Why say it myself when others say it better – and none have said it better than Lesley Riddoch so far …
Monday, 22 October 2012
Wednesday, 17 October 2012
There are a dozen more personally rewarding and pleasant things I could have been doing with my day than this. But none more important.
Have a good Conference, delegates! I wish you all well.
SNP is willing to protect vulnerable species - sharks and pandas - but not protect the vulnerable peoples of the world from NATO and WMDs.
SNP press release:"SNP MEP Alyn Smith swims with sharks .." SNP must not swim with NATO sharks and be complicit in nuclear warfare and WMDs.
Only time in NATO's history that Article 5 of North Atlantic treaty has been invoked as an attack on all NATO members. It led to Afghanistan
@AlynSmithMEP Why swim with the NATO sharks, Alyn - no tank safely contains them. Say NO to NATO at Conference!
Perth delegates: tell your leaders you love them and trust them but that they are wrong on NATO. Say NO and move on to the independence YES!
Better Together will smile and crack a bottle of champagne if SNP Conference says yes to NATO U-Turn. Liam Fox and arms dealers will rejoice
Perth delegates: at Conference you will hear from committed SNP CND brothers and sisters asking you to say NO to NATO. Trust them and say NO
SNP Perth delegates - on arrival you will see committed veterans of the Faslane Peace Camp asking you to say NO to NATO. Don't betray them!
Perth delegates: the NATO U-turn presents a tactical, strategic and moral challenge. Doing the right thing is the right thing to do - say NO
Most flawed pro-NATO U-turn argument of all - "It's disloyal to SNP to oppose the motion and support the amendment." Be loyal to Scotland!
Flawed NATO arguments:
1:"We need it" We don't!
2:"Influence from within" You can't!
3:"We need it to get a YES" You don't - risks a NO
Pressures on delegates at Perth to close ranks on NATO U-turn will be formidable. Resist them - NATO is bad for SNP and for Scotland. Say NO
An independent Scotland will present a moral example to a troubled world, one however that will be seriously compromised by joining NATO.
I feel strongly about NATO (you noticed?) - I speak only for myself, from a deep concern for the Scottish people http://moridura.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/my-reasons-for-cancelling-my-snp-party.html …
While the SNP MPs pursue their 'Ladybird Book of Nuclear WMDs', one ordinary Scottish voter tries for detailed argument http://moridura.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-snps-dangerous-nuclear-nonsense.html …
NATO – a nuclear alliance: membership may lead to party fission http://moridura.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/nato-nuclear-alliance-membership-may.html …
SNP keep invoking the non-nuclear NATO members as a kind of desperate mantra. Contrast this simplistic approach with > http://moridura.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/scotland-in-nato-core-arguments-against.html …
@AngusMacNeilMP None of them remotely compare with Scotland's situation as the base for the UK's WMD's crucial to NATO strategy. You know it
Influence NATO from inside the tent? Enter this tent and be silenced and suffocated by money, influence and pressure. NATO=WMDs=WAR Say NO!
The SNP playing with NATO membership is like a child playing with a hair-trigger revolver. Don't do it, SNP. Vote NO to NATO at Perth.
@Tarzan123 NATO is dangerous, lethal. I turn away from the US military/industrial complex and an rUK that support WMDs and foreign wars. @AngusMacNeilMP Don't be foxed by NATO, Angus. You're aligned with some very dubious people and organisations. Naivety is not in my nature.. #NATO There's something nasty in the woodshed in the SNP's NATO/nuclear position. There's a distinct aroma of NATO influence in all they say
SNP support unilateral nuclear disarmament. Why then are they quoting organisations and think tanks who support multi-lateral disarmament?
Look hard at organisations who support NATO while arguing for multi-lateral disarmament. There's nice consulting, travel and lectures perks!
NATO 'influences' a number of organisations with 'PEACE' in their title. They argue for multi-lateral disarmament while arguing for NATO.
LIAM FOX says "I support your NATO membership, Alex but warn you to keep Trident on the Clyde for as long as it takes" http://www.scotsman.com/news/scottish-independence-alex-salmond-s-nato-u-turn-is-right-but-trident-must-stay-says-liam-fox-1-2583433 …
#NOtoNATO NATO membership will keep Trident on the Clyde "for as long as it takes" Who says so? Liam Fox, Alex Salmond's new supporter.
A wee reminder of what Liam Fox (new supporter of SNP's U-turn on Trident) was and is. He "warns" FM to keep Trident! http://moridura.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/uks-nuclear-panic-and-devo-max.html …
#NATO Liam Fox supports Alex Salmond's NATO U-turn but "warns" him to keep Trident. What more does the Party need to know to say NO to NATO?
Disgraced former Tory defence secretary Liam Fox backs SNP's Nato U-turn but warns Trident must be kept on Clyde “for as long as it takes ..
Reid Foundation on security threats:".subject has been treated not as real issue of national significance but in terms of political sloganeering"
Security threats to Scotland:"has failed to give any consideration whatsoever to security responses other than military ones"Reid Foundation
Security threats to Scotland:"failed to consider the most pressing security threats Scotland faces" REID FOUNDATION
Security threats to Scotland:"been based on no credible assessment of the form of or response to security threats Scotland might face" REIDF
@NConway2 That is unquestionably true. NATO membership will make it infinitely more difficult to do so, and presents major ethical
Tuesday, 9 October 2012
All political parties are good at finding proxies to reflect their opinions on sensitive matters where ministers want to slide quietly away from the firing line until the barrage settles down. The SNP has been no exception.
I don’t believe that Andrew Wilson is such a proxy, mainly because I hear the ring of truth in his personal antipathy to nuclear weapons, and I therefore treat his views as expressed in the Scotland on Sunday article on NATO as entirely his own. Since they very closely match the core arguments of Angus Robertson and Angus MacNeil on NATO membership – and that of the bulk of my correspondents who support the U-turn – I will address them in that context. Having done that, however, I will sound a cautionary note to politicians and commentators at the end.
Andrew Wilson is at pains early in his opinion piece to establish his anti-nuclear, CND pedigree, as indeed are most (not all) of those who support the U-turn. I don’t doubt for a moment his total commitment to a nuclear-free Scotland. I do believe, however, that some other senior figures in the SNP are, at best, disingenuous when they say the same, that the party contains some who are closet nuclear deterrent protagonists, and that their closet is not very deep. I hope I am wrong, but it would be surprising in a large, broad-based independence party if this were not so. Membership of NATO would, sooner or later, make it respectable to emerge from that closet.
The inherited treaty obligations argument. There is no hard evidence that such obligations exist under NATO for an independent Scotland.
AW: “..its 22 member states see it as critical to their defence ..” There are 28 member states, Andrew. If we excludes the three dominant nuclear states (US, UK and France) there are 25. Perhaps you are confusing NATO with Partnership for Peace, which has 22?
The 25 have clearly opted to be members. None of them are in the unique situation of Scotland – not a member in its own right, resolutely opposed to nuclear weapons, yet hosting the UK’s nuclear deterrent and vitally important to the NATO strategy – “NATO’s aircraft carrier” as astonishingly characterised by Jim Sillars whilst still arguing that Scotland should remain a member.
The Angus Robertson argument - we should remain in, subject to an agreement that Scotland can become free of nuclear weapons in the same way as Nato members Canada and Greece.
Andrew Wilson characterises this as “a no-brainer”. It clearly is not a no-brainer (a contemptuous way to dismiss counter arguments) for a significant number of SNP members, for a helluva lot of Scots of other parties, and for the European nations including the Republic of Ireland who have chosen to stay out of the clammy and potentially lethal embrace of NATO. Perhaps he could look at my many blogs on the subject, e.g. 18th July 2012, and review his no-brainer assessment, or the briefing and fact papers put out by CND, including their recent response to AR’s latest missive, CORRECTING THE NATO BRIEFING. You say you “admire, respect and love many of the people who will be arguing against from a principled position”, Don’t then patronise them with phrases such as no-brainer.
AW: “if the SNP votes to keep a position on withdrawal this month, its chances of ever actually leading the country out will have diminished because the chances of a Yes vote will have, too.”
A number of the people you “admire, respect and love” don’t agree with that assessment, Andrew, and think, as I do, that exactly the reverse may be true. The firm commitment of the SNP leadership to ‘Britishness’ and to a NATO U-turn has been followed by a decline in support for independence in the last poll. I will draw a veil over who supported what – or not – on the devo-max fiasco, now hopefully stone dead.
I don’t want to fall into the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – there are many complex reasons for poll shifts – by claiming that these twin policies plus the devo-max confusion and fog of obfuscation, all once favoured by you, have contributed to that decline, but equally I think that both you and the SNP should be more than a little cautious about drawing simplistic conclusions from polls claiming the a majority of the Scottish electorate fear withdrawal from NATO.
THE Cui bono? QUESTION
Before offering this analysis and general cautionary note, I repeat what I said about Andrew Wilson at the start of this blog -
“I don’t believe that Andrew Wilson is such a proxy, mainly because I hear the ring of truth in his personal antipathy to nuclear weapons, and I therefore treat his views as expressed in the Scotland on Sunday article on NATO as entirely his own.”
Andrew has also a long, honourable record of service to the SNP and to the cause of independence.
American lawyers, and for all I know, British lawyers, when challenged on introducing a topic in court by opposing counsel, reply “You opened the door …” Andrew Wilson has offered his personal background in support of his case, so I will feel free to explore it further. (My door is similarly wide open after five years of blogging!).
Drawing – with caution – from Wikipedia, it can be seen that Andrew has a considerable political pedigree in the SNP. An economics and politics graduate, he was viewed by the media as “a rising star of the SNP, an iconoclast and pro-market economist”. He was an early proponent of the full fiscal autonomy idea (devo-max). He lectured the party on ‘Britishness’ after independence as early as 1999. He wrote a column for the Sunday Mail asking Scots to support the English football team. After his active political career, he joined the Royal Bank of Scotland as a business economist in 1997 and became Deputy Chief Economist, then after the 2008 crisis became Head of Group Communications. He joined WPP in 2012, a company which describes itself as “a world leader in advertising and marketing services” in what such companies in quaint management-speak call “a client-facing role”. (Presumably the rest face away from the client?)
By any standards, WPP is big (its billing for the six months ending June 2011 were over £21 billion) and significant, with over 153,00 full-time employees in 2400 offices over 107 countries, with a large, diverse client base across the world.
Given its formidable client base (over 300 of Fortune Global 500 companies, 29 of Dow Jones 30, 60 of NASDAQ 100, 32 of Fortune e-50, etc.) it would be impossible for it not to have major clients in the defence and/or closely related industries (see Dow Jones 30, for example).
Such an analysis could be offered for any multi-national or transnational company, and similar conclusions could be reached for many of them, and such companies are vital to Scotland now and will be even more so in an independent Scotland. I offer the analysis to demonstrate the formidable difficulties faced by politicians - and their key supporters employed by such companies - when faced by the complex questions raised by the interface between politicians and the military'/industrial complex especially when it touches on nuclear matters.
For example, when I lasted worked full-time in industry, I was an HR director in a drinks company. What if I currently held that post in the present minimum pricing context? When I was running my own consulting business, I had a number of major clients in the alcohol industry and early on, worked through a sub-contract for Vickers in their Leeds and Newcastle factories. Other clients had links to the nuclear industry. I had no easy answers then to moral and political dilemmas posed by such situations and I have none now.
What I can say is that I would have been fair game for scrutiny if I had been as politically vocal as I am now, and could not have quarrelled with cui bono? questions when I sounded off.
At this time of potential constitutional change for Scotland and the UK, of a magnitude that cannot be understated, with complex ramifications for European and indeed global defence strategies, an increasingly polarised debate, with Scotland’s nuclear and NATO position central to that debate, all politicians and all commentators may expect scrutiny about how they link into the fiendishly complex network of profit, patronage and politics of international defence, and Eisenhower’s nightmare of the military/industrial complex and its insidious influence on democratic processes. Worse still, this inevitably can create a poisonous McCarthyite atmosphere, contributed to by both sides of the debate, as manifested particularly in the ill-advised comment on the impartiality of BBC presenters, one that extended in many cases to their partners, spouses and relatives.
But it is not simply an ad hominem argument to say that it is entirely reasonable for voters to look at the business and commercial affiliations of those who are not politicians but choose to offer political arguments. They have a perfect right to do so, and the voters have a perfect right to ask Cui bono?
I think that for many commentator working for major companies in the private sector, especially international ones, that it would be prudent to consider the likelihood of that question being asked before offering political views, however objective and altruistic their viewpoint.
Wednesday, 29 August 2012
First Minister Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon meet with representatives of the anti-nuclear demonstration group. The meeting was held in the wake of the public discussion event at Renfrew Town Hall.
Tuesday, 7 August 2012
NATO is a defence alliance, controlled by the U.S.A. Its model of defence has invariably been attack on other nations. It is a nuclear alliance – the possession of weapons of mass destruction, with a first strike policy, is central to its ethos. Its raison d’etre, the Cold War between the Soviet Bloc and the West, symbolised by the Berlin Wall, ended when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, a generation ago. Since then, it has been it search of a role.
NATO, a nuclear military alliance, is the lynchpin of the military/industrial complex – the war corporation – the dangers of which were first articulated by an American President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Every American President since then has been essentially powerless in the face of this amoral conspiracy of defence industry contractors and political parties, with the military and brave servicemen and women helpless pawns in a game that recklessly sacrifice their lives and the lives of millions of innocent civilians across the globe.
Among the highest levels of the military there is a dangerous blurring of the line between industry, politics and the honourable profession of defending a nation, with revolving doors between the military, the defence industry and politics – an immensely lucrative trough of money at which politicians and civil servants also feed.
NATO has - like any large amoral corporation - a powerful PR and propaganda machine, one that can dominate and in many case, intimidate even the largest media organisations.
In my view, the Scottish National Party is composed of principled men and women with a commitment to the unilateral nuclear disarmament of an independent Scotland – a goal that can only be achieved by Scotland’s independence. In fact, in the modern world as currently structured politically, only Scotland can achieve that.
But I also believe that the leadership of the SNP has now started on a path – membership of NATO - based not on principle but on flawed, short term expediency and flawed judgements about electoral advantage and negotiating dynamic and strategy, relying on simplistic arguments – that will lead to one of three outcomes -
possible rejection of a YES to independence vote by the Scottish electorate.
(A minority of Scots voters appear to favour independence, a majority seem to favour more devolution within UK, and since apparently 75% of Scots voters want to remain in NATO, they may come to the conclusion that remaining in the UK is the best way to achieve that. Since every recent policy movement of the SNP is towards reducing the perceived difference between the UK and Scotland, and the vision of independence becomes ever more blurred, the NATO policy shift may clinch that decision to remain in the UK)
outright rejection by the UK of the SNP’s terms for NATO membership (influenced by the U.S.A. and NATO) – with serious damage to other aspects of negotiations on independence and to attempts to remove Trident
to being insidiously sucked into a gradual retreat from unilateral nuclear disarmament of an independent Scotland by a deal that will result in Trident and nuclear submarines still being at Faslane for twenty years or more.
I don’t want an independent Scotland to become such a country.
Monday, 6 August 2012
The first fission ("atomic") bomb test released the same amount of energy as approximately 20,000 tons of TNT. The first thermonuclear ("hydrogen") bomb test released the same amount of energy as approximately 10,000,000 tons of TNT.
A modern thermonuclear weapon weighing little more than 2,400 pounds (1,100 kg) can produce an explosive force comparable to the detonation of more than 1.2 million tons (1.1 million tonnes) of TNT. Thus, even a small nuclear device no larger than traditional bombs can devastate an entire city by blast, fire and radiation. Nuclear weapons are considered weapons of mass destruction, and their use and control have been a major focus of international relations policy since their debut.
What is the destructive capacity of Trident missiles?
The Trident I warheads are 100 kilotons each, about six times the power of the Hiroshima atomic bomb dropped 67 years ago today. (RIP the 200,000 victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs)
Each Trident submarine with Trident I warheads therefore carried over 1,000 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.
Trident II replaces the 100 kiloton weapons with 475 kiloton weapons mounted on missiles with greater accuracy and longer range.
Each Trident submarine will therefore carry 4,750 time the destructive capacity of the Hiroshima bomb.
Four Trident submarines, each carrying 16 missiles - a total of 64 missiles - operate out of Faslane, Scotland, and represent the total UK nuclear deterrent.
After the launch order, the typical flight time of a missile is 25 minutes, depending on how close the submarine is to the target.
25 minutes after the US President, the UK Prime Minister and the French President activate the launch codes, unimaginable destructive power will be unleashed on millions of human beings, with consequences for the planet for centuries, perhaps millennia in terms of radiation pollution.
These decisions were in the hands of politicians of the calibre of Ronald Reagan, a George W. Bush, Tony Blair and in a very short time, could be in the hands of a Mitt Romney, a David Cameron …
The Trident submarines operate under the auspices of NATO, a military alliance committed to their use in a first strike authorised by USA, France and Britain. The other 25 member countries of NATO have no say in this decision, and zero influence over NATO.
THE SNP leadership and Alex Salmond, Angus Robertson and Angus MacNeil want Scotland to remain/become a member of the NATO alliance after independence.
They intend to try to persuade the SNP delegates to the October Party Conference in Perth to vote in favour of a defence policy that includes NATO membership.
They will try to square the manifest inconsistency of seeking membership of a first strike nuclear alliance, one that they will have zero influence and control over, with the Party’s anti-nuclear policy by telling the members that they will ‘negotiate’ the removal of Trident from Scotland by offering the UK, as a quid pro quo, Scotland’s willingness to join the NATO nuclear alliance.
In other words, an independent Scotland will graciously deign to join NATO if the UK promptly removes Trident, and, since the UK has nowhere else to put it, UK ceases to be a nuclear power, it removes from NATO a substantial part of its European-based nuclear capacity, and almost certainly loses the UK's Security Council seat in the United Nations. Aye, right …
The UK, NATO, former Secretary General of NATO Lord Robertson and a legion of unionist politicians and commentators have treated this proposal with derision and contempt.
As a bargaining chip, the only possible validity it could have would be to give the UK government (controlled on this matter by NATO and the USA) an opportunity to offer a quick disarming of the Trident warheads (two days to do, reversible about as quickly) while retaining Faslane under UK (i.e. NATO) control (maintenance of the base is being outsourced to private contractors!) retaining the full infrastructure, allowing ‘safe haven’ to nuclear-armed submarines for other NATO countries, while going through a token – and endlessly delayed – decommissioning process that would take a minimum of ten years, almost certainly extended to 20 years, with the high likelihood of never – or until NATO and the world abandoned the lunacy of the nuclear deterrent.
The other negotiating option is that the Faslane base and related sites would be leased to rUK as rUK sovereign territory, thus allowing the SNP to claim that they had achieved a non-nuclear Scotland, since “Faslane has nothing to do with us, it’s rUK territory”.
All of these option have been explored by the Scottish Affairs Committee on the Referendum for the Separation of Scotland, acting as thinly-disguised proxies for their UK masters, but, frustratingly, unable to question representatives of the Scottish Government directly, since the SNP is boycotting the committee.
Pronouncements are issued daily by former senior military men who, however brave, capable and distinguished in action, have political views of the level of a Boy’s Own Paper reader of the 1930s. The apologists among SNP party activists supporting the NATO initiative have even more simplistic arguments to offer, with cries of “What about Norway?” and “If they don’t remove Trident, we won’t join!” etcetera, with much use of the phrases END OF, and “It’s simple!”
Meanwhile, our bishops and religious leaders are obsessed by same sex marriage, and our elected MSPs and MPs spend their summer vacation eagerly tweeting about the Olympics, and congratulating the latest sporting hero …
Sunday, 5 August 2012
I have decided to cancel my SNP party membership, effective immediately. This will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, nor to Twitter followers.
A few words of background -
I have only been an SNP member for about four years, and an SNP supporter and voter since Iraq, so I have a very short history with the party. During my party membership, I have not been a very active branch member, but in the contacts and the meetings I have attended I developed the highest respect and regard for the branch members I met, and especially for the elected officials. I have some idea of how they have worked over decades of loyal party support, especially in the active campaigning, leafleting and door-knocking that led to the election of Colin Keir, MSP in 2011 as part of the new intake in the party landslide victory. (I played little or no active part in all that hard work for personal reasons.) I am sad to longer be a part of such a committed and loyal group of political activists.
MY REASONS FOR RESIGNING
I have been a Labour voter for most of my life, but never a party member. I had a brief membership (a few weeks) of the SDP when they broke away from Labour in 1981. It lasted until I met David Owen at a Durham branch meeting and realised what an awful mistake I had made!
In joining a political party, however briefly, I had broken a vow I made in the early 1950s that I would never be a member of a party that supported nuclear weapons. None of the parties that opposed nuclear weapons seemed to me to have any chance of being elected to government. But I had – and have – a democratic commitment to voting, but qualified by the criterion of electability, so I voted for what I saw as the least worse option among the major parties – i.e. Labour – on that basis. This included the awful mistake of voting for Tony Blair and New Labour, until 2003 and Iraq.
Watershed moments that took me gradually to the belief that the SNP was electable included hearing Alex Salmond speak at the New Club in Edinburgh in the late nineties and hearing John Swinney speak at a regional Question Time in Meadowbank at which I was an audience member. I also had the privilege of working briefly with the late Douglas Henderson of the SNP as a colleague on negotiating skills courses for Professor Gavin Kennedy’s company Negotiate Ltd for a period in 1990.
Of course, devolution was a key moment of realisation that the SNP was not only potentially electable as the Government, but that they could actually deliver Scotland’s independence and a nuclear-free Scotland, as the government of an independent Scotland. For the first time in my political life, there was an electable party that met my key requirements of being anti-nuclear and a social democratic party of the Left, and that they were not a least-worse option, they were the best option. Party membership was the next logical step.
My reasons for leaving – which must be self-evident to anyone who has read my NATO blog – are as follow -
1. I believe NATO membership is inextricably bound up with nuclear weapons, and that an independent Scotland must not be a member.
2. I believe the SNP leadership has behaved disingenuously at best in the way they have approached this issue, and at worst have deliberately manipulated their supporters in order to push through a volte face in NATO policy under the disguise of open debate.
3. I believe that their stated negotiating position is either ludicrously simplistic over NATO (unlikely) or is a deliberate attempt to conceal a planned retreat from any early removal of Trident and nuclear submarines from Scotland within a ten to twenty year period, regrettably highly likely.
I won’t rehearse yet again my detailed arguments on why I find this unacceptable.
THE FUTURE FOR ME
I am one voter, one voice and I claim to speak only for myself. What I had to offer the party from 2008 on was not what they wanted from me, and I am unable to offer what they rightly value highly – active doorstop campaigning and leafleting. They have every right to take such a view.
I will continue to campaign for YES in any way I can be useful.
I will not join any other political party ever again.
I will continue to support the SNP with my vote in any local or by-elections before 2016, and I will continue to support the SNP’s policies across their range of policies, since I agree with most of them.
At the 2016 Holyrood election, I will judge against the deal breaker criteria that any other party that supports independence, is anti-nuclear and anti-NATO, and is broadly social democratic in philosophy will be a candidate for my vote, with electability as an important criterion, but not a deal breaker.
A secondary consideration in reaching my decision to leave the SNP was the increasing volume of abusive, obscene and sometimes threatening emails, blog comments and YouTube comments received. All comments are pre-moderated by me, and all such comments were deleted without being published. 90% of these were anonymous and claimed to be from SNP supporters. 100% of them supported NATO and that told me a lot.
Any comments that I have published on this blog or on YouTube were within my range of acceptability – some totally acceptable expressions of disagreement, couched in rational, civilised arguments, some less so (see yesterday’s comments). Again, a majority - but not all - were in support of the SNP’s NATO U-turn.
I have received direct contacts – email and Twitter direct message – from MPs and MSPs, all in confidence, which I have respected. All were pro-NATO – I have received no direct contact from any anti-NATO MPs or MSPs.
If my critics regard this as evidence that my viewpoint is a minority one within the party, I readily accept that, indeed Professor Mitchell’s report appears to confirm this.
I will not be publishing any comments on this blog post – there is little point, so please don’t offer comment or advice. (I will be happy to receive emails.)
Normal blogging service will be resumed tomorrow, but perhaps with a change of emphasis, since the only party line I must now respect is that of independence and the anti-nuclear voice.
Wednesday, 1 August 2012
The Scotsman has one undoubted talent – it can recognise an SNP Achilles Heel when it sees one, and aims its arrows accordingly. It’s a pity the SNP didn’t spot its own vulnerability on the NATO membership question, but there’s a reason for that – it is often described in the media as a disciplined party, as indeed it has been. But there is a fine line between a disciplined party with a clear vision presenting a unified front to a hostile world and one that is suppressing – or ignoring – dissenting voices within its own ranks.
The latter approach runs the risk of creating a climate in which dissent is perceived as disloyalty, and bland conformity to the party line being seen as a virtue. This danger becomes greater when a party that has had to struggle against enormous adversity to gain a foothold in the political life of the nation suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, finds itself with an unchallengeable majority under a charismatic, powerful leader. It is further compounded by the presence of a large number of new members in a Parliament who are equally surprised and delighted, but anxious to please the established power structure. Tony Blair posing with his new intake of Blair’s Babes in 1997 comes to mind.
I’ve been trying without success to track down a quote, which I hazily recall as being in Aldous Huxley’s collection of essays Ends and Means. The idea within it is that at the heart of every major religion exists a core of powerful people who believe exactly the opposite in key doctrines and dogma to the version promulgated to the faithful. This is almost certainly true in politics, and within political parties. It’s sometime called realpolitik, although this doesn’t exactly capture it. An additional factor is that a political party can be a very convenient vehicle for a powerful man or woman at a point in time, even when they do not share its core philosophy, ideals and values.
Again Blair comes to mind. Some believe – and I am one of them – that Tony Blair, an Old Fettesian who was nonetheless of humble origins and and certainly not ‘one of us’, in Maggie’s phrase, and not part of any Establishment power networks, simply looked around -from a position of no real values of any kind - for the political vehicle most likely to allow him to rise to power. As a young lawyer, he found it in the most unlikely of places for one of his class and background, in the mining communities of Durham, and aided by Joe Mills, Regional Secretary of the T&GWU, found his constituency in Sedgefield and his power base in Trimdon village. (I knew Joe Mills very well indeed for ten years or so, and I know Trimdon village, Sedgefield and Durham equally intimately.) The rest is history, a history that brought great wealth and influence to Blair but misery, death and devastation to Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism to Britain, and the transformation of the Labour Party into a thing utterly alien to its roots and values.
Now let me be clear – I do not believe that Alex Salmond or any of his key ministers are cut from the Blair cloth. Leaving aside my judgement of them from their actions and statements, their intellect and huge political talents mean that the fastest route to power and influence for any one them would have been through a unionist party to Westminster. They are driven, not by personal ambition, but by personal conviction and a belief in the independence of Scotland. (For example, no objective commentator doubts that Alex Salmond has all the qualities of a world statesman and could have had a glittering career in UK, European and world politics.)
However, the SNP - like any political party – contains men and women of lesser talent who are content to play on a smaller stage, and are realistic enough to constrain their ambitions within their modest abilities. Among that group, it is likely there there are some – I hope only a few - who hold personal and political views contrary to the SNP’s social democratic, anti-nuclear beliefs which they are willing to subordinate to their career interests.
And the top group may contain some who do not quite burn with a gem-like flame in their belief in a non-nuclear Scotland, and whose key focus is economic and social.
We now know that ministerial group most certainly contains perhaps a majority who believe in an independent Scotland being a member of NATO, a military alliance firmly committed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons.
I also believe that this group contains some who are prepared to see the nuclear disarmament of Scotland and the removal of Trident take a very long time indeed if realpolitik demands it, and are prepared to accept constraints and a radical dilution of the pure vision of speedy removal of WMDs from our land.
All of this is mirrored in the party membership as a whole and in the SNP-supporting electorate who are not party members. Such is democracy, and we must recognise the reality of it, but argue for our own beliefs within that democratic framework.
THE ERIK GEDDES MEMO
I expressed the view recently that the SNP was either muzzling internal criticism of the NATO U-turn or those who opposed it were self-censoring. This produced cries of outraged denial from some party members. The Scotsman today believes it has evidence of suppression of open debate, based on a leaked memo from Erik Geddes, an SNP Group Communications Officer. (I have reason to be grateful for Erik’s many informative press releases.) Here is the memo -
I understand some of you may be getting calls about defence policy. Please ask them to e-mail you any questions and respond with the following:
“We are looking forward to an excellent debate within the SNP on Nato, which will be democratically decided at party conference in October – the SNP’s clear policy is for Trident nuclear weapons to be removed from Scotland, and independence is the only constitutional option which enables this to be achieved.”
Thanks – Erik Geddes, SNP Group Communications Officer
The most likely interpretation of this email is that Erik is simply doing what any communications department in any political party does – advising its parliamentary members how best to respond to media and external queries in a way that protects consistency of response and accurately reflects policy. However, it is rather oddly worded and sequenced -
I understand some of you may be getting calls about defence policy.
Please ask them to e-mail you any questions
and respond with the following:
That suggests the following sequence of events and action -
1. MSP receives a telephone call asking for information about defence matters, and specifically the Party’s NATO policy.
2. MSP requests that questions be emailed to him/her.
3. MSP does not answer specific questions but responds with the bland pro-forma message.
If the above is an accurate interpretation of the memo – and that is exactly what it says, even if it may not have been intended that way, then it essentially is an instruction, not a suggestion, to MSPs not to answer questions, not to offer their own views – bear in mind that in our democracy MSPs and MPs are elected as individuals, not party drones – but in effect to say “Bugger off, this is a party matter for Conference, and we’ll tell you in our own time what we decide.”
That might just be acceptable if the SNP were not the governing party of Scotland, but to me, it is unacceptable from the party of government to a free media in a country that aspires to open government.
This would be bad enough if it only applied to media and external queries, but if it applies to voters and specifically also to party members and constituents, it just ain’t on …
If a matter as fundamental – and it is fundamental – to the Government of Scotland’s anti-nuclear policy and to NATO membership is open for debate in the confines of a venue in Perth in October, it sure as hell should be open for debate in the media and among the electorate of Scotland.