THE SNP’s row over plans to join Nato deepened yesterday amid warnings from supporters of the alliance that failure to sign up would have a “major impact” on the security of Scotland and its allies.
A new internal briefing paper, written by SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson, warns regional challenges facing Scotland in the “High North” and the Arctic are “urgently set to grow” over the coming decades.
SNP policy currently is to withdraw Scotland from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and join a “Partnership for Peace” programme.
However, Mr Robertson warns in the paper: “Scotland leaving Nato would have a significant impact on diplomatic, political and defence circumstances. Partnership for Peace does not provide a mutual security guarantee.”
That prompted anti-Nato opponents within the SNP last night to claim the paper was full of “inaccuracies, omissions and a misunderstanding of geo-politics” as they step up their bid to derail the reform when it comes before the SNP conference in Perth later this month.
The move, backed by the leadership, is likely to pass at conference, but opponents say there are fears that remaining in Nato will damage the party’s pledge to get rid of Trident.
In the policy paper, seen by The Scotsman, and issued to SNP MSPs, Mr Robertson repeats his assurance that Nato membership would only be accepted if Trident is removed.
The paper then lays out the strategic reasons for remaining in the nuclear alliance, focusing on the region north of Scotland, which – due to climate change and potential oil exploration – is likely to become a more contested region. It declares: “At present our security arrangements, including air and sea defence and patrolling, are through Nato. Regional challenges are urgently set to grow with environmental changes in the High North and Arctic.
“As Partnership for Peace does not provide the essential regional defence and security arrangements, withdrawal from Nato would have a major impact on Scotland and our neighbours. In short, we need to work with our North Sea Nato neighbours more than ever.”
The paper also sets out the political argument in favour of the policy change, insisting that “it is important for the Scottish public to have confidence that an SNP-led independent Scotland will have the appropriate defence and national security priorities”. The paper also says that Scotland should be “committed to protect our allies and ourselves” in the Nato alliance.
However, anti-Nato campaigners argue that Scotland would be able to contribute to security in the North through the Arctic Council, not Nato.
They also claim Nato is split on how to manage the region, and are pointing out that three other countries in the north – Finland, Sweden and Russia – are not Nato members.
SNP trade unionist Bill Ramsay said: “’While not questioning the sincerity of Angus Robertson’s opposition to nuclear weapons, the more you examine his justification for a U-turn, the more the case falls apart.
“His briefing paper is full of inaccuracies, omissions and a misunderstanding of geopolitics, especially in relation to the Arctic. The world is looking to Scotland; we deserve a well-informed and considered security and foreign policy, not this.”
The issue will be put to party members at the conference two weeks on Friday.