the SNP leadership’s claim that an independent Scotland could remain in Nato while insisting on the removal of Trident nuclear missiles has sparked a clash between three former UK defence secretaries.
The SNP leadership launched plans this week to scrap the party’s long-standing opposition to joining the defence pact post-independence, The Scotsman reported yesterday.
However, Lord Healey, another former UK defence secretary, said the issue of whether an independent Scotland continued to keep nuclear weapons as a Nato member was “not a central issue” for the alliance.
There was also a warning from former Nato secretary general Lord Robertson, who said that a separate Scotland would be thrown out of the alliance if it adopted a “pick and mix” approach to the pact’s terms and conditions.
Former defence secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind warned Scotland would be blocked from Nato membership.
The divide amongst defence experts came after it emerged SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson is to ask delegates to the party’s annual conference this autumn to abandon the Nationalists’ long-standing opposition to Nato membership.
Mr Robertson’s motion to the conference says an independent Scotland would maintain Nato membership on the strict condition that Scotland “will not host” nuclear weapons and would automatically “inherit” its place in the alliance. However Sir Malcolm dismissed Mr Robertson’s claims and said an anti-nuclear independent Scotland would not “even get an interview” to join Nato.
Sir Malcolm said: “There’s not one iota of evidence that any country that wants to join Nato can do so without having to apply for membership.
“What makes the SNP position so laughable is the idea that an independent Scotland would seek to join a nuclear-based alliance while insisting on removing Britain’s contribution to the alliance from Scotland.”
The proposed policy shift has already attracted internal opposition, with SNP MSPs including Jamie Hepburn and Dave Thompson suggesting they would oppose the move.
Lord Healey, who served as a Labour defence secretary in the 1960s, said an independent Scotland would be able to contribute to Nato through its military regiments and that Trident could be moved elsewhere in the UK.
He said: “Where Trident is stationed in the UK is not a central issue for Nato. Scottish troops would be part of Nato as would Scottish aircraft.”
Lord Robertson, who is also a former defence secretary, said Nato’s non-nuclear members such as Denmark, Norway and Iceland accepted the “nuclear umbrella provided by the USA and the UK” with the pact.
He said: “You can’t have countries in the alliance that do not accept the fundamental concept of the alliance and it’s very clear that countries that don’t can’t be part of the alliance. It’s a treaty that has conditions and obligations that would force them out.”