THE SNP leadership does not have grassroots backing for its plan to reverse policy on Nato membership, a group of Nationalist MSPs opposed to the reform said yesterday, as the party’s battle over the crucial issue intensified.
The anti-Nato campaign, which launched yesterday with the backing of ten of the party’s 67 MSPs, said it was “confident” party delegates could be persuaded to stick by its historic opposition to the military alliance.
The reform has been backed by Alex Salmond and proposed by defence spokesman Angus Robertson, who has argued that the SNP needs to show it is prepared to join an alliance which includes many of Scotland’s closest neighbours.
However, the MSPs opposed to reform said yesterday that Robertson was “worried” he was about to lose, citing the fact he had issued polling supporting his case yesterday, on the same day as they launched their campaign.
They claim that an independent Scotland outside Nato could help create nuclear disarmament across Europe by showing the way forward.
Robertson announced earlier this summer that he wants the SNP to support Nato membership after independence, so long as Scotland does not have to host the Trident nuclear submarines based at Faslane, and can stay out of Nato conflicts which are not sanctioned by the UN.
The decision will be made at the party’s annual conference in Perth at the end of October.
However, Robertson’s opponents’ central case is that joining Nato will block efforts to get rid of Trident, as allies in the nuclear alliance seek to persuade Scotland to keep them here.
Removing Trident is a touchstone issue for the party. The anti-Nato campaign said yesterday that if Scotland stayed out of the alliance, there would be no blocks, post independence, to deactivating the weapons immediately and then having the submarines moved “two years later maximum”.
Dave Thompson, MSP for Highlands and Islands, added that such a move would effectively disarm the UK as well, citing research which has shown that moving the subs elsewhere in the British Isles is unrealistic.
Thompson said: “If we got rid of them in Scotland, we get rid of them in the UK. This would be the start of nuclear disarmament in Europe.”
A nuclear-free UK would put pressure on the United States to remove its weapons from other European nations, he added. “If they [other countries] see a country without nuclear weapons, that would add to pressure on the United States to remove their weapons from Germany, Belgium and Holland.”
Another of the SNP MSPs backing the status quo, Glasgow Kelvin MSP Sandra White, added: “If you are a member of Nato then you are in a club. Germany and others have tried to get rid of nuclear weapons but because of the make up of Nato they haven’t been able to do that. We wouldn’t be able to get rid of Trident if we are a member of that club.”
She said she believed grassroots party members backed retention of the policy, saying support in her own constituency was running at 90 per cent. “I would say Angus [Robertson] is worried.”
The group also argued that a change to the party’s Nato stance would only damage its bid for independence. White added: “I would really like to ask Angus what he or Yes Scotland would possibly gain by being a member of Nato.”
The group’s members argued they were not “rebels” as they were standing up for current policy. Jean Urquhart, an MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “We have been described as rebels. Rebels are the ones who are speaking against something. I don’t feel like a rebel because I am supporting the status quo.”
Other MSPs who have said they are opposing the Nato change are John Wilson, Gordon MacDonald, Jamie Hepburn, John Mason, John Finnie, Bill Kidd, Marco Biaggi and Bob Doris.
As the campaign launched, Robertson produced polling commissioned by the parliamentary group at Westminster which showed that 63 per cent of voters thought Scotland would be safer in Nato, compared to 5 per cent who said it would be safer outside it.
Robertson said: “These poll findings underline the overwhelming degree of public support for an independent Scotland working within Nato.”
An SNP spokesman added: “SNP members have the democratic opportunity to make their views on Nato membership clear at the annual conference in October, where we are going to have an excellent debate on defence policy, including reaffirming the party’s strong anti-nuclear stance.
“The factual position is that Nato doesn’t decide where nuclear weapons are based. Weapons from one country that are stationed in another are only there by bilateral, mutual agreement. The SNP position is clear and cast-iron: Westminster’s Trident nuclear weapons will be removed from Scotland.”