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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...

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): As we debate these issues, it is not clear whether we will face them as a United Kingdom or as a country forced apart, but I very much hope that we will face them as a United Kingdom in the weeks and months to come.

The shadow of the past is long in debates such as this, particularly the House’s decision just over 10 years ago to go to war in Iraq, but also the decision last year not to intervene militarily in Syria. There is no doubt that past decisions that we have taken have angered jihadists, but although we acknowledge that, it is important also to say that it is a fundamental and dangerous misconception to think that the ideology of Islamist extremism stems only from the decision on Iraq or exists only as a response to western foreign policy. That misconception must be dealt with, because for as long as it prevails, we fail to understand the threat that we face and are encouraged to believe that we can somehow opt out of it.

We should not forget that it was two years before the invasion of Iraq that the attack on 11 September, the anniversary of which is tomorrow, took place. We should not ignore the fact that we took a decision not to intervene in Syria last year, yet today it is the global headquarters of violent jihadist extremism. There has been no western intervention in Nigeria, yet Boko Haram wreaks havoc, kills civilians and kidnaps schoolgirls.

There is an imperialist conceit that suggests that foreign policy is divided into a world of adults, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, and other countries or forces, which are children. It is not true, and it absolves others of responsibility for their actions. We live in a world of adults and adults. No one forces anyone to bomb a marketplace or behead an innocent journalist on video. Those actions are the responsibility of those who carry them out, and it is important that we are clear about that.

The issue is not whether we have to respond but how. Withdrawal from the world’s problems has become quite fashionable—“Nothing to do with us,” “All too difficult,” or even, at its worst, “Let them kill one another.” That is not only morally bankrupt but against our own interests, because in an interconnected world we cannot opt out of facing threats. Violent jihadism has already taken innocent lives in this country and indeed this city, and it can do so again in the future.

The Prime Minister is right to define this as a generational struggle, but definition takes us only halfway. We also have to will the means to respond. President Obama will set out his strategy on the response to ISIS later today, and in all likelihood it will include an element of military response. At some point, we will be asked whether we want to join in and support that action. It is good that we debate that and learn the lessons from the past, but we must not be imprisoned by the past. If we are to set out conditions for joining in action, let us do so, but let us not have an ever-lengthening list of conditions that are designed not as a means of reaching a decision, but rather as a means of never having to take one.

Mr Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point. With the thinnest of resources in our Foreign Office and intelligence services, and without the aid or contribution of the United States, what lessons might we draw from what happened recently in Mali and the Sahel, where early intervention was able to repel al-Qaeda, which has been the closest to our shores most recently? Does that show that we need a unity of approach, and development, governance and security at the same time and not as choices? Early intervention to repel the threat has delivered a success, and that is noticeable by its omission during today’s debate.

Mr McFadden: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point and, as has been said several times, it would be wrong to draw the lesson that we have been here before and that intervention is always wrong.

Let me return to the issue of values, because too often we debate such things as though they are only a question of military action or not, and we forget to stress what we believe in and why this threat is so important. The values that we are familiar with are no less important because we are familiar with them: Governments elected by the democratic will of the people and where power passes peacefully if the people change their minds in a subsequent election; equality for men and women; freedom of speech; freedom of religion. In this country, people can go to the mosque on Friday, the synagogue on Saturday, church on Sunday, and many can say that they do not want to go to any of those. Those are fundamental freedoms.

The problem is not Islam. Islam is practised peacefully by millions of people in this country and throughout the world, without doing any harm to anyone. The problem is that strand of perverted religion which says that co-existence is impossible. We must stand for co-existence and for the pluralism of a society that says that there is no single truth that everyone has to sign up to and believe. Pointing a gun at people’s heads and saying, “Convert or die” is the absolute antithesis of the pluralism, democracy and equality in which we believe. This is not just about military action; this is about our values. If we retreat from the world and do not take on this fight, we will end up with a diminished, shrunken Britain. That should not be our vision for the future or what we stand for.

Hansard, 10th September



Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): As we debate these issues, it is not clear whether we will face them as a United Kingdom or as a country forced...

The Prime Minister has hardly communicated energy in the fight against Islamist extremism with his yo yoing holiday plans but it’s not his physical location that matters most – it is the lack of a strong and clear plan to fight the battle in which we are engaged.

The ISIS killing spree targeting Christians, Yazidis and fellow Muslims, and the brutal horrific murder of American journalist James Foley should leave us in no doubt, if there was any in the first place, that we have to face up to the threat posed by the ideology which drives these actions.

The Prime Minister terms this a generational struggle.  He is right about that.  Yet he cannot bring himself to will the means to fight it because government decision making is imprisoned by the past, in particular by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and by the Prime Minister’s immediate decision following last year’s Parliamentary vote on Syria to take the option of military intervention off the table.

Public opinion in both the UK and the US is war weary for understandable reasons. Many lives have been lost and many brave young servicemen and women have suffered life altering injuries as a result of long military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Yet opting out of this battle is neither possible nor in the end desirable because we have to defend our way of life, stand up for our freedoms and combat an ideology of mass murder based on a gross perversion of faith. We don’t have a choice about whether to engage in this fight.  If we don’t go to it, it is coming to us.

In that regard, the government’s decision a couple of years ago to abolish Control Orders and give terror suspects in the UK new freedoms to move around the country and access the internet – and to put a sunset clause on the weakened regime even if the threat level posed by the person had not changed – now looks even more reckless and irresponsible than it did at the time.

The wrong analysis led to the wrong policy.  The Government came to office believing that the laws of the land posed a threat to our liberty.  But while security and liberty always have to be carefully balanced it is not the law of the land – heavily scrutinised by parliament and the judiciary – which poses a threat to our freedoms.  That threat is posed by the ideology which saw James Foley beheaded on the internet and which would inspire the people who carried out this crime to target people in this country too.

It is estimated that hundreds of young British Muslims are in Syria or Iraq, fed a daily diet of hatred towards the democratic tolerance of the country in which they were born and which gave them much.  But the values of their country are nowhere to be seen in what they are doing now.  “Convert or die” could not be further removed from the spirit of a country like the UK where people are free to go to the mosque on Friday, others to the synagogue on Saturday, others to church on Sunday, or, as many choose, not to bother with organised religion at all.

Real as the threat is, there is an unwillingness which crosses boundaries of left and right to go beyond the delivery of aid to the victims as a response.  British policy is gripped by a mood that says short of an invading army scaling the cliffs of Dover, because of our recent past, military intervention can’t be the answer and in any case is unlikely to be approved by Parliament or the public.  This is reflected in the mantra repeated at the beginning of virtually every government statement in recent days that whatever happens there will not be boots on the ground.

This is informed by the notion that somehow what we do governs what the jihadists do.  But the extremism that drives what we are seeing has its own agenda, outwith any policy the West has.  September 11th happened two years before the invasion of Iraq.  There has been no Western military intervention in Syria yet that is where the virulent extremism that drives ISIS is strongest.  It’s not always about us.  But it does affect us and threaten us and that is why we must understand and respond.

We cannot define the struggle we are in and then not will the means to fight it.  We have to loosen the grip of the mood that is imprisoning our policy and free ourselves to use every means at our disposal to fight the extremism that drives ISIS – both domestically and internationally.  To do so does not mean there will be a repeat of the Iraq invasion of 2003 but ruling options out or refusing to reconsider domestic mistakes in legislative change is inhibiting us in responding to the threat we face.

Humanitarian help for those driven from their homes by the newly declared Islamic State is certainly essential.  And the UK is rightly proud of its record in this arena.  But bottles of water and tents alone are not enough for those staring down the barrel of a gun.

It is time to close the gap between analysis of the problem and equipping ourselves to deal with it.  This gap is created by fear that the Iraq war and last year’s decision on Syria means anything more than aid for the victims of ISIS must be off the table.  But we have to stop looking back and match what is happening here and now with both the resolve and the means to combat it.

This article first appeared on Labour Uncut on 22nd August


The Prime Minister has hardly communicated energy in the fight against Islamist extremism with his yo yoing holiday plans but it’s not his physical location that matters most – it...

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