Rennie: “Everyone who believes in robust defence of our shores should think carefully before backing independence”

Today’s Guardian reports that if Scotland votes for independence, the new Scottish Government might have difficulty joining NATO:

It is understood that Nato officials said it might be possible to allow Scotland to start fast-track talks – but in a blow to Salmond’s anti-nuclear strategy, the Scottish delegation was also told that no new member would be allowed to join Nato if that state had unresolved military or territorial disputes with other countries.

Under article 10 of the Nato treaty, one assistant general secretary of Nato said at the meeting on 6 July, new applicants also have to show a history of stable defence policies and structures as a minimum entry requirement. Article 10 also implies that every Nato member accepts the alliance’s nuclear first-strike policy.Official sources in Edinburgh and London confirm that these issues were seen as coded warnings that the Scottish government’s determination to close down the Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane on the Clyde would be a major obstacle to Scotland’s application.

The whole NATO issue has been very painful for the SNP. They have already lost two MSPs from their group over their narrow conference vote in favour of joining the organisation. There were just 29 votes in it. I doubt that all of the 394 who voted in favour were all passionate about joining an organisation whose fundamental raison d’etre is about providing a nuclear weapons based defence. I suspect their votes were more to do with winning the votes of people who would be worried about a Scotland outside NATO. That was very much Angus Robertson’s plea in his speech.

While not all NATO members have nuclear weapons, they accept that they are necessary. Alex Salmond wants membership for a Scottish Government which, if run by the SNP, would not accept that. That seems to be an inherently contradictory position.

Willie Rennie sees the Guardian’s story as another, serious blow to the SNP’s claims that NATO membership would be a virtually automatic and seamless part of the independence process. He said:

Today the Guardian reports NATO officials have warned the SNP Government that disputes over the future of nuclear weapons could block an independent Scotland’s membership of the organisation.

Everyone who believes in robust and effective defence of our shores should now think very carefully before backing independence.

It is little surprise that NATO officials are concerned that an important part of its defence utility could be unilaterally undermined by one of its new members. But this revelation undermines the SNP’s case for strong defences for an independent Scotland. To be a normal member of an alliance you should expect to comply with its rules, ethos and purpose.

If the SNP want to ditch trident they’d need to ditch NATO too. Leaving NATO would leave Scotland without the cornerstone of defence in Europe, potentially exposing us to considerable threats.

The SNP seemed content to keep voters in the dark on these critical remarks from NATO officials. So much for an open and honest debate about Scotland’s future.

To a peace loving hippy like me who wants to see the back of nuclear weapons and isn’t that fussed about NATO, this latest development just confirms what I already thought – that the SNP can’t have its cake and eat it. I was never going to vote for independence anyway as I think the risks outweigh any benefits. There will be others, though, who the SNP have tried to reach out to, the people for whom they ditched their opposition to NATO, who will now doubt whether it’s possible to have a non nuclear defence strategy within NATO.  Today’s revelations will most likely push them towards the pro-UK camp.

The road to the independence refrendum is  very long and tiring, but this may well turn out to be a significant moment. It throws up even greater questions than the disputes over an independent Scotland’s EU membership. While the outcome of that process is by no means assured, at least there are examples of where countries have joined without having to join the Euro. NATO is different, though – and even the expert quoted at the end of the article seems to think that in order to join NATO, the nuclear issue would have to be resolved. He suggests that some within the SNP have already accepted that this would involve retaining the Rest of the UK’s nuclear weapons on the Clyde. A non-SNP Government, of course, may have no problems in agreeing to such a request.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • “Leaving NATO would leave Scotland without the cornerstone of defence in Europe, potentially exposing us to considerable threats.”

    Threats from whom? About what?

    While I don’t think that Scottish independence is a realistic option, it’s also unrealistic to suppose that a Scotland out of NATO would be especially vulnerable to either conventional attack or nuclear blackmail, as the UK would be forced by geographical considerations alone to consider any attack on Scotland as an attack on itself.

    But in the present geopolitical configuration, it’s hard to say who would want to attack Scotland; Scottish patriotism aside, Scotland hasn’t got anything that’s of particular value to anybody except to the Scots themselves — and of course to the English. I don’t really see a Russian submarine assault on the Orkneys as a realistic scenario, and I am pretty sure the Scots have nothing to fear from the Irish, the Icelanders, the Norwegians, or the Faroese. Geopolitically, the most considerable threat to an independent Scotland would be from the United Kingdom, which could obviously reconquer it in about three days. If an independent Scotland needed NATO, it were primarily to protect it from its southern neighbour.

  • Paul Sambrook 16th Aug '13 - 12:39am

    I may be a simple Welshman, but even I can see a major flaw in your argument. If an independent Scotland is a new state that has to apply to join NATO, so will the remnant UK be a new state in the same position. If Scotland and rUK are in dispute, then both would be excluded from NATO.

    More likely, both would negotiate to resolve any uncertainties, with NATO assistance, and remain what they are already, members of NATO. With large territorial waters and a strategic location, as well as widely respected armed forces, Scotland will be a welcome member of NATO, joining several non-nuclear states already in the organisation.

    You should be embarrassed to even run the story above – especially as there never was any suggestion from anyone at NATO that Scotland would not be welcome as an independent state.

    The arguments against Scottish independence really are embarrassingly thin aren’t they?

  • Ed Shepherd 16th Aug '13 - 8:11am

    I am fascinated to learn what threats Scotland would face if it was not a member of NATO. Would Spetstnatz kommandos with snow on their boots be landing on the beach at Sandwood Bay by 2015?

  • nvelope2003 17th Aug '13 - 4:06pm

    Just because there are no likely threats to Scotland or the UK at the moment does not mean there will be none in the future. The Romans said if you want peace prepare for war. If the British people had remembered that in the 1930s much sorrow, destruction and loss of life might have been avoided after 1939. We have not had a major European war since 1945 because we heeded that wise advice. There seems to be a great lack of knowledge about this wicked old world among those who contribute to this group. While it may be admirable to trust in the good will of others, it is not fair to wish to impose these ideas on others. You have to know others well before you can trust them. To be fair I did use to have these notions when I was young. I know better now.

  • “The Romans said if you want peace prepare for war.”

    And yet the Roman Republic and its successor Empire existed in an almost perpetual state of war with one neighbour or another. Somehow the desired peace that is to be obtained through warfare always seems just out of reach.

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