Historically, the SNP has always been opposed to NATO membership.
There now appears to be a shift in their thinking, which many people consider to be contradictory.
Some have seized on the fact that an independent Scotland would intend to remove nuclear deterrents from its waters, whilst remaining a member of NATO, as an opportunity to argue that the SNP’s independence ambitions are inconsistent with its defence policy.
Former General Secretary of NATO, Lord Robertson, believes that if an independent Scotland were to separate from the United Kingdom, currently one of the three strategic partners of NATO that host nuclear deterrents, it would effectively hold the contradictory position of wanting to be part of a nuclear alliance whilst ridding itself of its nuclear weapons through independence. He has got a point.
For my part, I am not entirely sure why the SNP would want to shift its historical opposition to NATO membership other than to garner popular support for its independence ambitions – many people still consider it to be a crucial component of a credible defence policy.
However the problem I have with the likes of Lord Robertson is that, whilst his central point is valid, he goes on to reveal the true motive behind his criticisms of the SNP in the claim that it doesn’t make sense that Scotland would want to remain in NATO, yet secede from one of its most strategic partners, when it is that partnership that gives Scotland a level of international influence, protection and safety, that would be impossible for other small European countries to achieve.
There appears to be a growing tendency among Unionist supporters, such as Lord Robertson, to mask their own fears about the consequences of Scottish independence for the rest of the United Kingdom, in the form of apparent benefits for the people of Scotland if they remained within it, benefits that would be lost in independence.
This is a typical example. The article referred to above claims that experts estimate that it would take around twenty years for England to build the right type of facilities to house nuclear weapons. Or in other words the denuclearisation of Scotland would lead to the denuclearisation of the rest of the United Kingdom.
That scenario would force the United Kingdom to drastically alter its defence strategy. It would also deal a devastating blow to its international standing. Few Westminster based politicians, including distinguished Labour Peers, and other key defence industry stake holders, are likely to allow that to happen without a fierce fight. It is not about looking after Scotland’s interests. It is about individual and institutional self-preservation. And that just muddies the water.
But to return to the question of the SNP and NATO – I firmly believe that an independent Scotland should not play host to nuclear weapons. It is not the type of Scotland I want to see after 2014. But as Lord Robertson correctly points out, it is difficult to reconcile this with the apparent readiness to inherit NATO membership, given that NATO is a nuclear alliance and agreeing to its rules means agreeing that other countries could, in theory, be called upon to use nuclear weapons on your behalf.
There is a contradiction here, no doubt about it. It would appear that the SNP’s shift in thinking is towards the idea that it is ok to be part of an alliance predicated on the use of nuclear weapons, but not ok to be a host country for these weapons.
The SNP’s problem is that Scotland already is a host country for these weapons. Other members of NATO not hosting nuclear weapons simply do not have to confront this uncomfortable contradiction. It will be interesting to see what kind of political rhetoric and linguistic trickery the SNP are going to use to reconcile it in the run up to the referendum.