As one of the voices opposed to UK airstrikes in Syria, it is important that I put that on the record from the start.
There is no significant disagreement between the whole range of political parties in the UK and across Europe as a whole that the extremists of the kind who perpetrated the Paris atrocities and who daily commit slaughter in Syria and elsewhere must be defeated.
The question then is not whether to combat them, but how – and how to do it most effectively?
As such, David Cameron’s words, apparently overheard in a meeting of Tory MPs, equating those who oppose UK strikes to a “bunch of terrorist sympathisers” were as unworthy of the Prime Minister as they are palpably false.
I hope Mr Cameron regrets those words, but the important thing now that the Commons vote on UK action has been taken is to address the issue of how effective it will be, and where we go from here. I along with many others thought David Cameron’s claims on the supposed 70,000 “moderate” Syrian forces prepared to take on Daesh on the ground were assumptions which were bordering on the heroic.
That now appears to have been borne out by reports based on reputedly well-placed intelligence sources, who say that they warned the Prime Minister before his statement to MPs that the figure was not reliable and should not be used.
That is because the 70,000 supposed fighters are neither a unified force waiting for the chance to capitalise on Western bombing – rather, they are a disparate patchwork of often conflicting militias – nor are they likely to be as moderate and in tune with UK and allied objectives as Mr Cameron has made out.
As such, the warnings from security chiefs about the reliability of this claim has disturbing echoes of Tony Blair’s “dodgy dossier” from 2003, with its roundly discredited claims about the UK being 45 minutes from attack from – we now know non-existent – Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
I was also struck by the comments of Nicolas Henin, a Frenchman who was held hostage by Daesh for 10 months, and who has warned that Western bombing of Syria is a trap that is only likely to benefit the extremists.
He said: “At the moment, with the bombings, we are more likely pushing the people into the hands of Isis. What we have to do, and this is really key, we have to engage the local people.
“As soon as the people have hope in the political solution, then Islamic State will just collapse. It will have no ground any more. It will collapse.”
We would do well to heed those sentiments – words which come from someone who has looked the fanatics of Daesh in the eye and lived to tell the tale.
Of course there is a danger in any talk of a political and diplomatic solution sounding glib. You cannot negotiate with Daesh – that much is clear. But what surely must be possible, in the medium to longer term, is a political settlement that ends the fighting in Syria between the other non-Daesh factions, thus depriving the extremists of the chaos and catastrophe in which they have been allowed to thrive.
Now that UK action is underway, including aircraft and crews based at RAF Lossiemouth, my thoughts are with those aircrews and all of their families and loved ones. In terms of Scotland’s view, almost all of our democratically elected representatives at Westminster voted against UK airstrikes, but those strikes are now going ahead anyway. I have criticised David Cameron for his crass words on those opposing airstrikes, so let me conclude by giving the Prime Minister credit for his public declaration that from now on he and his government would be referring to Daesh, rather than ISIS, IS or ISIL.