Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Scottish independence and Nato: still all to play for

The Scottish National Party's conference decision to renounce its long-standing anti-Nato position is a disappointing setback to any prospect of a left-leaning independence for Scotland.

What kind of progressive state can call itself independent of international warmongering when it chooses to remain part of that warmongering club?

Nor does making Scottish Nato membership 'conditional' on exemption from its 'nuclear obligations' absolve the SNP from this shameful u-turn.

Being a partner in Nato, a nuclear-threatening organisation, involves core acceptance of its nuclear doctrine.

In practice, signing-up to Nato will not only lock Scotland in to that aggressive pact, it will put any effort to remove Trident on the indefinite back burner. In short, Faslane, Coulport and the rest of Nato's ugly arsenal will be an operational reality for many years to come.

There's a body of thought that, in seeking to pre-empt public fears over losing 'Nato cover', Salmond has gone for this safeguard position knowing that Nato will not, come independence, actually accept Scottish terms and conditions of entry.

Salmond can thus say that he's tried to allay those public concerns and that it's Nato which is imposing its unreasonable demands on Scotland.

Of course, it's always possible that Nato would reject any Scottish application premised on nuclear exemption. The SNP's assurance of a specific constitutional clause prohibiting nuclear weapons, coupled with strict UN authorisation for participating in conflicts, might also, some say, be a set of conditions too far for Nato.

But it's more likely that Nato would simply want Scotland quickly signed-up and party to its collective 'security' agenda, its Strategic Concept, leaving any Scottish 'demands' over the nuclear issue fudged and negotiated away.

As Kate Hudson of CND notes:
"membership of NATO would preclude effective opposition to nuclear weapons.Scotland would have to accept NATO’s Strategic Concept which affirms its status as a nuclear alliance. On this basis it would be extremely difficult to expel Trident. This is precisely the problem which Germany faced when it stated that it no longer wished to host NATO-assigned US tactical nuclear weapons in its territory."
Whether in explicit or implicit form, Scottish Nato membership would more likely require endorsement of the whole package.  As Jamie Hepburn MSP concisely put it in his conference appeal:
"Expect them [Nato] to say, 'it's ok, come in, join the club, but we'll get back to you some time about the other thing'. Do we consider nuclear weapons are immoral just because they're located in Scotland or do we consider they're immoral, wherever they may be located?"
The Salmond leadership seem unduly afraid that an electorate with 'enduring associations' to regiments and military culture would be reluctant to vote for a non-Nato Scotland. Yet, other small countries, such as Ireland, Finland, Austria and Sweden, enjoy such status - with many good reasons for resisting Nato membership.

So, why the SNP's timidity?  Opinion polls consistently show an electorate overwhelmingly opposed to nuclear weapons on the Clyde. There's also strong public disapproval over the invasion of Iraq and demands for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Yet, rather than take this antagonism to nuclear weaponry/illegal wars and firm it into a more coherent message about the menace of Nato and the financial benefits to be derived from leaving it - more jobs, hospitals and public services over wasteful, wicked wars - the SNP has chosen to seek all the costs and burdens of 'inclusion' at the top table.       

As SNP minister Kenny MacAskill painfully rationalised it in his conference speech:
 "Friends, I'm no US poster boy. And I'm certainly no US lap dog. I've marched for CND and I've protested against Trident, I demonstrated against the Iraq war - I'm tired marching. I want a seat for our government in the situations of power."
Such is the seduction of politicians to the aspiring heights of 'decision-making'.

In truth, Scotland would have almost no say in whether the US/UK/Nato elite decided to pick-off another awkward state like Libya. MacAskill's delusions of grandeur are matched only by his political servility.

The only useful way of doing something constructive about Nato aggression is to refuse membership of that club, thereby setting an encouraging example for other small states to follow.

With, as the Ministry of Defence admit, no other viable place to locate Trident in the UK, it's also worth remembering that removal of the nuclear madness from Scotland would be a great boost to British cancellation and the wider non-proliferation movement, a process that would be more urgently advanced with Scottish rejection of Nato. 

The case for refusing Nato membership is, first and foremost, a moral one, but it can also be argued as a more basic appeal to political and financial reason: no need to be dragged into spurious, crazy wars; let's put anti-austerity policies before boys-with-toys militarism. Yet, the SNP have no serious counter-message to the US/UK/Nato nuclear/war machine.

Such, of course, is the deep-rooted power of media-led war propaganda, an indulgence of the 'safety-first' narrative of 'security' that, urged on by 'realistic' politicians, including the SNP, we're all encouraged to live with.

Independence is still the valid leftist aim

The SNP will hope that by getting this painful debate and decision 'sorted' early, it can now concentrate on building for the actual poll.

David Cameron, alongside Labour and the other unionist parties, battled to have any third question eliminated. Yet, that option of 'devo-max' - increased powers for the Scottish parliament -  appears to be the most popular amongst the electorate.

Now the unionist camp has buried that option, what choice does this 'more powers' constituency have other than the status quo, which most don't want, or full independence, which many also might not want but, at least, secures that greater change?

The yes campaign might now usefully claim that Cameron has denied the Scottish people a basic democratic choice, a view which, if properly cultivated, may lead some of that floating element over to the yes side.

In 'affecting the case' for a third choice, some say Salmond cleverly played that card all along. And that prudent 'effort to consult' the electorate on the matter may, in the long run, be to the no campaign's detriment.

The no campaign's riposte: if keeping Nato, the monarchy, the pound and the Bank of England as last lender is 'independence', why bother leaving the union?

Much of this can be dismissed as unionist posturing and playing on the independence minutiae. Yet, the SNP's fearful concessions in 'canny pursuit' of the big prize should also be a jolt to any progressive-minded voter. Not only are all these issues still up for grabs, they may be more ably challenged within a fully independent parliament.

With the Nato decision expediently 'shelved' until the referendum is resolved, the SNP trust that the agreement on a straight yes/no ballot will now allow voters to look more reassuringly at the practical benefits of independence.

But, alongside Salmond's courting of corporate elites like Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump, such supplication to Nato is a timely reminder that real, progressive independence will always be a difficult work in progress - particularly in this turbulent time of banker-approved austerity.

Independence offers the opportunity not just to approve SNP policies, endorse their concessions or, indeed, install another SNP government, but to move the political agenda decisively more leftfield - as well as more greenfield.

Those still wedded to Labourist unionism, notably Miliband's latest 'one nation' contrivance, may likely see things in the same party-oriented terms, falling for the same 'saviour politics'.

Other left-conscious Labourites, one hopes, will come to realise the small but significant chance we have here of creating an alternative model to the same old Lab/Con/Dem politics.

But, as we've seen from the SNP's latest cave-in to big power, that will also involve, just as importantly as gaining independence, the difficult, if still-promising, post-independence task of crafting something more politically compassionate than all-party neoliberalism and the corporate militarism that goes with it.



Two SNP MSPs, Ross Finnie and Jean Urquart, have now resigned, unable to reconcile their party membership with the leadership's u-turn on Nato. It's an admirable action and reminder to the SNP that, while it may have won this vote, there's a healthy and growing opposition to any plans for a Nato-aligned Scotland.     

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