Leaders: SNP may struggle for credibility with change of stance on Nato

COULD the leadership of the SNP be preparing to drop the party’s opposition to membership of Nato? The party has been opposed to membership of the military alliance for more than 30 years.

But a review of this stance could come as soon as the next meeting of the party’s policy-making National Council in June.

Such a move would be widely seen as part and parcel of a continuing shift within the SNP from fundamentalism to gradualism ahead of the referendum on independence scheduled for the autumn of 2014. While such a critical decision-point was not on the political horizon there has been little incentive for the SNP to reconsider its anti-Nato policy, one that has gone hand-in-hand with the strident anti-nuclear stance of its membership.

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But the maintenance of this position is not without political cost. In particular, it has always fuelled concern that Scotland would suffer a big reduction in defence-related investment and employment, through a downgrading of military bases and a loss of defence equipment contracts. The three main unionist parties have not been slow to point to these concerns and to put the SNP on the back foot in those constituencies that would stand to lose out.

Those on the SNP’s fundamentalist wing still view Nato with considerable hostility, believing it to be a major obstacle to the furtherance of improved relations with Russia. However, with the ending of the Cold War and the broadening of the membership base of Nato, much of the party’s traditional hostility has come to look dated and not reflective of a world that has moved on since the 1960s and 1970s.

Indeed, as research by Professor James Mitchell suggests, many party members may now be more open and flexible in their attitude to such a change. After all, the SNP’s present position is that it supports Scotland becoming a member of Partnership for Peace. Here it would be alongside countries such as Sweden, Austria, Finland and Ireland and in an organisation which allows bilateral cooperation between Nato and non-Nato countries. It is not so big a leap.

The problem, however, is whether the party can present a credible stance on defence being no longer opposed to Nato membership, while maintaining its staunchly anti-nuclear stance. Any weakening of the party’s opposition to nuclear weapons and Trident in particular would struggle to gain acceptance with a membership many of whom have campaigned fervently against nuclear bases in Scotland and on military alliances that rely on the deterrent power of nuclear weapons.

To countenance membership of Nato but at the same time to remain adamantly opposed to a defence posture that involves the retention of nuclear weapons may struggle to gain credibility. But the greater political cost may lie in a posture of no change and resultant isolationism in defence matters that many voters would regard as founded on little more than dated dogmatism.

Miliband’s donation cap doesn’t fit

THERE can be no doubting the popular resonance behind the call by Labour leader Ed Miliband for a cap on “big money” political donations in the light of recent scandals.

But would a curb as low as £5,000 work in the manner intended? His proposals would hit other parties hard while Labour continues to be funded by unions whose members have to deliberately opt out of making a contribution rather than opting in. They would also make it very difficult for new or smaller parties to make any headway: applied in Scotland it would deny the SNP recent big donations from corporates – and lottery winners. It would encourage circumvention (donors giving to organisation A which then filters the money to the political party).

Such a cap would compel new and smaller parties to demand a means of accessing some of the trade union political donation money to have any chance of survival. A £5,000 cap might also work to encourage donations to personal campaigns and offices (the leader’s private office rather than the party) with all the dangers this poses for accountability. And the proposal would not tackle the fundamental problem of the marked decline in membership and support for the major parties while starving new or smaller parties of the means to grow.

Mr Miliband’s proposal does not take the debate much further to a credible or acceptable solution but could have unintended consequences that could make the problem worse. Better to concentrate on tighter rules that ensure full and timely disclosure and transparency – and tougher sanctions on those who break them.

Tradition a poor match for rare capital cup final

NOT since 1896 has Scottish football seen an all-Edinburgh cup final derby, with Heart of Midlothian beating Celtic yesterday to meet Hibernian in the Scottish Cup final on 19 May.

Hampden Park has long been the unquestioned venue for such occasions. But an all-Edinburgh derby is likely to see formidable support for holding the final at the capital’s Murrayfield stadium. It would be warmly favoured by thousands of fans who would not have to traipse over to Glasgow.

However, Scottish football officials are nothing if not sticklers for tradition: Hampden it has always been and Hampden it will always be, even though it would seem inappropriate for a historic Edinburgh final.

It would certainly be another fillip for Murrayfield, which recently broke UK records for a club rugby match attendance at a Heineken Cup quarter-final. And in terms of gate receipts, Murrayfield could prove a bigger haul for this match than Hampden.

It is more than likely that Scotland’s football mandarins will insist on tradition being upheld and that the final should be held in the citadel of Scottish football, but it would not be right for the option of the Murrayfield stadium to be dismissed without fair consideration.