Leader: It will take more than Alex Salmond’s assertions to win public trust
THE SNP is far from being the only political party which, when challenged on a policy detail, resorts to the politics of assertion.
Politicians across the political spectrum are worryingly liable to adopt a position which can be summarised thus: “If I assert a thing to be so, then it is so.” However, as the intensity of debate on independence has increased, the SNP has become particularly prone to the sin of assertion, with the latest example relating to defence.
On Thursday, Alex Salmond asserted a Scottish defence force would have the same number of army, navy and RAF personnel as envisaged under the UK government’s defence review. He further asserted this force would include the elite Scots Guards and would be non-nuclear. Although delivered with his usual chutzpah, a cursory examination of this leads to the conclusion the First Minister drew up his plan on the back of a cigarette packet.
Mr Salmond’s adoption of the UK plan seems just too convenient. No further work on the policy needed? It left also him open to the charge of hypocrisy as his party campaigned against the closure of RAF bases by the UK government. In stating the Scots Guards could be part of the Scottish force, Mr Salmond betrayed a lack of military understanding. They are part of the Brigade of Guards. They could no more leave the Brigade than the Irish Guards could.
If Mr Salmond thought that he could get away with defence policy by assertion, he was deluding himself and yesterday the former Secretary General of Nato, Lord George Robertson, launched a stinging attack on SNP policy. As a former Labour Cabinet minister, Lord Robertson has a vested interest, but his criticism of the policy on the Trident nuclear defence system and Nato has validity.
It is unrealistic for the SNP to claim that, as Mr Salmond has also asserted, an independent Scotland would not have to share the costs of the removal of Trident on independence. The nuclear deterrent was put in Scotland by a UK government before the rise of the SNP. It has been backed by successive Westminster administrations and elected by UK voters, including Scots.
Lord Robertson’s criticism of the SNP policy of remaining outside Nato is also pertinent. If Scotland was not in Nato, which brings security through mutual military support, how effective would our defence be if we were threatened by another power? There are a number of countries without nuclear weapons in Nato, including Norway, and thoughtful Nationalists like justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and education secretary Michael Russell have, to their credit, recognised this.
Although they will say nothing in public, senior figures like these must know the party’s defence position leaves it vulnerable when scrutiny of plans for independence increases in the run-up to the referendum. And they must know it will take more than assertions, even by the forceful Mr Salmond, to win over a majority of the Scottish public.
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