THIS will cause enormous ructions within the SNP, as there are people within the party who think that Nato is immoral in that it has a strategy that’s dependent on nuclear weapons.
The situation facing Alex Salmond is the one that faced Neil Kinnock in the late 1980s. Labour realised two-thirds of UK voters quite liked the nuclear deterrent. Although it was very hard for Kinnock to change Labour’s policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, he realised that if the bulk of the population disagreed with you, you either change that position or stay in opposition Alex Salmond may take a similar view on the SNP’s position, but he will face stiff opposition within his own party. There is also the issue that defence equals jobs, with lots of military and civilians positions involved. SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson can say whatever he likes about England buying defence equipment from an independent Scotland. But if you were an MP representing a constituency in Newcastle, for example, then this would be an enormous issue.
Defence is an issue both in principle – because we’re talking about the matter of nuclear weapons – and in practical terms, as we are talking about 30,000 to 50,000 jobs that could be dependent on it.
One way Alex Salmond can overcome concerns about independence is to say, “Don’t worry, we are going to be in Nato and not much will change”, although this is assuming an independent Scotland would be admitted.
It must also be remembered that in 1999, Alex Salmond said the bombing of Belgrade by Nato was an unpardonable folly, whereas there are many people within Nato who think this was the alliance’s finest hour, in terms of stopping ethnic cleaning.
Some who support the SNP actually do so because they object to nuclear weapons. Although Nato has got rid of its tactical nuclear weapons, Britain, France and the United States still have nuclear weapons.
If there is a real prospect of Alex Salmond being defeated at this autumn’s party conference, then it is possible that he will withdraw the proposal. Of course, given this would be the second time he had done this, then that would be the end of any attempt to change the policy before the 2014 independence referendum.
But it would be a very brave person who would attempt to take on Alex Salmond within the SNP. He is probably the only person who could bring about this change within the party.
• Trevor Salmon is an emeritus professor at the University of Aberdeen.