SNP DEFENCE spokesman Angus Robertson will this week call for the SNP to back Nato membership so that an independent Scotland can work with its North Sea neighbours on defence.
With the SNP due to vote on the contentious issue of Nato membership on Friday, Robertson will argue that officials in Norway, Denmark and Iceland have advised him that the Treaty is crucial to their national security.
Robertson and First Minister Alex Salmond have been seeking the views of their Nordic neighbours as the SNP gears up for one of the most significant votes in the party’s history.
Delegates at the annual SNP conference in Perth will be asked to back the leadership when they seek to reverse the party’s long-standing opposition to Nato.
For decades the SNP have been hostile towards Nato on the grounds that it is a nuclear alliance and membership conflicts with their anti-nuclear weapon stance.
However, the SNP leadership have recognised that their anti-Nato policy is unpopular with the public at large.
The leadership believes an independent Scotland can retain membership of Nato without that conflicting with their desire to rid Scottish waters of nuclear weapons.
In a Scotland on Sunday lecture to be delivered at the SNP conference on Thursday, Robertson will say: “We have been looking very closely at the non-nuclear defence policy of our North Sea neighbours.
“Security and the wider common challenges of our region have been discussed in Oslo, Copenhagen, Reykjavik and other capitals.
“The message has been received loud and clear that our neighbours value Nato membership for conventional defence and as a good neighbour Scotland should take this seriously.
“We currently co-operate across a wide range of conventional defence and security areas, and I think this should continue. Given our shared challenges it makes no sense for Scotland to walk away from our neighbours when we could and should work together.”
He added: “With independence Scotland can get rid of Trident and operate as a dependable conventional ally just like Norway and Denmark.”
The lecture, on the eve of the crucial vote, will be a last attempt to persuade any wavering SNP members to sign up to Robertson’s motion.
Robertson’s opponents - who include a dozen SNP MSPs - argue that a commitment to enter Nato will make it more difficult for an independent Scotland to remove Trident from Faslane, as they would like.
To reassure SNP members who fear that Nato membership could compromise their long-held anti-Trident weapons stance, Salmond last week said that an independent Scotland should have a written constitution that explicitly bans nuclear weapons from the country.
Robertson is still expected to win the vote, with all senior SNP figures having come out and supported his amendment.
Building his case, Robertson cited remarks made by Kåre Hauge, who served as Norwegian Consul General in Edinburgh between 1996 and 2001, and Professor Mikkel Rasmussen, Director of the Centre for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen.
Hauge said: “It is not my place to take a view on Scotland’s constitutional future, however continuity of northern European defence cooperation is important to Norway and the region and a whole.
“Norway regards full Nato membership as critical to national and regional security. All our North Sea neighbours are Nato members and this allows for optimal diplomatic, strategic and operational working arrangements.
“The referendum will mark a momentous decision in Scotland, but the result will be extremely important to Norway and all countries in the region.
Rasmussen said: “The geo-strategic position of Scotland is especially relevant to Denmark, Norway, Iceland and other North Sea allies.
“For countries like Denmark the key focus is on conventional defence and security co-operation. We co-ordinate maritime and air patrol and many other vital tasks in northern Europe with allies through Nato.
“It is important not to confuse Nato membership with Partnership for Peace, which does not offer mutual defence guarantees or most of this conventional co-operation. We undertake conventional co-operation as a non-nuclear country within Nato and all main parties in Denmark support this.
“Environmental changes and the security dimension of the Arctic and High North are relevant to all northern European countries including Denmark and Scotland.”
Rasmussen added: “Given the strategic importance of the area between Scandinavia, Scotland and Greenland our joint-working on security and defence co-operation will be even more important in the future.”