David Cameron is expected to recall parliament over IS airstrikes. Photo: Getty
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Islamic State airstrikes: parliament could be recalled on Friday

David Cameron is moving the UK closer to military action in the Middle East.

The BBC is reporting that parliament is expected to be recalled on Friday to consider the UK’s role in airstrikes against Islamic State (also known as Isis).

David Cameron, who is in the US attending the United Nations General Assembly, is responding to the first anti-IS airstrikes by the US, which distracted attention from Labour’s conference yesterday.

Cameron told NBC news:

These people want to kill us. They've got us in their sights and we have to put together this coalition. . . to make sure that we ultimately destroy this evil organisation.

He insisted that, “you cannot opt out of” the fight against the militant group.

There are also reports that Iraq, while at the UN, will formally request that the UK joins France and the US in launching airstrikes against IS.

The Prime Minister is set to ask MPs on Friday to approve Britain’s action in the region against the extremist fighters. It was a little over a year ago that the PM lost a Commons vote on military intervention in Syria, and Ed Miliband said that parliament had spoken “for the people of Britain”. So now Labour’s position on IS is being very closely scrutinised. However, it appears that the Labour leader is likely to back Cameron’s plan for airstrikes. He told the BBC this morning that he is “open to the possibility” of supporting action:

How will I judge any proposal? Whether Britain can have an effect, whether we can succeed and whether it is legitimate and lawful. But I am open to the possibility.

Before I commit British combat troops I want to look at what the proposition is and the nature of that proposition.

This may seem harmonious so far, but a difficulty lies in the difference between intervening in Iraq and intervening in Syria. The government of the former is set to request that Cameron gets involved, but Syria – under the regime of Bashar al-Assad  is a whole other question.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Nicola Sturgeon is betting on Brexit becoming real before autumn 2018

Second independence referendum plans have been delayed but not ruled out.

Three months after announcing plans for a second independence referendum, and 19 days after losing a third of her Scottish National Party MPs, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon booted the prospect of a second independence referendum into the heather. 

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon said she felt her responsibility as First Minister “is to build as much unity and consensus as possible” and that she had consulted “a broad spectrum of voices” on independence.

She said she had noted a “commonality” among the views of the majority, who were neither strongly pro or anti-independence, but “worry about the uncertainty of Brexit and worry about the clarity of what it means”. Some “just want a break from making political decisions”.

This, she said had led her to the conclusion that there should be a referendum reset. Nevertheless: "It remains my view and the position of this government that at the end of this Brexit process the Scottish people should have a choice about the future of our country." 

This "choice", she suggested, was likely to be in autumn 2018 – the same time floated by SNP insiders before the initial announcement was made. 

The Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie responded: “The First Minister wishes to call a referendum at a time of her choosing. So absolutely nothing has changed." In fact, there is significance in the fact Sturgeon will no longer be pursuing the legislative process needed for a second referendum. Unlike Theresa May, say, she has not committed herself to a seemingly irreversable process.

Sturgeon’s demand for a second independence referendum was said to be partly the result of pressure from the more indy-happy wing of the party, including former First Minister Alex Salmond. The First Minister herself, whose constituency is in the former Labour stronghold of Glasgow, has been more cautious, and is keenly aware that the party can lose if it appears to be taking the electorate for granted. 

In her speech, she pledged to “put our shoulder to the wheel” in Brexit talks, and improve education and the NHS. Yet she could have ruled out a referendum altogether, and she did not. 

Sturgeon has framed this as a “choice” that is reasonable, given the uncertainties of Brexit. Yet as many of Scotland’s new Labour MPs can testify, opposition to independence on the doorstep is just as likely to come from a desire to concentrate on public services and strengthening a local community as it is attachment to a more abstract union. The SNP has now been in power for 10 years, and the fact it suffered losses in the 2017 general election reflects the perception that it is the party not only for independence, but also the party of government.

For all her talk of remaining in the single market, Sturgeon will be aware that it will be the bread-and-butter consequences of Brexit, like rising prices, and money redirected towards Northern Ireland, that will resonate on the doorstep. She will also be aware that roughly a third of SNP voters opted for Brexit

The general election result suggests discontent over local or devolved issues is currently overriding constitutional matters, whether UK-wide or across the EU. Now Brexit talks with a Tory-DUP government have started, this may change. But if it does not, Sturgeon will be heading for a collision with voter choice in the autumn of 2018. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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