Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was labelled “Britain’s most dangerous woman” by some sections of the tabloid media during the run up to the General Election. Some people fear that she’s on a mission to break up the United Kingdom in a bid to fulfil her independence ambitions. That may well be the case, but that soubriquet was also used by some of Britain’s most committed members of the pro-Israel lobby whose main national interests lie well beyond these shores. They saw some of their biggest political supporters fall in an astonishing electoral performance by Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP).
When the polls closed, the dramatic count that followed saw the emergence of a new political landscape. The leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and Israel’s biggest cheerleader next to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, lost his seat by 3,000 votes. A former chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), Jim Murphy was ousted by the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald in Renfrewshire East.
As the polling dust settled, the SNP had won an unprecedented 56 of the 59 constituencies across Scotland, turning them into Zionist lobby-free zones for the first time in decades. Indeed, the Westminster lobby groups of various political Friends of Israel were heavily depleted following high profile departures from the ranks of MPs which left the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats with just one representative in Scotland each. To add to their woes, none of those left standing from the political blitz in Scotland are active supporters of the State of Israel.
A 20-year-old student, Mhairi Black, toppled Labour’s campaign chief Douglas Alexander in Paisley and Renfrewshire South to become the youngest British MP since 1667. Alexander, who has visited Israel with the LFI, was first elected in 1997 in Tony Blair’s landslide victory. He went on to become Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs in 2004, until promoted to International Development Secretary by Gordon Brown in 2007 and ending up as Shadow Foreign Secretary under Ed Miliband.
Back in January 2011, LFI chair David Cairns MP said of Alexander’s appointment: “We look forward to working with him and engaging with him on supporting the UK’s close relationship with Israel, promoting a negotiated two state solution, and confronting the threats to regional stability posed by Iran’s illegal nuclear programme and Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s violent militias.”
Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who has also addressed Friends of Israel meetings, lost his seat to the SNP in Ross, Skye and Lochaber after representing the constituency for 32 years. Under pressure from the pro-Israel lobby 10 years ago he moved to sack one of his own frontbench MPs, Jenny Tonge, for saying that she could understand why some Palestinians became suicide bombers.
Dr Tonge had said repeatedly that she understood why militant Palestinians were driven to carry out the attacks in the face of the brutality of the Israeli occupation. And she insisted that living in the Middle East might have driven her to do the same. Kennedy “asked” her to stand down as the party’s spokeswoman for children.
“I was just trying to say how, having seen the violence, humiliation and provocation Palestinians live under every day, and have done now for decades,” explained the now Baroness Tonge. “I could understand, I was trying to understand, where they come from. If I had been a mother and a grandmother in Palestine living for decades in that situation, I don’t know, I may very well have become one myself.”
Kennedy had been under predictable and mounting pressure from pro-Israel groups in 2004 to act and his attempts to distance the Lib Dems from her views did not pacify the Zionist groups. Lord Greville Janner, who now faces accusations that he abused children when he was an MP, was at that time a vice-chair of the British-Israel parliamentary group. “The decision of the Liberal Democrats to sack Jenny Tonge is admirable and appropriate,” he said.
Other big hitters who lost their seats in the election included the President of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed. He was the longest-serving Liberal Democrat in the House of Commons, and while Berwick is perched on the English side of the border it was affected directly by the seismic changes in neighbouring Scotland, bringing an end to his 40-year political career in Westminster.
The SNP’s results, which saw the party win 1,454,436 votes, and the perception that there will be calls for a second independence referendum are set to cause David Cameron a major headache as a second term prime minister. Moreover, the arrival of the new Scottish MPs is ringing alarm bells among some of the pro-Israel lobby groups in Westminster and Tel Aviv.
To add to the woes of the lobbyists, just hours after her party’s victory, Nicola Sturgeon’s office sent a message of goodwill to the organisers of a landmark conference in Glasgow this weekend. The “Ending the Scottish Arms Trade with Israel” conference received not only the first minister’s “best wishes” but also heard that although she is “understandably unavailable to speak”, she “hopes that the event will be a success.” That wasn’t all. “As you may be aware,” added Sturgeon, “during the recent conflict in Gaza the Scottish Government wrote to the UK Government urging an embargo on arms sales to Israel. The Scottish Government is a firm friend of Palestine and we will continue to press this issue after the election.”
The Scottish lions’ roar will continue to be heard, and felt, from Westminster to Tel Aviv. With the most pro-Israel British prime minister of all time back in 10 Downing Street, the SNP’s presence in such numbers has got to be positive for the people of Palestine.