Are the SNP about to perform a u-turn over its policy concerning whether an independent Scotland would join NATO?
The party’s long-standing policy has been outright opposition to membership, opting for what one spokesman for the party has previously dubbed a “Partnership for Peace, like Sweden, Austria, Finland and Ireland, which provides for defence co-operation between NATO and non-Nato countries”.
At its heart the party’s concern about membership has been its continued link with nuclear weapons with March 2009 having seen SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, Jamie Hepburn, using the 60th anniversary of NATO to table a motion on NATO in the Scottish Parliament.
“The Parliament notes that 4th April 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); recognises that the continued presence of NATO serves as a destabilising factor in the West’s relationship with Russia; notes that NATO relies heavily on the continued use of nuclear weapons as part of its operational capacity; recalls that the first Secretary General of NATO, Lord Ismay, described the organisation’s purpose as being “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”; further recognises that the world has fundamentally changed since the founding of NATO in 1949, and, given that the Cold War is meant to be over, believes that the organisation has no useful purpose in the modern world.”
With NATO due this week to hold a military exercise off the west coast of Scotland the BBC this weekend reported the SNP is considering reversing its policy against membership of the alliance at a meeting of its national council in June.
That they are considering such a move is not new. As the Guardian previously reported, in 2007/08, a survey by Professor James Mitchell of Strathclyde University of SNP members, but only recently published in full, found 52.7% believed NATO membership was in “Scotland’s strategic interests”, compared with only 22% who still believed in quitting the alliance, whilst the party’s defence spokesman at Westminster, Angus Robertson, has openly stated his colleagues at Holyrood are actively “looking at the policy options for Scotland”.
However, at the centre of concerns remains whether NATO membership can fit with the SNP’s staunch anti-nuclear policy.
Ewan Crawford, a former special advisor to the SNP leadership, has told BBC Scotland:
“Even although clearly this is a discussion that the leadership is having, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if this in any way compromised the SNP’s anti-nuclear stance it wouldn’t even be countenanced.”
And speaking in 2004 during his bid for the party’s leadership, Mike Russell, now Scotland’s education secretary, declared his support for the principle of an independent Scotland joining NATO, provided Scotland “can be a non-nuclear member”.
Whether this is possible remains in some doubt. In a report produced for the Scotsman newspaper, Professor Michael Chalmers, research director and director (UK defence policy) at the Royal United Services Institute, argued:
“It has been reported that the SNP is considering a reversal of its current NATO policy. After many years of opposing membership, however, it may not find it easy to move in this direction.
“A Scotland in NATO would have to endorse a strategic concept that states that ‘as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance’ and goes on to agree that ‘the supreme guarantee of the security of the allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the alliance, particularly those of the United States’.
“Denmark and Norway, both NATO members, endorsed this statement despite their longstanding refusal to base nuclear weapons on their own territories. It would, nevertheless, be hard to square Scotland’s acceptance of the strategic concept with an expulsion of the UK’s nuclear force from its bases at Faslane and Coulport.
“There would be a fundamental inconsistency in accepting the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s security, but demanding their rapid removal from one’s own national territory. Even Germany, which has made clear that it wishes to remove US nuclear weapons from its own territory, has made clear that it will only do so on the basis of a NATO consensus.
“Scotland would be under much greater pressure to delay any action until a negotiated agreement with the UK could be reached.”
Responding to the latest round of speculation, a spokeman for the SNP responded:
“Anything that may happen in the future is mere speculation.
“If a motion is submitted it will be considered by the party’s standing orders and agenda committee who will decide if it goes forward for debate. This reflects the democratic processes at the heart of the SNP.”
The speculation over a u-turn on NATO comes just months after Alex Salmond called for the establishment of a single Scottish Defence Force, combing the army, navy and air force.
Arguing the SNP simply didn’t “get” defence, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson argues:
“First, the SNP changed their mind about keeping the Queen, then they changed their mind on the pound, now they are changing their mind on NATO.
“The question here is, why for decades have the SNP opposed the most successful military alliance in Europe? Alex Salmond simply does not get defence – a view shared by numerous military experts.
“After all, this is the man who derided NATO’s humanitarian mission in Europe to prevent acts of ethnic cleansing as one of “unpardonable folly”. Alex Salmond has no love for the armed forces and this is nothing more than a cynical attempt to win votes.”
For Labour, meanwhile, shadow defence secretary and East Renfrewshire MP Jim Murphy concluded:
“The SNP just don’t get defence. They want to take Scotland out of the British Army, Royal Navy and RAF and end Royal Navy shipbuilding on the Clyde.
“As defence experts said only last week, none of our allies would understand what message Scotland was trying to send by opting out of an alliance that has been the central player in security for the last six decades.”