On Sunday, I set out the basic SNP argument for the proposed NATO U-turn, and offered a basic classification of the elements of that argument. When it first came out in July, that statement, taken from the defence paper, was the sum total of the argument, together with Angus Robertson’s interview with Isabel Fraser.
And that would have been it until the SNP’s October conference if the issue had not been kept under a continuous spotlight by the media and by other concerned parties represented principally by the SNP CND group and the NO to NATO Coalition.
However, because of that external focus, allied to internal dissent, we now know much more about the thinking of those who champion the NATO U-turn. It was evident from the start in July that the co-signatories of the defence paper, Angus Robertson and Angus MacNeil were behind it, and it logically followed that the First Minister had to be behind it or it would never have seen the light of day. It could also be safely assumed that senior figures who were on record from much earlier as favouring a change of policy on NATO -such as Michael Russell – were behind it, and that the Cabinet were either behind it or maintaining a public silence if there was dissent within their ranks.
I had entertained what later proved to be a vain hope (see Renfrew Cabinet meeting) that Nicola Sturgeon might be against it, which would have been hugely significant if true. However, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister made it abundantly clear in Renfrew Town Hall that they were solidly behind the NATO motion, and advanced arguments for it. So the delegates to the SNP Conference will be asked to vote on a motion that has heavyweight endorsement at the highest levels of the party.
The MSPs who have come out against the motion are – at the last count - John Wilson, Gordon MacDonald, Jamie Hepburn, John Mason, John Finnie, Bill Kidd, Marco Biagi, Bob Doris, Sandra White, Jean Urquhart and Dave Thompson. In addition, the SNP CND group and the SNP Youth group are opposed.
The NATO U-turn has been described by some as “immoral and hypocritical”. I agree on both counts.
THE ARGUMENTS FOR THE NATO U-TURN
We now know a lot more about the thinking behind the proposed policy change than we did in mid-July, thanks to various articles in the newspapers – what Bill Ramsay of SNP CND called “the deafening silence from senior members of the party” - some by SNP proxies such as George Kerevan, and from the latest responses of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to queries.
So let’s listen to George Kerevan, because it is now apparent after the Renfrew meeting that he reflects the SNP leadership’s position very closely indeed. In his Scotsman piece, Kerevan opens with an attempt to wriggle out of the boorach provoked by the SNP leadership’s inept handling of the pre-conference release of the news of the U-turn – the storm of protest, the inaugural meeting of SNP CND and the “high-profile MSPs” opposed to the NATO proposal – by ingeniously converting the rift to a rite - “another rite of passage for the SNP as it moves from protest movement to nation-builder.” Aye, rite (sic), George …
He goes on to a low-key acknowledgment on the proposed U-turn -
“This is partly to deflect inevitable negative publicity during the referendum campaign – “Salmond will leave Scotland defenceless.”
If that alone was the SNP’s objective, it has already failed, since such publicity had already been endemic in the media and from unionists, including the NATO criticism, but now has the crucial added element of ridicule, because of the self-evidently contradictory nature of the proposal – resolutely non-nuclear but willing to be part of a nuclear alliance, with the ludicrous idea that NATO membership can be offered to the UK as a bargaining concession to speed the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
Kerevan focuses on trying to rebut the SNP CND arguments against NATO membership, indeed his nation-builder stuff is a rather panic-stricken response to the very existence of SNP CND as the “first break in the party’s famous iron discipline for well over a decade”. Of course, his Scotsman article is a reluctant recognition that the party’s hope that they could keep the debate out of the media and the public domain until the party conference is now blown out of the water, and some public response is desperately needed, but ideally not in detail by senior party figures so that the fiction can be maintained. (Angus Robertson, as the main architect of the U-turn, had little choice but to speak.)
Let’s look at his attempted rebuttal arguments -
SNP CND argues that Scotland’s remaining in/joining NATO will make it harder to get rid of Trident. (For the record, I believe that the SNP’s wish to be part of NATO may be to sanitise a long-delayed removal of Trident, i.e. a fudge to square the SNP’s non-nuclear stance with NATO membership.)
Kerevan’s response is that if an independent Scotland was in NATO, it would be harder for rUK to “blackmail Scotland, as a fellow NATO member into accepting what it does not want…” i.e. nuclear weapons on Scottish territory.
This argument does not stand up to even the most superficial scrutiny. ‘Blackmail’ is in fact a criminal technique of negotiation - an attempt to compel a concession against a threat of unilateral implementation of something fundamentally unacceptable. Kerevan uses the term blackmail pejoratively - in a non-criminal context - but without appearing to understand it. If one thinks about it, the concept of nuclear deterrence is blackmail on a grand scale conducted between nations and power blocs.
What exactly does Kerevan think the ‘blackmail’ will consist of?
Refusal to remove Trident from an independent Scotland?
Threatening an independent Scotland with force?
Refusal to assist with the defence of Scotland on matters that affected UK/NATO interests?
Or perhaps he is thinking of the post-referendum/pre-independence negotiations? Does he actually think the UK will be more demanding, more obstructive to a Scotland that rejects NATO and nukes than to a Scotland which is a member but demands removal of nukes as a quid pro quo for its membership?
A Scottish Government negotiating team with a clear YES mandate from the 2014 referendum, standing clearly by its principles of a non-nuclear Scotland and non-membership of a nuclear alliance which is committed to the possession and use of WMDs will have more moral and intellectual credibility - and bargaining clout - than one fatally compromised by NATO membership.
SNP CND argues that the NATO bureaucracy could be used to delay the removal of Trident from Scotland if Scotland were within NATO.
Kerevan’s response is the tent argument, much beloved by those who wish to suppress dissent by giving the illusion of influence. In essence it is stay within the system and influence change from within. It is the argument Labour has used since the Cold War and the nuclear standoff on nuclear disarmament – it has failed for over half a century. It is the current argument of Labour for remaining within a failing, unjust and unequal UK – it has failed, spectacularly. It is the argument currently used by the SNP to try to mute dissent within the party over NATO – it has failed.
But George Kerevan dutifully trots it out -
“Germany and other key Nato states are already leading a campaign to remove nuclear weapons from European soil – a campaign Scotland can support best by remaining inside the alliance where its vote counts.”
Bill Ramsay’s response was short and to the point in his Newsnicht debate with George Kerevan -
“If Scotland stays in NATO and fights its anti-nuclear case, we’ll be doing exactly what Germany has done – failed.” (7m 24sec in to Ramsay/Kerevan Newsnicht interview.)
Kerevan has an example of what he sees as such influence at work to offer -
“… at its Chicago summit in May, under heavy German pressure, Nato altered its so-called “deterrence and defence posture”. Instead of a traditional refusal to give a “no-first-strike” guarantee, Nato now promises never to use nuclear weapons against a country that does not possess them, and is a signatory of the UN non-proliferation treaty (that means Iran, by the way). The Chicago summit also adopted – for the first time in any military alliance – a commitment to make nuclear disarmament a constituent part of its strategy.”
I would not go so far as to say that such changes – if they really meant anything – were worthless. What I do say is that they are concessions wrung out of a NATO in a state of confusion over its role post-Cold War, still in search of a credible enemy to justify its continued existence, and anxious to curry favour by tossing a bone to nuclear disarmers.
Remember, NATO is the United States, France and the UK, with the other 24 member countries as impotent spear carriers, with no influence whatsoever on the major decisions. One only has to remember what happened to democracy, to UN resolutions, to truth and justice at the time of the Iraq war – all were either ignored or perverted to the pre-determined wishes of Bush and Blair. And that was in the face of an imagined, invented threat! I don’t trust NATO, especially in a crisis situation, and neither should the SNP nor an independent Scotland.
It is instructive to note that Kerevan, faced by the SNP CND argument that the US will ‘thwart’ the German campaign, has to reach back to General De Gaulle and a 46-year old example to try to rebut that patently true statement.
The kernel – and a pretty rotten kernel it is – of George Kerevan’s argument is this -
“Pretending Nato is solely to blame for nuclear weapons is naïve. Pretending an independent Scotland that repudiated Nato could fend off Russian bullying in the oil-rich North Atlantic is a dangerous gamble. And pretending a majority of Scots will vote for independence plus neutrality is political fantasy.”
Firstly, no one is ‘pretending’ that NATO is solely to blame for nuclear weapons. The United States which invented them and which used them against a non-nuclear state – twice - must take the principal share of the blame. The former USSR for reacting to that by creating its own nuclear arsenal comes second in the blame game. Then the rest followed …
The non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) formally recognises and in a sense, legitimises five states as nuclear weapons states (NWS) - China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States. But three other state who are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaty - India, Israel and Pakistan - possess nuclear weapons. North Korea, in 2009, claimed that it had developed a nuclear weapon: it is believed to possess a small stockpile of simple nuclear weapons.
What is NATO, then? It is a military alliance created and dominated by the United States, the country that created the nuclear threat and was the first and so far, the only one - to use it against civilian populations. It is the threat that countries outside of it reacted to by creating their own nuclear arsenals. The United States bankrolls and support Israel and its nuclear weaponry, despite the fact that Israel is not a recognised nuclear weapons state under the NPT. De facto, NATO supports Israel, although it is not a member.
Secondly, the idea that an independent Scotland would face “Russian bullying in the oil-rich North Atlantic” is, to put it mildly, an unlikely scenario, but if it did, it would not be bullied by a nuclear threat – a ludicrous proposition. It would defend itself by conventional methods and, as a member of Partnership for Peace, could call upon support from other countries in the North Atlantic region who, NATO members or not, would respond because it would be self-evidently in their own security and strategic interests to do so.
Kerevan’s last, and faintly contemptible suggestion - that a majority of Scots will be asked to vote for independence and political neutrality and will reject it - is nonsense. There is no suggestion whatsoever that an independent Scotland will be neutral in conflict situations involving its neighbours and long-term friends and allies – nor would it in any way shirk its European and international obligations under the UN - and to imply it is to deny the many public policy statement by the SNP and the First Minister to the contrary – all made in the context of the existing non-NATO policy. Kerevan is trying to equate non-membership of NATO with pacifism, which is patently ludicrous.
The Scottish electorate will vote for an fully independent Scotland, in control of its own defence, foreign policy and economy, but fully integrated into the European and international community and full compliant with its responsibilities to these communities.
The fantasies are all Kerevan’s – the paranoid fantasies of NATO and its cold war mentality, locked into the military/industrial complex, desperately in search of an enemy and a role. In October in Perth, we can only hope that the SNP delegates do not allow themselves to be sucked into this paranoid nightmare and that they vote against NATO membership.
Say NO to NATO!