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.