Leaders: Salmond wins Nato battle but war is still to be won
AFTER a passionate, emotional and thoroughly genuine debate which raised the bar for democratic discussion well above anything seen at other major political party conferences, Alex Salmond succeeded in his demand that his Scottish National Party should reverse decades of opposition to Nato.
Opponents, doubtless, will point to the narrowness of the majority and claim nationalists are divided, or to the caveats in the wording eventually approved to contend that the party’s new stance is riddled with hypocrisy. But there is little doubt that yesterday’s vote represented a major shift in policy. Moreover, it was achieved in an old-fashioned political way.
Party leaders proposed the change, it was discussed in detail directly with members and through the media for months, before coming to a climactic decision yesterday, with the possibility of Mr Salmond suffering a serious reverse. So, he and his lieutenants can deservedly congratulate themselves on a job well, and democratically, done.
Of course, many questions remain. Top of the list is how long the Trident nuclear weapons base at Faslane would remain in an independent Scotland. An independent Scotland, the SNP now says, will be like Norway and many other countries: a non- nuclear member of Nato.
But none of these non-nuclear members have nuclear missiles on their territory. And the “speediest” removal of Trident might well take decades rather than years, especially as this is likely to be a critical point in any independence negotiations with the UK government.
The motion added the proviso that this non-nuclear membership would be conditional on Nato taking “all possible steps” towards disarmament. But what, exactly, would constitute real, rather than illusory, movement towards disarmament?
SNP leaders recognised that a majority of Scots want to remain in Nato. Therefore, they hope, independence will become more palatable to more people on this decision. That remains to be seen because this is just the start of a wider debate in which opponents will argue the new stance is either unachievable or unacceptable to other Nato members.
A converse effect also applies. Some speakers in Perth yesterday made it clear that one of the main reasons they came to support the SNP was because of its unequivocal anti-nuclear weapons stance. And they did not regard non-nuclear membership of a nuclear weapons-possessing alliance as compatible with their beliefs. What will they do now?
Independence, as Mr Salmond has observed many times, now means interdependence – that governmental room for manoeuvre is restricted by the impact it has on neighbours and allies. Because of the compromises this will entail, it also means the independence prospectus it eventually presents to voters may not look like what many of its supporters imagined it to be.
Europe banks on correct decision
Agreement by European leaders on making the European Central Bank the single banking supervisor for the 17 eurozone countries is an important step towards resolving the sovereign debt crisis gripping the continent. It is also a significant move down the road towards greater European Union integration, which may cause some in Britain to deplore it. Now, however, is not the time for such a debate.
The key factor keeping the eurozone in recession is worry that bad debts in the weaker economies, such as Spain, are growing and threatening to cripple banks in those countries, necessitating further bail-outs. Such bail-outs would make existing debt burdens even heavier, perhaps to the point that default and a collapse of international market confidence.
But as banking supervisor, the ECB would be able to inject funds into weak banks directly. This, and the additional confidence it should give markets, should go a long way to lift the clouds of doubt shrouding the European economy and, with luck, steer it back towards growth. Thus for the British economy, where European uncertainty is widely held to be the major cause of current stagnation, this is good news.
Of course, there are many questions as to how this single authority supervision of 6,000 banks across 17 regulatory systems will work, especially to the higher standards demanded since the financial crisis. And, for eurozone consumers, the question of how a continental deposit guarantee scheme can work has been left unanswered. These problems, however, will become easier to address if the atmosphere of permanent crisis that has gripped Europe for nearly four years starts to dissipate on this decision.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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