DELEGATES at the Scottish National Party’s conference in Perth have voted to overturn the Nationalists’ long-standing opposition to Nato.
• Defence: SNP delegates vote to overturn opposition to Nato
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• Abortion: Nicola Sturgeon sees no reason to reduce time limit
• Economy: John Swinney says Scotland’s recession ‘made in London’
The Scotsman’s Eddie Barnes and Tom Peterkin report from Perth...
5.40pm: Angus Robertson sneaks it - 394 votes to 365. Much closer than many expected and for about ten minutes as the vote was counted, there was a genuine tension as to the result among the delegates.
It followed a last summing up by Mr Robertson who told delegates: “Don’t kid yourselves. Our best ever result has been 44% of the electorate. We require 50% plus one to secure our independence”.
At the end of the day, it appears that Mr Robertson’s argument (with a little help from the pay roll vote of 21 Ministers) has helped carry the day.
But that was a close run thing alright.
5.25pm: Breaking news: 394 (52%) of delegates vote to reject amendment C - so the party is backing Nato membership.
4.30pm: My word, cometh the hour, cometh the man. And that man is Kenny MacAskill. The Justice Secretary gives the best speech by a country mile in favour of Nato.
“Friends,” he begins, I am no US poster boy. I am certainly no US lap dog”. This was the man who released Megrahi, remember. “It is a fundamental tenent on both sides of he debate that the SNP is opposed to the obscenity of nuclear weapons. It’s part of our heart and soul.” But he adds; “It’s how we achieve that that matters. I want to be able to deliver on the commitment that it will be there in black and white. To do that we have got to win in 2014”.
He argues that “Nato has changed”. Plus, he says “people need reassurance that they are safe”. He goes on: “Whether fears are rational or irrational and we need to be able to satisfy them and allay their fears. Equally we need to allay the fears of friends and allies. They may not have a vote but they can influence and we need to do that.”
“It’s not about being pro or anti Trident....because we all against them....But we have moved on from being a part of protest to being a party of power We are not here by accident but by design. We got a toehold in 2007 but we are not there yet but we have got to win the biggest vote of all in 2014.”
He concludes: “I have marched for CND and I have protested against Trident and I am tired marching. I want a seat for our government in the situations of power.”
4.15pm: John Swinney up next, defending Angus Robertson. A government of an independent country would have two obligations, he says... “to defend the people of this country to ensure this country is secure. “ And “to work collectively and collaboratively with our neighbours. We should support this resolution to give clarity....to work for peaceful resolution of disputes around he world.”
Strong words from member Duncan Ross who says the SNP regularly criticised Labour for “ditching principles”. The Nato plan “undermines our position as a party of principle and integrity. It is fundamentally dishonest that we could join Nato and then get rid of nuclear weapons. It is, he adds, “unethical”. Let’s “remain a party of principle and integrity”.
But then former soldier Gillan Johnston hits back. “After independence, Nato or not, we are a sovereign country and it is our power, our government, our leader who will decide where these weapons will go. And we know these weapons will go.”
But on Nato, he says: “We cannot be held back in our independence. We need the votes of Scots in 2014 and Scots have made it very clear they want to be in NATO.”
However, MSP Sandra White angrily attacks Angus Robertson for having brought the debate to the conoference. “Why now?” And then she questioned Mr Robertson’s claim that 75% of people back NATO. “Who are these people? I’ve never met them!”
4pm: Two contrasting contributions. A strong speech from Cllr Norman Macleod opposing the plans. “Whatever result we reach this afternoon, let the members of the press have no doubt that we will leave united and continuing in our passion for achieving independence for our country and we all will live with whatever decision that is, will we not?”
He goes on to criticise Angus Robertson for the way the Nato U-turn has been arranged. “It was an error was floated in the organs of the press. That’s not how we usually work. It could and should have been discussed in gross detail in forums like our national assembly. This requires further discussion.”
Then SNP MSP Keith Brown - a former marine - speaks up for Mr Robertson. “There is no chance of getting rid of Trident unless we achieve independence,” he says. And the plan will help reassure people thinking about voting for independence but who are worried about the SNP’s plans on security. “I believe the motion helps achieve independence because it allays some of those fears.” He himself decided to back Mr Robertson because of the condition that Scotland would only join NATO on the condition Trident goes.
3.45pm: The opposition keeps on coming - as does the applause for those opposing Nato membership.
In an emotional speech, Jean Urquhart MSP declares: “(When I joined the SNP) a lot of people thought I was a rebel. People said you’ve joined what?.... This summer I was called a rebel for supporting party policy. Angus Robertson described Nato as a sound organisation. We have to ask ourselves, why have we not endorsed that sound organisation for 30 years?”
She also says the party “cannot have it both ways” by both joining Nato and claiming it can be a non-nuclear state committed to peace. “We have to decide we are going to tie ourselves to one set of allies forever. That’s how it works. Look at who we will turn to stand beside and look at those we will turn our backs on. Choose Nato or multilateralism.”
Rob Gibson MSP calls for the policy to be “remitted back” - or delayed for another time. He says the party needs to address these issues at another time. Mr Robertson’s plan, he says, “fails to address in proportion to the seriousness of these issues. At this momentous time, let the party review this policy”.
3.25pm: SNP Trade Unionist Bill Ramsay stands up to declare Mr MacNeil’s logic as “an absurdity”. He gives a well received speech arguing that Nato “brings pressure” on its members. He notes, acerbically, “We see many delegates are under pressure, even possibly some Ministers are under pressure.” (see Scotsman story yesterday).
“We have mighty Germany under presure to accept tactical nuclear weapons. Therefore to join Nato at this time is to put you under more pressure. You can feel it today. That’s what Nato membershp brings. Let’s consider Nato membership when the last Trident boat sails down the Clde and not before,” he concludes, to cheers from supporters.
3.15pm: A passionate speech by Angus MacNeil. “We are being watched across European nations,” says the Western Isles MP. “There are 75% of people who back Nato membership in Scotland. I hope we can make it easy for that 75% to support independence.”
Mr MacNeil says: “Do not alienate these people. Do not allow anyone to conflate nuclear weapons with Nato membership. This policy is supported by Alex Salmond. Put your trust in him.”
In other words, this is a matter of whether members back the leadership or not.
2.45pm: SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson is on his feet putting the case for the SNP backing NATO. He thanks his opponents in the party for the conduct of the debate. The party has had to change its view following a long consulation with neighbouring nations, he says. It comes at a time when the area between Scotland and Scandanavia “will become ever more strategically important.”
“We must work within Nato, just like Norway and Denmark. The resolution is explicit that Scotland doesn’t keep nuclear weapons. We insist on an agreement for the withdrawal of Trident”.
“It sends an important message to friends, neighbours and allies.”
“Public opinion is clear on this. An overwhelming 75% want Scotland to remain in NATO. This policy reflect Scottish defence interests and priorities. We want Scotland to support international law and the UN. So I urge you please to support the resolution.”
Lots of applause afterwards.
1.30pm: The SNP Conference has demanded that Westminster abandons plans to provide any subsidies for a new generation of nuclear energy. The move follows concerns that money will be diverted from the renewables sector to pay for a new generation of nuclear energy.
Conference also backed the Scottish Government’s target of generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of energy demand from renewable sources by 2020.
SNP MSP John Wilson said: “I am delighted that conference has stated its full-throated opposition to providing subsidies to the nuclear industry at the expense of renewables.
“The renewable energy industry is already delivering thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of investment and will continue to expand in years to come. To put that at risk in order to throw money into the black hole that new energy is increasingly becoming would be foolishness of the worst kind.”
12.30pm: Nicola Sturgeon has said she does not believe in reducing the abortion time limit from the current level of 24 weeks. The Deputy First Minister said reducing the limit would risk sending women “to the back streets”.
Speaking during a BBC Scotland webcast interview, Ms Sturgeon made her views known after her successor as Health Secretary Alex Neil said he personally favoured a reduction in time limits.
Ms Sturgeon said a reduction could make abortions less safe for women. She said there was no Scottish government or SNP plan to change the limits now or after independence.
Legislation regulating the abortion limit is a matter for the UK Parliament.
Miss Sturgeon said: “On a personal basis, I’m not persuaded of the case for reducing the abortion time limit. A vast majority of abortions take place well before 20 weeks, there’s a tiny proportion between 20 and 24 weeks.
“I don’t believe there is evidence that backs up a reduction in the time limit and, more importantly, I’ve never seen any evidence that reducing the time limit for abortion reduces abortions. What it does do, or what it risks doing, is sending abortions back to the back streets and making them less safe for women.”
The UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt caused a furore when he suggested the limit could be reduced from 24 weeks to 12 weeks.
Prime Minister David Cameron insisted, however, that the government at Westminster had “no plans” to bring in new laws governing when a women could legally have an abortion.
12.15pm: Independence will end the “economic mismanagement” of successive Westminster Governments which has plunged Scotland into recession, finance Secretary John Swinney told the SNP conference.
The current double dip recession has “Made in London” stamped all over it, he told delegates on the second day of the conference in Perth.
He also lashed out at Labour’ leader Johann Lamont’s recent claim that the SNP has presided over a “something for nothing” culture in Scotland with the system of free universal benefits, insisting the Nationalist administration has made “hard choices” during its five year rule at Holyrood.
“The alternative to Scotland flourishing as an independent country - in charge of our own resources and decision making – is there for all to see in Westminster’s record,” Mr Swinney said in a keynote speech today