Malcolm Rifkind

My Malcy

I have a confession to make.  I have had a long-term love affair with Malcolm Rifkind … of the imagination, I hasten to add.

Dont ask me why.  I can’t work it out myself.  An old Scottish tory; an ugly former Secretary of State for Defence and Foreign Secretary during the worst of the Thatcher years.  And now, Chairman of the cross-party Intelligence and Security Committee.

In my world, it’s the equivalent of being in love with Beelzebub.

One dark night, long, long ago, I had one of those strange intimate dreams where Sir Malcolm figured large.

Ever since then, my heart skips a beat whenever I see him being whisked through the Edinburgh streets in a large black chauffeur-driven limo, with police motorbike escorts.

Malcolm Rifkind

Portrait by Anne Mackintosh

I even wrote one of my greatest poems dedicated to Sir Malcy:

I like my men

Framed in black

Flanked by outriders

Yes, well, moving on …

Joel Rosenthal

Joel Rosenthal

The Right Honourable Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC MP appeared at the Edinburgh Festival of Politics with Joel Rosenthal to debate ‘Is Peace Worth Fighting For’ at the Scottish Parliament yesterday.

I was so excited, I texted my friends who knew about my secret crush: about whether I should confront him about our relationship; ask him if he thought it was going anywhere; it felt so one-sided; that I was doing all the work; I needed to know where we stood …

I even had my very best pulling dress on.  Demure, but with a hint of stockings and suspenders.

Scottish Parliament

Debating Chamber

I must admit I was acting on advice given by friends.  But I think they were cruelly referring to Tory stereotypes.  Not my Malcy.  Peer pressure is a bummer.

The parliament was agog with excitement.  Not just for the debate but because the audience were ensconced in the Main Debating Chamber on the very seats where our noble MSPs rest their honourable seats of power.  The Chamber is all blond wood and silver / grey fittings with tenderly crafted 21st century technology and architecture.

Pearl in the Gallery

Audience member

But I did not get the opportunity to sit there.  Unfortunately, I was escorted upstairs to the Public Gallery, without access to the voting pads or a chance to pose for a tongue-in-cheek photo of my future career.

Did they know I was a secret scribe?  Could they smell the radicalist in me?  Did they keep me away from the mikes on purpose?  Perhaps they knew my questions would be too incisive, my comments too insightful and my presence too intimidating?

Or had they read my tweets about my secret crush on Malcy and decided I was The Stalker.

My heart melted when Malcy entered the Chamber.  I was so proud of him striding up to the cosy triumvirate of comfy armchairs.  Then disaster struck.

My wee Malcy fell flat on his arse as he stepped onto the stage!  I leapt to my feet, ready to assist, then realised I had forgotten my absailing gear so sat straight back down again.

“Friendly fire”, my hero quipped.

Fallujah 2004

The actual debate?  The Chair of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Joel Rosenthal, generally supported the processes of the UN and other large international peace-keeping organisations, following the line of ‘wir ain’ Carnegie in 1914 and his support for the League of Gentlemen Nations.

Joel spoke like an American addressing the Scottish Parliament Festival of Politics: a proper CV-builder.

As a Yale and Harvard Phd man and author of Righteous Realists, he spoke like he thought we were zipped up the back.  It was an eager college essay for his professor at a top American college, quoting Ignatieff, William James and Nicholas Kristoff liberally.

Sir Malcy went for the line of the UN being important but not the only arbiter of whether military options were necessary.  He proposed that war, or military action, could be justified without recourse to the UN if:

  1. it could prevent serious acts of aggression on the international stage
  2. all other solutions had been exhausted
  3. you had a great chance of success and
  4. you were not going to create a political vacuum

    Bala Baluk, wounded in Afghanistan 2009

The Iraq War was unjustified and disastrous because we could not control the consequences of 1000’s of civilians being killed, the collapse of the economy, 1000’s of refugees.  And worst of all, the biggest beneficiary was Iran.

Sir Malcolm went on to describe the tragedy of the Law of Unintended Consequences:

Ironically, the collapse of Iraq was exactly what Iran had been trying to do for decades, particularly during the Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988.  This was achieved, funded and expedited by the great Satan, USA, and former ally of Iraq.

My Lai, Vietnam, 1968

Interestingly, in his speech, he used terms like Moslems and Kosovars like he’d been reading some very old-fashioned texts.

We were then asked to vote using our key pads.  I growled frustratedly from the Gods.  A shocking majority of votes seemed to support a variety of reasons for going to war, not just using UN as the arbiter of whether those decisions were fair or reasonable.

The second vote was on which war was most justified, ranging from WWII and Vietnam to Bosnia and Afghanistan.  WWII won hands down there.

Both votes were rattled off at an incredible speed “due to time constraints”.  Most people were perturbed that they had not had sufficient time to work out how to use their key pads before the vote was over, and the results posted so quickly I could barely note them down.

There were a couple of vigorous questions from the audience:

A Northern Ireland lady asked: “How do countries and organisations reflect on the aftermath of military action?”  (Referring to Bloody Sunday – 31 people dead).

Sir Malcolm said that peace only happened in Northern Ireland because the IRA were fed up with being middle-aged terrorists and did not want to turn into old-age terrorists.

Andrew Pilsen asked: “If even victors cant guarantee results then why resort to military action unless it is only in self-defence?” (Referring to the Musselburgh’s Battle of Pinkie in 1547 – 14,000 dead)

Joel gave it loads of uhms and ahhs and Sir Malcolm said we need to pay attention to civilian deaths.

David Matthews asked: “If Conflict Prevention is cheaper than Conflict Resolution,  how should modern economies deal with military aggression”

Joel said we need to take peace seriously and look more closely at protecting it.  Sir Malcolm said that during the Cold War (six million killed globally), the West took military action for political reasons: if they did not support those countries they would fall to the communists.  Right or wrong.

Anita Sonns, of Sweden, asked: “How do you make the distinction between traditional and modern acts of aggression when many are carried out, not by states, but by organisations.”

Sir Malcolm said we need to tackle the funders and the state sponsors.

Another question was about Rwanda and why the West had not tackled it.

Sir Malcolm said that Rwanda had already suffered years of massacres.  There were no embassies so information was scant and they could only rely on NGO’s.  Most of the massacres had already happened by the time the public and national governments realised what was happening.  Therefore, we need to improve our information retrieval.

Ian Clement asked: “How do you deal with curing the Middle East when all the West does is fight against the symptoms, not the causes of war?  Unless Israel and Palestine are sorted, there will be perpetual war in the region.”

Palestinian child, dead in our name

On the last question, Sir Malcolm offered a chilling joke:

An Israeli and a Palestinian went to God and asked them if they were ever going to have peace.  God replied, “Yes.”  They were both delighted.  Until God added, “but not in my time.”

The reason why I’ve added brutal pictures to this blog is because it is important to remember the beneficiaries of these opinions and decisions.

There is an incredible photo exhibition in the lobby.  The Festival of Politics is hosting the world’s premier photojournalism exhibition – The World Press Photo Exhibition 2010.  The exhibition documents subjects from across the globe, ranging from coverage in war zones and natural disasters, to portraiture, nature and sports photography.

It reminded me of how powerful and seductive a polished speaker can be; that he can persuade the majority in a chamber-full of good-hearted Scottish folk to support all kinds of wars, so long as they are decided by ‘democratic people’ for nefarious, subjective reasons, without recourse to international arbiters.

It made me realise that I had committed the worst sin in feminism: being in love with my class jailor.

In my naivety, I had been seduced by a man who is currently the Parliamentary chair of the UK’s secret service; has been at the head of defence and foreign policy, and who advocates war without objective appraisals from international bodies.

Perhaps I am the ultimate traitor.


  1. Stewart Lochhead says:

    Good report Fin. I too should have been in the gods with you but sneaked in with the plebs to the main chamber floor. The voting system projected a result before people around me had worked out how to use the damm thing. The results were projected so quickly that I smell a rat.
    See here for the irreverant early report…

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