By a Newsnet reporter
Ten years to the day from a key Holyrood debate on 13 March 2003 in the run up to the Iraq war, the Scottish National Party has highlighted the lessons that must be learnt from the conflict.
The nationalists have also urged Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont to make clear whether she now accepts that she got her stance on the conflict badly wrong.
While the debate split the Labour ranks, Ms Lamont made clear her support for Tony Blair’s plans to invade, arguing in the debate that “we must acknowledge that there may be serious reasons why we must go to war.”
A decade on from the conflict which many claim was illegal, and now leader of the Labour party in Scotland, Ms Lamont has been challenged to reveal whether she accepts that she was wrong to back Tony Blair’s empty case.
In 2003, during a debate in Holyrood on the looming invasion, Ms Lamont supported Tony Blair’s contention that the weapons of mass destruction allegedly possessed by Saddam Hussein warranted a war.
Ms Lamont said:
“Even if we do not trust the motives of the American Administration, we must acknowledge that there may be serious reasons why we must go to war.
“Unlike some, I do not have a Pooterish self-importance on this matter. I ask people to reflect on what was said in Westminster by Ann Clwyd, who is not a Blair clone or a Johnny-come-lately to the debate but someone who has reflected on these serious issues and who says that we must go.”
In 2006, when asked, Conservative leader David Cameron confirmed he still thought the decision to invade Iraq was correct. Praising Tony Blair’s decision, he added: “You’ve got to do what you think is right even if it’s unpopular, that’s the only thing you can do.”
Despite the horrendous loss of life that has scarred Iraq since the fateful decision to invade, no weapons of mass destruction were ever found because they were not there, even though the case for war was based on their presence.
In the run-up to the invasion, Mr Blair’s government published the now infamous “sexed up” report which claimed that Saddam possessed chemical warheads which could attack British bases in Cyprus “within 45 minutes”. The claims in the report, which was instrumental in persuading MPs to vote in favour of the conflict, were later found to be without foundation.
Estimates of the number who lost their lives as a result of the invasion and the subsequent violence vary widely. The Iraq Body Count Project estimates that there were around 110,937–121,227 civilian deaths from violence, and an additional 50-60,000 deaths amongst members of the Iraqi armed forces and various Iraqi militia groups. 179 members of the British armed forces also died in the conflict, as well as 4,486 US military.
Iraq continues to be plagued by violence and political instability. The immediate result of the US-led invasion was to give Al Qaeda backed armed Islamist groups a foothold in the country. Sectarian violence, and attacks on Iraqi minority groups, remains widespread.
As the 10th anniversary of the conflict approaches, the SNP has called Ms Lamont’s judgement into question, and point out that only independence can guarantee that Scotland will never again be tricked into participating in a Westminster sponsored illegal war.
According to an opinion poll published in the run up to the invasion, 65% of Scots opposed war with Iraq, and a similar number said that Westminster should consult the Scottish Parliament before taking the country to war. Despite strong public opposition to the campaign, Westminster pressed on regardless.
The SNP are now calling on Ms Lamont to explain why she prioritised the wishes of the UK government over those of the people of Scotland.
Commenting, SNP MSP and former Cabinet Secretary Bruce Crawford said:
“It is exactly ten years to the day since the Scottish Parliament debated the Iraq war, and this is an appropriate time to look back and learn from the appalling mistakes and distortions that led the UK into an illegal conflict that came at very high human cost.
“It is striking from the debate ten years ago that, amongst the Labour ranks, Johann Lamont was supportive of Tony Blair and George Bush’s determination to invade. It was a remarkable position for her to hold, putting herself in direct opposition to the millions of people at home and abroad who marched in vain to get the message across: not in our name.
“The only support Johann Lamont and the majority of her fellow Labour MSPs received 10 years ago came from the Tories – they were clearly wrong together.
“We now know that those of us who raised our voices in opposition to the conflict were proven right. There were no weapons of mass destruction to disarm, and it was wrong to defy the authority of the United Nations. The entire illegal war was built upon a premise that was simply untrue, rendering it the UK’s biggest foreign policy misadventure since Suez.
“With the benefit of hindsight, does Johann Lamont today accept that she got it very badly wrong in supporting a war that saw such appalling loss of life – bearing in mind that there were a number of Labour MSPs then who did not tow Tony Blair’s line, such as Susan Deacon, Bill Butler, Pauline McNeill and John McAllion.
“Johann Lamont should explain why she put Westminster’s determination to invade ahead of the views of people in Scotland and around the world who opposed the Blair/Bush war.
“The most striking lesson of all from the conflict is that never again should Scotland find itself dragged into illegal conflicts by Westminster governments – that requires achieving the powers of independence, which is why a Yes vote in next autumn’s referendum is so important.”