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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Sitting on de fence on defence

The UK Parliament’s Defence Committee is appointed by the Commons to “examine the expenditure, administration, and policy of the Ministry of Defence and its associated public bodies”. That brief is taxing enough, given the legendary incompetence, not to say corruption of the M.O.D. and the grossly overstretched state of the UK’s international engagements, but it has a new concern, one that is increasingly dominating its thoughts, so it has set up a new inquiry into – guess – the Defence Implications of  Possible Scottish Independence, which I now award the title of DIPSI, and claim to be first to do so).

Another Parliamentary inquiry has been running for some time, of course, conceived in malice by the Labour-dominated Scottish Affairs Committee under Iain (The Fijians are generally easier to spot) Davidson, MP. His committee has a rather less Scottish-friendly title, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland (note the use of separation rather than independence in its title) which can’t be easily converted to a cuddly abbreviation like DIPSI. Its title, its blatantly hostile tone and the alleged bullying style of its chairman caused the SNP representative on the Scottish Affairs Committee, Eilidh Whiteford, to refuse to attend and the SNP to boycott the Committee. (Those are the reasons offered by the SNP for its boycott – some attribute other tactical motives to explain their absence.)

The defence issue is the critical issue in the UK’s opposition to Scottish independence. It is the critical issue in the agenda of those bodies such as Reform Scotland sedulously pushing the various so-called ‘devo-max’ options – devo plus in the case of Reform Scotland – although none of those advocating devo variants openly acknowledge this, because it involves confronting the heart of the defence issue – the nuclear issue – which is truly the critical mass of the defence issue.

There is a key linkage between attitudes and political positions taken on nuclear power generation, nuclear weapons, membership of NATO, climate change theory, opposition to renewable energy, Scotland’s oil and oil revenues, and defence as job creation scheme (placement of defence contracts).

With very few exceptions, those who favour nuclear power tend

to favour the nuclear deterrent

to marginalise the contribution of renewable energy

to either deny Scotland’s right to its oil revenues, or marginalise the future of oil

to focus on defence as a a job creation scheme rather than as a means of defending the nation

to favour NATO membership

In describing the above posture, for example, I am describing accurately the position and policy of the London and Scottish Labour Leaders, and the Labour Party. It is of course, in its essence, a right-wing agenda, which is what the Labour Party has been at least since Blair, Brown and Mandelson. It is not, however, the position of many Scottish Labour members and activists, nor is it the position of Scottish mainstream opinion.

Do I deny the existence of proponents of nuclear power who share none of the other positions stated above? Of course, I don’t – some have made that judgment purely on their assessment of what they see as the realities of power generation for the future. But I say say they are profoundly misguided to narrow the argument, without seeing the insidious linkages between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and all the other issues above. They also take an idealistic, almost a 1950s view of the energy utopia promised by clean, safe nuclear power generation, when no such paragon has ever existed, nor is on the horizon except as a scientific and technological vision that is a long way from realisation.

However, while defence is the critical issue for the power brokers and the military/industrial complex - and its handmaidens in government, it is clearly not the critical issue with the electorate, and politicians of all hues sedulously avoid it, aided by an ill-informed, under-researched and largely uncaring media, who find the topic too challenging, and who treat it in the most superficial way when it is addressed. (Without wishing to be accused of name dropping, several politicians have cheerfully acknowledged to me that they “know nothing about defence matters”. The ones who are supposed to know something about it regularly demonstrate in public – and on the media -  that they know little more than an informed voter might.)

DEFENCE COMMITTEE: Defence Implications of Possible Scottish Independence

I haven’t tracked down a BBC Ch.81 broadcast of  DIPSI yet, but there was a flavour of it on Scotland Tonight last night.

Brief and superficial though the clip and the subsequent exchanges were between Gemma Doyle MP (Labour) and Paul Wheelhouse MSP (SNP), they did point up one aspect of the debate – the nature of the phoney war the UK and Scotland are locked into until after the referendum vote in 2014.

To my knowledge, none of the experts giving evidence have any brief to speak officially or unofficially for the Scottish Government or the SNP. Whether any of them are - or will be - advisors and contributors to the November 2013 White Paper on Scotland’s defence is also unknown to me. (Happy to be corrected on this point.)

The Scotsman’s leader today finally caught up with – dare I say it, me – in their first glimmerings of understanding on the negotiating tactical and strategic implications of the current debate, something I have addressed at length and in detail for the last two years.

Here’s what I said back in January -

So when politicians talk about negotiation, draw a long breath. (I exempt practitioners of diplomacy from these strictures - diplomacy is negotiation between sovereign states, and it is usually at least conducted by professionals.) If we leave aside the unionist nonsense about ‘Scotland has two governments’, the reality is that Scotland, in the capable hands of Alex Salmond, is to all intents and purposes negotiating with the UK government as if both were sovereign states, even though that status is aspirational only for Scotland. In a country seeking independence, this is the only possible posture.

And some quote from a February blog  -


Since the referendum is a consultative referendum, a YES vote to independence would be followed by negotiations on the mechanics of implementing independence.


There are two negotiations in this situation, one of which has already started – which I will call the pre-referendum negotiation – and one which will start after the referendum result is known, which I will call the post-referendum negotiation.

The pre-referendum negotiation will be a prime determinant of the referendum negotiation, which negotiators sometimes call the context and agenda negotiation. It is critical from a power dynamics situation, since failure to reach agreement at this stage can result in unilateral action by one or both parties.

Political negotiations take place in a very different context to commercial negotiations because of the media spotlight and the information needs of the electorate. In this negotiation,  the Scottish Government is the change agent and the UK Government represents the status quo. The Scottish Government derives its mandate from the Scottish people, but within a devolved settlement controlled by the UK Government.

To use a very old negotiating classification, this is a conflict of interest, not a conflict of rights under UK law, although international rights do exist. Conflicts of interest are settled by agreement or by power: conflicts of rights under existing agreements are settled by negotiation or by law.

Essentially, the context is one of negotiations between nations, i.e. diplomacy, even though the Scottish Government is not yet independent. In the case of any nation seeking independence, the subordinate nation has to behave as though it were independent before that independence actually exists, i.e. it has to emphasise its capacity to act unilaterally even though the status quo does not theoretically permit it to do so. This is why much of the legalistic discussion that rages is peripheral and essentially meaningless.

The implicit unilateral action here is that the Scottish Government will hold a referendum on its terms and on its timing, with or without the permission and imprimatur of Westminster.

This has in fact gone beyond being implicit – it is explicit, and, de facto, has been accepted by Westminster, because the alternative would be civil unrest on a scale that would make the poll tax riots look like a tea party. Everybody in Scotland knows this – few are willing to publicly acknowledge it.

It is therefore vital that the UK Government gets its act together for the pre-referendum negotiation so that the referendum itself can be conducted in a national climate of consensus about its purpose, if not about its outcome.

The Scotsman today says in its second leader -

Serious problem for Salmond (excerpts)

Thanks to questioning by Margaret Curran, shadow Scottish Secretary, we now known the Scottish government has not asked a single question of any Whitehall ministry about the relationships Scotland might have with them following independence.

Ms Curran says this shows the SNP have not done the most basic homework. A moment’s thought leads to the conclusion it is not altogether surprising. Any such debate would be tantamount to opening up independence negotiations and the SNP has no electoral mandate to begin such a process. The only mandate it has is to organise a referendum on independence and not, incidentally, on so-called devo-max or devo-plus.

Even if Scottish ministers did ask questions of Whitehall, the UK government would be almost certain to give no answers, first because of the lack of a mandate problem, and secondly because it believes that voters will reject independence. Nevertheless, Ms Curran’s questions reveal a serious problem for Alex Salmond. His government can only publish in its pre-referendum white paper what it believes it can achieve in negotiations. It can offer no certainty on the outcome of such talks.

Despite it saying A moment’s thought leads to the conclusion ..” and despite the fact that it has not had that ‘moment’s thought’ till now - whereas I have had it, and expressed it for over two years - the Scotsman leader points I have highlighted in red are fundamental, and I welcome them being made.

Here are a few topic samples of The Referendum on Separation for Scotland ‘inquiry’ of The Scottish Select Committee. Despite the clear unionist bias of the Committee and its chairman, the topics raised are valid, and in the absence of any Scottish Government representative to offer their perspective, they are largely left hanging. Nonetheless, the responses of Nick Harvey and Peter Luff are revealing, and are much more nuanced than the crude bludgeoning style of the Scottish Labour MPs would have liked to elicit.

Here’s what I said in my YouTube comment on the Scotland Tonight clip. Will the Scottish Government and the SNP take account of at least one voter’s view? Who knows?


Published on Jul 3, 2012 by TAofMoridura

November 2013 before we see the White Paper?

And till then, what - silence?

Who are the experts assisting in the defence White Paper?
Who in the Scottish Government is overseeing this?
What evidence will be taken and from whom?
What will the military input be?
What liaison is there with the UK Government and the MOD?

Just some of the questions the Scottish electorate has a right to be kept informed about before November 2013

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