By Kezia Dugdale MSP
We must never lose sight of the simple fact that the citizens of Syria, including many young children, are being gassed to death. Pictures of dust-laden youngsters struggling to breathe are beamed into the luxury of our living rooms night after night.
Some are too stunned, too shocked, and have seen too many horrors to cry.
To hide from the shelling, people take to the basements and underground shelters where schools and hospitals operate. Then the chlorine gas comes. With its density heavier than air, it sinks to find its prey.
Theresa May has already lost the battle to define this military action. In the choice of a gallant effort to stem a humanitarian crisis caused by a brutal dictator, versus Donald Trump’s war, many people believe it to be the latter. How can you blame them when his diplomacy skills extend to chest-beating on Twitter? Abuse and bravado.
The Prime Minister’s decision to send fighter jets to join the French and American mission to destroy chemical factories, on closer inspection, feels confused. These are the warehouses of pain that produce sarin. They have been bombed before. The strike at the weekend was a warning shot, not a mission to rid Syria of chlorine gas.
Another simple fact is that there was no legal requirement for a vote in Parliament ahead of this strike. Debates and votes have rightly been common in recent times, but it’s a trend that struggles to be described as a convention in the context of the Commons 700-year history.
Yet while it wasn’t a legal requirement, or even arguably one of respect, it was absolutely necessary and politically essential. The absence of it will cause Theresa May headaches beyond all others. It isolated her and now the weight of any ramifications will be borne almost exclusively by her. Without public or parliamentary support, she’s on her own.
Yet there are hard questions for those who oppose the strikes from the comfort of their armchairs. What would you do to stop three year old children gasping for air?
If the answer is to wait for the UN, you either don’t know or choose to ignore the fact that Russia has a veto power and it will be exercised in President Assad’s interest, as it has been before.
If you want more proof the gas is Assad’s and want a weapons inspection, remember we’ve had those before too - and chose not to act even when the evidence was compelling.
I don’t believe we can just sit on our hands.
I’m writing this from Bosnia, having spent the weekend studying the aftermath of the conflict which began here in 1992 and lasted 44 horrifying months. When the UN arrived in Srebrenica, people thought they were here to help and provide support. All they did was observe the tragedy. Here UN stands for “United Nothing.”
The job the Prime Minister has now is to convince us to act not in vengeance - but for the preservation of life. That means any military intervention must be combined with an abundance of humanitarian aid and proper support for refugees. That’s how to build public support and with that, save lives.