Yvonne Ridley: The SNP needs to draw a straight line - and now

CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley says the SNP should move quickly on developing an ethical foreign policy

AS cartoons go it was savage in its simplicity and illustrated the mire the British Government is in when it comes to trading with tyrants, dictators and those who flout international law.

But writer and cartoonist Martin Shovel's work set me thinking that now, more than ever, the SNP needs to push ahead with plans for an ethical foreign policy as it becomes increasingly clear the Westminster government is more interested in selling arms to repressive regimes than concerning itself with human rights.

Independence might still be a long way off but Scottish people need to know now that a future government will not trample on human rights in order to flog bombs to brutal regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Picture courtesy of Martin Shovel

When Labour won the 1997 General Election, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook famously declared: "Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension." Those words were soon forgotten as the then prime minister, Tony Blair, followed on from John Major and Margaret Thatcher to turn the British arms industry in to one of the most profitable in the world.

The Tory government under David Cameron and now Theresa May is no better. Putting profit ahead of people is their mantra so it is increasingly unlikely that they will suspend arms sales worth more than £3bn to Saudi Arabia which has been bombing and blitzing hospitals, schools and other civilian areas in Yemen. In short, British bombs are being used to kill babies and, in a nutshell, it is the brutal truth.

The general public has always been uncomfortable with the seemingly unconditional relationship Britain has with some of the most brutal regimes in the Middle and Far East, and as we appear to be heading for another independence referendum as a result of the Brexit vote, Scotland needs to have all its ducks in a row. 

Britain is in violation of its own legal obligations and yet the government is also in denial because all it sees is the money pouring in from the Gulf countries to buy weapons.

Apart from the Brexit chaos, Westminster MPs sitting on the influential committee on arms export controls are also in turmoil over the arms trade ... it seems unbelievable that the Saudi bombing of civilian areas in Yemen is even up for debate but the UK Government is dazzled by the filthy lucre raked in from arms deals. 

Britain is in violation of its own legal obligations and yet the government is also in denial because all it sees is the money pouring in from the Gulf countries to buy weapons.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last week brazened out the critics by confirming the UK would continue to export weapons to Saudi Arabia, stating the "key test" of a breach of international humanitarian law had not been met. 

He seemed oblivious to the fact that the UN has vehemently criticised the Saudi-led coalition forces for military strikes on weddings, markets, schools and hospitals.

And when the SNP's Tasmina Sheikh raised the issue, the expression on the Tory front benches revealed facial expressions of those who couldn't care less. 

 

 

The cold reality is Tory Britain is making bundles of money with every bomb that drops in Yemen regardless of whether the target is a nursery school, hospital maternity ward or a strategic military point. 

Since Saudi launched itself into the war in March last year to back its Sunni Arab allies to reinstate Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi as president, the slaughter of innocents has mounted in the conflict into tens of thousands. 

The Saudis are fighting the Houthi rebels who belong to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, and so the Saudis regard the Houthis as proxies for its age old enemy Iran. 

Scotland plays a significant role in the UK defence industry with nearly 200 companies employing around 12,500 people in the multi billion pound trade.

A hard-hitting video released by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in collaboration with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty exposes how UK-made weapons have been used in attacks on civilians – including bombs manufactured and sold after the conflict began. Yet, Theresa May and her Tory government refuses to act. 

Johnson even had the brass neck to tell Westminster MPs that Saudi Arabia is conducting its own investigations into allegations of violations of international humanitarian law. 

Maintaining an uncharacteristic poker face, he said: "They have the best insight into their own procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations."

How the hell can suspected war criminals investigate their alleged crimes?

During the height of the SNP's independence referendum campaign Humza Yousaf, the then SNP external affairs minister, said the SNP's plan was to embrace world affairs on a "do no harm" philosophy. 

While Labour's Robin Cook had little chance to get his ethical foreign policy beyond a soundbite, the SNP must give solid, concrete plans of how it will enforce its own ethical foreign policy.

Now is the time for Scotland to show its own people - and the rest of the world - that such atrocities will not be carried out with the support of any Holyrood government. 

Scotland plays a significant role in the UK defence industry with nearly 200 companies employing around 12,500 people in the multi billion pound trade. We already know that bombs which contributed to the deaths of 551 children and 299 women contained smart technology manufactured in Scotland. 

No doubt those same innovations which put the "smart" into bombs are also being used on playgrounds, hospitals and schools in Yemen.

Now is the time for Scotland to show its own people - and the rest of the world - that such atrocities will not be carried out with the support of any Holyrood government. 

An independent Scotland could become a flag bearer for upholding international law and human rights, but when it comes to relations in the Middle East it must make its intentions clear now as to how it will conduct business whether it's with Riyadh or Tel Aviv.

Picture courtesy of Jayel Aheram

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