Tag Archives: Black Watch

Remembering Iraq

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). He is of course right to mention the sheer bravery and commitment of our service personnel, the effectiveness with which they conducted Operation Telic, and the speed with which Iraq was defeated, if can use that word. I remember those days clearly, as the MP representing the regimental headquarters of the Black Watch, which was engaged in the operations. I also recall the time of the surge in Falluja, when the media came to me for comment on the many losses sustained by the Black Watch at that time. That was a difficult period for all those Members of Parliament with a military interest in the Iraq war. Those interviews, in which I paid tribute to the many soldiers from my constituency who lost their lives during that war, were among the toughest interviews I have ever had to do. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is also right to mention what happened after the war: the total lack of planning for a sustainable reinvention of Iraq and the stripping of all state infrastructure relating to the Ba’ath party. That was a massive mistake and it led to many of the difficulties that followed the invasion.

I want to go back to 18 March 2003, the day on which we debated the Iraq war. I was here that day, as a few hon. Members who are in the Chamber today were, and I remember it as a dark ugly day, a horrible day. There was nothing like the light Whip that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) described. I was the Whip of our group, and I remember seeing some of the Labour Whips’ activities on that day. People were drawn aside and told that the Prime Minister would resign if the vote did not go through. They were told that their careers would be at risk if they voted against the Government. It was a horrible day. I remember lots of good men and women being dragooned into the Lobby to support their Prime Minister and their Government against their better instincts. It was good to hear the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher)—it is a pity that he has now left the Chamber—acknowledge that we were fed a lot of nonsense about the case for war. Many Members of Parliament, particularly those on the Labour side, knew that, but they were dragooned into providing that perverse support for their Prime Minister and their Government.

I remember listening to Tony Blair that day. I actually watched the YouTube video of the speech this morning, just to refresh my memory of the atmosphere in the debate. We had to listen to endless drivel and nonsense. He said that the case for weapons of mass destruction was beyond debate, that they were really there, and that they could reach us in 45 minutes. He talked about collusion with al-Qaeda, and said that Saddam Hussein was preparing a nuclear programme using uranium from Niger. It was all total and utter bollocks—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle):Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should use that word, and I am sure that he will want to withdraw it immediately.

Pete Wishart:I withdraw it, of course, Mr Deputy Speaker. It was not that, but something very similar, that we had to listen to on that day.

The House passed the vote on Iraq by 412 votes to 149, and 217 hon. Members voted for the amendment tabled by Chris Smith. I was among those who voted against the war, as were my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), my hon. Friends the Members for Angus (Mr Weir) and for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I am looking around the Chamber to see who else is here: I see the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), whom I commend for his fantastic speech today. It was excellent to hear a speech from the Front Bench from a former Minister who meant what he said and I thank him for that. He was listened to very carefully throughout the House. All of us here on these Benches today voted against the war. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) was not a Member of Parliament at the time, but one thing is certain: had she been a Member, there is no doubt that she would have been in the Lobby with us that evening.

That vote is the one that I am most proud of in my 12 years as a parliamentarian. It defined my first Session in Parliament. I, a young whippersnapper of an MP in short trousers, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, first came here in the Session that lasted from 2001 to 2005, and the Iraq war was the defining feature of that parliamentary term. That was the context and the subtext of a lot of the debates we had on similar and other issues. I certainly remember during the 2005 election the sheer anger on the doorstep about the invasion of Iraq and how the war went.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP):I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. As a new MP at that time, I too remember the huge anger on the doorstep and the great pressure being put on MPs to vote for war—by the press, for example. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and I voted against an earlier motion, I recall that one newspaper named us and provided our phone numbers to get people to ring us up. A stream of people—with Geordie accents, I do not know why; the Scots did not seem to bother—then wanted me thrown out of the Labour party. That was news to me, as I had never been a member of it.

Pete Wishart:I am, of course, very grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. Lots of strange things were going on at that time, particularly to people who were associated with an anti-war position. He is absolutely right to mention the role of the press in all that. They helped to create the environment, the culture and the mood for invasion and war.

The funny thing is that this did not have any effect on the public. The public loathed the idea of going to war in Iraq. I was at a march in Glasgow where 100,000 people were out opposing the war, while 1 million people in London marched against it. There were worldwide protests, too. It is reckoned that the protests against the Iraq invasion and war were the biggest protests ever witnessed since Vietnam—yet we still had the invasion and the war.

We have heard about the case for war and how compelling it was, and we have also heard about people being duped. The public saw through the case; the public knew that the case was flimsy; they viewed it as nonsense; they knew that there was no case for war. They were against the war because they knew it was wrong to attack Iraq. That is why they went out on the streets in such numbers to ensure that the war would be opposed. The Blair Government, however, were determined to go to war.

Parliament was even recalled in September 2002, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd reminded us, and we came down to listen to the case for war. I remember arriving and there in my pigeon-hole was the dodgy dossier. I remember sharing it with my hon. Friends, and we were almost in hysterics at some aspects of the case for war. It was drivel, but we had to listen to it again and again that day. We now know, of course, that the dodgy dossier was compiled from all sorts of plagiarised sources and that the most notable contribution came from a graduate student called Ibrahim al-Marashi. It seems almost like some sort of script for a failed comedy film kicked out because it lacked credibility, yet this was the case to go to war. I know I cannot say the unparliamentary word again, Mr Deputy Speaker, but that is what this dodgy dossier was.

Of course, there were no weapons of mass destruction, still less any that could have been deployed in 45 minutes. There was no collusion with al-Qaeda either, but al-Qaeda is certainly there now. Al-Qaeda is all over the region, following the political instability caused by this conflict. Of course, there was no evidence of any uranium project and nothing whatever could be found relating to any nuclear programme. We now know that Tony Blair and his Government knew this. How they knew this was revealed in the “Panorama” programme, to which some of my hon. Friends have referred. The programme said that the intelligence case to go to war, which was in the hands of the Prime Minister and the Government, was so flimsy that it lacked any credibility. It was based on an agent called “Curveball”, who saw evidence of WMD being compiled, which he passed on to the Germans. It subsequently spread like wildfire around the US and UK intelligence services, so determined were they to find any shred of credibility in the evidence to justify going to war.

We were misled; that is all we could say about all this. This House was misled. I regret that more Members are not here today. We need to hear more testimony, particularly from those who voted for the war. We have to hear from them, as we did from the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton, to understand that they were misled, lied to and given the wrong evidence. The only way this House can get any sort of closure on this issue is if we massively confess. Those who voted for the war need to come here and say, “We got it wrong. We were lied to by a former Prime Minister, and I wish I had never voted for the war.” That would be the honourable thing for hon. Members to do in this House—but I doubt whether it will happen.

The war was not, of course, based on intelligence. Intelligence was just a useful gimmick—a useful tool to ensure that Tony Blair could do what he wanted, which was to fulfil the almost perverse obligation that he felt that he owed to George Bush. He had probably told George Bush that he would take this country to war.

The night on which the five SNP Members voted against the war, as did our colleagues, was indeed a proud occasion, but let me tell the House about something else of which I am particularly proud. When that man, that former Prime Minister, came into the Chamber for his lap of honour, the House got up like a circus to clap him, but I would not rise to clap that warmonger. I sat rooted to my seat, and I am proud that I did so.

Mr Weir:I sat rooted to my seat as well. However, I remember the current Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, standing and waving his hands to encourage his members to rise and cheer on the Prime Minister who had led us into this disastrous war.

Pete Wishart:Members were almost hissing us for sitting still, but I am glad and proud that I never rose to my feet to clap that warmonger.

The Iraq war is, of course, associated with Tony Blair, and always will be. It is his legacy. He might as well have had it tattooed on his head, such is his association with that illegal war. Conflicts tend to become associated with prominent figures and leaders: we have had Thatcher and the Falklands war, Churchill and world war two—and Iraq and Blair.

What was it all for? What was achieved? More than 100,000 dead, a region destabilised, a country divided along sectarian lines, and international diplomacy discredited as never before. We may never retrieve our credibility in the international community following Iraq, and that is a sad, sad indictment of what happened here. I will not even bother to go into the details of the millions of people who have been displaced. But another dreadful thing happened, and it is the thing that we will most regret: we have alienated a generation of people living in the Muslim world. Furthermore, we have dangerously radicalised a proportion of them, and that is what we are having to deal with now. That is another legacy of the Iraq war with which we have continued to contend, and we will live to regret it.

By any standard, Iraq has been an absolute and utter disaster. That illegal war was one of the most regrettable and damaging foreign policy adventures ever undertaken in our name. Some Members have gone on about Suez, but the mighty Suez is nothing but a little stream compared with the foreign policy damage that has been created by Iraq. Those responsible must be held to account. History will eventually judge them, but I should like to think that it will be done now, while I am still a Member of Parliament. I should like to think that some justice will be delivered. So far, the only people who have lost their jobs because of Iraq are people who worked for the BBC. One person lost his job because he said that the dossier was “sexed up”. That dossier was more sexed up than some teenage starlet in her latest pop video.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC):What is even more regrettable is that after the war, those on what was then the Government Front Bench continued to assert that there were weapons of mass destruction, and that, as a matter of faith, they would be found. Eventually, of course, they had to concede, but it was a matter of belief and not of fact.

Pete Wishart:The Minister has been asked today whether there were weapons of mass destruction, but even now—10 years on, and with a different Government—they cannot concede that there were no such weapons. If the Minister were to rise in order to say, “Yes, we concede that now,” I would give way to him, but so far no UK Government have conceded that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and I think that until a Government do that, we will not have political closure.

We have had five useless reports on Iraq. That is the only thing we can call them: useless. They might as well have been made out of whitewash, given their validity when it comes to trying to discover and understand what actually went on. Now worrying issues are starting to emerge in relation to our best hope of ensuring that those responsible are held to account through the Chilcot report. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd referred to some of the current difficulties with Chilcot.

I mentioned to the Minister David Owen’s view that there is collusion between Tony Blair and No. 10 to ensure that the private correspondence between George Bush and Tony Blair is not revealed. We must see that correspondence, because it will probably tell us more than anything else about the reasons for going to war. We will be able to see how the plan was shaped and designed between the two of them, and to see the commitment that was made by Tony Blair to George Bush.

The Chilcot inquiry started four years ago, and with every year that passes, the Iraq war recedes and the Chilcot conclusions lose their potency. I say this, however, to the current Government and those who were in the last Labour Government: we will not forget. We will not forget this, and we will continue to hold this Government to account for what they do.

History will judge these people. At some point, what actually happened will have to come out. If Chilcot does not do that, it will come out later. I am not confident that we will get the truth about Iraq before the end of this decade, however. I think it will take another generation before the true story of Iraq is told, because there are too many big reputations at stake, and too many pillars would come down if it were actually revealed. The Foreign Office and the foreign policy of the United Kingdom would probably be totally discredited if the truth about Iraq came out.

That is why I am not confident that we will find out the true story about Iraq before the end of this decade, and I will be out of here by then. I do not want to be part of a country that does this. It is appalling to be part of a nation that indulges in illegal wars. I am from Scotland. Scotland is the nation that defines me, and I want my country to make a peaceful contribution to the world and not get involved in these illegal wars, so I am glad we will have an opportunity next year to ensure that we are no longer part of a nation that is prepared to indulge in such things.

It was not a Tory Government who took us into this illegal war; it was a Labour Government, for goodness’ sake—the last type of Government we would expect to take us into an illegal war. It is not all about the evil Tories, therefore. It was a Labour Government who did that, and I am glad that next year my nation will get the opportunity to vote for independence and ensure we will never be part of illegal wars again.

I think the case for independence is overwhelming, but this issue really helps it. The issue has politicised so many people. We have heard about the Stop the War coalition, which did so much great work on it, and Stop the War lost one of its greatest advocates in the last few days: the iconic author Iain Banks. I remember when he came down here and participated in the activities of Stop the War. He was an author without peer, an iconic Scot and a great, great guy. He was heavily politicised by the Iraq war. In fact, he tore up his passport and sent it to Tony Blair, such was his disgust at the war.

I want to pay tribute to Iain Banks in my final remarks by quoting some words not from his great works, “The Crow Road” or “The Wasp Factory”, but from him to Tony Blair. He said that

“it was Blair who bowed to Bush in the first place, and Blair who convinced the Labour party and parliament of the need to go to war with a dossier that was so close to lying that it makes no difference.”


Breadalbane Quair article – July 2012

I mentioned in last month’s Quair article about the threat to the Black Watch name.  I was so concerned about this and I had received so many representations from constituents, that I obtained a debate in Parliament on this.

This debate was the first opportunity for Ministers to clearly set out the UK Government’s intentions. While taking some encouragement from the Minister apparently ruling out any threat to the golden thread of regimental names, cap badges and insignia, it is disappointing that he did nothing to unequivocally end the uncertainty over the future of our historic units. This is an issue about numbers as well as names.  My SNP colleagues and I will certainly seek to hold the Westminster Government to account on this.

I want to highlight to readers the fact that hundreds of millions of pounds of Housing and Council Tax Benefit are going unclaimed in Scotland. Improving take-up rates for income-related benefits would benefit low-income families and would also enable them to be more active in the local economy.

It is particularly important as we approach the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, that no-one misses out on transitional support they may be entitled to. Research by Children 1st has revealed that the total loss of Housing and Council Tax Benefit to Scotland is between £248 – 443million.  That is a huge amount of money that could be of real help to those who are struggling to make ends meet in these difficult times.It is estimated that between 15,200 –24,000 couples with children in Scotland are losing out on an average of £15 a week or £780 a year in unclaimed Council Tax Benefit.

Given those figures, I am sure that there are many hard-pressed families in Perth & North Perthshire who are not getting the support they are entitled to and I would urge anyone who thinks they might be missing out to get their entitlement checked out.

The UK Government was recently forced into some policy u-turns over their ludicrous plans for both a ‘pie tax’ and a ‘caravan tax’.  These very poorly thought out proposals would have had a huge impact on small businesses across Perthshire.

This daft and damaging, half-baked idea would have upped the price of a pie and would have meant more paperwork and reduced profits for many hard-pressed businesses.  The Westminster Government claimed the aim of the change was to ‘clarify the definition of hot takeaway food’, but ended up in a muddle that was as clear as gravy, leading to some utterly ludicrous potential scenarios around the question of when a pie would count as hot or not.  Campaigners rightly pointed out that these plans were a recipe for disaster and I am very pleased that they have finally been ditched.

I am also pleased that they have backtracked on another daft scheme they had up their sleeves – the planned ‘caravan tax’ – which had also angered many people.  I have received numerous representations from constituents on this issue and I raised it with the Treasury.  The UK Government could do with a bit more reversing on this one, though, as they still intend to impose VAT on static caravans, albeit at 5% rather than the original 20%.

I can be contacted at my office in Blairgowrie at 35 Perth Street, Blairgowrie, PH10 6DL, you can call me on 01250 876 576 or email me at wishartp@ parliament.uk

Breadalbane Quair – June 2012

As I write my Quair column, I look forward to joining together with Robbie McIntosh, Marie Curie’s Scottish Events Manager, to officially open the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Caledonia which starts in Pitlochry.

This year’s event is going to be the most popular year to date, selling out in record time, with more than 5000 participants signed up to take part in the UK’s biggest closed road cycling event.  I am delighted to be opening this year’s Etape. I have watched this event grow and blossom over the past six years and it is undoubtedly a flagship event, not just for British cycling but for Highland Perthshire as a destination. With thousands of participants raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care, this event creates a long lasting legacy that will be appreciated by many for years to come.

I was very concerned to hear of plans to do away entirely with the Black Watch name, as well as those of Scotland’s other historic regiments.  To suggest that units like the Black Watch no longer have close ties to their traditional recruiting grounds is absolute nonsense and a slur both on the soldiers of the Black Watch and the communities from which they come.

The numbers that came out recently to welcome the Black Watch home from Afghanistan are testament to the link that still exists.  Perthshire is – and will always be – proud to be the home of the Black Watch and Aberfeldy holds a particularly close bond with the regiment.

These brave soldiers are sent off to war, but we have to understand the things that are really important in bonding them together into the efficient, effective fighting force that they are.  This is precisely what was warned would happen when the merging of the historic Scottish infantry regiments took place.  We were assured that, despite the merger, regimental distinctiveness and traditions would be retained – the ‘golden thread’ as it was called.  Well, that thread has been well and truly snapped and frankly was a fraud from the very start.

Another thing that has made me angry recently, has been the hike in the cost of stamps and first class stamps in particular.  The rise of more than 30 percent in the cost of first class stamps from 46p to 60p is around 10 times the rate of inflation. The increase comes as Ofcom suggests there should be no cap on prices for the vast majority of Royal Mail’s services, including business post, bulk mail, and large letters or parcels sent second class.

For Highland Perthshire businesses and individuals who rely on the postal service, this is a serious blow. A 30 percent hike in first class postal costs is very significant and could make rural businesses less competitive through no fault of their own.

The SNP group at Westminster has led calls for Ofcom to better protect consumers and have repeatedly warned of the risks, particularly to rural communities, of eroding the Universal Service Obligation, the mechanism that makes postal costs the same regardless of the point of origin or the destination in the UK.

Our local businesses are already under pressure from ever increasing costs, especially of fuel, and a lack of access to lending from the banks, so this latest blow is far from ideal. The situation may yet get worse, with Ofcom proposals to allow Royal Mail to charge whatever it wants for first class services, while the cost of second-class postage could eventually rise by more than 50 per cent.  This increase may well be a sign of things to come, and we now need coherent and strategic action from the UK Government to protect Scottish postal services.

I can be contacted at my office in Blairgowrie at 35 Perth Street, Blairgowrie, PH10 6DL, you can call me on 01250 876 576 or email me at wishartp@ parliament.uk

Blairgowrie Advertiser – 24th May 2012

Once again, there is a fight to save the identities of Scotland’s famous fighting units. Already amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland by the last Labour Government, our famous former regiments exist as battalions protected by their name and cap badge. In amalgamating our regiments, the last Labour Government also promised what they called a “golden thread” that would ensure that the specific heritage and traditions would be preserved in the new regiment.

However, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, recently suggested that those names didn’t matter and proposed that our battalions be simply referred to by their number. With one stroke of a Whitehall pen he recommended that our famous fighting units be simply done away with and consigned to history. The Black Watch would be referred to as the Third Battalion, or the Third Scots, if you like. This produced uproar from Scotland’s veteran community and those associated with our regiments.  All sorts of campaigns were launched to have this preserved.

And there is a fantastic association in Perthshire with our local regiment, the Black Watch. Hundreds of people turned up for the homecoming parade when the Black Watch recently returned home from Afghanistan. There is a tremendous respect for the way our fighting unit performs an almost unimaginable difficult task on our behalf. It’s about the re-assurance and confidence we feel that our armed forces are the best in the world. There is also the association with our local communities.  Perthshire, Angus and Fife have always been the recruiting area for the Black Watch. Generations of young men have joined up with their comrades to serve in our local regiment.

Such was the furore following the recent announcement, that a cross party campaign was hastily put together at the House of Commons and within a few days we saw the first sign of a climb-down from Government. Philip Hammond revealed to the press that he was now minded to keep the names and we then learned that this u-turn was ordered from the Prime Minister himself. I also secured a House of Commons debate to question the defence Secretary about these plans.  At the time of writing, this debate is still to take place

What we need to hear from the Defence Secretary is that he will maintain the golden thread; that the identities of our former regiments are safe and he is ruling out any suggestion that names will be diminished. Instead of running down our former regiments, this Westminster Government should be promoting them and parading them as an example of everything that is good about the army.