Leaders: Global context shifts indy debate

TO VETERANS of the Scottish ­constitutional debate, many of the key issues of the independence referendum are all too familiar, the contours of the discussion not having changed much for many years.

Scotland flags flying before the start of the RBS 6 Nations match against England at Murrayfield. Picture: PA

What does change, ­however, and change radically, is the global context. An ever-shifting world changes the light in which these issues can be viewed, and is capable of challenging a range of Scottish political orthodoxies. This is a good thing. It reminds us that we are not having this debate in a hermetically sealed bubble that ends at the most northerly tip of Shetland and, in the south, at the River Tweed. Independence for Scotland has to be viewed in the context of the world in which an independent Scotland would have to operate. ­Although the decision on independence is ­ultimately ours and ours alone, events and opinions elsewhere could have a profound impact on how we would fare.

As a result, the phrase “self-determination” takes on a more complex meaning than would at first appear. We can decide we would want an independent Scotland to be a member of the EU, Nato and a formal currency union with what remained of the UK, but we cannot determine this ourselves. These and other developments are out of our hands, in the control of our neighbours on these islands and in the wider international community. This may be galling, and inconvenient, but it cannot be otherwise. Which brings us to recent geopolitical events that could impact on an independent Scotland’s membership of Nato.

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When then SNP leadership won a narrow victory in 2012 and overturned the party’s longstanding opposition to membership of the Nato military alliance, they removed a significant obstacle to achieving the party’s ultimate goal. The SNP’s isolationist attitude to defence was not shared by most of the Scottish public and was a major impediment to support for a sovereign Scottish state. In the two years since there has been an intense debate about whether the SNP position on Nato is compatible with its policy of evicting Trident from the Clyde, a debate that remains unresolved. But recent events in the Ukraine have added a new imponderable to the discussion.

As our political editor Tom Peterkin reveals today, a former deputy commander of Nato, General Sir Richard Shirreff, believes the promise of Nato membership made to former Soviet satellite states Ukraine and Georgia is an as yet unaddressed obstacle to Scotland’s potential membership of the alliance. Shirreff says it would be unlikely that Scotland would be able to join until the membership of these two nations – an issue of enormous diplomatic and military sensitivity in the light of Russia’s recent belligerence in the region – was resolved.

It is not hard to envisage how the process of accepting Ukraine as a Nato member could be particularly problematic and drawn-out. This is a country effectively at war with Russia, which has clear expansionist intentions in the region. If Ukraine was a member of Nato, the military alliance’s “all for one and one for all” treaty would risk a direct military clash between Russia and the United States, 25 years after the end of the Cold War. Ukraine’s application to join Nato was submitted in 2008.

Could an independent Scotland really jump the queue without making Nato look like it was leaving Ukraine and Georgia in the lurch? As Shirreff points out, all 28 existing Nato members would have to back Scotland’s entry before it could succeed, and any one of these counties could exercise a veto. Eastern European members of Nato may well have a view on this matter.

None of this is, per se, an argument against independence. But it is an indication of how complex it could be to integrate an independent Scotland snugly into the community of nation states.

Answers needed on child sex abuse scandal

IT WAS not just the scale of the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal that was shocking – although when full details were revealed last week it was at first hard to grasp the extra­ordinary number of children – 1,400 – who had been cynically and systematically exploited. It was also the way grooming and the abuse took place in plain sight – in takeaways, taxi queues and corner stores, even outside homes for vulnerable children. It was brazen, and now seems inexplicable. Surely someone must have seen what was happening? Surely someone must have realised what was going on? Surely this was a one-off, down to some curious local circumstances, and could not happen anywhere else?

Sadly, as we reveal today, this is not the case. Dani Garavelli’s investigative reporting for Scotland on Sunday reveals that not one but two separate operations by Scottish detectives have uncovered organised child sexual abuse in Glasgow. The behaviour being investigated shares many of the characteristics of the Rotherham case – although, thankfully, not its scale. These revelations suggest Rotherham should be as much a wake-up call for us here in Scotland as it has been for the authorities in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England.

It seems this pattern of abuse was only seriously investigated by the authorities in Scotland once the Rotherham scandal first hit the headlines and prompted child protection agencies around the UK to re-examine their own case files. It also seems that once the Scottish authorities began to get a grip of the issue, they experienced many of the problems experienced in Yorkshire, notably convincing some of the teenage girls involved that they were victims of a crime. This in turn seems to have hampered the Crown Office in bringing forward prosecutions.

Our investigation now asks serious questions of Police Scotland, Glasgow council (and surrounding local authorities), the Crown Office and the Scottish Government. All now have to justify their action – and inaction – in the years before the Rotherham pattern of abuse became known, and their action – and inaction – in the period since. The scale of organised child sexual abuse in Glasgow may be smaller than in Rotherham, but each individual case is no less horrific.