Interview with Des Brownlee

Uncle Pauly spoke with Derek Brownlee, MSP for South of Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and, at the time, the youngest MP in Holyrood. The interview was conducted just a month after the July ’05 London bombings.

UP : Derek, where do you think the terrible events in London leaves the UK government’s plans for ID card introduction? I would not say that Labour are making political capital out of the bombings but is the case for ID cards now stronger, weaker or unchanged?

The case for ID cards is still fundamentally weak. This seems to be a solution in search of a problem. ID cards won’t prevent terrorism, or other crime, but they will cost us a heck of a lot of money. Suicide bombers have no need to shield their identity, and there will be a market for fake ID cards which will be good business for the criminal fraternity. And the notion that ID cards will be voluntary is ridiculous if they are introduced they will become compulsory soon enough.

UP : Approximately 90% of respondents in poll taken after 7/7 favoured stronger powers for the police in combating terrorism. It would appear there does exist a growing inclination to forgo freedoms for security. Do you really believe there exist practical steps that the UK security forces can take to prevent another suicide bombing?

It’s difficult enough to protect against the type of terrorism that we were used to, such as the way the IRA operated. The only way we can reduce the attacks is through better intelligence, to target the supply of the materials the terrorists need and disrupt their operations. There are things, like allowing the use of wire-tap evidence in court, which can help but there’s no single issue.

UP : Sahid Malik, MP for Dewsbury, in the aftermath of 7/7 has suggested that the Muslim community need to do more to combat extremism. Will the kind of extremism we saw last week be defeated by a process of alienation within Islam or is more action needed?

It’s difficult to say. There will always be extremists who disregard what religious leaders say. It is very difficult to know how to influence these people; if you think that blowing yourself and others up is a suitable course of action, you’re so far outwith the realms of normal society that I don’t know how open to influence you are.

UP : The government’s planned religious hatred bill : an effective method of countering extremism or a curb on free speech?

I think Religions are strong enough to be criticised; when it comes to incitement etc. that is already a crime. Free speech should be protected as far as possible.

UP : Derek, many in the media and public have voiced shock that the bombers were British and brought up, largely, in the UK. Were you shocked at this revelation?

I suppose so, but should we be? Extreme beliefs don’t respect borders.

UP: The case for ID cards is still fundamentally weak: I agree. I’ve always thought that having ID cards reduces the police and public’s appetite for more intuitive or ‘hunch-based’ crime detection. Do you think Charles Clarke is getting cold feet over the issue?

I doubt it this is very much a key Labour policy and they will want to press ahead regardless. I hope it can be stopped, but I’m not optimistic.

UP : Many from the extreme left believe that the Iraq war is directly responsible for 7/7. Even if that were true would a withdrawal from Iraq by US and UK forces reduce the chances of future terror? How important is a free and functioning Iraq now in light of 7/7?

Iraq or not, the way we live in the West is what makes us targets. A withdrawal would send a dangerous signal if it happens before Iraq is stable. A functioning democracy in Iraq could bring change to the whole region.

UP : . . . could bring change . . . you don’t sound very confident. Is Iraq becoming quagmire?

No, but we don’t know how a functioning democracy in the region would impact on the other countries; it might create a ripple effect, or it could be the exception.

UP : You say it’s the way we live that makes us a target but how big a factor is a resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict in reducing Islamic terrorism?

My guess is that a resolution would do nothing. It is the very existence of western culture that seems to be the problem. And any solution in the Middle East is going to involve the preservation of the State of Israel is unacceptable to many of the extremists.

UP : Moving a little closer to home . . . I’ve always thought that the Union of two formerly warring races, Scots and English, is something of a paragon. Do you think the UK’s political structure offers anything in the way of a model for bringing together warring factions in the world?

I’m not sure how well it would travel. It’s telling that there are still pressures on the Union, 400 years after the Union of the Crowns, and 300 after the political Union. Having said that, it does show that it is possible to live together on a relatively small piece of land.

UP : It strikes me as inconceivable that anyone in Scotland would ever resort to terror to further a breakaway from the UK. Our Nationalist movement use debate, representation etc to further their cause. Why no Scottish extremists?

It’s always been obvious (at least in recent years) that if a majority of Scots want independence, they will get it. So there’s never been any real sense of grievance to motivate extremists in Scotland.

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