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Showing posts with label SNP U-turn on NATO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SNP U-turn on NATO. Show all posts

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The SNP and NATO – the argument in detail

On Sunday, I set out the basic SNP argument for the proposed NATO U-turn, and offered a basic classification of the elements of that argument. When it first came out in July, that statement, taken from the defence paper, was the sum total of the argument, together with Angus Robertson’s interview with Isabel Fraser.

And that would have been it until the SNP’s October conference if the issue had not been kept under a continuous spotlight by the media and by other concerned parties represented principally by the SNP CND group and the NO to NATO Coalition.

However, because of that external focus, allied to internal dissent, we now know much more about the thinking of those who champion the NATO U-turn. It was evident from the start in July that the co-signatories of the defence paper, Angus Robertson and Angus MacNeil were behind it, and it logically followed that the First Minister had to be behind it or it would never have seen the light of day. It could also be safely assumed that senior figures who were on record from much earlier as favouring a change of policy on NATO -such as Michael Russell – were behind it, and that the Cabinet were either behind it or maintaining a public silence if there was dissent within their ranks.

I had entertained what later proved to be a vain hope (see Renfrew Cabinet meeting) that Nicola Sturgeon might be against it, which would have been hugely significant if true. However, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister made it abundantly clear in Renfrew Town Hall that they were solidly behind the NATO motion, and advanced arguments for it. So the delegates to the SNP Conference will be asked to vote on a motion that has heavyweight endorsement at the highest levels of the party.

The MSPs who have come out against the motion are – at the last count - John Wilson, Gordon MacDonald, Jamie Hepburn, John Mason, John Finnie, Bill Kidd, Marco Biagi, Bob Doris, Sandra White, Jean Urquhart and Dave Thompson.  In addition, the SNP CND group and the SNP Youth group are opposed.

The NATO U-turn has been described by some as immoral and hypocritical. I agree on both counts.


We now know a lot more about the thinking behind the proposed policy change than we did in mid-July, thanks to various articles in the newspapers – what Bill Ramsay of SNP CND called “the deafening silence from senior members of the party” - some by SNP proxies such as George Kerevan, and from the latest responses of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to queries.

So let’s listen to George Kerevan, because it is now apparent after the Renfrew meeting that he reflects the SNP leadership’s position very closely indeed. In his Scotsman piece, Kerevan opens with an attempt to wriggle out of the boorach provoked by the SNP leadership’s inept handling of the pre-conference release of the news of the U-turn – the storm of protest, the inaugural meeting of SNP CND and the “high-profile MSPs” opposed to the NATO proposal – by ingeniously converting the rift to a rite -  “another rite of passage for the SNP as it moves from protest movement to nation-builder.” Aye, rite (sic), George …

He goes on to a low-key acknowledgment on the proposed U-turn -

“This is partly to deflect inevitable negative publicity during the referendum campaign – “Salmond will leave Scotland defenceless.”

If that alone was the SNP’s objective, it has already failed, since such publicity had already been endemic in the media and from unionists, including the NATO criticism, but now has the crucial added element of ridicule, because of the self-evidently contradictory nature of the proposal – resolutely non-nuclear but willing to be part of a nuclear alliance, with the ludicrous idea that NATO membership can be offered to the UK as a bargaining concession to speed the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

Kerevan focuses on trying to rebut the SNP CND arguments against NATO membership, indeed his nation-builder stuff is a rather panic-stricken response to the very existence of SNP CND as the “first break in the party’s famous iron discipline for well over a decade”. Of course, his Scotsman article is a reluctant recognition that the party’s hope that they could keep the debate out of the media and the public domain until the party conference is now blown out of the water, and some public response is desperately needed, but ideally not in detail by senior party figures so that the fiction can be maintained. (Angus Robertson, as the main architect of the U-turn, had little choice but to speak.)

Let’s look at his attempted rebuttal arguments -

SNP CND argues that Scotland’s remaining in/joining NATO will make it harder to get rid of Trident. (For the record, I believe that the SNP’s wish to be part of NATO may be to sanitise a long-delayed removal of Trident, i.e. a fudge to square the SNP’s non-nuclear stance with NATO membership.)

Kerevan’s response is that if an independent Scotland was in NATO, it would be harder for rUK to “blackmail Scotland, as a fellow NATO member into accepting what it does not want…” i.e. nuclear weapons on Scottish territory.

This argument does not stand up to even the most superficial scrutiny. ‘Blackmail’ is in fact a criminal technique of negotiation - an attempt to compel a concession against a threat of unilateral implementation of something fundamentally unacceptable. Kerevan uses the term blackmail pejoratively - in a non-criminal context - but without appearing to understand it. If one thinks about it, the concept of nuclear deterrence is blackmail on a grand scale conducted between nations and power blocs.

What exactly does Kerevan think the ‘blackmail’ will consist of?

Refusal to remove Trident from an independent Scotland?

Threatening an independent Scotland with force?

Refusal to assist with the defence of Scotland on matters that affected UK/NATO interests?

Or perhaps he is thinking of the post-referendum/pre-independence negotiations? Does he actually think the UK will be more demanding, more obstructive to a Scotland that rejects NATO and nukes than to a Scotland which is a member but demands removal of nukes as a quid pro quo for its membership?

A Scottish Government negotiating team with a clear YES mandate from the 2014 referendum, standing clearly by its principles of a non-nuclear Scotland and non-membership of a nuclear alliance which is committed to the possession and use of WMDs will have more moral and intellectual credibility  - and bargaining clout - than one fatally compromised by NATO membership.

SNP CND argues that the NATO bureaucracy could be used to delay the removal of Trident from Scotland if Scotland were within NATO.

Kerevan’s response is the tent argument, much beloved by those who wish to suppress dissent by giving the illusion of influence. In essence it is stay within the system and influence change from within. It is the argument Labour has used since the Cold War and the nuclear standoff on nuclear disarmament – it has failed for over half a century. It is the current argument of Labour for remaining within a failing, unjust and unequal UK – it has failed, spectacularly. It is the argument currently used by the SNP to try to mute dissent within the party over NATO – it has failed.

But George Kerevan dutifully trots it out -

“Germany and other key Nato states are already leading a campaign to remove nuclear weapons from European soil – a campaign Scotland can support best by remaining inside the alliance where its vote counts.”

Bill Ramsay’s response was short and to the point in his Newsnicht debate with George Kerevan -

If Scotland stays in NATO and fights its anti-nuclear case, we’ll be doing exactly what Germany has done – failed. (7m 24sec in to Ramsay/Kerevan Newsnicht interview.)

Kerevan has an example of what he sees as such influence at work to offer -

“… at its Chicago summit in May, under heavy German pressure, Nato altered its so-called “deterrence and defence posture”. Instead of a traditional refusal to give a “no-first-strike” guarantee, Nato now promises never to use nuclear weapons against a country that does not possess them, and is a signatory of the UN non-proliferation treaty (that means Iran, by the way). The Chicago summit also adopted – for the first time in any military alliance – a commitment to make nuclear disarmament a constituent part of its strategy.”

I would not go so far as to say that such changes – if they really meant anything – were worthless. What I do say is that they are concessions wrung out of a NATO in a state of confusion over its role post-Cold War, still in search of a credible enemy to justify its continued existence, and anxious to curry favour by tossing a bone to nuclear disarmers.

Remember, NATO is the United States, France and the UK, with the other 24 member countries as impotent spear carriers, with no influence whatsoever on the major decisions. One only has to remember what happened to democracy, to UN resolutions, to truth and justice at the time of the Iraq war – all were either ignored or perverted to the pre-determined wishes of Bush and Blair. And that was in the face of an imagined, invented threat! I don’t trust NATO, especially in a crisis situation, and neither should the SNP nor an independent Scotland.

It is instructive to note that Kerevan, faced by the SNP CND argument that the US will ‘thwart’ the German campaign, has to reach back to General De Gaulle and a 46-year old example to try to rebut that patently true statement.

The kernel – and a pretty rotten kernel it is – of George Kerevan’s argument is this -

“Pretending Nato is solely to blame for nuclear weapons is naïve. Pretending an independent Scotland that repudiated Nato could fend off Russian bullying in the oil-rich North Atlantic is a dangerous gamble. And pretending a majority of Scots will vote for independence plus neutrality is political fantasy.”

Firstly, no one is ‘pretending’ that NATO is solely to blame for nuclear weapons. The United States which invented them and which used them against a non-nuclear state – twice - must take the principal share of the blame. The former USSR for reacting to that by creating its own nuclear arsenal comes second in the blame game. Then the rest followed …

The non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) formally recognises and in a sense, legitimises five states as nuclear weapons states (NWS) - China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States. But  three other state who are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaty - India, Israel and Pakistan - possess nuclear weapons. North Korea, in 2009, claimed that it had developed a nuclear weapon: it is believed to possess a small stockpile of simple nuclear weapons.

What is NATO, then? It is a military alliance created and dominated by the United States, the country that created the nuclear threat and was the first and so far, the only one - to use it against civilian populations. It is the threat that countries outside of it reacted to by creating their own nuclear arsenals. The United States bankrolls and support Israel and its nuclear weaponry, despite the fact that Israel is not a recognised nuclear weapons state under the NPT. De facto, NATO supports Israel, although it is not a member.

Secondly, the idea that an independent Scotland would face “Russian bullying in the oil-rich North Atlantic” is, to put it mildly, an unlikely scenario, but if it did, it would not be bullied by a nuclear threat – a ludicrous proposition. It would defend itself by conventional methods and, as a member of Partnership for Peace, could call upon support from other countries in the North Atlantic region who, NATO members or not, would respond because it would be self-evidently in their own security and strategic interests to do so.

Kerevan’s last, and faintly contemptible suggestion - that a majority of Scots will be asked to vote for independence and political neutrality and will reject it - is nonsense. There is no suggestion whatsoever that an independent Scotland will be neutral in conflict situations involving its neighbours and long-term friends and allies – nor would it in any way shirk its European and international obligations under the UN - and to imply it is to deny the many public policy statement by the SNP and the First Minister to the contrary – all made in the context of the existing non-NATO policy. Kerevan is trying to equate non-membership of NATO with pacifism, which is patently ludicrous.

The Scottish electorate will vote for an fully independent Scotland, in control of its own defence, foreign policy and economy, but fully integrated into the European and international community and full compliant with its responsibilities to these communities.

The fantasies are all Kerevan’s – the paranoid fantasies of NATO and its cold war mentality, locked into the military/industrial complex, desperately in search of an enemy and a role. In October in Perth, we can only hope that the SNP delegates do not allow themselves to be sucked into this paranoid nightmare and that they vote against NATO membership.

Say NO to NATO!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Scotland and NATO–the arguments

It is always vital in debate – and  in negotiation - to be able to state the position and arguments of the other party as objectively as possible. If the other party’s position and arguments are not clearly understood, it is difficult, if not impossible to combat them effectively.


The defence paper and resolution of mid-July from co-signatories Angus Robertson MP and Angus MacNeil MP contains the key statement.

A long-standing national consensus has existed that Scotland should not host nuclear weapons and a sovereign SNP government will negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane which will be replaced by conventional naval forces. Security cooperation in our region functions primarily through NATO, which is regarded as the keystone defence organisation by Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the United Kingdom.

The SNP wishes Scotland to fulfil its responsibilities to neighbours and allies. On independence Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations.

In the absence of such an agreement, Scotland will work with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme like Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland. Scotland will be a full member of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union and the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).

Angus Robertson MP Elected Member

Angus MacNeil MP Elected Member

The above statement has the virtue of clarity and will be presented to Conference as a simple statement of claimed facts, statements of intent and negotiating deal-breakers. I use the following abbreviations to classify –

claimed fact CF

statement of intent SoI

negotiating deal-breaker NDB

conditional negotiating proposal CNP


Scotland won’t host nuclear weapons under any circumstance SoI

Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO CF

NATO is the primary defence security coordinating force in the region, the region being defined as Scotland/UK/Scandinavia CF

The SNP wants an independent Scotland to be a good neighbour to Denmark, Norway, Iceland and rUK SoI

A sovereign SNP government will negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane SoI

The nuclear fleet at Faslane will be replaced by conventional naval forces. SoI

The SNP Government will stay in NATO CNP if UK accepts the removal of nuclear weapons from an independent Scotland CNDB1 and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations. CNDB2

If agreement can’t be reached, an independent Scotland will join Partnership for Peace SoI


The timeframe over which this will take place, important dates within it, and the possible context at different points in that timeframe are crucial to possible outcomes.

26th August – 18th October 2012 – the period from now until the SNP Party Conference at Perth.

This period is significant because the debate that the SNP wanted to keep in house and on hold until the conference is now in full voice, with a cross-party, cross-interest coalition of opposition, the NO to NATO Coalition set up, the SNP CND group active and vocal, the dissident MSPs openly stating their positions and wide debate and coverage in the media.

Instead of a conference where the First Minister, Alex Salmond and the party’s chief strategist, defence spokesman and party leader at Westminster threw their considerable weight behind the proposal to the delegates, in the normally disciplined, consensual and amicable atmosphere of Conference to a group with only the leadership's paper to consider, they will now face a highly informed group of delegates, many mandated by branch resolutions on NATO membership. What was intended to be one topic among many will now undoubtedly be a principal topic, if not the principal one.

There can be little doubt that at this moment the party leaders in favour of the NATO U-turn are working hard to try to shape attitudes, to persuade, to cajole, to appeal to loyalty, in short, to use all the levers that a dominant leadership can to avoid this resolution being defeated. And as always in such situations, a danger exists that the very techniques of persuasion used, if ill-judged, will be counter-productive. Media scrutiny will be intense, not only in Scotland but beyond. This debates matters in fundamental ways to a wide spectrum of interest groups and individuals.

This was not how it was intended to be in the spring of this year, when the party spokespersons were playing the whole issue down, e.g. from the Scotsman on 16th April 2012 – ‘An official SNP spokesman dismissed as “mere speculation” reports that its leadership was considering proposing a change to the party’s policy on Nato.’

(If one took that statement at face value, the leadership didn’t start considering any change till 17th April at the earliest, but managed to produce a policy paper including one by mid-July!)

The other dates in the timeframe are as follows -

Late 2013 – launch of detailed policy papers on the shape of an independent Scotland by the Scottish Government

In effect, this will embrace the key negotiating objectives for the Scottish Government across a wide range of issues if they win a YES vote in 2014.

Autumn 2014 – the independence referendum

Following a YES vote, negotiations will commence almost immediately on the terms of independence, including the crucial defence issues. If the outcome is NO, or on a two-question referendum, a devo-max outcome, what follows is anybody’s guess …

May 2015 – latest date for UK general election

A change of government at this point early in the negotiations over independence would have major significance for the negotiating agenda: the idea that there would be a seamless continuation is untenable, and a new government could repudiate provisional agreements already reached and introduce new items to a still live negotiating agenda. It is highly unlikely that they would repudiate a fully-completed and signed agreement, however.

May 2016 – Scottish Parliamentary election

At this point, negotiations on the independence of Scotland could be complete (unlikely, in my view), near-complete (a possibility) or have a long way to go, especially on the defence-related issues (highly likely).

The implications of a change in the power balance at Holyrood or even  a change of government are enormous and far-reaching.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Scotland in NATO - the core arguments against

1. NATO is a nuclear organisation, committed to the possession and first-strike use of Trident nuclear missiles.

2. NATO is comprised of 28 members countries, but controlled by three of them - the U.S.A, France and the UK. Of the three, the U.S.A. is the dominant controlling entity.

3. Any proposal to NATO by the 25 non-nuclear states can be vetoed by the Big Three - the U.S.A, France and the UK. (This is my practical interpretation of the complexities of the NATO consensual decision making structure where each member country remain sovereign and has right of veto - other interpretations are possible. Please advance them if you have them)

4. Neither the consent nor the involvement of the 25 non-nuclear members is required - nor would it or could it be sought - to authorise a nuclear strike launch. Only the President of the United States, the President of France and the Prime Minister of the UK have the launch codes. No prior approval by the democratically elected bodies in these three countries would be sought prior to launch. (This is my practical interpretation of the complexities of the NATO nuclear command structure - other interpretations are possible. Please advance them if you have them)

5. The time elapsed from launch order to the missile striking its target is dependent on the location of the nuclear submarine at the time the launch order is given, but it is typically 25 minutes.

6. Any member country of NATO by definition is approving the possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction by being a member of NATO, regardless of their stated non-nuclear policy. Any member country is therefore responsible for the consequences of such an act, even though they play no part in the launch decision process.

7. The Scottish National Party's policy proposal - which is effectively the Scottish Government's proposal - to seek membership of NATO for an independent Scotland on the condition that the UK (rUK) accepts the removal of Trident is simplistic and unrealistic, and is recognised as such by any objective and informed political commentator.

It is being presented to the SNP membership as a deal breaker, i.e. no Trident removal, no Scotland in NATO. If presented as such in the negotiations after an independence YES vote, it will be rejected out of hand by the UK (significantly influenced if not controlled by NATO and America). 

But despite the manner of its presentation to the SNP membership, it will not be a deal breaker - it will simply be an opening position in negotiation. The scope for movement by the UK(rUK) is to negotiate -

i) an immediate disarming of Trident warheads (approx. 2 days) which could be reversed in as short a time.

ii) an extend timescale for removal of Trident submarines and decommissioning of the nuclear aspects of the Faslane base - a minimum of 10 years, probably extending to 20 years - effectively never.

iii) the acceptance that an independent Scotland will provide 'safe havens' for any NATO nuclear-armed submarines and nuclear-powered submarines in perpetuity.

It is conceivable that rUK would seek a long-term lease of the Faslane base, or even seek to negotiate the base and relevant area as rUK sovereign territory, thus allowing the Government of an independent Scotland to claim that Scotland is a non-nuclear nation.


The implications of this dangerous and far reaching proposal (Scotland's NATO membership) are of such significance that it is unacceptable that it should only be discussed and voted on by a few hundred  delegates from one political party. Once adopted by the SNP as policy, it will then be the official negotiating entry position in 2014 after a YES vote. It will not be submitted to the Scottish Parliament for approval - if it were, it would be carried by the SNP majority.

The Scottish electorate could not question it until May 2016 at the Scottish Parliamentary elections, by which time the negotiations on this item might either be concluded or at a crucial stage. A change of the power balance in Holyrood or a change of government could result in a chaotic situation under such circumstances, dependent on the voice of the electorate.

The electorate should at least be consulted now. Relying on university polls some years old (The Mitchell Report) or ephemeral opinion polls conducted with an under-informed electorate on this crucial topic is democratically unacceptable.