote for it, but I have to ask, as other hon. Members have asked, why it is right to carry out such actions against ISIS in Iraq, but not in Syria. The Government have welcomed the action carried out by the United States and Arab countries in Syria in recent days. If it is welcome and right for others to do so, why is it not welcome and right for us? If the Government’s position is that it would be illegal or wrong to act in that way in Syria, why is it not illegal or wrong for the United States and the countries taking part in the action? Militarily, we must ask what the point is of chasing ISIS from Iraq through a barely existing border to Syria. Morally, we must ask why it is right to come to the aid of the victims of ISIS who live under a democracy in Iraq, but not those who live under a dictatorship in Syria.

Is not the motion a reflection of where the country stands right now—somewhat limited in its confidence, overburdened by past events, and looking too much in the rear-view mirror? I would say that “Out, damn’d spot” is no basis for taking crucial foreign policy decisions. Instead, we should learn from the past, ally our soft power with hard power, follow through on our decisions to intervene so that we achieve our objectives, and not just define the struggle as a generational one and begin military action, but actually will the means to complete the job.

Hansard, 26th September


Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): The immediate decision before us in this debate is about military action, but behind that, this is about values. This is not a...

As the world recoils in horror from the murderous sectarianism of ISIS and the videos showing the brutal killing of innocent hostages, Britain is faced with a decision on how to respond and in particular whether military intervention should be part of that response.

In this debate, past decisions on military intervention, especially the 2003 war in Iraq, cast a long shadow. The long shadow is not just about the merits of that decision. It is also because of a longer term view held by some that believes it is our actions that are the driving force behind violent Islamist extremism. 

There is a legitimate debate to be had about the rights and wrongs of past actions but it is a dangerous misconception to see Islamic extremism as always being a consequence of what we in the West do or don’t do. 

No doubt there are actions we have taken which have angered jihadists, perhaps even encouraged others to join them, but we must not forget that the attack on the World Trade Centre took place two years before the war in Iraq.

Or that the tragedy in Syria which has been unfolding for three years with terrible human costs has become a byword for non-intervention militarily (except by non-Western forces). Yet it is Syria, where there has been no Western military intervention, which is the heart of ISIS and the new global headquarters for violent jihadists.

Foreign policy is not simply a case of action by the powerful and reaction by the powerless. It does not take place in a world where some countries are adults and other countries and movements are children. It takes place in a world of adults and adults, where people are responsible for their own actions and where extremist movements have a logic and momentum of their own.

Put bluntly, it’s not always about us.

Understanding this is important because the tendency to see everything through the lens of our own past actions also implies that we can somehow opt out of this struggle, that if we lie low and don’t offend the jihadists, maybe they will leave us alone. But we can’t, and they won’t.

It is time to stop looking over our shoulders. “Out damned spot” is no basis for taking crucial foreign policy decisions or responding to the situation we face now. Of course we should learn from the past, but we must not be imprisoned by it.

The Prime Minister is right to define this as a generational struggle. But definition only takes us half way. We also have to will the means to respond. If that means reassessing our approach to de-radicalisation and preventing people becoming involved in extremism in the first place then let’s do it. If that means reversing irresponsible policy decisions like watering down control orders, then we should do it. And if it means matching our humanitarian and diplomatic efforts overseas with a willingness to use military force if necessary, then that is also what we should do.

At the heart of this must be a strong defence of what we stand for: a democratic country where power changes hands peacefully on the basis of election results; freedom of speech; freedom of religion; the rule of law. These may seem obvious freedoms because we are used to them, but they are the very antithesis of the jihadist mantra, “convert or die”, and it is crucial that we defend these freedoms against those who hate everything this country stands for.

Islam is not the problem. Millions of Muslims in the UK practice their religion freely and in peace causing no harm to anyone. The problem is the strand of fundamentalist religious thinking which rejects co-existence with others, which says there is only one truth and all must accept it. We live in a country where people are free to attend the mosque on a Friday, others the synagogue on Saturday, others church on Sunday, and many none of the above. Britain’s values and freedoms are precious, fundamental to our way of life and well worth defending. It’s time for politics to exercise leadership as well as analysis in that fight.  

This article first appeared in the House Magazine on Wednesday 24th September:



As the world recoils in horror from the murderous sectarianism of ISIS and the videos showing the brutal killing of innocent hostages, Britain is faced with a decision on how...

I remember when I first met Donald Dewar, all gangly arms and angles walking in to what was then the North British Hotel, above Waverley Station.

It was the summer of 1988 and it was one of my first job interviews. I had studied at Edinburgh University but I had never been in the North British Hotel before. It wasn't the kind of place a skint student went. We had, I remember, a pot of tea. Lavish hospitality wasn't really Donald's thing. By the end of it, though, he offered me a job and it was the beginning of a partnership that would see us working together for many years to come on the creation of a Scottish Parliament.

We were an unlikely pairing in some ways. He the archetypal middle class Scottish Presbyterian lawyer ("I suppose you'll be wanting Christmas day off" he'd say, only half joking) and me, the seventh child of a Gaelic speaking Irish labourer. But together we tried to shape a future for Scotland that would answer the grievances keenly felt in the country but maintain Scotland's place in the UK.

For all Donald's wry pessimism, he was a passionate Scottish patriot, proud of the enlightenment and of the intellectual contribution Scotland has made to the world. He loved its universities, its distinct institutions, its civic values and decency and, when it came to places, he loved nowhere more than Glasgow, the city he represented and where I grew up.

For Donald, and for me, a Scottish Parliament was about giving Scotland legislative power to shape its own future but not about forcing a choice between different identities in our multi-national Union. There is always a discussion about what makes sense to do at the UK and Scottish levels and more locally. This changes over time, as shown by the discussion about new powers for the Scottish Parliament. This was never a vision about forcing people to choose between overlapping Scottish and British identities even if one was felt more strongly than the other.

Nor was it about seeing Scotland's place in the world through the single lens of Scottishness. We were not trying to tear people apart or force them to choose whom they should be to the exclusion of other sides of their character.

Throughout history independence and self-determination have been important in securing freedom from colonial rule. But Scotland is not labouring under a colonial yoke. Our worry in the early days of setting up the parliament was that this was such a good deal for Scotland that other parts of the UK would look on with envy. Through the devolution settlement Scotland enjoys autonomy while remaining part of perhaps the most successful multi-national country ever created.

The question "if we are better together, why are we not better already?" is a good one but it ignores the exceptionalism of Britain's story and the Scottish role within it. A country that faced down fascism in the Second World War, at times almost alone; founded and built the best, most socially just health system in the world; has a cultural reach way beyond its one per cent of the global population share; used its leadership of international bodies to put aid, trade and development at the top of the global agenda; and had the strength to withstand the financial crash that crippled smaller economies is a country worth being part of.

There are many nation states of five million people. The question is not possibility but desirability. In an interdependent world Scotland can enjoy self-government and be part of a union of nations that enjoys tremendous power and reach across the world. There has been a political tendency to try to withdraw from the world's problems, to retreat from interdependence and free movement of people, ideas and capital. It is seen in the little Englander attitude of Ukip and their fellow travellers who seekto blame someone else for every grievance.

The SNP would furiously reject comparisons with Ukip but, however social democratic their language, blaming the English or the UK Government for everything and suggesting all our problems would be resolved if only we could withdraw from the neighbour who causes them has parallels with those on the right who blame the EU, immigration and globalisation. Both seek a solution in separation, even if one is on the right and the other on the left.

Heart and head should not be on opposite sides in the referendum debate. The smaller vision, the diminished view of what Scotland can be, is on the Yes side. Scots can say no thanks to independence and uphold an idealism that wants Scot­land to play its part as a progressive leader in global ideas and change. The UK has played this role many times before and we can do so again. Scotland is bigger than the separatists. It deserves to remain bigger.

This article first appeared in The Herald on 16th September.


I remember when I first met Donald Dewar, all gangly arms and angles walking in to what was then the North British Hotel, above Waverley Station. It was the summer...

More Stories >

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.