In Scotland, There’s No Excuse to Vote for Genocide

Don’t talk to me about ‘tactical’ voting.

by Adam Ramsay

6 June 2024

Women's Euro 2025 Qualifier - Scotland v Israel - Hampden Park, Glasgow, Scotland, Britain - May 31, 2024 People display Palestine flags as a Scotland fan is seen with a banner outside the stadium before the match amid the ongoing conflict
Protest at Hampden Park prior to the Women’s Euro 2025 Qualifier between Scotland and Israel, May 2024. Credit: Russell Cheyne/Reuters.

Voting comes with certain responsibilities. When you have seen months of footage of the mass slaughter of children, you should carry that weight with you into the polling booth.

When the International Court of Justice finds that there is a plausible case that one of your government’s key allies is committing genocide, you should ponder that as you mark your cross.

When the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court applies for arrest warrants for that ally’s prime minister and defence minister, you should try to use your ballot to help secure justice.

Israel’s incineration of Gaza would not be possible without a small group of international allies. Without arms from the US, they would have run out of ammunition long ago. And how do those weapons get there? The evidence heavily suggests – though the government has refused to confirm – that they are being flown in from Britain’s military bases in Cyprus. Likewise, the British government continues to allow UK-made weapons to be sold to Israel. While the government publicly backs a ceasefire, it privately provides logistics for slaughter.

This is much easier because the opposition also broadly supports Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions. Keir Starmer backs UK arms sales to Israel. His front bench has done nothing about the use of British sovereign territory to ship US arms to Israel. While the soon-to-be prime minister did eventually suggest a ceasefire, the word is meaningless while he continues to support arms shipments.

Where there have been changes in tone from Labour, they have come after being punished at the ballot box. Politicians who are more concerned about losing votes than children losing their lives shouldn’t be allowed near power.

But Labour and the Conservatives believe, between them, that they can force the British public in behind them, taking advantage of the two-laned voter corral we call an election system.

We shouldn’t just accept that. Each of us has different political priorities, variations in how we see the world. But providing logistical support to genocide and crimes against humanity should be a red line.

Yet it’s not just about the stated positions of each party. It’s also about the silence of their candidates.

I can only think of three reasons why someone standing to be an MP would have failed to publicly call for an end to arms sales to Israel. Either they support Israel’s ‘right’ to genocide. Or they secretly oppose the genocide, and would like an arms embargo, but they are too cowardly to publicly contradict their party line. Or they are woefully ignorant of international affairs. Any of these explanations should disqualify them.

For many voters in England, this leaves a difficult predicament. With a few honourable exceptions, almost no Labour candidates have called for an arms embargo. I’d certainly vote Green – I’m a member. The Lib Dems, for all their other sins, are also broadly anti-genocide, and have called for a suspension of arms sales to Israel. But for those who are desperate to be rid of this Conservative government – an urge I’m sure we can all understand – many will live in constituencies where the only candidate with a chance of beating the Tory is one of Starmer’s cronies. Many will feel they have to tactically vote Labour.

Scotland, though, is a different story. Voters here need not have any such conundrum. Most constituencies will have three candidates from parties opposed to the genocide – SNP, Green, and Lib Dem. If you are a tactical anti-Tory voter, then in every seat where the Conservatives came first or second last time, the SNP was their main competitor. If you are a principled voter, then the three anti-genocide parties offer a spectrum of ideologies – left to centre-right, pro-independence to pro-union – without any requirement that you get blood on your hands in the polling booth.

In my own seat, Edinburgh East, the Labour candidate, Chris Murray, comes from (as one local Labour member put it to me) “very much the right of the party”. His mother is the former Labour MP and MSP Margaret Curran, and famously on the party’s right. Murray regularly posts on Twitter both smiley pictures of himself out canvassing and various points about local politics. Yet search through his archive and you’ll not find a word about Gaza or Israel. I know of at least one constituent who has written to him asking if he supports an arms embargo. She got no reply. I asked myself. I got no reply.

On the other hand, the incumbent SNP MP, Tommy Sheppard, has long spoken up for Palestinians in parliament, and called for an arms embargo early on. The Green candidate, Amanda Grimm, has been on a number of Gaza demos, and visited the student occupation here to show her support. The Lib Dem, Charles Dundas, tells me he supports his national party’s position, and an arms embargo.

I don’t know why Murray has failed to demand we stop providing weapons to Israel. I don’t know if he is a passionate Zionist who supports Israel’s right to commit mass murder, or whether he’s such a coward who thinks his own career is more important than the lives of Palestinian children that he has stayed silent rather than diverge from his party’s line.

But I do know that he isn’t unusual. Across Scotland, with perhaps a couple of exceptions, Labour candidates have failed to speak out against the national party position on Palestine.

This general timidity is more extraordinary when you consider Scotland’s longstanding position. Polls over the years have tended to show Scottish voters around 10% more sympathetic towards Palestinians than those in the UK as a whole. Both the Church of Scotland and the Scottish government have long taken broadly pro-Palestinian positions, far outside the broadly pro-Israel consensus of UK officialdom. One Israeli diplomat said to Haaretz in 2012, “Every appearance by an official Israeli representative in Scotland is like a visit to enemy territory.”

And we have a particular responsibility, after all. Arthur Balfour, the British politician who first promised to carve a Jewish state into the middle of Palestine, was Scottish. He grew up just along the coast from where I am now.

If the people of Scotland do, as polls suggest, elect a parade of pro-genocide or genocide-tolerant Starmerite MPs in this general election, then we will undo years of work making up for Balfour’s crime. We will have struck a blow against justice in the world. We will be complicit.

Adam Ramsay is a Scottish journalist. He is currently working on his forthcoming book Abolish Westminster.

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