THE emergency in Afghanistan is probably the worst failure of Western statecraft in decades, the biggest foreign policy crisis in a generation, a now almost inevitable humanitarian catastrophe, and an abysmal mishandling and dereliction of duty by the British government.
No matter the wisdom or otherwise of having embarked on war in Afghanistan and maintaining a military presence there for so long, it also looks certain that those efforts to promote peace and democracy, over the course of two decades and at colossal financial cost, have been squandered. Even more important, and discreditable, is that it amounts to a betrayal of the service and sacrifice of the UK armed forces deployed there, and an abandonment of those in that country who placed their trust in us.
The most obvious examples are those employed by our Army as translators, or those who aided Nato forces, who may as a consequence be marked out by the Taliban. But it is also the entire generation – the median age of Afghanistan’s 40 million people is 18 – that placed its faith in the West, and subscribed to principles such as women’s equality or other basic freedoms that now look set to vanish.
It is true that the primary responsibility for this disaster must lie with the United States’ decision to withdraw and the disgraceful mishandling of the mechanics of doing so by the Biden administration. Even at the fall of Saigon, when, for example, civilians were evacuated before the military, the basics were better handled.
It is also true that, given America’s decision, Britain and other members of the Nato coalition had limited options; it is impossible to imagine that a government led by Sir Keir Starmer, or for that matter Theresa May or Tom Tugendhat, would have retained British forces in isolation to prop up the administration in Kabul. But the ineptitude and complacency with which this government treated a serious strategic and diplomatic manoeuvre is shocking, the blithe disregard for the safety of British troops and civilian staff is disgraceful, and the abandonment of Afghans who literally risked their lives in our support is morally indefensible.
For the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary both to be unavailable, and slow to realise the importance of returning to deal with a major crisis, is appalling. For Dominic Raab to have failed simply to make a phone call that might have helped save the lives of those who worked for our armed forces is inexcusable, and for Priti Patel to have offered such an inadequate response to help refugees is a disgrace. This has been a shoddy, shameful story.
THE annual GERS figures on expenditure and revenue produced for the Scottish Government have never, at the best of times, been anything but ambiguous ammunition when it comes to the independence debate: good figures are advanced as a case for the Union or for Scotland’s intrinsic strengths; poor ones described as showing how much we gain from the UK, or evidence that only by leaving can we improve.
So the record deficit of £36 billion announced this week is not, in itself, a killer point against independence, though Kate Forbes’s insistence that it is “no obstacle” at all seems optimistic. And the circumstances that were the chief factor in creating those figures – a global pandemic that also means the UK’s economy looks far from normal – make it impossible to say much about their long-term importance or implications.
They do, however, provide a reasonable justification for thinking that another independence referendum is not an immediate priority, and show that the task of rapidly building back the economy is urgent. Scottish businesses have been hammered, public spending is unsustainable at its current levels, and the need for growth, investment and renewal is inescapable.
But none of that is unique to Scotland, and it tells us next to nothing about the country’s underlying position. The only lesson to be drawn from it just now is that effective action towards recovery is essential, and that attention and concentration should be focused on that above all in the immediate future.