Tommy Sheppard

MP for Edinburgh East

Syria Debate

Syria Debate

I wasn't called to speak in Wednesday's debate on whether to engage in air strikes in Syria so I recorded some of what I would have liked to say.

For the most part this has been a sincere debate with people who hold strong and passionate views being prepared to listen to those who hold equally strong but divergent views with respect.

There is, though, a worrying undertone which arcs from the Prime Minister's reference to "terrorist sympathisers" to the self righteousness of some Tory and Labour backbenchers. This tries to suggest that those who oppose air strikes are somewhat soft on Daesh and unwilling to stand up to them.

Nothing could be further from the truth as regards the attitude of myself and my SNP colleagues. We completely abhor the actions and ideology of Daesh and wish to be part of an international campaign to defeat them.

Our worry is that air strikes by themselves will make matters worse, strengthening Daesh, and putting off the day when the people of Syria and the wider region can achieve democratic control over their own countries.

I have attended every debate and discussion on this question and read every briefing I can get my hands on - including a special session with senior military commanders yesterday. I am more convinced than ever that there is no plan, no strategy, just a knee jerk desire to be seen to be doing something, anything.

What is needed is for the protagonists in the Syrian civil war to declare a ceasefire so that coordinated action by Syrians can be planned to rid themselves of Daesh in large parts of their country. Were that to happen we should support the Syrian people with money and supplies and with tactical air support.

But it is now clear that these air strikes will not be accompanied by any ground war - they will be conducted in isolation. This is exactly what has been going on for the last 15 months and it has not resulted in weakening Daesh - if anything they are stronger now than they have ever been in Syria.

Air strikes by themselves could make things worse in four ways. Firstly, you can only destroy territory with bombs you cannot take control of it. So the infrastructure of Raqqa and other cities will be laid to waste creating serious humanitarian problems and making it harder to take control and administer these areas eventually.

Secondly, this will involve to some extent the slaughter of innocents. This is not a video game. What the military call collateral damage will result in the destruction of classrooms and hospital wards and the death of children and other non combatants.

Thirdly, the destruction of cities where hundreds of thousands of Syrians currently live under the control of Daesh will result, if they can escape, in many more refugees and worsen the worst human catastrophe of our generation.

Fourthly, and most importantly, it will play to the narrative which Daesh promotes of this being a global struggle between western Crusaders and the Islamic people, and hand them a major propaganda coup. Imagine if you were a ordinary person living in Raqqa. You experience hell being unleashed from the sky as thousands of tonnes of ordnance descend on the place where you live. Your home is destroyed and perhaps your loved ones are injured or killed. And you see no sign of any other Syrians fighting the the people who have controlled your city for the last two years. Might you not turn to those who occupy your city and point to the destruction caused by western air forces.

And of course through global social media these actions will be reported and used to build support for Daesh abroad - acting as a recruiting sergeant for this vile organisation.

We are more than half way through this debate now and what depresses me is the unwillingness of those advocating increasing our intervention the Syrian war to contemplate that this action might actually make things worse. It looks as if Cameron will get his vote for air strikes. And it looks as if things will get a lot worse before they will get better.

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Monday, 21 January 2019

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