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Showing posts with label SNP defence policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SNP defence policy. Show all posts

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

That naughty, nasty NATO thang …

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.


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.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Mitchell Survey of SNP members – and Scotland on Sunday

Scotland on Sunday is in full unionist attack mode today, in the guise of objective journalism. Read it and the Sunday Herald side by side and you might wonder if they published in the same country. Kenny Farquarson is in his Cassandra mode, tapping the side of his nose knowingly and making confident forecasts about SNP defence policy changes, and keeping the kind of company that goes with his theme – George Robertson and Jim Murphy.

I have to say that little in the Mitchell Report will come as a surprise to anyone in the party: the age profile of activists, the strands of opinion on defence issues and on NATO. Anyone conducting or consuming a review of grass roots membership views and their demographic profile in any major British political party and expecting to find a monolithic consensus on fundamentals of policy or a party comprised of young activists was going to be disappointed.

I know from my own writing on the nuclear issues, on defence matters and on the monarchy (I’m in favour of retaining the Queen) – and the responses to them - that my core beliefs on these matters are not uniformly shared across the SNP. Like any social democratic party, the SNP is centre left, and by definition contains some views to the right of that spectrum.

Compared to the deep schisms and near anarchy of the three unionist parties, the SNP is an oasis of consensus and rationality.

The nuclear issue and NATO are defining issues for me, but since no other major party is anti-nuclear or anti-NATO in its policy, if that policy changed I have nowhere else to go, except to some fantasy land of a re-grouping of the left in a new party committed to Scotland’s independence before the referendum. So I will stay with the party to independence, whatever shifts it may or may not make in policy.

However, I  have hopes - but not high hopes - that the SNP will move swiftly to a decisive restatement of policy on defence and NATO – the policy is clear enough – and will comment on the Mitchell Report. Perhaps it won’t, and will feel it more appropriate to keep its eye on the independence ball. I will understand that priority, but be disappointed.

If the SNP were to abandon its non-nuclear stance and compromise on NATO, it would lose part of its soul, and as the only major British party with a soul, that would be sad, and realpolitik would reign supreme.

And though they spoke with the tongues of men and of angels they would become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

(with apologies to Paul, to the Corinthians, to James Mason and Carol Reed.)

Monday, 23 January 2012

Reflections on defence and the military

(Note: The ideas below and some of the text derive from earlier blogs. I make no apology for this - I still feel the same way and still want to say the same things in the same way.)

The choice that will soon face the Scottish electorate is devolution max or full independence. All the talk of economic factors, of the currency, of borrowing powers, of taxation and of the detail of independence is smoke and mirrors – the last redoubt is defence and foreign policy.


Because no country can truly be a nation unless it controls its own foreign policy and defence.

No country can be a nation if it lets another nation decide in what cause - and when - to place its servicemen and women in harm’s way, and to sacrifice their lives if necessary.

No country can be a nation if it permits another to determine its fate in the most fundamental areas of nationhood.

Scotland cannot be a nation again unless it is fully independent.

The above principles are entirely distinct from defence alliances and treaties, which can be entered into voluntarily and exited from at will. (An independent Scotland would undoubtedly enter into such alliances, and would also have a range of flexible and common sense areas of cooperation with other nations short of formal alliance.)

In the defence debate now raging, my concern is the insidious way in which the military/industrial complex subverts the moral consciousness of governments, trades unions and ordinary voters - and the very nature of democracy itself  - by the offer of industrial investment and jobs, and the naked threat of the withdrawal of that investment if Scotland doesn’t toe the line, not to mention tug the forelock and bend the knee.

Is this emotive, heated language? If it is, it is several hundred degrees cooler than the threats, abuse, contempt and distorted propaganda that has been thrown at Scotland since the British Establishment and their Scottish political puppets have reached the stunned conclusion that Scotland will hold a referendum and will hear the voice of its own people, without interference from Westminster and from political appointees in the UK legal system, and that the referendum is highly likely to result in a vote for complete independence

I believe in legitimate defence of the Scottish nation, and in conventional defence forces and armaments, but I abhor the use of defence jobs as job creation schemes to induce tacit participation in, and compliance with the foreign policy of the United States and of the UK as its compliant ally. This is exactly the insidious perversion of democracy that former US President and distinguished American WW2 general Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against when he pointed out the dangers of the military/industrial complex.

Why question the purpose of the armaments or their relationship to any real defence need, or the price in blood that must be paid for them when they are such an unfailing source of jobs to Scotland, not to mention lucrative directorships and consultancies to politicians? So they warn Scotland of the terrible consequences of attempting to be a free nation, to have defence forces appropriate to its real defence needs, to be free of the intolerable financial and moral burdens of WMDs, to stop sending its young men and women to die in the foreign wars that are so necessary to the profit machine called the military/industrial complex.

Of course, they are not consequences, they are empty threats, designed to intimidate a free people and suppress their democratic instincts .

But then, that’s what British imperial foreign policy has always been about, isn’t it - intimidating free peoples and suppressing their democratic instincts? But from America onwards, free nations have rejected that intimidation and thrown off the yoke of empire.

Under Labour, the Ministry of Defence,  the MOD, the legendarily incompetent - but unfailingly lucrative - body that fails to adequately equip our young men and women in the armed forces, spent an average of £5.6m on entertaining each year under Labour and probably far in excess of that under the current regime. We don’t have to be told who they were entertaining, boozing and eating lavishly with while Scottish soldiers died – while Fusilier Gordon Gentle died because his vehicle was not fitted with an electronic bomb detector.

No defence minister has retired poor: no senior MOD official retires into poverty or even a modest pension. They slide effortlessly through a revolving door into lucrative directorships and consultancies with the merchants of death, or with brutal foreign dictatorships of the kind now being overthrown by the people of the Middle East in the Arab Spring.

Scottish MPs on the high road to Westminster head for the lucrative, blood-soaked pastures of defence like heat-seeking missiles – they know where the money and the power lie.


Back in June of last year, Allan Massie wrote a piece in the Scotsman - False patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel prompted by the Labour (Ian Davidson MP) fascism slur against the SNP. Allan Massie then managed in his piece to move seamlessly from appearing to condemn Ian Davidson’s unfortunate remark, as a Member of Parliament under privilege in the House of Commons, to conflating the most extreme remarks of sundry anonymous online posters to draw parallels between  some Scottish nationalists and Hitler’s Germany, anti-semitism, Franco’s Spain, and to describe them as “at least proto-fascists”  (I said my piece to him back in June 2011)

Since then, we have had the Tom Harris’s ‘Downfall’ YouTube clip and innumerable attacks, direct or oblique, on the right of Scots to express pride and belief in their nation and seek its independence. All of them seem oblivious to the fact that the UK is a constant example of extreme nationalism under the term Britain, and regularly displays all the characteristics of such nationalism, one that is deeply alien to Scotland.

I offered an analysis of the characteristics of a fascist state back then.


Fascist states are obsessively militaristic in character, consuming a wholly disproportionate part of their national resources on armaments.

They appeal to a nostalgic and glorious past that has little to do with present social and economic realities.

They exalt the Head of State, whether monarch or dictator, and claim either a hereditary or nepotistic right to succession in key offices of state.

They maintain the semblance of a democracy, while effectively nullifying, or as they describe it, ‘balancing’ the democratic institutions with non-democratic, unelected bodies.

They have key linkages between the military and relevant sections of industry in a military/industrial complex. Defence procurement is perceived by the public as incompetent, when in fact it is mainly corrupt, and unfailingly enriches the politicians associated with it.

They claim a right to intervene by force in the affairs of other nation states, and occupy them, always with the claim that they are acting in the interests of the people of the occupied territories.

They have a cult of blood, death and sacrifice in which the Head of State plays a major role. They exalt the dead as heroes of the nation: the children of the governing elite are rarely if ever among the dead. They drape the coffins of the dead with flags.

They are given to militaristic displays at any and every opportunity. They blatantly use military contracts and jobs as a political lever to influence the vestiges of true democracy that remain in the state apparatus.

When the voice of the people is heard, either through popular protest or electoral success, a sustained attack is made by the fascist state on the legitimacy of such protest and electoral success, and the democratic mandate is challenged frontally. The fascist state exercises significant or total control over media.

The fascist state has an elaborate system of patronage, titles and honours to sustain its power and to limit and control the democratic mandate where it exists. Large swathes of decision-making are controlled by people who have no democratic mandate whatsoever, who were appointed by the ruling group.

The fascist state will sacrifice any public service rather than contain its military ambitions or curtail the profits and privileged of the rich and powerful. It deeply distrusts the public services of the nation. It readily blames the poor and the vulnerable for the ills of the nation and holds them responsible for their own miseries.


All of the above characteristics are either currently present or developing in the state of the United Kingdom. None of them are present in Scottish nationalism, the Scottish National Party, nor in the vast majority of its supporters.

Is the UK fascist? No, absolutely not - yet. The good sense of the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland militate against it, and the deep democratic instincts of the people are currently being aroused in the countries of this ‘United’ Kingdom, because the dangers and the abuses of power by an unrepresentative elite are manifest. The impending independence of Scotland and its non-nuclear defence policy will place an effective brake on the dangerously militaristic tendencies of the UK Establishment, tendencies that are especially evident under Tory control.

That of course is why the Scottish Government’s defence policy is under a sustained and unprecedented attack at the moment - it is the real threat to the power of the elite and the pretensions of a small militaristic state to global power and influence.

A democracy must be on high alert when the military establishment flexes its muscles and tries to dictate an agenda - world history reads us that lesson loud and clear.


A nation must be ready to defend its people, its territorial integrity and its interests against external threat. It therefore needs a defence force, and in the modern world, that means an army, a navy and an air force. The right size for such defence forces, and therefore the proportion of GDP allocated to defence must be the minimum necessary to meet defence objectives.

The idea that defence policy, defence expenditure and defence procurement should serve other objectives is a pernicious and dangerous one. It is also a seductive one. When it is allied to the commercial objectives of manufacturing and exporting armaments, it is potentially a moral and ethical quagmire.

There are powerful voices that argue that, when it comes to these issues, that maintaining an arms trade between nations - and indeed relationships between nations - can ultimately only be conducted on a basis of realpolitik, and that diplomacy - negotiation between nations - is essentially ethics and morality free. (Sir Christopher Myer, a former British diplomat who I admire as a presenter, argued this view cogently in a BBC documentary, citing from his wide experience the kinds of ethical dilemmas a diplomat faces. The late Robin Cook argued in contrast for an ethical foreign policy.)

As a negotiator, I recognise the dilemma, and the stark fact that you don’t negotiate with people who already agree with you. In diplomacy, this is expressed as ‘A nation doesn’t negotiate peace with nations they are not actually - or potentially - in conflict with.”


Scotland, with its skills and expertise, especially in its shipbuilding industry, must face such dilemmas too, including the perennial question - “If they don’t buy it from us, they’ll buy it somewhere else …”

I have no easy answers to this - ethical dilemmas are dilemmas because there are no easy answers. But decisions have to be made across a range of defence products: we’ve already made the biggest one - we will not harbour nuclear weapons, nor in my view should we trade in any products that supports them.

At the other end of the spectrum, we shouldn’t sell electric cattle prods adapted to deal with protesters and political opponents to oppressive dictatorships. The insidious argument “If they don’t buy it from us, they’ll buy it somewhere else …” could equally be applied to the cattle prods, or selling high tech thumbscrews to torturers. There must be an ethical line, and it must be drawn with care if the new Scotland is to live up to its highest ideals. I believe it can.


In Britain, the trade union movement has traditionally been more than simply a way to even up the negotiating clout of ordinary working people faced with powerful employers and legislators in the pockets of powerful vested interests.

Combination on the one side is patent and powerful. Combination on the other is the necessary and desirable counterpart, if the battle is to be carried on in a fair and equal way. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Vegelan Case.

The British trade union movement has always proclaimed political, social and moral values, in contrast to the American trade union movement, which adopted a model of business unionism, essentially the realpolitik of unionism. American trades unions have moved a long way from Woody Guthrie and the Wobblies - Workers of the  world - Unite!

(They may have to return to this if the present parlous state of the American economy and the gross social anomalies within it continues to worsen. Five recent studies have shown America now to be one of the least socially mobile countries among the developed countries of the world.)

A number of major trades unions are beginning to show signs of challenging their long affiliation to the Labour Party, in the face of a party that is now in many respect indistinguishable from the Tories in their economic and social policies.

But in Scotland, where the heart and soul of trades unionism historically lay, the union hierarchy show no such recovery of ideals, or willingness to question allegiances that no longer serve their membership.

Not the least of their problems in doing this - in addition to the effect on the career path of trades union officers - is confusion over Scotland’s thrust for independence, and the related ethical dilemma involving defence jobs, in the shipbuilding and nuclear-related industries.

Shipbuilding and WMD-related jobs, not to mention those in the nuclear power industry, are being used cynically and blatantly in threat/bribe scenarios by Westminster politicians, notably  Scottish Labour politicians, and the defence debate is polluted and debased by such behaviour.

I do not cast a jaundiced eye on Civic Scotland - I recognise the valid place such a grouping has in a pluralistic democracy - but I do cast a sceptical eye on some of the ambivalence they are currently showing about independence, especially when it comes to the defence and jobs debate.

I would remind the churches within Civic Scotland, and those who claim a social and moral conscience of the swords into ploughshares principle, especially when the ploughshares can be readily identified as the renewables industry, among others where Scotland has real strengths.

Among the latest scare tactics over the last few days have been a number of attempted frighteners over jobs in the armed forces, where contemptuous comparisons have been made on the challenge, opportunity and travel benefits for young men and women in the British armed forces as opposed to a Scottish defence force.

My position on this is best summed up my response to a comment and query on my most recent blog, which genuinely posed the question as to what Lieut.Col. Stuart Crawford’s position is on these questions, and by implication, what is the SNP’s position. I don’t know the position of either Stuart Crawford or the SNP, but here was my answer, and where I stand.

  • Alasdair Ross Jan 23, 2012 01:59 AM

    No mention or he may have not been asked - what about the servicemen? Those who who are already in a British Army and those who would continue to join the English/Welsh Army- would the Scottish Regiments stay- becoming Scottish Gurkhas, or will Scots just travel south and join an English regiment?
    Most who join the armed Forces want to see the world and challenge themselves- that will not be possible in a Scottish Army- unless remaining part of NATO-

  • Moridura Jan 23, 2012 02:22 AM

    I don't know the answers to these questions, Alasdair. The only statement I know of from Alex Salmond said the servicemen would be free to choose, and I am sure that those with the motivation you describe would want to "travel south and join an English regiment".
    Scotland will not remain in NATO while NATO is nuclear, but will cooperate through Partnership for Peace as some other countries do. The defence forces of a nation cannot be predicated on the basis of “join the Army and see the world”, although that has always been a recruitment slogan of the military throughout the ages. Exactly how this will affect recruitment and choices cannot be predicted, but defence forces of other small nations don't find a difficulty in filling their ranks.
    What recruits to the new Scottish Defence Force can be assured off is that they will not be sent to die in illegal wars and misconceived foreign engagements, and that a Scottish Ministry of Defence will be staffed by competent and ethical persons whose motivation is to serve the military personnel and their families, instead of their own advancement and careers in private companies.

  • Saturday, 1 October 2011

    What the SNP says about defence

    From the SNP website - Policy on defence

    All of the text below is verbatim from – the bold and red highlighting is mine.

    The SNP wants Scotland to be a normal country making its own decisions about defence and peacekeeping. Only when priorities are set in Scotland can we prevent our brave servicemen and women being ordered into illegal conflicts. The historic regiments of Scotland have been destroyed through amalgamation and downsizing; an independent Scotland will redress this.

    A Scottish Defence Service

    The priority of the Scottish Defence Services (SDS), in partnership with Scotland’s neighbours and allies, will be to safeguard our land, sea and air space. The SDS will initially be equipped with Scotland’s negotiated share of UK defence resources. Service and pension conditions will be at least equal to those of the UK forces.

    The SDS will be a professional force supported by reserve forces with employment opportunities open to everyone meeting the appropriate standard. MoD civilian support personnel employed in Scotland at Independence will have the opportunity to remain in the Scottish MoD or Scottish civil service. Scotland will maintain active defence commitments with its friends and allies through the United Nations, European Union and Partnership for Peace.

    No to Nuclear

    The SNP reaffirms that no nuclear weapons will be based on independent Scottish soil.

    An independent SNP government will not be part of a nuclear-based commitment such as NATO.

    SNP priorities in defence are that:

    • Defence policy should be made in Scotland’s national Parliament.

    • Scotland’s armed services should be well remunerated, equipped and trained.

    • Historic regiments will be re-established as part of the SDS.

    • Military facilities, including strategic airforce stations, should not be downsized at the present time.

    • Nuclear weapons will be banished from Scotland forever.

    • Counter terrorism provision will be enhanced, and plans will include elements of the regular and reserve SDS as part of a co-ordinated strategy.

    • Military practice will be reviewed to balance the necessity of training against the disturbance to communities.


    A fair deal for our soldiers and their families

    Our soldiers and their families deserve to be treated with respect, both during and after service. Bereaved families should not have to wait years to lay loved ones to rest, or to find out the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

    The Scottish Government will continue to work with the UK Government to find a way to allow military inquests to be heard in Scotland requiring changes to current legislation. No family should have to wait 3 years to put loved ones to rest, and by moving inquests to Scotland, we can remove current backlogs in the system.

    Tuesday, 17 May 2011

    The terms of Scotland’s independence - the great debate …


    I have been commenting for some time on the deliberate playing down of the defence issue by both pro and anti independence camps, especially the nuclear weapons and bases aspect, which I regard as the crucial issue. As recently as last night’s Newsnight Scotland, this was being skirted around.

    But it has now erupted on to the front pages, as it was inevitable that it would, sooner or later. We’re down to the nitty-gritty with a bang, so to speak. Today’s Herald -

    SNP anger over Tory warning on defence - Backlash as Fox brands Salmond’s policy on the military nonsense

    And some still say the YES/NO referendum campaign hasn’t started! You could have fooled me …


    Just a few short weeks ago, Labour was going to win the Holyrood election, the SNP would be out, and Scotland’s independence would be off the agenda for the foreseeable future because the people of Scotland would not be asked what they wanted.

    Now we have the SNP in power, with full control of the Parliament, the referendum now certain, with the debate now shifted to the terms of independence.

    As an indicator of just how much things have changed, I refer you to the perception of a European now studying in Aberdeen - Ferdinand von Prondzynski - on his blog.

    His last paragraph reads -

    What do I think? I’m new here, but I have now spoken with a fairly large number of Scottish voters, and I am getting a very consistent message, so consistent that I am going to discard the normal caution of suggesting that this really isn’t a sufficient sample to be useful. Almost everyone I have spoken to who voted SNP has said the same. And to explain it, I might refer to the comment of a BBC commentator on election night, who suggested that the Scots had ‘lost their fear of independence’. That seems to me to get it absolutely right. It doesn’t mean they voted for it when they voted SNP. But it means that they knew that, by voting SNP, they were making independence a live issue. They might still voice caution when polled. But they are there to be persuaded, and expect the persuasion to come. They are not yet all in favour, but they are no longer determined to be against.

    It often takes the clear-eyed perception of an outsider (meant in the very best way, Ferdinand - we are delighted to have you in Scotland!) to encapsulate the mood of our nation, and in this paragraph Ferdinand (@vprond on Twitter) has done just that.

    There will be no referendum called until the second half of this Scottish Parliament, but we are already in the YES/NO campaign whether we like it or not (some in the SNP feel it is premature) because the NOs are already in full voice. And those who voted SNP but are cautious about independence are, to echo Ferdinand’s words “there to be persuaded, and expect the persuasion to come. They are not yet all in favour, but they are no longer determined to be against.”

    THE UNIONIST POSITION - the NOs in full voice

    The Unionists’ many positions on the referendum over recent times may be summarised as follow -


    Scotland doesn’t need a a referendum on independence - each UK general election is in effect a referendum.

    “If the SNP wants one, bring it on …” The Wendy position.

    A referendum would be a needless distraction from the urgent business of sorting out the economic mess “left by Labour” (Coalition position) or “created by the Tory-led Coalition” (Labour position.

    The SNP government will be out of office on May 5th 2011, so the referendum is off the agenda.


    The SNP is marginalising the independence question - we demand that they bring it up front, so that we may terrify the voters with it.


    We demand that the new SNP government call a referendum right now. Bring it on …

    We demand that the UK government call a referendum right now.

    We demand that the referendum be extended to the whole of the UK.

    We may give you everything except defence and foreign policy if you abandon the referendum.

    No referendum is needed - England (i.e. the UK) should just throw Scotland out of the Union unilaterally.

    The SNP has abandoned any real concept of independence, led into the Unionist Promised Land by Jim Sillars

    The SNP is split right down the middle over independence - this is the SNP’s Clause Four moment.

    This contradictory, confused and intellectually dishonest range of positions reflects the confusion and disarray in the NO camp. The electorate recognised that before the election, and probably recognise it now. They won’t be voting for a new government of Scotland for five years, but they will be voting for Scotland’s future, something of infinitely more significance - and they know it.


    A few things need to be re-stated. The Scottish government can - and will - introduce a referendum bill to Holyrood in the second half of this Parliament and it will be enacted, given the SNP’s overall majority.

    The exact question or questions that will be asked on the referendum ballot paper has/have not yet been decided, but ideas have been floated. The essential choice is between a single question  - will you authorise the Scottish Government to negotiate the terms of independence on your behalf with Westminster - YES or NO, or two or more questions on a range of options, e.g. full independence or something less.

    If the answer is NO to any change to the status quo, there is no immediate problem, other than an acrimonious debate about how long it should be before the question is asked again, e.g. a generation (Unionist  position) or not for a while, unspecified (Nationalist position.

    It must be clearly understood that a YES vote does not legally bind the UK government to agree to the outcome, but there is a near-consensus that the moral and political force of a YES vote would compel Westminster  to accept the democratic decision of the Scottish people.

    But a number of key questions arise from the referendum in addition to those above.

    Q1. How much detail on the Scottish Government’s position on the exact nature of independence must the electorate have to make an informed choice, i.e. what are the implications of voting YES? 

    Q2. What is the case for voting NO, i.e. for the status quo - no change to the present arrangements?

    Q3. If there is a YES vote, should there be a second referendum to ratify the heads of agreement reached by the Scottish Government team and the UK Government?

    There are more questions, and sub-sets of questions, but let’s look at these three first. I approach them from the standpoint of a negotiator, but in the context of political realities and the history of other successful independence movements.

    Individual negotiators or negotiating teams fall into two broad categories - those who are answerable only to themselves and those who are mandated to negotiate on behalf of others - their principals.

    For example, someone negotiating the price of a car with a dealer is usually in category one, and a commercial negotiator acting on behalf of a company, or a trade union negotiator or negotiating team is in category two. The commercial negotiator usually has a single principal, e.g. the purchasing or sales director, or a team of principals, i.e. the Board of directors.

    The closest parallel for a Government negotiating team is the trade union example - one might think - with the trade union membership parallel being the electorate. However, this analogy doesn’t hold up in the face of political reality. MPs and MSPs are elected as representatives of the electorate, not as delegates or passive mouthpieces. They are elected on the basis of a manifesto - their prospectus so to speak - but once elected they have - or arrogate - considerable flexibility and discretion on how they exercise that mandate.

    The alternative is clearly unworkable, namely to seek democratic ratification of every policy detail by consultation and mini-referendums. The electorate is expected to trust their elected representatives to get on with the job as best they can.

    That trust has, of course, often been shamefully betrayed by elected representatives once in office, the most egregious recent example being the betrayal of their supporters by the Liberal Democrats in coalition with the Tories. But even before that betrayal, there was another example which, it can be argued, was simply realistic democratic politics, although some would disagree, namely the negotiations with the Tories about forming the coalition, led by Danny Alexander for the LibDems.

    Neither the Tories nor the LibDems spelled out in detail in advance to the people who had elected them the rationale for a coalition (some would say it was self-evident from the election results) and neither party told the electorate what their negotiating objective were in detail. They took their mandate to mean that they had the right to exercise their best judgment without referring back to the electorate, and however unfortunate the outcome, my personal feeling is that they had that right.

    Where does this leave us on the three questions posed above? Let’s take them one at a time -

    Q1. How much detail on the Scottish Government’s position on the exact nature of independence must the electorate have to make an informed choice, i.e. what are the implications of voting YES?

    My simple answer to that is - more than they have at present, despite the SNP’s considerable efforts to conduct a national conversation and to spell out  a great deal of their thinking in writing. This is especially necessary  on defence matters and the nuclear question, nuclear in more sense than one. Liam Fox’s outburst - spontaneous or calculated - has catapulted this question to centre stage in the debate, and the referendum campaign, which has already started, despite protestations to the contrary by some.

    I have always regarded the defence issue as central, both in my personal priorities, and to the real nature of the opposition to Scotland’s independence, while recognising that it is not necessarily the issue at the forefront of the electorate’s priorities. (Professor Tom Devine said last  night on Newsnight Scotland that economic issues have determined the outcome of every election, but, with great respect, this ignores the fact that the electorate have never had a clear-cut defence and nuclear option put to them in any of the elections he cites - except by fringe parties - because every major party has effectively been committed to nuclear weapons and the nuclear deterrent.)

    The SNP’s position on the status of the Scottish component of British armed forces must be clarified. They are either Scottish forces voluntarily ceded to overall UK co-ordination and control, but with the capacity to veto their participation in any initiative that the Scottish government disapproves of, or they are not. All governments participate in coalitions of forces under a central military control  - the UK forces were under Eisenhower and American control for the D-Day landings, and the UK is presently in a coalition in Afghanistan and in Libya - but national sovereignty reigns supreme.

    On the nuclear issue, I have already stated my understanding on this, on Sunday May 15th, as follows -

    The First Minister says clearly that an independent Scotland would have the ultimate decision on when to go to war, i.e sacrifice the lives of Scottish servicemen and women – and would not, for example, have supported the invasion of Iraq.

    He also says there could be some sensible sharing of military bases. But if that were to extend, for example, to leasing the Trident nuclear bases to UK Minus (The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) after Scotland has achieved independence, then the Scottish Government would have to have a veto on when nuclear weapons were used from its waters, or from a submarine in international waters that was based in Scottish waters.

    Since Scotland does not support the use of nuclear weapons or WMDs in any circumstances, UK  Minus (effectively the US) would be leasing bases and owning weapons of mass destruction, e.g. Trident submarines that could never be used.

    This would be untenable, therefore Scotland can never lease the nuclear bases to UK Minus.

    We cannot reasonably expect the Scottish electorate to vote in an independence referendum without a clear idea of how their new nation is going to be defended.

    There are other significant aspects of independence, most of which have been clearly explained by the SNP, verbally and in print, if the unionist opposition and lazy media commentators would take the time to do their homework. For example, the SNP’s commitment to a constitutional monarchy has been clearly stated, and the ancient model of the Union of the Crowns has been cited.

    The SNP’s position on the key levers of fiscal responsibility, on control of borrowing, on tax raising powers, on Scotland’s natural resources including oil are clearly set out. We already have our own legal system, and the present status of devolution has already ceded a number of areas of control to the Scottish Parliament. But the nit-picking on detail by the NO camp - the unionists - is patently ridiculous, e.g. what about the DVLC etc.

    No rational person can expect the electorate to be buried alive under the minutiae of government  administration, and no reasonable member of the electorate wants to be asked to ratify every detail.

    So my answer to Question One is that the electorate must know what is meant by independence on the big, fundamental questions,and my belief is that they already know most of the answers, but that they must be re-stated in clear an unequivocal terms.

    The exception to the above is defence and the nuclear issue, as already stated. The electorate must be given clarification now on these fundamental questions by the government that they so recently and decisively elected. They will undoubtedly get - and are getting - answers from the NO campaign, answers that will be at best a distortion of the truth, and at worst, plain scaremongering lies.

    That was the unionist parties’ shameful record in the election campaign, and they won’t change now.

    Q2. What is the case for voting NO, i.e. for the status quo - no change to the present arrangements?

    The answer is that this is the business of the unionists - the NO campaign - and they are already sedulously engaged in it.

    Q3. If there is a YES vote, should there be a second referendum to ratify the heads of agreement reached by the Scottish Government team and the UK Government?

    My answer is an emphatic NO. 

    No other nation negotiating the terms of their independence has done such a thing, or been expected to do it.  If anyone has examples to the contrary, let them bring them forward. Once the electorate of a nation has been offered and accepted the choice of demanding their independence, they have trusted their elected representatives to get the best deal the can, in the context of broad understanding of the fundamental of their government’s position.

    The demand for a second referendum, like the demand that the minutiae of independent government should be spelled out in advance should be seen for what it is - an attempt to muddy the water, confuse the electorate and to bury the core issues in mass of detail.

    It is an attempt to second guess an outcome to the independence referendum that the unionists don’t like.

    Reject it completely.