First Minister branded an 'international flop' over nuclear arms

ALEX Salmond, the First Minister, has been described as an "international flop" after his efforts to create a separate Scottish policy on nuclear weapons fell flat.

The attack on Mr Salmond came as the Scottish Government published 20 of the 21 responses it received from the 189 letters sent out to the signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But the Scottish Government has made clear that, despite the low response and the fact that defence policy is decided at Westminster, it will push ahead to find ways of removing nuclear weapons from Scotland.

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In his letter in October last year to the NPT signatories, Mr Salmond stated that Scotland was against nuclear weapons and having them on the Clyde.

He mooted the idea that the Scottish Government should take up observer status at NPT meetings. He also asked countries to write back if they wished to discuss the matter further.

But of the few responses received, most were simple acknowledgements of Mr Salmond's letter.

The Philippines wanted to ask about devolution and barely mentioned nuclear weapons. A Labour source said the Venezuelan response was a long account of the country's change in constitution that gave its president near-dictatorial powers.

Other responses came from Austria, Belarus, Cameroon, Cuba, Egypt, Guyana, Grenada, Germany, Ireland, Lesotho, Mexico, Norway, Romania, Senegal, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates and the Vatican City.

None directly supported Mr Salmond's call for observer status and only Belarus suggested it might be willing to discuss the issue. However some, including Cuba, the Vatican and Belarus, expressed their support for nuclear disarmament.

The Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, whose Dumbarton constituency includes Faslane, accused the First Minister of trying and failing to pose as a significant figure on the international stage.

She said he had proven to be "an international flop".

She added: "Trying to play politics with an extremely serious issue is typical of the First Minister, and this issue is of huge importance to many of my constituents. Defence is a reserved matter because it affects the whole of the UK, not just Scotland. This exercise in political vanity was a huge waste of time and money.

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"Instead of trying – and failing – to ingratiate himself on the world stage, Mr Salmond should turn his mind to reducing class sizes, making our streets safer and helping people affected by the credit crunch."

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, was also scathing, as she pointed out that nuclear weapons were beyond Mr Salmond's remit.

"Scotland has got two parliaments and two governments, and Alex Salmond needs to stop grandstanding on the world stage and get on with what he was elected to do," she said. But a Scottish Government spokesman insisted that opposition parties who claimed Mr Salmond had been left humiliated were wrong.

A source close to the First Minister insisted that there had been no intention to get any reaction or prompt any discussion with other countries.

"The purpose of the First Minister's letter was to clearly state our opposition and that of the Scottish Parliament, people of Scotland and Scottish civic society to these abhorrent weapons of mass destruction," he said.

"It is all the more important because nuclear weapons are based on Scottish soil against the will of the Scottish people."

He went on to say that the Scottish Government was still looking at ways to have nuclear weapons removed from Scottish soil. A working party is due to meet again this month to investigate further how Holyrood can use its devolved powers to remove the weapons.

"It is wrong to say that this is a completely reserved matter," said the source close to Mr Salmond. "The Scottish Government does have powers in terms of planning and transport that are relevant in this area."

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"Indeed, we intend to continue to look at ways in which we can use these powers to remove these weapons."