On another Sunday, the 17th of April, in the final stages of the Scottish election campaign, I wrote a piece entitled Oh, what a beautiful morning for Scotland and the hopes of its people!
It ended with the following paragraphs -
The new Sunday Herald thinks Tavish Scott is the big story, then follows with page after page of negativism about the SNP, including a sad little piece on party manifestos by Ian Bell. It does, however, give full coverage to Cardinal O’Brien’s admirable attack on Trident and WMD’s in Scottish waters while managing to ignore the elephant in the room - the fact that the SNP are the only significant party in Scotland and the UK that is totally opposed to nuclear weapons, WMDs and nuclear power.
The Sunday Herald prefers to present Partick Harvie and his Green Party of two, and CND, - which sadly has been totally ineffectual for half a century in opposing nuclear weapons - as the bulwarks against nuclear power.
Well, as champions of the UK (pro-nuclear) and of Labour (pro nuclear), the Sunday Herald would say that, wouldn’t they? They mustn’t support the only organisation that can actually deliver a nuclear-free Scotland, the SNP - if they get re-elected and ultimately secure an independent Scotland, they will undoubtedly do it.
I have written extensively on the central, but carefully played down nature of the nuclear and defence issues to the independence question. A few from the last year -
But, lo and behold, The new Herald on Sunday has suddenly wakened up to the realities of nuclear defence policy and Scottish independence - maybe it was that ‘new’ in the title, or perhaps they have just decided to acknowledge the stark reality buried beneath all the highly selective and distorted economic statistics and sentimental pap about Britishness that usually constitutes the anti-independence unionist argument.
An exclusive report by David Leask comes clean about what’s really behind the British Establishment’s hysteria about Scottish independence - to borrow Bill Clinton’s phrase “It’s the economy, stupid!” during his 1992 campaign, - It’s the nukes, stupid!
David Leask nails the dilemma in two paragraphs -
“The break up of the UK - and its military - is a realistic, if far from certain prospect.
Whitehall defence mandarins are slowly realising that a third of the UK land mass - and their entire nuclear deterrent - could be in a foreign country within a decade. “
I’m glad the Whitehall defence mandarins - and the New Sunday Herald - have finally caught up with me. Better late than never, guys.
(George Bernard Shaw once observed that the incompetence of successive British governments and the Civil Service was easily explained by the fact there was simply not a sufficient pool of intelligence among the scions of the British aristocracy and Establishment to meet the demands of government, so mediocrity and incompetence were the inevitable result of their control of positions of power and influence.)
Next to the Leask article, Trevor Royle, the Herald’s political editor has his say. He is well-equipped to comment - as author of many books on the military, the Scottish military and its history, and from a military family himself, essentially he sees things as a soldier might - objectively and professionally.
But he cannot be wholly objective, because Scottish military tradition matters deeply to him, unlike the cynical politicians who have never served, and make damn sure that their children are never in harms way, but who profit politically and often financially to an obscene degree from sending young people to their deaths, and to bring about the deaths of others, both the innocent and the guilty.
He places the question properly in its historical context, and his final paragraph is the pragmatic view of a historian, and will be the view of the less-blimpish among the senior echelons of the armed forces.
“As states come into being they need to possess their own means of defence. In Scotland’s case that would entail a division of the existing assets, because once the United Kingdom ceases to exist, so too will the armed forces. As those charged with responsibility are beginning to discover, there will be no other option.”
Going back to the Leask article, however, we find that the RUSI - the Royal United Services Institute - “the think tank closest the Britain’s smartest military minds” while appearing to pragmatically accept the likelihood of Scotland’s independence, is not ready to accept the inevitability of its nuclear and military independence, and presumes - and it is an outrageous presumption - to advise the UK to play hardball during negotiations.
David Leask quotes one Mark Lynch as recommending that the UK play hardball, e.g. trading Faslane for not blackballing Scotland’s membership of the EU. Mark Lynch believes that Scotland’s “interest in removing the nuclear threat (!) is far outweighed by its need for membership within the European Union, and thus is likely to accept these conditions.”
Just how Lynch has reached the judgement that this would be acceptable to the Scottish Government negotiators is fascinating. He clearly has reason to believe that his realpolitik will be mirrored in the minds of Alex Salmond and his senior team, but the question arises if this is informed speculation, or based on more substantial inside knowledge. We must look more closely at Mark Lynch to see what his experience and qualifications are to offer such potentially inflammatory advice to “Britain’s smartest military minds”.
According to his Linkedin.com profile, he is a graduate of St. Andrew’s University, an MA with a first-class honours degree in politics, specialising in nationalism and human Rights. No surprise there - St. Andrew’s is not exactly a hotbed of Scottish nationalist politics, and is would not be my first port of call for an objective look at Scotland’s independence. But it would certainly be a reflex choice for “Britain’s smartest military minds”, at least those of them utterly hostile to that independence.
Mark’s thought on Scotland’s independence are set out in his recent publication The Security Implications of Scottish independence, in which he attempts to link Scotland’s independence with dissident republicanism in Northern Ireland, suggesting that it would be an “inspiration” for nationalist movements in the UK and Europe. His use of the word inspiration is pejorative in this context. I quote - “The increasingly violent actions of dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland would be in danger of increasing exponentially in the face of an apparently weakened UK.”
Mark Lynch goes on to the following statement, which is perhaps illustrative of his approach -
“Indeed, Gerry Adams suggested that an independent Scotland would cause 'seismic shifts' for the future of the UK creating lasting concerns about the stability of the region”
Reading this, one might be forgiven for thinking - even “Britain’s smartest military minds” might be forgiven for thinking - that Gerry Adams “seismic shifts” quote also included a belief that it would cause “lasting concerns about the stability of the region”, but since Mark Lynch quotes his reference for this - Belfast Media - we are able to read the actual report of the remarks.
SNP Leader Alex Salmond has vowed to hold a referendum on Scottish independence, and Mr Adams said the situation there would cause “seismic shifts” for the future of the UK.
Not quite the same thing … Indeed seismic shifts, the movement of tectonic plates, earthquakes, tsunamai, etc. have been the rather debased currency of commentary on the SNP’s astounding victory, usually by aghast unionist commentators since May 6th of this year. Some have even got their earth science metaphors mixed up with baseball, suggesting that right-thinking unionists everywhere, especially in St. Andrew’s, their natural home, should “step up to the tectonic plate” in opposing Scotland’s, a feat that would pose some interesting geological challenges.
I am grateful to the Sunday Herald and to David Leask for getting this sort of thinking up front, where it belongs, in the debate leading to the independence referendum. The issue has been the elephant in the room for too long, but after Liam Fox’s mask dropped during his announcement in the commons of the new defence deployments in Scotland, where he made it abundantly clear that he saw this as one of the prime lines of defence for the continuation of his beloved UK as a political entity, the defence elephant has escaped from the room, and is rampaging about, looking for someone to gore.
I hope that his timely article gives the SNP leadership some cause for thought, because in my view, they need to say much more about the defence plans of the Scottish Government in relation to independence than they have done so far, especially in relation to the nuclear bases.
I am not so naive as to believe that I am capable of thinking political thoughts that Alex Salmond has not already thought - and a dozen for every one of mine. This superb political tactician and statesman, towering head and shoulders above anything Westminster has to offer, must however share his thoughts with his wider support, not just with inner party circles.
I appreciate that he must keep his negotiating powder dry, faced with a widely-dispersed, powerful and unscrupulous unionist opposition, but he and Angus Robertson must reassure those in the party and beyond it who are utterly and totally opposed to the retention of nuclear bases and the nuclear deterrent in an independent Scotland that these are deal-breakers in the independence negotiations.
In the approach to Scotland’s freedom, all thing are not possible.
Some things must not be on the negotiating table, either overtly or implicitly. Many unionists are implacable in their opposition to independence for Scotland. Many nationalists are implacable in their opposition to any compromise on the deterrent or the bases. I am one of them.
Clear the air on this, please, First Minister, and sooner rather than later.