The SNP’s support for Scottish independence may be the party’s flagship policy but the Nationalists’ opposition to NATO has traditionally been no less passionate.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, with its common defence based on the principle of nuclear deterrence, has never sat well with a party for which disavowal of nuclear weapons is as much a moral imperative as a policy preference.
However, the party could be about to reverse its position as plans are put in place to debate NATO membership at the SNP’s autumn conference.
Up for discussion will be the scrapping of opposition to the military alliance while maintaining the pledge of a nuclear-free Scotland. As part of this package, there would be an increase of £500m in spending on conventional defence capabilities. A Scottish Defence Force would comprise 15,000 professional service personnel and 5,000 reservists while all bases would remain open, including Faslane which would become a conventional military base.
SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson MP told Scotland Tonight’s Rona Dougall: “For the past few years, I and other colleagues in the SNP have been speaking with neighbours and friends in other countries to work out how they would best be able to work with a sovereign Scotland, which would be making defence, security, and foreign policy decisions for itself. It has become apparent that there is a clear wish for continuing relations through treaty organisations like NATO and that that is important to other countries.”
Mr Robertson insisted that an independent Scotland could maintain a strong conventional defence force without retaining the Trident nuclear deterrent.
Labour defence spokeswoman Gemma Doyle MP rejected the SNP’s proposals, calling them “rushed and confused”.
Peter MacMahon, deputy editor of the Scotsman, compared the SNP’s proposed policy shift to Labour’s “Clause Four moment”, when then leader Tony Blair rewrote the section of the Labour Party’s constitution that committed the party to “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. Blair’s move, hastening the party’s evolution from a socialist to a moderate social democratic party, was credited with winning over centrist voters wary of Labour’s ideological past.
Mr MacMahon said: “The SNP realise they are vulnerable to attack from Labour in the run-up to the referendum campaign. But, also, people who think seriously about an independent Scotland – Angus Robertson is one of them and, going back some way, Kenny MacAskill – have always thought it was anomalous that an independent Scotland would not be in NATO like many countries that don’t have nuclear weapons but do shelter under that nuclear umbrella.”
The SNP autumn conference will be held in Perth from 18 to 21 October.
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