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21 February 2024

There is a real split between the SNP and Labour on Gaza

Keir Starmer believes backing the motion would jeopardise future Middle East negotiations.

By Freddie Hayward

Yesterday began with the news that Labour supports an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. But there are questions over whether this new policy is actually new. As the shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said, Labour has been calling for the fighting to stop for some time. Meanwhile, Labour’s appeal for an immediate ceasefire in an amendment to today’s SNP motion (which will call for the same) contains the caveat that “Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence”. Labour states this is simply the definition of ceasefire, which requires both sides to lay down arms.

But it’s unclear whether it also entails that one of the conditions for ceasefire is the elimination of Hamas’s capacity for aggression, not least because the motion goes on to say that “Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7 October cannot happen again”. To make matters more ambiguous, Lammy called yesterday for a “lasting and sustainable immediate ceasefire”.

The important point is that Labour’s rhetoric has hardened in the face of electoral threats in places such as Rochdale, increasing concern among MPs about the backlash from constituents, and Israel’s anticipated ground offensive against the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. But parliamentary procedure probably means Labour’s amendment to the SNP motion is not voted on at all – paving the way for a Labour rebellion that could have been avoided had the motion accommodated Labour’s concerns.

For that reason, the SNP’s decision to press ahead with its own motion has been labelled unnecessarily partisan and parochial, in the context of a conflict has killed tens of thousands of people. The Lib Dems claim their overtures to cooperate on a joint motion were rebutted. The Scottish Nats’ determination to expose the divisions within other opposition parties is no surprise. The SNP has recognised for months that Labour is its main opponent at the general election and the Holyrood elections in 2026. The attacks on Labour by its leader in the Commons, Stephen Flynn, at each Prime Minister’s Questions prove that.

But these calculations aren’t merely political games. If parliament does express a view contrary to the government, that in itself will be significant. More importantly, the SNP’s motion has revealed genuine differences between itself and Labour over the war. Lammy has said he would not vote for the motion – which accuses Israel of imposing collective punishment and doesn’t call for a two-state solution nor recognise Palestinian sovereignty – in order to protect Labour’s diplomatic efforts were it to enter government.

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This is a key point. Cast your mind back to Keir Starmer’s Chatham House speech last October. In that address, he pledged that a Labour government would work towards a two-state solution with renewed conviction. He heightened expectations that the party would, somehow, deliver progress towards peace. On top of placating a revolt from its own MPs today, the Labour leadership seems determined to avoid jeopardising any future negotiations – by, for instance, accusing Israel of collective punishment – that might take place if Starmer reaches No 10.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: Rochdale’s by-election brings the Gaza war to Britain]

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