WHY would those enraged by Israel’s genocidal war against Gaza want to protest against an opposition party in Scotland?

As the Scottish Labour tribe gathered in Glasgow, on the surface this is not an unreasonable objection from the point of view of Anas Sarwar, their proud leader. When questioned by a journalist, he offered conciliation. “I can understand why people’s emotions are high,” he said, but he believed anger was “misplaced” when it came to targeting an opposition party.

Why not, say, the Westminster Conservative Government, or indeed Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime in Israel, which Sarwar condemned for what he described as “atrocities”, not just in Gaza, but in illegal settlements in the West Bank, too.

This stance alone seems, superficially, far more impressive than Keir Starmer’s leadership. That, in itself, is not difficult. Starmer, after all, backed the “right” of Israel to cut off water and energy to a civilian population – a war crime – at the beginning of the horror, then tried to gaslight us into pretending he had not.

Multiple shadow cabinet ministers followed suit and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, refused to condemn Israel’s forced displacement of Gaza’s population – better known as ethnic cleansing – as a war crime either.

Labour’s shadow international development minister Lisa Nandy offered justification for the Tories throttling Gaza’s main humanitarian agency, UNRWA, based on unevidenced Israeli claims about the complicity of 0.04% of its staff in the October 7 attacks.

READ MORE: 'Abysmal' - Reaction from young Scottish Labour activists to Anas Sarwar speech

And sure enough, yesterday Sarwar demanded an “immediate ceasefire”. Again, the formula used by Labour at Westminster – for a sustainable ceasefire – is very different. In practice, this means opposing an immediate halt to the violence, on the grounds that if Hamas still exists, such a ceasefire will not be sustainable.

In practical terms, that simply offers cynical wrapping for Israeli war aims, which are in any case impossible – Israel’s military intelligence has concluded Hamas cannot in fact be defeated, and will survive as a “terror group” whether Netanyahu declares victory or not.

On those grounds, it should concern us that Sarwar has dismissed differences between him and Starmer over Gaza as “semantics”. Really? After all, we are discussing justifying and refusing to oppose war crimes, justifying financially strangling the main humanitarian agency – in defiance of the International Court of Justice demanding access to humanitarian aid in order to avoid genocide – and now refusing to demand an immediate ceasefire.

Is Sarwar’s difference with all of this mere semantics? Indeed, the Scottish Labour MP who introduced Sarwar to the stage was Michael Shanks, who refused – when had the opportunity – to vote for a ceasefire. Scottish Labour’s other representative at Westminster is Ian Murray, who similarly refused to take a stand.

With the Scottish National Party’s upcoming opposition day motion on a ceasefire, both have an opportunity to atone for their grievous error. It is not looking promising.

AND we circle back to why this weekend’s protest at the Scottish Labour conference does not represent misplaced anger. We have repeatedly heard it said that any protests over Gaza directed at Labour at the national level are themselves wrongheaded, because Starmer is not in power.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Saturday's Gaza demo

Well, he will soon inevitably be prime minister and thus charged with policy towards Gaza by the end of the year. But just as importantly, the failure of Labour to offer leadership has protected the Tories from public pressure.

After all, across the UK as a whole, according to a YouGov poll, 66% of people support Israel ceasing its onslaught and an immediate ceasefire, with just 13% opposed, while 45% believe Israel’s murderous campaign isn’t justified, with just 24% saying it is. The public arrived at such a conclusion despite most media outlets failing to expose Israeli war crimes – and the two main Westminster parties justifying them.

Indeed, Rishi Sunak knows the Tories can get away with arming and supporting Israel with no political cost precisely because Labour have ensured there has been a consensus at Westminster. If Labour had taken a different stand, the Tories would have been in real trouble, forced to justify woefully unpopular British complicity in what the world’s highest court is investigating as an alleged genocide.

And here’s where Sarwar could have come in. Rather than claiming his differences with Starmer are mere semantics, he could have demonstrated the independence of Scottish Labour by calling the party out at a national level.

There are diplomatic ways to put it – that he desperately wants a Starmer administration but that the inevitable prime minister-to-be must take an urgent stand and stop Sunak getting away with it. That would have placed Starmer under significant pressure to abandon his morally depraved position.

READ MORE: Young Scottish Labour activists plan conference walk-out to join Gaza demo

When it came to Brexit, many of those now castigating Gaza campaigners understood that an opposition party could play a significant role in shaping the political weather.

At Westminister level, Labour failed to offer leadership. That vacuum was instead filled by Scotland’s SNP First Minister Humza Yousaf, who knew exactly the scale of the crime that was to come.

So yes, those who wish to stop Palestinian men, women and children being slaughtered with UK support must use every pressure point available to them – and Scottish Labour are no exception.