The SNP seeks to deliver 50 shades of grey on defence

Years ago, when I was wont to hang about SNP HQ, there would often be a foreign media team.  And they were usually there to see Angus Robertson.  His linguistic skills, his contacts harvested from his stint working in the media in Europe, his exuberance and his unabashed self-belief brought many a camera crew staggering up the staircase and onto the second floor of North Charlotte Street.

At the time, in the thick of whichever election campaign was being fought, it didn’t really make a lot of sense for one of the party’s brightest young things to spend so much time answering questions in German or French or gesticulating widely in some other tongue.  It might have kept him out of the pub but wasn’t there something more useful he could be doing?

Now it does.

Now that the party is within sight of its holy grail, all those relationships with international media make sense.  At the launch of the referendum campaign back in January, there was probably as many foreign press and media hanging on the First Minister’s every word as there were domestiques.  Angus Robertson could look on and be content that all that early work was not wasted.

For Scotland needs international friends in influential places if it is to persuade the world that it really is serious about getting on.

And while there are many on our own shores – most usually in the Westminster political elite – who see our dabbling with the idea of self-determination as something not to be taken seriously, others elsewhere do.  They have after all, in their lifetimes seen Slovakia cede from the Czech republic, the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all assert their independence and even wee Montenegro throw off the yoke of domination of their Serbian big brother.  Independence can and does happen to other nations.  Usually peacefully and pretty successfully.

What concerns them though is that, contrary to what the anti-independence lot might try to persuade us, Scotland is in fact of strategic geographic and geo-political importance.

All those oil and gas reserves;  our position as the furthermost outpost before America;  our coastal shores and important fishing grounds;  even our heritage as an armed force worth reckoning with.  Which is why the SNP’s foreign and defence policy has prompted many a furrowed brow:  to many other small, independent countries who rely on alliances and international treaties to make their and our worlds safer, lots of things don’t seem to add up.  The no nukes, no to NATO stance seems very black and white in a world that is increasingly dominated by shades of grey.

So the detailed resolution submitted by Anguses Robertson and McNeil represents the latest marker in the SNP’s journey to the referendum, smoothing away yet another of those rough edges, muddying the waters and making this key policy area a whole lot more fluid.

Thus, the no nukes policy becomes a commitment to “negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane“.  And the no to NATO stance spells out that actually, on independence, like so many other transitional issues, Scotland will inherit treaty obligations.  The next SNP government – the first elected in an independent Scotland – would opt for maintaining NATO membership, so long as we could be non-nuclear and only participate in UN sanctioned military operations.  Otherwise, we will opt for the Partnership for Peace programme that works alongside NATO in many peace-keeping operations and satisfies many other small nations like Finland, Austria and Ireland.

And there we have it:  a policy with enough ifs, buts and maybes to satisfy potential international allies and silence some of the critics.  But also one which creates a domestic and potentially, an internal feeding frenzy.

For many in the SNP, both the anti-nuclear and NATO stance are red line issues.  Or rather, they are sandbag ones.

To date, longtime SNP supporters have been prepared to jettison all sorts of ballast in order to get to this high point in the party’s and the country’s history.  Throwing these totemic defence issues overboard in order to give the party the lift it needs with voters – and opinion polls tend to show that the Scottish public is less averse to NATO than members are – might make sense, but many will be unprepared to do so.

In solving an international conundrum, the referendum campaign architects might be creating another one.  Many who have tramped hundreds of miles, had their knuckles scraped and mis-shapen by spring-loaded letterboxes, who count leaflet runs to get to sleep instead of sheep, who’ve had doors slammed in their faces and once viewed a saved deposit as a success – in short, many of those who have carried the burden of an unfashionable cause through much less popular times – might see the triangulation on defence as a sandbag too far.

This is perhaps the biggest gamble of all.  In order to persuade more to vote yes, to bring still more into the SNP’s big tent, the strategists have calculated that those who have got this far might bluster but will ultimately opt to stay under the canvas.  Having worked so hard to get this far, few will follow through on their threat to opt out at this stage.  And they may find themselves campaigning for a yes in spite of what their party is offering, on a prospectus they are no longer signed up to.

But in order to deliver success in the referendum, those who are replacing black and white with all these shades of grey, must surely sense that they are risking sacrificing their own party, for it is hard to see how it can continue in its current form after independence has been won.

39 thoughts on “The SNP seeks to deliver 50 shades of grey on defence

  1. Pingback: Time for the SNP to loosen its stays « A Burdz Eye View

  2. The SNP has taken the decision that getting independence allows Scotland to decide afterwards what it will do.

    The SNP has to do this otherwise all those folk who “””””who paved the way to get to this point.”””””””””””” will have wasteed their time. We can leave NATO later if we wish. It’s up to the Scots but without a YES win then all this is but talk.

    I’ve been around independence more than 5 minutes, the nukes I don’t want but NATO, I can compromise on. We get indy or we don’t — ther will be those unwilling to compromise and that’s too bad. It’s to be expected.

    The leadership got us knocking on the door of independence — never thought I’d see that in my lifetime — they’ve earned the right to be take us further, even if some of that journey involves compromise.

    We can always leave later.

  3. Nato. Not enthused but if it neutralizes another anti-independence scare story I am all for it. Nukes – out asap but the timing issue is too good a bargaining chip to throw away. Restore the east coast sea border = 6 months etc.

  4. While there are undoubtedly some members of the SNP who will be far less than happy about any changing of the position on Nato, I don’t see the connection some are making with the referendum. While in the UK there is little chance of either nuclear disarmament or the withdrawal from Nato. However, even if independence is delivered and the SNP have a pro-Nato policy, there will still be hope that the policy could be revisited in the future.

    Therefore, even for the most ardent critic of Nato, it would still appear rational to support the Yes campaign, notwithstanding the SNP position on continuing membership.

  5. Firstly, Angus has crafted this motion very well in a bid to appeal to the widest possible coalition of members. He may well succeed.

    However, to bring people across to his point of view, those in favour of NATO membership, need to explain NATO’s purpose in the 21st Century.

    The Rompin Stompin Red Army is no longer standing at the Fulda Gap, The Red Banner Northern Fleet is polluting the Kola Inlet as it slowly decays, rather than being being poised to surge through what we should now call The Greenland-Iceland-Scotland Gap.

    For a great many people the stumbling block is not just NATO’s First Strike policy, but what they see as Cold War relic, that is used far too often to prosecute America’s illegal wars.

    The issue of security policy is a serious one, it merits a proper reasoned debate, what we may get is very little debate as the leadership seeks a “Clause IV” moment.

    I have been a member of this party for close on 30 years, in many respects the party I see today is a million miles away from the party I joined. Many of those changes have been for the good, we have a Scottish Parliament, an SNP government which for the most part governs competently.

    However, there are more troubling aspects, it’s not just the cosying up to Murdoch and Trump, we are now in coalition with people like Peter de Vink. A man who out Thatchers Thatcher, who doesn’t believe in social housing or even progressive taxation, whose world view is lot closer to Sarah Palin than Niciola Sturgeon.

    The prize is, of course, independence, but if we sell our political soul in pursuit of that prize, we will end up with no party and no independence.


  6. Let’s be clear, there is a radical proposal to change the 2002 NATO SNP policy on the table, here is where the debate must start:
    “The SNP is opposed to an independent Scotland remaining a member of NATO while it continues to be a nuclear weapons based alliance.”

  7. I understand what Angus is doing and agree that it is a carefully worded resolution but as someone who sat (admittedly a decade ago) on a party internal committee to look at the whole issue, I did some research on the option of the countries like Finland, Ireland, etc. who stay outside NATO but partner on specific issues or interventions. This remains my preferred option since it does not tie us into NATO with all the financial and moral implications that implies. What we (the SNP), can’t be seen to be doing is taking any step at all away from our anti-nuclear (weapons and power) stance, this is a red line for me. I’ll leave the party if there is any hint we’d even consider letting a transition period for Trident to leave to become a “semi-permanent” cop out.

    • There has to be a transition period for removing nuclear weapons and that has always been recognised. There was a report out by the STUC I think that put it at 2 years – that was welcomed by the SNP leadership. There’s really no chance of the SNP changing position on nuclear weapons. We all know that there have been numerous internal discussions and debates about NATO, people like you have taken part in them, so have I at National Assembly. There has been no discussion of reviewing the non-nuclear policy, ever,.Nobody supports that. In all my years in the SNP I have never heard that being questioned except by one chap from Helensburgh and that was really about the local situation and no-one supported him.

      • The report to which you refer, called Disarming Trident, was actually produced by Scottish CND.

      • Peter, how do you think SCND will take the SNP’s backtracking on Trident?
        Can I look forward to a leter in the Herald tomorrow from Brian Quail?

      • There has been no “backtracking on Trident”. The resolution merely acknowledges what anybody with any wits already knew – that Trident could not possibly be removed overnight and that the arrangements for its removal would have to be negotiated with its owners, rUK.

      • Peter, you’re right that “anybody with wits” knew it is no simple matter to defend a country without alliances and alliances are reciprocal arrangements. But the SNP has not made any of these difficulties clear before (and they don’t just apply to defence as has become all-too-clear as teh campaign has got under way). Now they have to stop sloganising and vote-farming they are losing support and credibility. I would still be interested to see SCND’s response to this.

        Indy “There’s really no chance of the SNP changing position on nuclear weapons.” Not very moral though, is it. Sheltering under a “first use” Nato policy while refusing to house the weapons you depend for your security. Pontius Pilate springs to mind.

      • You dishonestly misrepresent what I wrote. And we get quite enough of this “SNP in disarray” crap from the British nationalist media. If what the SNP is experiencing is a decline in support and credibility than it is the sort of “decline” other parties would sell their grannies for. If they hadn’t already flogged them off for rather less.

      • Maybe that should be Holly Willie

      • Would you have a link to that report by any chance?

      • What report do you refer to?

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  9. This is a political party stance on NATO, the referendum on independence does not need party politics. In the 2016 election following independence there may be another party in power other than SNP (I hope not but that is a possibility). Proposals put forward now can’t be binding on future Scottish Governments.

  10. All I want is independence,I don’t care how I just know its right,defence degate,that is why there are people much more clever than me they chose to find the solutions.I tried to say on FB that we are in NATO and will need to negotiate out if we want out its all in the mix.So even me daft as I am I understand that almost evrything will have to wait till after independence is taken.

  11. Great piece. Nice to read a thoughtful approach to this. Been a member for more than 20 years and grew up in shadow of two nuclear bases, one US one UK, so nuclear has always been a line in the sand for me.

    Have not been to a conference for years but vaguely remember a debate about NATO at my last one and think I was won over by Amgus R then even if rest of the membership wasn’t.
    In the grown up world can live with alliances as long as we are non-nuclear.

  12. Second Dave’s comment that this is certainly a thoughtful piece.

    But I simply do not trust the SNP leadership on Defence one bit. The only policy that is clear is the non-nuclear one, everything else is an attempt to placate everyone both in and out of the party.

    But the SNP should absolutely NOT have the final say on NATO membership. Salmond witters on about “letting the people of Scotland decide” on other matters, but for Defence then changes his mind when he realises that the party are a tad upset.

    Many commentators talk about “who will threaten Scotland”? The answer is simply that no one knows. Who can tell what the global situation will be in 10, 20 or 50 years time?

    Defence policy is a strategic one – it is not supposed to be a politically tactical one, and I do not believe that the SNP leadership have seriously thought this one through. They seem to rely on the no-nukes policy, whilst popular is not sufficient on it’s own.

  13. I can’t find anything to fault the proposal. The way I see it, this is a perfect example of the SNP being pragmatic and responsible, while staying true to core values. For every independence supporter who is resolutely committed to leaving NATO, there’s another who thinks the commitment to leave NATO is the one flaw in the SNP plan. I don’t really see how either type can complain with this proposal, without looking like a slavish ideologue.

    I have one complaint about your article though Kate – I prefer “Angii” to “Anguses”!

    • Doug, how long have you been a member? How can you possibly know what core values are? I get a little fed up of the sanctimonious, slavish adherence to everything the leadership says and does that is trotted out by some who have been around for five minutes and cannot possibly appreciate what an issue of conscience this creates for those who paved the way to get to this point. That is the essential construct of my piece. I neither support nor oppose what the resolution promotes but try to set out how difficult this decision is going to be for many in the party.

      • I don’t deny it will be a difficult quandary for folk to come to terms with – those opposed to NATO have to decide if they can live with a compromise, while those who don’t think we have a credible defence policy unless we’re in NATO have to decide if they’re happy with a policy which still makes it very possible that Scotland ends up outside of NATO. But this proposal looks to me like a fair way of trying to bridge the gap between those two extremes. “Slavish ideologue” perhaps sounds harsher than I meant it to, though.

        I dunno if this is how you intended your reply to come across, but it sounded remarkably like the sort of “oh, I’ve been a fan of the Manics since 1992 – you only got into them when they became mainstream, so you’re not a real fan” kind of silliness I used to see on Manic Street Preachers forums when I frequented such places 10 years ago. For the record, I’ve been an SNP member since 2007. I’ve always wanted independence, but until then, the idea of joining a political party had never even crossed my mind, as it just wasn’t something anyone else I know had done. Obviously a wee event in 2007 suddenly made independence a more tangible prospect.

        The SNP’s purpose is to deliver independence for Scotland, and that will only ever happen by making independence the mainstream view. If that means relaxing stances on certain things, then that’s what’s got to be done. Anything else would see the SNP, and by extension independence, remain on the outside. If that happens, then everything that those who paved the way fought for is for nothing. I’ve just been reading comments by a religious guy called Bob on Better Nation who purports to be an SNP member, who says he won’t vote for independence if equal marriage legislation is passed. For all I know, the guy has been chapping on doors for 50 years, but that wouldn’t give him an excuse for trying to dictate that SNP policy follow his views, rather than those of the mainstream, both inside and outside the party.

        At conference we’ll find out for sure where the mainstream view of the party is on NATO membership. If it turns out that abandonment of outright opposition to NATO is a result of burgeoning membership numbers, then that’s just how it is. How people deal with that is up to them, but it’ll make no difference if they’ve been in the party 5 decades, 5 years, or 5 months.

  14. Great post Kate.

    I suspect that NATO membership is not the totemic issue it used to be for most SNP members.

    I’ve never really understood the NATO == Nuclear arguement. You just have to look around our sea borders to realise this simply isn’t the case.

    • that’ll be because we’ve all gotten older and less idealistic. Lol! The coupling of the NATO and nuclear argument is the issue – folk oppose both but for quite different reasons. Ie opposing NATO is not just about nuclear weapons. And some are happy with NATO and anti-nuke. Angus’s resolution is very good actually. Not sure how much I agree with but think he has come up with a sensible fluid way ahead. The conventional defence stuff makes sense and is detailed and thought out. It’s a good debate to be having. We should be having more of them.

  15. Pingback: The SNP seeks to deliver 50 shades of grey on defence | Referendum 2014 |

  16. Who cares if the SNP continues as a political party? Seriously. I’m an SNP member but independence is bigger than the SNP. Always has been. The SNP is the vehicle, that’s all.

    • True. But other policies count too and there is or at least used to be a mindset/culture to policy making in the SNP that I felt very comfortable with. Not just independence but other issues too. Many of those being stripped away making idea of an SNP as a political entity less compelling. Part of independence surely has to be about delivering a new politics, a shift and a re-alignment.

      • Yes – I know exactly what you mean. It is not always easy to be mainstream! I totally understand that. The SNP has always had a strong anti-establishment streak and it is difficult to compromise. But we have to. To build a majority Yes vote we just have to do that.

      • I forgot to say I do agree with you about independence bringing a new politics and I hope we can get onto that ground very soon. For me it is issues like a decent welfare system and how we can create a society which genuinely gives people equal opportunities that we ought to be focussing on as well as the economy. Bread and butter issues – how are our young folk going to get jobs and decent housing, how can our pensioners be protected from poverty, how can we best tackle issues like neglect and parental problems like addiction blighting children’s lives. These are the things that will really make a difference to peoples lives. We need to show how independence would give the Scottish Government the full range of powers needed to bring improvements.

  17. “Thus, the no nukes policy becomes a commitment to “negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane.”

    Which is actually no more than a restatement of existing policy. Unless you believed Trident was going to magically disappear on independence day.

    • It is subtly different and carefully crafted to leave options open. i don’t necessarily have a problem with that part of the pragmatism.

      • No, the careful wording leaves too much wriggle room. Who decides what determines “speediest” for example? And with whom do negotiations take place? Those who want them to stay put? I would be happier with “achieve”.

        This “positioning” is like a similar exercice whereby the SNP seems to have become a pro-monarchy party without its members realising it. Clever-clever stuff like this stores up trouble for the post-independence future.

  18. Good article – the NATO issue doesn’t appear to cause much consternation to many people – but to those it does matter to – it seems to cause near embolism.

    • Because it’s about how and whom we face on foreign policy – transAtlantic or in the European arc. Traditionally, SNP membership favoured latter because seen as differentiating with UK stance. More complex than that admittedly! But essentially that’s what it is about. This is one area of policy though where membership been at odds with Scottish people for a long while.

  19. Thoughtful piece

    • High praise indeed from your guid self! Think the resolution will generate lots of debate and be interesting to see where party goes on it.

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