As happened eight years ago, the parliamentary session ends with men and women from our armed forces in conflict. This time, however, the war is not illegal but is based on a United Nations Security Council resolution. That is the difference between what is happening now and the illegal war in Iraq that the previous Labour Government prosecuted, which split the nation.
This week, the First Minister issued a Government statement on Libya. Will he tell us his position on the Scottish military bases?
I strongly support our air bases, which are under threat.
I will respond to Tavish Scott’s broader point. I think that every member in the Parliament supports the position of our armed services who are called into combat, particularly when they are called into combat to protect the lives of others, as in the present circumstances. I fully accept and support Tavish Scott’s point about the importance of the UN mandate and the legality of conflict, as he well knows. That is important in terms of getting not just international support, which is of course reflected in the UN resolution, but as much domestic consensus as possible.
Tavish Scott and I agree that there is a world of difference between a situation in which brave men and women are sent into battle and conflict to pursue a UN mandate, with the united support of the population, in pursuit of the international community’s obligations, and a divisive and illegal conflict such as the Iraq war. That seems to me to be the most substantial difference of all: not just the honesty of purpose but the legality of the conflict.
I support those words on the legality of the current position and I will continue to make that case.
There is broad cross-party agreement about the importance to Scotland of our soldiers, sailors and air crew, and about the military and support jobs that are important to many Scottish communities. The First Minister will know that a Royal Navy Trafalgar-class submarine has launched cruise missiles at anti-aircraft defences in Libya this week. Trafalgar submarines and their successor Astute-class submarines are to be based in Scotland, at Faslane. Does the First Minister welcome and support those submarines and all the associated jobs being based on the Clyde?
As Tavish Scott should well know, we have never argued against conventional weaponry in the Faslane base. Indeed, he and I, along with the other party leaders, put forward that point of view in our joint submission to the armed forces review.
At a time when our armed forces are being called into conflict, we should be careful not to trespass into party-political arguments on the matter, particularly because the bases that are under threat in Scotland are not under threat from this Parliament or this Administration.
With your permission, Presiding Officer—and I expect that I am speaking for all retiring members of the Scottish Parliament—in advance of my question I take this opportunity to thank the staff of the Parliament for their support, in my case and in the case of some others, for these past 12 years. I thank the civil servants, ministers and special advisers who supported us, particularly Elish Angiolini, who is in the chamber, who will retire in the spring after breaking new ground as Solicitor General for Scotland and Lord Advocate. I thank my constituency and research staff and MSPs of all parties, who at many times have been kind and have given me great support over these 12 years in the Parliament.
I particularly want to thank the people of Scotland for the opportunity that they gave me to lead their Government and this country, for the honour of being First Minister and for the privilege of being MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw. I hope that at the end of these 12 years more Scots walk a little taller, cringe a little less and occasionally have ideas above their station.
Last week, my 17-year-old constituent Jayne Copeland won two awards: youth volunteer of the year and youth worker of the year. She assists the local Girls Brigade and Boys Brigade and the local dancing class; she volunteers in a nursing home for the elderly and in the paediatric unit of Wishaw general hospital; she learned British Sign Language so that she could talk to her deaf granny; and she raised more than £600 for the Teenage Cancer Trust last year, after she had personal use of the trust’s services. She represents what is and can be good about young Scots and the future of our country, and I ask the First Minister to congratulate her. [Applause.]
I willingly congratulate Jack McConnell’s constituent. That is a tremendous and inspiring story for us all and an example that we should all follow.
In a few minutes’ time I will have an opportunity to say a word about departing MSPs in general, but first I pay particular tribute to my predecessor as First Minister, Jack McConnell. Perhaps we agreed on rather more than we were ever prepared to admit when we were crossing swords, but there is no doubt that as First Minister and as a member he has made a substantial contribution to the Parliament and a very substantial contribution to Scottish society. We wish him well. [Applause.]