Scottish independence: SNP flip-flops over Nato

FIRST Minister Alex Salmond must end speculation that the SNP will u-turn on its opposition to Nato “or pay the price”, one of the party’s MSPs said tonight.

SNP plans to hold a highly contentious vote that could have seen the party end its long-standing opposition to an independent Scotland joining Nato have been scrapped.

Nationalist sources had said that a vote would be held on the issue at next month. But documents seen by The Scotsman reveal the SNP will not go ahead with plans for a debate and vote on the issue at the policy- making national council.

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The decision comes amid rising opposition to the move within the party. A planned discussion on changing its stance has been left off the newly-published agenda, sent to delegates attending the meeting on 16 June in Perth.

An SNP spokesman yesterday said that the party would debate the defence of an independent Scotland at its 2012 autumn conference, but could not confirm whether this would included a vote on the Nato policy.

The SNP’s apparent softening of its position on Nato was seen by internal critics as the latest in a series of policy retreats. They saw finance secretary John Swinney say that an independent Scotland would continue to use sterling for at least a decade following a split with the UK. The party now also wants to have the devo-plus option, which would see Holyrood take control of most taxes, included on the referendum ballot as an alternative to full independence.

However, the move to support an independent Scotland joining Nato attracted strong opposition from senior figures within the party, including MSPs, who warned that membership of the western defence pact was at odds with the SNP’s anti-nuclear stance.

A Nationalist source told The Scotsman that senior figures in the party, such as the SNP’s defence spokesman Angus Robertson, had feared opposition was growing to a policy shift.

The source said: “There was a worry about mounting opposition within the party to the change in attitude over Nato and after the local council election results not going the way everyone hoped, they’ve obviously decided not to go ahead with a vote next month on a divisive issue.”

The decision comes ahead of the launch of the official pro- independence “Yes” campaign in Edinburgh on Friday.

Former SNP leader Gordon Wilson, who failed to get the party to abandon its opposition to Nato in the 1980s, said he was “surprised” that proposals to change the policy had been kept off the agenda of the national council, which now not meet again until December.

Mr Wilson went on: “But I can understand the reasons for it, given that we are in a week with the launch of the Yes to Independence campaign.”

SNP MSP Dave Thompson said yesterday that the party’s anti-Nato stance was “fine” and didn’t need changing.

He said: “I’m pleased we’ve got the policy that an independent Scotland wouldn’t be a member of Nato. I’m content with this from my perspective there’s no need to change policy.”

Scottish Labour MSP Richard Baker claimed the decision to scrap the vote on Nato showed the SNP’s vision for an independent Scotland was in “chaos”.

An SNP spokesman said: “Given that we still await any clarity from the Westminster government about the implications for Scotland of its defence and security review, the expectation is that these matters will be debated at SNP annual conference in the autumn – this will underline our internationalist commitments, including the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland, conventional Scottish defence forces that protect our historic army units, and the value of co-operation with allies.”