Woolwich terror attack: Muslims shouldn't have to distance themselves

They bear no more responsibility for jihadism than Christians do for the Ku Klux Klan.

We will have truly progressed as a society when Muslims no longer feel the need to distance themselves from the acts of terror performed by their supposed co-religionists. They bear no more responsibility for jihadism than Christians do for the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church (or, more pertinently, than the English do for the EDL). To suggest, as Pauline Neville Jones, the former security minister, did on the Today programme this morning, that they have a special duty to condemn the Woolwich attack is to perpetuate the myth of collective guilt. 

But the resounding condemnations issued by Islamic groups did give the lie to claims that British Muslims have a sneaking sympathy for such acts. That did not prevent attacks on them (inaccurately described as "reprisals") and mosques beginning just hours after the incident was reported. The English Defence League, never failing to sink to the occasion, marched into Woolwich, where its members chanted anti-Muslim slogans and threw bottles at police. Elsewhere, in Braintree, Essex, a 43-year-old man was arrested after reportedly walking into a mosque with a knife. The local MP Brooks Newmark said: "Just met with leaders of local mosque in Braintree which was attacked this evening. Thanked local police for their swift response." In Kent, police were called after reports of criminal damage at a mosque in Gillingham and a man was arrested and held in custody. 

The secretary of the Essex mosque, Sikander Saleemy, told Channel 4 News: "It was an appalling act of terror – but it wasn't Islamic in any way. I wish it wasn't described like that, because sadly people will now start to blame Muslims." His words were a reminder of the need for the media to report such events as carefully and responsibly as possible. With the exception of The Sun (which spoke of "Muslim fanatics") and the Daily Mail ("Islamic fanatics"), the papers have wisely avoided using the terms "Islam" or "Muslims" on their front pages. As the grim attacks last night showed, loose talk of "Islamic terrorism" is not just wrong but dangerous at moments like this. 

Crime Officers at the scene in Woolwich following the attack in which a soldier was killed. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.