“You better stay in – no-one leaves a great defensive shield like that one, unless they have a hole in the head. It is a major weakness in your position for independence,” the party was told time and time again. Scotland left alone in the world, outside the comforting umbrella of Nato, was a terrible fate waiting for us if Alex Salmond had his way in the referendum. “Change the policy,” they said.
Behind the scenes, of course, the Unionists were delighted with the SNP policy. It suited them perfectly. They calculated that as the campaign progressed, the SNP position would let them raise all sorts of difficult questions about an independent Scotland’s foreign and defence policy, and allow them to use words like “isolated”, “cut off”, “into the wilderness” and “friendless,” building up a picture of poor wee Scotland all on its own, totally vulnerable. A kind of future horror show, enough to send a frightened nation into the ballot box to vote no.
Then, lo and behold, what do Salmond and Angus Robertson do? Propose a change of policy, one that answers the Unionist criticism.
Scotland, like Norway, would be a member of Nato but would not have nuclear weapons located here. Trident, the UK’s nuclear fleet would, in due course, after negotiations, have to move to England or Wales.
And what do the Unionists do? Welcome the sanity of the new position, congratulate Salmond for the good sense he has shown in his determination to steer the party towards a more mature attitude to Nato? Not on your life. Root and branch denunciation is the order of the day.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, late of Edinburgh Pentlands and now MP for the posh part of London, a former foreign secretary, claims that an independent Scotland would be blocked from Nato by its members. Salmond’s Scotland, he said, “would not even get an interview “ to join Nato.
Also weighing in was Lord George Robertson, former Labour defence secretary and former secretary- general of Nato. A man consistently promoted beyond his pay grade, a man walloped by Alex Salmond in a famous debate on devolution and independence.
Lord George opines that Nato members would “deride” a bid to join and that “if they are going to rely on Nato, they are going to have to accept the strategic concept which says Nato is a nuclear alliance and members will retain nuclear weapons. But they are laying down conditions as if they are in a strong position to negotiate”.
That is known in the trade as setting up an aunt Sally so you can knock it down. Robertson’s coronet does not give off the brightest gleam in the House of Lords, and his attempt to snooker the SNP fails.
It seems beyond the compass of Lord Robertson’s intellect to recognise that implicit in the Salmond-Angus Robertson proposal is an acknowledgment of the existence of the US, French and UK nuclear weapons, which together constitute Nato’s nuclear deterrent umbrella. Nowhere does the SNP insist that any one of those three give up their nuclear capacity. Asking the English to move Trident from the Clyde, but giving them time to do so – some years in fact – does not deprive the Westminster government of its nuclear deterrent.
As for an independent Scotland not being in a strong position to negotiate, and being refused even an interview by the high heid yins at Nato, pull the other one Malcolm. You and George may want to play the daft man, but Nato members are not stupid. They know that Scotland represents a precious asset without which the Nato alliance would face a huge, dangerous gap in its vulnerable periphery.
Scotland is Nato’s unsinkable aircraft carrier. It is from Scotland that Nato would guard against any incursion by a hostile maritime force sailing through the Iceland gap into the Atlantic, where it could, if it got through, sink ships bringing men and supplies from North America during a crisis.
It would be madness on the part of Nato to tell Scotland, willing to remain that indestructible carrier, to get lost.
Nato, let it be noted, has taken into its membership former Soviet zone countries which, not so long ago, were our enemies.
Nato, let it also be noted, has had the benefit of Scottish soldiers in the actions it has taken in recent years, including Afghanistan. Do Scottish deaths in Nato’s cause count for nothing?
Are we really to believe Rifkind and Lord George that such commitment, and promise of continued commitment, will be spurned by Nato chiefs? Will they be willing to “sink” their finest aircraft carrier by treating an independent Scotland, created by an act of democracy, like dirt and eject us from their alliance?
In Nato’s geographical and geopolitical sphere, Scotland is unique in the strategic defensive role we offer to the alliance.
Without Scotland, Nato in a crisis would be in serious trouble. Eject us? No chance.