It’s not as if MSPs don’t have enough on their plates.
Scotland’s NHS continues to fail, families across the country struggle to get by during a brutal cost-of-living crisis, and a new report by independent research unit the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows standards in Scottish education have steadily declined since 2006.
We could spend a long time adding to this list of issues which the Scottish parliament should be confronting; swingeing cuts to a range of public services have made life more difficult for countless Scots.
The least we should expect from MSPs, then, is their complete focus on matters for which they have responsibility. It would appear the Scottish Government doesn’t agree.
On Tuesday, Holyrood will debate the situation in Gaza. A government motion, to be published on Monday, is expected to call for a ceasefire in the Middle East. Many Labour MSPs are expected to join SNP and Scottish Green members in backing the call for an end to military action, which began after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on October 7, torturing, raping and killing 1,400 people, and taking more than 200 hostage.
The planned debate at Holyrood follows a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday, when a number of Labour MPs backed an SNP-led call for a ceasefire.
There is a fundamental difference between these two parliamentary procedures. Foreign affairs issues are reserved to Westminster. It is, therefore, entirely legitimate – indeed, necessary – for MPs to debate and assume positions on matters such as the crisis in the Middle East. The SNP, which wishes to put pressure on the UK Government to take a pro-ceasefire stance, was perfectly entitled to try to exert influence in the House of Commons.
However, the Scottish Government has no locus in this issue. There is neither a Scottish Foreign Office nor a Ministry of Defence. There is no seat reserved solely for Scotland at the United Nations Security Council. Rather, in these areas, the UK takes the lead.
All of which means that Tuesday’s debate and vote will add up to no more than an exercise in posturing. MSPs will get to cosplay as global statesmen, delivering carefully crafted speeches about the Israel-Hamas war. They will wring their hands over the situation in Gaza, where Israeli forces are attempting to put an end to Hamas’s ability to carry out further atrocities.
A point-scoring exercise
This whole thing is distastefully cynical. The SNP wishes to use Scottish parliamentary time not to advance issues of importance of Scottish voters, but to score points against the UK Government.
The issue of a ceasefire is presented by the SNP and some members of the Labour Party as a straightforward matter. How, they ask, could anyone look at the current situation in Gaza and not want to see an end to military action?
But a ceasefire requires the participation of both sides in any conflict. The terrorists of Hamas have made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of being diverted from their mission of exterminating every last Jew in Israel.
Since the sickening actions of Hamas terrorists last month, we have witnessed a remarkable double standard in debate
This being so, isn’t the reality that those calling for a ceasefire are actually calling for Israel to stop defending itself against a barbarous foe which will attack again and again?
Since the sickening actions of Hamas terrorists last month, we have witnessed a remarkable double standard in debate.
In marches across the western world, pro-Palestine activists have been heard chanting despicable anti-semitic slogans. Many of those calling for a ceasefire have been quick to condemn Israel’s response to terrorism, but slow to demand Hamas releases hostages or stops using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
MSPs could do more to help Gaza than just vote
There are issues relating to the current situation in the Middle East where the Scottish parliament has authority. MSPs could, for example, debate – and influence – the police response to reports of increases in anti-semitic and Islamophobic crime since October 7.
Of course, members of the Scottish parliament will have strong views about the desperate situation in the Middle East. For many on the left, in particular, support for Palestine and criticism of Israel is a key part of their political identity. But, no matter how keenly any MSP takes an interest in what is happening in Gaza, they have no more power to influence events than you or I do.
Next Tuesday’s Holyrood vote on a ceasefire may allow MSPs to assert their position vis-à-vis the argument over who’s on the “right side of history”, but it won’t change a thing.
Euan McColm is a regular columnist for various Scottish newspapers