More clarity vital on defence options
Has the SNP’s credibility on defence strategy been enhanced by the narrow vote on a decision to join Nato?
Lesley Riddoch (Perspective, 22 October) asks the question; it is more difficult to answer because of the compromises the leadership had to make to get the vote through at all.
Its defence spokesman Angus Robertson was forced to concede that Nato membership would only be sought if there was a reciprocal commitment to get rid of Trident.
It remains to be seen whether the voters will see that as a viable approach. But that aside, the SNP should put forward the case for a non-nuclear defence strategy within the Alliance with confidence.
It at least shows it is mature enough not to be isolationist and to recognise the need to work constructively with allies of different persuasions.
Other aspects of defence should now engage its attention. Not least of these is the position of the armed forces at the point when independence is granted.
How can their loyalty to a new state be ensured? People will need to know the facts about their security not in some distant future but at the moment autonomy is granted.
It will test the negotiation skills of the SNP leadership to the limit but is a matter that needs to be sorted out before we vote in 2014.
The status of the remaining military bases north of the Border is equally worthy of attention and needs to be clarified before the poll.
One problem faced by both sides in the debate is that the referendum will simply seek a mandate to negotiate independence.
The outcome of those negotiations, particularly on an issue as sensitive as defence and security, cannot be predicted. That is why both sides need to agree some terms before the vote, otherwise there can be no answer to the charge that we shall all simply be asked to vote in the dark on the most important constitutional issue of our lifetime.
“So where now for the Nato-supporting SNP?” is the first of 11 questions from Lesley Riddoch. Unlike Ms Riddoch, I can provide an answer to this one: failure. But that’s so only if the SNP really, really wants Scotland to be independent, more than it wants anything else.
However, its actions suggest that it doesn’t; instead, self-perpetuation is its raison d’être.
To be fair, the party’s vote is entirely consistent with its recent actions. Instead of aiming for the widest possible support for independence, from every part of the political spectrum, it divides opinion.
I should have the confidence to vote Yes in the knowledge that an independent Scotland will have “normal” politics, in which an SNP would be as obsolete as a party whose main purpose was to agitate for universal suffrage.
Instead, the SNP confuses and alienates: don’t vote for independence if you like Nato, or are a republican, or disagree with free prescriptions for the rich, or don’t like wind turbines… the list goes on. The party doesn’t seem to have grasped the point that it should (and has to) appeal to those who can’t stand it or its leader, who should be working himself out of a job.
The SNP may no longer like Nato, but it’s chosen a nuclear option which will make it impossible for it to win the referendum.
Alex Salmond has rightly said that his preferred option would be for London to decommission the Trident nuclear weapon system (your report, 22 October).
But he also raised the options of moving the submarines to the US or France. In 1981 the Ministry of Defence seriously considered basing the Royal Navy’s Trident fleet, including its nuclear warheads, at Kings Bay in the US.
The initial response from American diplomats was: “Don’t ask.” If Trident was operating from the other side of the Atlantic, then any pretence of independence would be completely lost.
The practice would run contrary to the principles of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Just because the US has nuclear bombs in other countries, doesn’t mean they would welcome British weapons on their own soil.
The French base at Ile Longue is too compact to comply with Trident’s safety regulations. We could only move Trident to France if a new British nuclear base was built in Britanny or elsewhere. This would be hugely controversial. Submarines based in France would be dependent on both American and French support.
There is nowhere for Trident to go. This means that Scotland has the chance, not just to shuffle nuclear weapons from one country to another, but to achieve nuclear disarmament in Britain and to promote this cause around the world.
This is a golden opportunity the First Minister should seize with both hands.
Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
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