They say there’s a first time for everything. In today’s Torygraph, Alan Cochrane found common cause with SNP Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MSP and—for the first time to my recollection—I find myself agreeing with both of them. Arch-unionist Alan is, for my money, one of the more thoughtful and articulate among them. Though he takes no prisoners and many independistas have come off worse in exchanges with him, his are exactly those arguments we must counter if the case for independence is to be conclusive.
His column regrets that the SNP has shied away from reconsidering its hostility to NATO membership by an independent Scotland at next month’s National Council and sympathises with Angus’ quite effective campaign on behalf of current and future armed forces in Scotland. Angus does talk military language almost as fluently as he does English & German and cuts a martial figure in trews and bumfreezer, as Alan observes.
Originally fueled by active member hostility to nuclear weapons and a long record of CND membership and demonstrations against Faslane, the refusal to consider NATO membership when Scotland became independent seemed a logical extension. This was underpinned by basing of the UK deterrent in Scottish water within 25 miles of Scotland’s densest conurbation around Glasgow, which put 2m Scots in the Cold War firing line.
The end of the Cold War put any urgency on the back burner but recent Westminster decisions to spend £350m investigating ‘Son of Trident’ has brought it all to the fore again. At this point, there is no practical alternative nuclear base in English waters, so the Faslane base becomes a key negotiating point in any independence discussions. But, at the same time, detailed plans for Scottish Armed Forces and their international posture—once academic, now possibly imminent—need to be laid.
Both sides of the independence argument see no need for hostility between Scotland and England, so the prime route of any hostile action towards Scotland is thereby neutralised. Any invader would need to come through England or by sea. This latter should be taken to include terrorist acts against major items of infrastructure, like oil platforms, offshore wind farms, tidal turbines and the like. Even Torness or Hunterston nuclear power stations or the Forth/Tay Bridges could be plausible targets for seaborne attack.
If we add in the 10km length of Scotlands coast and scattered islands, the need for long-range maritime recce and rescue lies mostly within Scotland and so the net balance of appropriate armed forces for Scotland would look very different to the one the MoD is currently pursuing.
But smaller countries especially are all the stronger for having good friends among their neighbours. Quite apart from England, good relations with Eire, Iceland, Norway and Denmark would constitute an outer line past which any putative enemy would have very little chance of moving undetected, let alone undeterred. Such good relations would need to be earned by Scotland bearing its share of international duties, be it the odd infantry battalion deployed to world hotspots under UN blue berets or rescue squads flown in to help people recover and rebuild after major disasters like earthquakes.
Let’s leave aside the shape of any Scottish Defence Force. No reasonable Scottish budget could afford to build it on a scale such that it didn’t need good friends and military allies. And while some might argue that we could ‘do a Costa Rica’ and neglect to have any armed forces whatsoever, our history, our links with global communities—not to mention the exceedingly high regard in which Scottish soldiers are held throughout the world—all mitigate against anything but a small but balanced and capable military.
Looking at possible international links to develop, there is certainly a future in celebrating the Celtic connection with Eire and Cornwall, as well as Brittany and Galicia. In the opposite direction, the Nordic Council could be a booster rocket to strap on the Scottish economy. But neither have a military dimension. Indeed, with the demise of the Warsaw Pact and many of its members going over the their former ‘enemy’, the only game in town is NATO.
NATO has been called the most successful military alliance of all time and certainly none of it members has suffered non-terrorist attack in its 60+ years. It is certainly a nuclear alliance but 25 of its 28 members are non-nuclear and most have managed to negotiate a degree of non-nuclear involvement with which its people are comfortable. Given that Scotland holds a key position on NATO’s North flank and provide some of the best training facilities in Europe, the likelihood that a deal over favourable membership for an independent Scotland could be reached is high.
So why would the SNP not want it? Longstanding and principled anti-nuclear credentials need not be compromised. The drive to remove Trident from Faslane need not be sacrificed (not least because the US is far happier to run a nuclear deterrent under its own control, as France already does with its variant). NATO and UN deployments are among the few opportunities beyond joint exercises to encourage Scottish recruits with the incentive of seeing the world.
The principled pacifists in the SNP ranks who want the Cost Rica approach are few in number. The realist majority accepts that a joint defence posture is the only one a full nation can realistically adopt. No-one in the SNP is arguing for a nuclear Scotland, nor for the horrendous moral dilemmas that it brings—quite apart from the costs.
Quite how SNP MSPs and other senior members think an independent Scotland could take its place as a normal nation and not join a defensive treaty with all its neighbours has not been explained. Idealism was something the SNP might allow itself while in the political wilderness. But on the brink of achieving its goal, the need to convince the still-doubting 2 in 3 Scots with a consistent, pragmatic suite of policies has become vital.
These policies must not only articulate the many advantages of a nation blessed with Scotland’s people and resources but also demonstrate how integrally linked it remains with neighbours and friends by accepting its obligations, even as it seizes opportunities.
Like it or not: Scotland is already a nuclear power and a NATO member—and a target for any who would challenge either. Faslane and the current union make that a fact. Independence is the way to escape such labels and set a course different from that forced on us by London. But to want independence, yet reject the vital key for close work with friends we need will be seen as retrograde, unrealistic, bampot thinking.
I’m all for independence. But we need these bams oot the windae before they hang oor collective bum oot the windae in the international isolation that would surely result.