The uncomfortable truth about Iran, the bomb and the west

Ahmadinejad’s curiously rational address to the nuclear non-proliferation conference.

The international community's boycott of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech to the New York nuclear non-proliferation conference this week was a cynical gesture that belied the rationality of what he said.

Here is the Iranian president's analysis of the causes of the NPT's problems (such a review being, after all, the purpose of the conference):

  1. States seeking dominance by suppressing others.
  2. The policy of producing and using nuclear weapons in the past.
  3. Nuclear weapons used as a means of deterrence.
  4. Threatening countries such as Iran with the use of nuclear weapons.
  5. Exploiting the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
  6. The United States' double standards towards Israel's nuclear stockpile.
  7. Equating nuclear weapons with nuclear energy.
  8. Imbalance in the mandates of the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Among the responses is this praise for the walkout from Abraham H Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League:

While there may be legal and diplomatic obligations to grant Ahmadinejad the UN podium, there is also a moral obligation to condemn his words, his actions and what he stands for. Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, denies there are homosexuals in Iran, and denies the existence of Iran's nuclear weapons programme. To this list of lies he added another -- that the US and Israel pose a nuclear threat to Iran, when in fact the opposite is true.

Despite the usual formula of "the Zionist regime" to refer to Israel, there was no mention of the Holocaust in the president's speech, nor did Ahmadinejad repeat his ridiculous denials of the existence of homosexuality in Iran. His remarks on the double standards and recent belligerence of Washington towards Iran compared to other countries in the Middle East add nothing to criticisms already made frequently in the western media.

And, despite the standard out-of-hand rebuttal that he received, Ahmadinejad has repeated his basic message since the speech: Iran does not fear US sanctions, Iran does not want the bomb, Iran is open to further discussions.

If the US, the UK, France and the other countries that walked out cannot deal with this scripted Ahmadinejad, it is difficult to maintain hope for the increasingly important diplomatic process. The truth is that western leaders' ears are closed.

Naturally, by so firmly disavowing the pursuit of nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad has left his administration on a collision course with Washington over its nuclear ambitions. If Tehran cannot prove its benign principle, these will be seen as nothing but weasel words.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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