John Swinney – 2003 Speech on Iraq

Below is the text of the speech made by John Swinney in the Scottish Parliament on 13th March 2003.

Presiding Officer,

Two months ago the SNP led a debate in this – our national Parliament – on the growing crisis in Iraq.

That day we set out our “deep and serious concern” that the UK Government was pursuing “an inevitable path to war.”

Two months on I believe we were right then and we are right today. Tony Blair and George Bush are determined to go to war – regardless of the UN, regardless of world opinion and regardless of the evidence.

The final proof was revealed this week.

Before a single shot has been fired the United States is already inviting tenders for post-war rebuilding work in Iraq.

So war in Iraq is now an economic opportunity for American construction firms. With thousands of lives, the Middle East peace process and the stability of the world all at risk that is nothing short of an obscenity.

Much has happened over these past two months that demands further debate. Events which could shape the future of our world and our country’s place in that world.

In recent weeks we have witnessed further reports from the UN weapons inspectors, an accelerated military build-up, intense diplomatic manoeuvring and a deadline for war.

And yesterday the United Nations was thrown into chaos as the lobbying for war grew ever more desperate.

But despite the frantic efforts since our last debate on January the 16th, the marches, the arguments and the counter-arguments, one thing has remained constant.

The people of Scotland have not been moved. We – and millions across the globe – are saying to George Bush and Tony Blair: Not in our name.

My position is that no case for military action against Iraq has been proven.

I believe that any pre-emptive action by the US and the UK without a specific UN mandate would be contrary to international law.

I believe that no UK forces should take part in any military action without a UN mandate that specifically authorises action based on clear, compelling and published evidence.

At the outset let me stress two points.

Firstly, I – and this party – will always support Scottish armed forces.

Hundreds of Scottish-based servicemen and women are being deployed to the Gulf.

Part of supporting our troops is telling the Government – the people who give the orders – when it is wrong to commit our troops to action.

Our courageous and professional servicemen and women expect to be deployed as a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. Today – with the inspection regime delivering results – that is patently not the case.

The second point I want to stress is this. Saddam’s regime is barbaric. On that there is no argument.

I find it offensive that those of us who oppose war – across all parties – are lectured to on the nature of his regime. We are well aware of Saddam’s atrocities.

But so were members of the Conservative Government who approved the building of an Iraqi chemical weapons plant at the same time that Saddam was using poison gas during the Iran-Iraq war.

So I’ll take no lectures from the gung-ho faction warning of the dangers of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Those dangers have been considerably heightened by the actions of previous US and UK Governments. And they should be ashamed of those actions.

Presiding Officer,

More than 50 years ago the countries of the world came together in the city of San Francisco to establish the United Nations.

Their primary aim was set out in the first words of the UN charter: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

And crucially the charter sets out “that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest.”

The common interest. Not the interest of the United States or the United Kingdom. But the common interest of the world as a whole.

And nobody has given the United States monopoly power to decide what the interests of the rest of the world should be.

That attitude is patronising at best; profoundly dangerous at worst.

The proper forum for deciding the world’s common interest is the United Nations; not the Oval Office.

And the United Nations has spoken.

Any unilateral war launched against Iraq would be contrary to international law.

In a significant intervention the Secretary-General himself, Kofi Annan, said only on Monday: “If the US and others were to go outside the security council and take military action, it would not be in conformity with the UN charter.”

From the world’s top diplomat that is as damning an assessment of unilateral action as it is possible to get.

And it is absolutely clear, as we debate this issue today, perhaps days from war – there IS no UN mandate for military action in Iraq. In the forseeable future there WILL BE no UN mandate for military action in Iraq. And for those of us who believe in the rule of international law, that means there should be – no military action in Iraq.

Presiding Officer,

UN Security Council Resolution 1441 – adopted by the security council on November the 8th – is not a mandate for war. Nowhere in that resolution – nowhere – is there specific authorisation for force.

It is a resolution which calls for disarmament. It establishes an enhanced inspection regime. And it warns Iraq it will face “serious consequences” if it does not comply.

Writing in the Herald this week Robert Black, professor of Scots Law at Edinburgh University said: “There is absolutely no warrant in principle or authority for maintaining that this entitles one or more of the members of the security council, as distinct from the security council as a body, to determine what those consequences shall in fact be.”

And Professor Black has further argued that the recent draft resolution – the so-called second resolution – also does not constitute a legal mandate for war.

“Any contention,” says Professor Black, “by the UK and US governments that Resolution 1441 (either alone or if supplemented by the draft resolution) legitimises in international law resort to armed intervention in Iraq is without legal foundation.”

But we don’t need to rely on legal opinion. On the very day that 1441 was passed the US ambassador to the United Nations himself said the resolution did not contain any automatic triggers for war.

In the last Gulf War, when my Party supported the then Government’s position, the UN had passed a resolution stating that “all necessary means” should be used to enforce compliance.

The reason we do not have a resolution using the terms that authorise war is because the UK and the US know the security council will not agree to such authorisation. Why? Because the majority on the security council knows the case for war against Iraq has simply not been proven.

Even the resolution of March 7 – which sets a deadline but still does not constitute a mandate – is not going to receive approval from the UN security council. Whatever happens President Chirac has said France will exercise its veto. Tony Blair’s reaction? This would be “unreasonable”.

So we are left with the question when is a veto reasonable or unreasonable?

Since 1980 on 14 occasions Britain has voted – along with the majority of the security council on resolutions relating to Israel and the occupied territories.

On the self-same 14 occasions the US has vetoed those resolutions.

Why is it reasonable to veto the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians and unreasonable to veto war in Iraq?

But it’s not just France’s veto that Mr Blair should be worried about. He should be worried that despite all his efforts he has failed to win the argument.

He’s failed to win the argument because no-one is clear what precisely the argument is.

Last year it was regime change.

Then it was the war against terrorism.

Then it was disarmament.

Then it was the moral case.

And then last week President Bush went all the way back to the beginning again and said it was about regime change.

If the US and UK can’t agree a justification among themselves, how on earth do they expect the rest of the world to support a war in Iraq?

What the rest of the world DOES support is the inspection process.

And the inspection process is starting to work.

On February 14 Hans Blix reported increased co-operation from Iraq.

On Friday Dr Blix reported further progress.

On the question of interviewing scientists he said “Iraq has provided the names of many persons.”

On the question of alleged mobile production units for biological weapons he said: “No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found.”

On the question of destroying the Al-Samoud 2 missiles, he said: “The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament. We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed.”

On the question of chemical weapons, he said: “There is a significant Iraqi effort underway to clarify a major source of uncertainty.”

On the question of time, he said: “It would not take years, nor weeks, but months.”

So if the process can take months – why did the UK Government put down a deadline of 10 days?

The international community has asked the inspectors to undertake an onerous task. Let’s give them the time they need to complete the job we have asked them to do.

This week it’s become clear they are not going to be given that time. The US wants the inspections over by tomorrow. The UK by Monday. Both countries have rejected the Franco-German proposal for 120 days. Both countries have rejected the non-aligned proposal of 45 days. Why? Because the United States has decided to go to war. And nothing will divert President Bush from that path.

I doubt there is a single person in this country who honestly believes the UK Government is in control of either the events or the timescale.

It has never been more obvious. On this issue power lies with the US. And the UK, sadly, is now little more than an out-station for the White House press office.

The British Government is now relying on what it calls six key tests – six conditions it has set Iraq to avoid war.

One of those tests is for Saddam Hussein to appear on television. Last night a former national security adviser to the White House called that test “trivial.”

And he is right. Tony Blair has to understand – demanding a television appearance is no substitute for a legal mandate for war.

Presiding officer,

As with all wars, there is one certainty. The people who will suffer most will be civilians.

Innocent people will die.

According to the UN up to two million could be left homeless.

And 900,000 refugees could be created.

In February the UN launched an appeal for 120 million dollars to cope with the impending humanitarian disaster. So far western Governments have pledged just a quarter of that amount.

The British Government have allocated an extra £1.75 billion to the Ministry of Defence to fight the war. But the Department for International Development has not received a single extra penny to cope with the consequences.

I have no doubt that many of those who support war do so out of genuine concern for the Iraqi people and the conditions they live in today.

But I would have more respect for the politicians who put forward those arguments if they backed their tough words with hard cash.

These are desperately dangerous times for the world.

And these are desperately difficult issues to wrestle with.

No right thinking person can have anything but revulsion for Saddam Hussein.

But I – along with the vast majority of people in this country – cannot escape the feeling that what is happening in our name is just wrong.

A unilateral strike on Iraq is wrong. Ignoring international law is wrong. Going to war without the evidence is wrong.

Three years ago, in a widely admired speech, the now deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party told this Parliament:

“Please understand that the peace process is not just about an absence of war. It is about taking positive steps to resolve conflict.”

As I survey the world today, I simply do not believe enough has been done to resolve this conflict peacefully.

The next few days will prove crucial for all of us who live on this fragile planet. Decisions taken will have profound consequences for generations to come. Today this Parliament can make its voice heard. I urge Parliament to ensure that voice is a voice for peace. I move the motion.