SNP’s Nato delegates lacked defence background

THE Scottish Government sent civil servants without any military or defence backgrounds for talks with Nato officials to discuss membership of the alliance in the event of independence, it has emerged.

Alex Salmond votes on the Nato resolution at last years party conference. Picture: Dan Phillips

The officials held talks with Nato and Whitehall officials in Brussels in July, in what was the administration’s first diplomatic meeting with the world’s most powerful defence alliance.

Papers released under freedom of information laws have revealed the four officials in the Scottish delegation included a former private secretary to First Minister Alex Salmond and an official with responsibility for European affairs.

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None of the four had any previous experience in defence or military positions, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

Critics also accused the Scottish Government of sending “middle-ranking” officials for the talks after it emerged that no-one from the top layer of the Scottish civil service was included in the negotiating team.

The SNP has vowed to remove the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent from the Clyde following independence, but analysts say that position and Nato membership are incompatible.

Nato figures told the delegation an independent Scotland would be required to uphold current Nato articles, which require members to have a stable defence policy and to sign up to its nuclear “first-strike” stance.

The Scottish Government admitted that the four-person negotiating team sent to state the position of the nationalist administration had no defence or military expertise.

The UK government’s representatives included military representative vice-admiral Ian Corder, while Nato’s delegation included the alliance’s assistant secretary-general for public diplomacy, Kolinda Grabar.

Scotland’s Nato talks team included Ian Campbell the Scottish Government’s EU office head, Terry Kowal, head of external affairs, Michael Kellet, deputy director of the Scottish Government’s resilience division, and Lisa Bird, the defence policy unit head.

No-one from the Scottish Government’s strategic board – the directors of ministerial departments – was sent to Brussels.

Labour’s shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said that the SNP had instead sent relatively “junior officials to meet the world’s most powerful military alliance”.

The officials, who Labour described as “middle-ranking” provided just one briefing of the talks to Mr Salmond, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Keith Brown, the minister for veterans.

The SNP changed its policy on Nato last year, agreeing to support membership as long as Trident weapons based at Faslane and Coulport were removed. Mr Murphy claimed the Scottish Government’s stance on Nato was not credible as he attacked Mr Salmond’s approach to international diplomacy.

He said: “This simply isn’t a credible way to do business with one of the world’s leading military alliances. This worrying news reinforces the sense that the SNP are simply making it up as they go along. After all the delays, all the assertion and how important Nato is to the SNP’s defence policy, you’d have thought they would have sent the most senior officials to discuss their plans.”

A spokesman for Mr Brown said the meeting with Nato officials had been “extremely useful and positive”.

The spokesman said: “These claims are ridiculous and completely untrue – Labour are scraping the barrel with these pathetic comments.

“Scottish Government officials were welcomed to Nato HQ in Brussels where they had an extremely useful and positive discussion with their counterparts there about an independent Scotland’s place as a non-nuclear member of the alliance.”