SNP leaders set for defence U-turn as proposal to drop Nato opposition tabled
THE SNP’s defence spokesman is to urge members to scrap the party’s long-standing opposition to an independent Scotland joining Nato, despite widespread internal hostility.
In a move expected to anger grass-roots activists, who will see it as contrary to the party’s anti-nuclear stance, Angus Robertson will ask delegates at the SNP’s annual conference to back the change, in an attempt to soften its position in the run-up to the independence referendum.
The proposal, which senior sources say has the backing of First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon, is being seen as a key part of repositioning the SNP ahead of the expected 2014 vote.
Mr Robertson’s bid to change the policy, which has been in place for more than four decades, comes after an attempt to abandon SNP opposition to participation in Nato was shelved ahead of last month’s policymaking council because of internal opposition.
The party has a strict policy of opposition to nuclear weapons. Although a minority of Nato members have nuclear weapons – including Britain and the United States – the military co-operation at the heart of the organisation means it is viewed as a nuclear alliance.
Mr Robertson’s motion says an independent Scotland would maintain Nato membership on the strict condition that Scotland “will not host” nuclear weapons.
He also says an independent Scotland would automatically “inherit” its Nato membership, adding the alliance is viewed as the “keystone defence organisation” by non-nuclear European nations such as Denmark, Norway and Iceland.
But efforts to change the key defence policy at the SNP conference in Perth in October are likely to provoke fierce opposition. Last night, SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said he “may well consider” trying to block the move.
Other SNP MSPs opposed to last month’s failed attempt to scrap the policy included Dave Thompson, a long-standing member of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Opponents of the change have been warned not to rock the boat. The Scotsman has obtained copy of an e-mail sent by SNP business managers to the party’s MSPs, which warns them against speaking to the media ahead of the conference vote.
The e-mail reads: “You may be contacted by the media on this. An opportunity for all members to express their views on this subject will of course present itself at conference, when the resolution and any amendments will be debated.”
A statement from the SNP said “the updated policy [on Nato] forms part of preparations for the independence referendum in 2014”, which the party said had come after a lengthy review.
Mr Robertson, who is also SNP leader at Westminster, used a Nationalist website to warn party members Nato membership would be needed if an independent Scotland was to deliver its international defence obligations. He wrote: “I am looking forward to an excellent debate within the SNP about this first significant defence policy update in ten years which at its heart prepares for better defence decision-making in Scotland.
“In the run-up to the independence referendum it is important to lay out SNP priorities for international relations, security and defence policy and these proposals show the clear advantages of making decisions in Scotland. These proposals will deliver an increase of service personnel in Scotland, restore and protect Scottish units and bases, as well as address significant UK capability gaps.
“As a northern European nation we have domestic and international security responsibilities and obligations including mutual defence. We can deliver on these with properly funded conventional capabilities and without the obscenity of Trident weapons of mass destruction.
“With agreement on the withdrawal of Trident and retaining the important role of the UN, Scotland can continue working with neighbours and allies within Nato.”
SNP MP Angus MacNeil will second Mr Robertson’s motion during a debate on foreign, security and defence policy at the autumn conference.
The SNP said an independent Scotland would “inherit its international treaty obligations” subject to a deal about the withdrawal of Trident from Scotland.
But Mr Hepburn signalled he may attempt to amend the part of the motion that calls for Nato membership.
He said he had not altered his views since lodging a Holyrood motion to mark the 60th anniversary of Nato. It argued that the alliance was a destabilising factor in the West’s relationship with Russia, that it relied on the continued use of nuclear weapons, and that it served no useful purpose in the modern world.
Mr Hepburn went on: “My position is pretty clear and I’ve not changed my position. I hope that the party has a similar position to the one that it has now.”
SNP MSP Jean Urquhart said it was a “possibility” she might support an amendment.
She said: “I’m keen to debate this at the conference and I hope a lot of time is given to it. Trident will be the red line.”
The debate comes after a series of policy retreats by the SNP. Finance secretary John Swinney has claimed an independent Scotland would continue to use the pound for at least a decade following a split with the UK, despite previously saying Scots would use the euro.
Nationalists now want the referendum to include the devo-plus option, which would see Holyrood take control of most taxes, as opposed to devo-max, under which it would have full financial powers.
Last night, opposition parties questioned Mr Robertson’s claim an independent Scotland would automatically inherit Nato membership.
Labour’s shadow defence minister Gemma Doyle said: “This is clearly a rushed statement from a rattled campaign with a number of assumptions and assertions for which they have no basis.
“No country that is a member of the EU or Nato has ever split in two. For the SNP to claim that a separate Scotland would automatically inherit the UK’s relationship with the EU and with Nato is fanciful.
“To join Nato, there are strict rules about force structure and defence spending that must be met, and the SNP haven’t even begun to address these matters.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “Much like its misguided stance on the EU, the SNP seems to think an independent Scotland would be waved through to join Nato automatically if they reverse their decades-long opposition to the alliance. They are making it up as they go along.”
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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