LONDON – As campaigning for Scotland’s bid for independence from the rest of the United Kingdom starts its final day, Thursday’s voting is too close to call, with opinion polls hedging their bets as to whether the 300-year-old political union may end.
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Paul Morron, president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, declined to make any prediction of the result.
“It’s absolutely on a knife’s edge. You can toss a coin and see which way it comes down,” he said.
However, either a vote for independence, as strongly advocated by the ruling Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), or a vote for remaining within the union, as campaigned for by all the other UK political parties, will not have any significant effects on the 6,000-7,000-strong Jewish community, Morron said.
Only in one clearly identifiable area will there be a difference - that of foreign policy, especially concerning Israel.
Should Scotland vote “yes,” putting the Scottish Nationalists in the driving seat, “their foreign policy is not likely to be favorable for us,” Morron said.
The communal leader also warned that even if another political party were subsequently to win power in an independent Scotland - be it Labor or a coalition of the SNP or Labor with the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party - the same would apply. All of the parties have displayed hostility toward Israel - especially during the recent Gaza war.
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“Only if the Conservatives win power would there be a change in policy, and I certainly do not anticipate that,” Morron said, noting that the Conservatives had not held the levers of power in Scotland for decades.
The SNP’s antipathy toward Israel has manifested itself in several ways, the Glasgow Jewish community president noted. The party recently called for an arms boycott of Israel and pressured it to accept and solution to the recent conflict, while making no demands of Hamas.
“I think their policy on Israel’s self-defense is hypocritical,” Morron said. “They say Israel is entitled to self-defense, [but] then say [the Israelis] are not entitled to the arms they may need for that self-defense.”
Traditionally, Scotland has recorded few incidents of anti-Semitism, even when there were noticeable increases in the levels of anti-Semitism in England. But the last Gaza conflict somewhat changed that, and while Morron accepts there has not been any single serious incident and certainly nothing like those in continental Europe, those few incidents — nearly all related to Gaza — have left the Jewish community “feeling very insecure.”
Morron accused Scottish local authorities of not acting in the interests of their communities, including publicly displaying Palestinian flags. “The local authorities really are not acting in the interests of their own citizens,” he said. “What they are doing is divisive in the community. It is gesture politics at the very worst, and does not bring peace nearer by one centimeter. It does not solve any problems in the Middle East; it breaks bridges instead of building them.”
The Glasgow Jewish Representative Council had made very strong representations to the Glasgow City Council after it flew the Palestinian flag from the city chambers, and Morron said it certainly understood their message as a result.
As a result, he said, the ruling Labor Party last week strongly opposed a “boycott Israel” motion that was scheduled to come before the city council for debate. That, Morron said, was a “welcome shift in direction” and indicated that the council at least was prepared to listen to the Glasgow Jewish community.
Morron had words of reassurance on concerns over both brit mila (circumcision) and shechita (kosher slaughter). He said the Scottish government had opposed any efforts to interfere with the religious rights of the Jewish community, nothing that the large Muslim community in Scotland — which also observes both rites — was “quite important,” he observed.
The Scottish government and all the major political parties, too, had made very clear their abhorrence of any manifestations of anti-Semitism, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, which represents all of Scottish Jewry, has noted. But for its own reasons the council has decided to say very little on the independence issue. Its head, Ephraim Borowski, said there was no intrinsic threat to the Jewish people or community nor any benefit from either independence or continued membership in the union.
“So just as we cannot take sides in an election, we cannot take sides in a referendum,” Borowski explained. “Clearly, opinion about independence is divided.”
Morron sees the debate over independence leaving the Jewish community’s leadership with one very important responsibility.
“We have to make the case for Israel out to the community far, far more aggressively than perhaps we have done historically.”
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