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by Kirsteen Paterson
20 November 2023
Humza Yousaf asks Scottish Labour to 'stand firm and back an immediate ceasefire' in Gaza

First Minister Humza Yousaf | Alamy

Humza Yousaf asks Scottish Labour to 'stand firm and back an immediate ceasefire' in Gaza

First Minister Humza Yousaf has called on Scottish Labour MSPs to "stand firm" and back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as the issue splits the Labour Party.

The call comes ahead of reports that Scottish Labour may seek to temper a motion on the matter which is set to be debated by MSPs tomorrow.

The Scottish Parliament will vote on whether to back an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

The debate comes after Yousaf, whose in-laws recently returned from Gaza when the Rafah Crossing was reopened to allow foreign citizens to leave, tabled a parliamentary motion on the matter.

It condemns the "barbaric and unjustifiable" attacks by Hamas on Israel, demands the release of Israeli hostages and says that "all parties must agree to an immediate ceasefire".

The move comes days after the SNP forced a similar vote in the UK Parliament

Ten Labour frontbenchers including Jess Phillips quit to defy the whip after Keir Starmer instructed them not to vote for the SNP's amendment. As many as 56 Labour MPs defied the party line.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and his predecessor Richard Leonard signalled their support for a ceasefire ahead of the Westminster vote, with party officials in Glasgow and Edinburgh resigning their positions in response to Starmer's handling of the issue.

He wants four-hour humanitarian pauses to be established for the distribution of aid, but has stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.

Weekend reports suggest Sarwar will temper his ceasefire call to prevent a direct confrontation with Starmer.

The Scotland on Sunday reported that internal Scottish Labour policy notes indicate that the leaders in Holyrood will try to amend the motion to bring it closer to the UK Labour position by noting that a ceasefire will only work if both sides comply.

A spokesperson directed the paper to Sarwar's previous statements indicating that he would vote in favour of a ceasefire, but did not answer when asked if this includes an immediate cessation of hostilities.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Show, Sarwar declined to say how he would have voted, had he been in the Commons. He said a ceasefire would require two sides "willing to comply", stating: "Right now you have Hamas saying they will repeat the attacks of October 7 and they will continue rocket fire.

"You have Benjamin Netanyahu, who I think we should separate from the Israeli people, saying he won't even consider a ceasfire.

"So on top of calls for a ceasefire, which I fully support, we have got to make sure we use the full force of our international diplomacy to try and create the conditions on the ground to make that ceasefire a reality."

Thousands of people walked through Glasgow on Saturday calling for an immediate ceasefire, with Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie amongst them.

Yousaf said the Scottish Parliament "has an opportunity to unite to send a message of peace": "This is a time for all of us to show leadership in the face of this humanitarian catastrophe. Anas Sarwar must stand firm and back an immediate ceasefire. The motion reflects his own public position on the issue. 

"We await the detail of the Labour amendment but it must not water down calls for a ceasefire, as is being reported.

"An immediate ceasefire is the only way to end the tragic deaths of civilians. This week, I urge MSPs of all parties to come together and say enough is enough."

The SNP was accused of playing political games with its Westminster amendment.

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