Is SNP starting to abandon its commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament? Feels like it to me – Kenny MacAskill MP

Running through the ‘Old SNP’, like a stick of lettered rock, was commitment to nuclear disarmament.

A mushroom cloud rises after a nuclear bomb test off the coast of Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, in 1946 (Picture: Keystone/Getty Images)
A mushroom cloud rises after a nuclear bomb test off the coast of Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, in 1946 (Picture: Keystone/Getty Images)

Understandable, perhaps, as so many involved when the party took off in the late 1960s had been involved in, politicised by, or even reared in the peace movement.

They were of a generation that had experienced the fear that was palpable at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as marching on the Holy Loch and campaigning to “ban the bomb”, often before they took up the cause of independence.

Of course, many on the Labour Left were likewise committed to unilateralism but they were never able to forge, let alone change, their party notwithstanding the sincerity of their views.

The legacy of Ernie Bevin’s “British Bomb” has been maintained by Labour leaders ever since, even if it’s now in reality just part of the American nuclear shield. It’s been a defining issue for many in choosing SNP over Labour, even before the great power shift in Scotland saw the former supplant the latter in political hegemony.

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For in the SNP, those stalwarts were able to forge a party where nuclear disarmament became an integral part of Scotland’s cause. Old SNP policies changed and evolved as society and the economy transformed but that commitment to ending the risk of nuclear annihilation, not just for their land with its critical sites but for all humanity, remained.

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Independent Scotland should be a Nato member so it can play its part in maintain...

And the change to support for Nato membership was qualified by a reassertion of the commitment to unilateralism in Scotland, even if within an organisation where they remain a critical factor.

But the ‘New SNP’ has seen a change. Lately hawks speaking on defence for the SNP have started talking about “multilateralism” and that’s been genuflected to by Nicola Sturgeon.

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Now, to be fair, it’s in a different context from the historic unilateralism versus multilateralism debate which was part of SNP differentiating itself from others on a defining issue. The new order see multilateralism as membership of Nato, but words matter and it’s indicative all the same of a subtle but significant shift in positioning of party. Old SNP grandees would be birling in their graves at such vocabulary.

The First Minister’s suggestion that “no-fly zones” over Ukraine be considered further highlights the drift from the founding principles. It may just have been her perennial virtue-signalling, safe in the knowledge that she’d no powers or influence over it.

But she knows that such action would likely precipitate war and one that could quickly escalate to a nuclear confrontation. Moreover, all Nato members go nuclear in war, even those that renounce their siting.

Condemnation of Putin doesn’t require acceptance of a Cold War orthodoxy of being on one side or the other. Old SNP stalwarts lived through appalling actions and very challenging times such as the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the brutal suppression of the Prague Spring.

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They opposed those actions but remained unwavering in their commitment to nuclear disarmament, pursuing an alternative vision for their country and humanity, one that many other small nations such as Ireland still seek to do.

But New SNP seems to be embracing the New World Order, rather than seeking nuclear disarmament and a world at peace.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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