SNP's flight from reality on defence policy

THE SNP yesterday devoted its annual conference in Inverness to discussing defence and foreign affairs.

Those who should know better than this nonsense were actually aiding and abetting the SNP’s flight from reality. In his keynote speech, the former party leader, Alex Salmond, said the SNP’s commitment to the UN was "absolute". Mr Salmond’s conception of Scottish interests is peculiar. The UN is indeed a vital body which helps bring a modicum of stability to a dangerous world. But why are Scottish interests always to be absolutely subordinated to the majority vote of 180 nations, most of whom are not democratic? And what if the UN is deadlocked over some issue?

Mr Salmond also attacked the government’s record on arms sales. He said: "Let the message from this conference be, you cannot create peace and prosperity by selling people the technology of war and destruction." But does that mean an SNP government in an independent Scotland would ban Scottish firms from building warships and aircraft parts for export? Mr Salmond might reply: only in sensitive cases such as Pakistan and India. But the SNP’s neutralist stance has wider implications.

For instance, in June, the enterprise minister, Iain Gray, made a statement to the Scottish Parliament about BAE Systems, the warship builder with yards at Govan and Scotstoun, which have a healthy order book for naval craft. Mr Gray said they were well placed to win work on the MoD’s two future aircraft carriers. But would the SNP let BAE use its Scottish yards to build carriers for the English Royal Navy if it thought those were going to be used in the sort of pre-emptive or non-UN action now being contemplated in Iraq?

On another occasion, Mr Salmond famously opposed British and American bombing of Kosovo and Serbia. How could the Scottish defence industry be allowed to supply England, when the SNP would be so clearly divergent from the latter in its pacifist foreign policy? The implications would be significant for Scottish jobs. Certainly, the 7,000 extra defence jobs the SNP promises look specious.

More posturing came from Kevin Pringle, long-time chief spin doctor for the SNP. He told conference that an independent Scotland would have the real strength that came from its absolute support for the United Nations and "not the sham security of Trident and nuclear weapons". Presumably, Mr Pringle has forgotten the Cold War and the role deterrence played in containing the Soviet Union until it fell apart because it was so hated by its citizens.

In the end, of course, it is not weapons systems which provide security, but alliances. Important as it is, the UN is not an alliance. And it is from our security community in NATO and with England that the SNP naively seeks to separate us.

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