Eleven years after 9/11: what is Margo MacDonald thinking on?

11th September is the day in 1997 when we went to the polls to vote yes/yes to a Scottish Parliament with tax-raising powers: a Parliament that had already been crowdsourced and mutually agreed to over seven years of debate in Scotland. Tony Blair later claimed to have “given” it to us, but however much that may rankle, it isn’t every day that an MSP suggests we arrest him.

Margo MacDonald holds a special place in Scottish politics, when in 2003, discovering that her party did not intend to have her re-elected by pushing her down the Regional list of candidates, she stood as an Independent. And won. And has continued to win ever since. She has a solid reputation for independent thinking and common sense. The SNP may well feel that their attempt to cut her out of Lothian and Scottish politics was one of the worse mistakes they’ve made since they decided not to get involved with campaigning for devolution.

Motion S4M-04022: Margo MacDonald, Lothian, Independent, Date Lodged: 06/09/2012:

That the Parliament agrees with Archbishop Desmond Tutu that Tony Blair should be tried for waging aggressive war against Iraq and further believes that the Scottish Government should take the opportunity afforded by the independence of Scots law to complete the incorporation of international criminal law by introducing a simple amendment making illegal the waging of aggressive war with the intention of regime change so that Tony Blair could be brought to trial in Scotland.

Supported by: Annabelle Ewing, Gordon MacDonald, John Finnie, Jim Eadie, Chic Brodie, Stewart Stevenson. All SNP MSPs, and an Early Day Motion really has to get cross-party support: and because they are SNP, means unfortunately their support can be dismissed by pundits interpreting it as anti-UK or anti-Labour.

Certainly it would be politically difficult for either Conservatives or Labour to support a motion which unequivocably declares the Iraq war illegal by international law and calls for the arrest and trial of the Prime Minister for instigating it. After all, David Cameron may be required by the US to bring the UK into war on Iran, and no doubt he will: Conservative objections to the Iraq war have been very much of the Monday-morning footballer type.

I don’t disagree with the first 20 words of MacDonald’s EDM, as I made clear yesterday.

The UK is already signatory to the UN Charter and to the Geneva Conventions and to UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, all of which have been broken in the US/UK invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq.

The Charter of the United Nations opens with the words:

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

What Tony Blair and his executive did in 2002-2003 is criminal according to the UK’s uncodified constitution if we accept that the UK government is legally bound to abide by the international laws and agreements as the law of the land. But there is a long-standing tradition as old as the Nuremburg Trials that only the losers are put on trial for war crimes. We do not need to change the law to bring Blair to trial, and if we did need to change the law in order to make what Blair did illegal, he could not be brought to trial because that would be an ex post facto law. If you could make laws backwards-applicable, the MPs who voted for the Iraq war would have rid themselves of Brian Haw years before his death.

Brian was the most obstinate protester you could imagine. The last protester, really: after that big march, it was like everybody else gave up, but he never did. I admired that single-minded tenacity. His rectitude was a mirror that the people in the building opposite couldn’t bear. And he was proved right: we know we went to war on a lie, and nobody can explain what we’re doing in Afghanistan, even today. Brian stood for peace and love, against injustice and against the corruption and evasions that led us to this predicament. Now that he’s gone, who else have we got?

In principle, the police could arrest Tony Blair any time. All he’s required to have is someone notified of his arrest, free legal advice from a duty solicitor, and a notice of his rights and entitlements. The Crown Prosecution Service will make a decision to prosecute based on the evidence.

In practice, as we all know, that’s not going to happen. Inquiries will establish that it can’t be proved beyond reasonable doubt that Tony Blair definitely knew the evidence he was giving to Parliament wasn’t true, and the ethical responsibility of a leader not to commit the country to war on such dubious grounds is not something that can be enforced in court. Those who wish to defend Blair (whether because they are Blairites, or loyal Labour party members, or just think the Iraq war for a Good Thing) can continue to find foundation for their defence in the belief that so long as Blair hasn’t actually been found guilty of anything, that means he can’t possibly have been in the wrong.

Alex Salmond’s comment on the motion:

“I fully understand the sentiment because I think that Tony Blair misled this country into an illegal war, and the consequences of that we are going to feel for generations to come. I led an attempt to impeach the prime minister on this very subject. In terms of the interpretation of Scots law, that’s a matter for law officers.”

That is, in my view, political grandstanding. I’d like to think Alex Salmond opposes the Iraq war on principle. And it’s a reminder that eight years ago Salmond was part of a small group of MPs that forced a debate in the House of Commons that they knew they would not win (for any Labour MP to join them would be political suicide) pointing out that Blair deserved to be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanours” – in modern terminology, for gross misconduct.

Senior parliamentary officials, including legal advisers to the Commons Speaker, Michael Martin, on Wednesday night approved the wording of the text as meeting parliamentary rules, allowing the motion to be tabled on the first day of the new session. The Tory chief whip, David Maclean, has paged every Tory frontbench MP telling them not to sign it.

The Liberal Democrats are divided, with Jenny Tonge, the MP for Richmond, among those supporting the idea and Sir Menzies Campbell, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman, strongly opposing it. No Labour MP is expected to sign the motion for fear of losing the party whip for bringing the leader into disrepute.

(Fun fact: Lord Foulkes, who charged us about £580 a day for every day he spent in the House of Lords – over £54,000 a year – attempted to claim that Alex Salmond’s involvement in impeaching Tony Blair for the Iraq war was “party political” and lodged a complaint against Salmond for it.)

I think Jim Sillars‘ response to the EDM is more of the same:

“We have to ask if it can ever be right that a leader who, through conspiracy with another power and who paved the way to aggressive war through lies, distortions and manipulation of a parliament and people, should go unpunished while the victims of that war are either lying destroyed in their many thousands, or are living with the terrible consequences of it?” he said.

“Blair knew aggressive war was a crime. He believed he was safe, there being no legal system that could touch him. There is one now – ours.”

Again, I’d like to think Jim Sillars opposes the Iraq war on principle. If Scotland became independent, we would also have to become signatories of the Charters and Conventions of international law, and Blair might have to decide if he was going to avoid holidays in Scotland for fear of arrest. To claim Blair would have to fear arrest in Scotland if the Parliament passed an Act is nonsense.

One voice hasn’t been heard, beyond the EDM itself: what does Margo MacDonald feel she can accomplish? I’d like to hear from her.

In principle the International Criminal Court could act to arrest and try Blair for misleading the UK into a war of aggression: they can act only when a country is “unable or unwilling” to prosecute. The UK is able – and thus far has been unwilling. If the EDM could accomplish anything, it would tend to show how very unwilling the UK criminal justice system is to tackle international crimes committed by political leaders.

And perhaps that’s what Margo MacDonald intended to accomplish. A reminder, like Desmond Tutu’s, to those who now wish to gloss over it, that the Iraq war was a huge crime. Blair may be practically immune from prosecution, but that doesn’t exempt him from our public condemnation.

There’s a joke told about Blair’s first confession when he converted to the Catholic church after he left office: how long would it have taken for him to make confession of all his sins?

No time at all. Blair doesn’t think he’s ever done anything wrong.

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Filed under Politics, Scottish Politics, War

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