AN INDEPENDENT Scotland would be welcomed into Nato even if it ditched Trident, says a former UK ambassador to the nuclear-based defence alliance.
Dame Mariot Leslie argues that none of the Nato allies would want to interrupt the organisation’s defence arrangements in the North Atlantic and North Sea by excluding Scotland from the defence pact.
In a letter in today’s Scotsman, Dame Mariot claims that the other 28 Nato allies would be reluctant not to grant Scotland membership at a time of heightened tension with Russia.
The former British diplomat, who stepped down as permanent representative to Nato earlier this year, also reveals she will be voting Yes this month on the grounds that Scotland’s geography, economy, demography and politics are “so distinctive” that they are best served by their own sovereign government.
Her letter concedes that an independent Scotland would face “tough negotiations” after a Yes vote, but maintains that nothing in her “long experience” of international security makes her think that Scotland or the rest of UK would emerge as a less safe place after the talks.
She wrote to The Scotsman in response to criticism of SNP defence plans by former Nato deputy supreme commander General Sir Richard Shirreff.
A document written by Sir Richard claimed that it was “highly unlikely” Nato would agree to further expansion while the promise of membership made to Ukraine and Georgia in 2008 was still on the table.
Sir Richard’s document, published by The Scotsman’s sister paper Scotland on Sunday at the weekend, also warned the Scottish Government’s controversial claim that an independent Scotland could join a nuclear defence alliance while removing nuclear weapons from the Clyde could hinder Nato membership.
But today, Dame Mariot takes issue with Sir Richard’s conclusions on Nato, saying: “I am sure that it would be in Scotland’s interest to join Nato and to continue to anchor our own defence in a wider alliance of western democracies. But I am also in no doubt that the other 28 Nato allies would see it in their interests to welcome an independent Scotland into Nato. No ally would wish to interrupt the integrated Nato defence arrangements in the North Sea and North Atlantic – least of all at a time of heightened tension with Russia.” Mr Salmond’s opponents believe the Scottish Government’s policy of getting rid of Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland is incompatible with membership of a nuclear-based organisation. Dame Mariot, however, disagrees.
“A democratic, non-nuclear Scotland with strong military and technological traditions would fit naturally alongside similar Nato members in northern Europe,” she says.
Dame Mariot is an Edinburgh-born and educated former director-general for defence and intelligence at the Foreign Office.
Writing ahead of this week’s Nato summit in Wales, she says she is proud to have been a British diplomat for more than 30 years and has “affection” for the UK.
Explaining her decision to back a Yes vote, Dame Mariot describes herself as a “democrat”.
She adds: “Of course, the closest and most important defence and security relationship for an independent Scotland would be with the United Kingdom. It’s clear that as Scotland made the transition to independence, there would be some tough negotiations over defence, nuclear and wider security questions, because there is a lot at stake on both sides.”
Dame Mariot’s intervention was hailed by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said: “This is a very impressive and important endorsement for Yes. Dame Mariot is an enormously experienced diplomat who worked at the highest levels, and she speaks with authority on Scotland’s potential as an independent country.
“I am confident that having experts of her calibre backing Yes will encourage many more undecided and No voters to decide in favour of Yes.”
Speaking on behalf of Better Together, former Nato secretary-general George Robertson said: “Ms Leslie is entitled to her opinion but even she will see how difficult it would be to get 28 countries to agree to admitting a country determined to disarm another Nato state.
“The SNP is not just non-nuclear, it is anti-nuclear, and no other Nato country takes that position. Expelling the UK deterrent – especially when president Putin is reminding the world about his – would be a serious block to Scottish membership.”