Column: Israel and Gaza Must Stop War

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Categories: Column, News

Column from Alyn Smith MP, for local newspaper the Stirling Observer

My inbox has been full of Stirling residents deeply worried over the latest outbreak of violence in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories, and I share their concerns. 

The atrocities committed by Hamas are disgraceful and inexcusable, and the state of Israel’s right to exist and to security remains inarguable. But the blockade of Gaza, with 2 million Palestinians trapped, is not justice. It’s not compatible with international humanitarian law. And the UK Government must support efforts to secure a ceasefire. This is the position of the SNP, alongside Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf – he himself has close family members trapped in Gaza, bearing the brunt of this calamity.

I made this argument last week on LBC’s Cross Questions, and again on Question Time in Bradford – all peace agreements must begin with talks, and the best route to talks remains a ceasefire. I’ve written to the UK Foreign Secretary to urge him to do everything possible to progress a ceasefire and protect innocent lives, on all sides.

Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, I’m all too aware this is a long conflict – history didn’t start last week. The international community must seek to lower the temperature of debate and events, not raise it. The Middle East remains a complex patchwork of alliances, factions and groups. We could easily see this recent flare-up of violence spread across the region, should cooler heads fail to prevail.

Closer to home, the publication of a report – ‘Destitution in the UK 2023’ – by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has cast fresh light on the ugly truth of poverty across these islands. The report reveals how mismanagement by successive UK governments has only intensified systemic poverty in the UK, and Scotland with it, for far too long.

The findings make for some tough reading. It is a collective failure and should give us all pause. It’s heart-wrenching stuff, and a testament to Westminster’s flawed governance, that one of the richest countries on earth grapples with such shocking levels of destitution.

But, there is a sliver of good news in that Scotland had the lowest increase in destitution (and even as I write that I wince) since 2019 when compared to the rest of the UK, and that policies implemented by our Scottish Government and Parliament on free school meals and the Scottish Child Payment have made a tangible difference to people’s lives. Where we have had powers, we’ve used them to make life better and this report proves it.

An alarming 3.8 million people experienced destitution in 2022 – a 61% increase since 2019; among them, approximately 1 million children, an astonishing 88% increase since 2019. These individuals are trapped in destitution because they can’t afford to meet their most basic physical needs: staying warm, dry, clean, and fed. Their numbers have more than doubled in the last five years, soaring from 1,550,000 in 2017. Since 2017, the number of children experiencing destitution has nearly tripled, by 186%. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of those experiencing destitution have a disability or chronic health problem – with 72% of those in destitution already receiving benefits.

In Stirling, local councillors and I are worried about a visible rise in homelessness and poverty. Food Banks and other lifeline charities warn of a tough winter ahead, and are in desperate need of donations. The SNP-led Scottish Government continues to do what’s possible under devolution to protect communities, but with fixed budgets and limited powers, mitigation is a long road.

Independence offers the powers to right these wrongs, of a normal country able to regulate markets, protect the rights of our citizens, nurture innovation and grow our economy sustainably. Scotland’s best hope lies in independence in Europe – armed with the powers we need to properly tackle the scourge of poverty and destitution once and for all.