Sometimes, there are issues that make you so angry, it’s hard to get the words down and make a cogent argument. Bear with me, for this is one such occasion.
And I’m sure few of us missed this latest development, trumpeted as it was in all of Sunday’s broadcast news programmes. But am I the only one who is outraged by it?
Effectively, the Scottish Government is giving the Iraqi people £1.4 million of the near £17 million recouped from the Weir Group from its illegal cpntracts with the Saddam regime. (Although, these figures appear to have changed into £1.5 million from a possible £13.9 million but hey, what’s a few million between friends?) The remainder of the money – some £12 million – will be spent on community projects in Scotland.
What’s wrong with that? Everything.
This money is not Scotland’s to keep. All of it belongs to Iraq. The fines were paid because the Weir Group paid kickbacks to the Saddam regime to secure lucrative oil contracts. The company diverted £3.1 million from the UN Oil for Food programme into these bribes. It was stolen from the Iraqi people and at the very least, that portion, the £3.1 million, should be repatriated.
Legally, the Scottish Government is under no obligation to give all this money to Iraq but morally, the burd suggests it has every obligation.
The tone and the nature of the announcement also made me wince. Like some kind of Lady Bountiful, here is a rich Western nation helping the poor Iraqi people with its largesse. The very fact the money will be channelled through charities rather than simply handed to government agencies says it all. While there are perhaps sound fiscal reasons for doing this, indeed, the Government might be legally bound to do so, it doesn’t stop it sticking in the craw.
The message is that this money is going back because we can, not because we must. It’s theirs only by favour not by right.
Moreover, the reassurance that the bulk of the Weir blood money will go to Scottish communities sealed my disgust. Times may be hard in Scotland and no doubt there are communities who could put a few million to good use. But our needs and want are relative, compared to the absolute poverty and inequality in Iraq. On a very basic level, the money would go so much further and do so much more good there than here.
The Scottish Government might have worried that folk would be angry if all these millions had left our shores. And perhaps it made a political calculation that most would welcome the announcement. It is a sad indictment on the state we are in if it is right but I don’t think it is.
A clear and true argument could have – should have – been made for giving all of these ill gotten gains to the Iraqi people. And Scotland – the country, remember that turned out 1 million marchers against the Iraq war – would not only have got it but applauded it.
No, the SNP has miscalculated this one and badly. The only thing worse would be if the remaining millions are carved up in pork barrel political gestures before the May election. Would they stoop so low? The burd hopes not.