It is always vital in debate – and in negotiation - to be able to state the position and arguments of the other party as objectively as possible. If the other party’s position and arguments are not clearly understood, it is difficult, if not impossible to combat them effectively.
THE SNP POSITION AND ARGUMENTS ON NATO
The defence paper and resolution of mid-July from co-signatories Angus Robertson MP and Angus MacNeil MP contains the key statement.
A long-standing national consensus has existed that Scotland should not host nuclear weapons and a sovereign SNP government will negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane which will be replaced by conventional naval forces. Security cooperation in our region functions primarily through NATO, which is regarded as the keystone defence organisation by Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the United Kingdom.
The SNP wishes Scotland to fulfil its responsibilities to neighbours and allies. On independence Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations.
In the absence of such an agreement, Scotland will work with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme like Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland. Scotland will be a full member of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union and the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).
Angus Robertson MP Elected Member
Angus MacNeil MP Elected Member
The above statement has the virtue of clarity and will be presented to Conference as a simple statement of claimed facts, statements of intent and negotiating deal-breakers. I use the following abbreviations to classify –
claimed fact CF
statement of intent SoI
negotiating deal-breaker NDB
conditional negotiating proposal CNP
Scotland won’t host nuclear weapons under any circumstance SoI
Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO CF
NATO is the primary defence security coordinating force in the region, the region being defined as Scotland/UK/Scandinavia CF
The SNP wants an independent Scotland to be a good neighbour to Denmark, Norway, Iceland and rUK SoI
A sovereign SNP government will negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane SoI
The nuclear fleet at Faslane will be replaced by conventional naval forces. SoI
The SNP Government will stay in NATO CNP if UK accepts the removal of nuclear weapons from an independent Scotland CNDB1 and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations. CNDB2
If agreement can’t be reached, an independent Scotland will join Partnership for Peace SoI
The timeframe over which this will take place, important dates within it, and the possible context at different points in that timeframe are crucial to possible outcomes.
26th August – 18th October 2012 – the period from now until the SNP Party Conference at Perth.
This period is significant because the debate that the SNP wanted to keep in house and on hold until the conference is now in full voice, with a cross-party, cross-interest coalition of opposition, the NO to NATO Coalition set up, the SNP CND group active and vocal, the dissident MSPs openly stating their positions and wide debate and coverage in the media.
Instead of a conference where the First Minister, Alex Salmond and the party’s chief strategist, defence spokesman and party leader at Westminster threw their considerable weight behind the proposal to the delegates, in the normally disciplined, consensual and amicable atmosphere of Conference to a group with only the leadership's paper to consider, they will now face a highly informed group of delegates, many mandated by branch resolutions on NATO membership. What was intended to be one topic among many will now undoubtedly be a principal topic, if not the principal one.
There can be little doubt that at this moment the party leaders in favour of the NATO U-turn are working hard to try to shape attitudes, to persuade, to cajole, to appeal to loyalty, in short, to use all the levers that a dominant leadership can to avoid this resolution being defeated. And as always in such situations, a danger exists that the very techniques of persuasion used, if ill-judged, will be counter-productive. Media scrutiny will be intense, not only in Scotland but beyond. This debates matters in fundamental ways to a wide spectrum of interest groups and individuals.
This was not how it was intended to be in the spring of this year, when the party spokespersons were playing the whole issue down, e.g. from the Scotsman on 16th April 2012 – ‘An official SNP spokesman dismissed as “mere speculation” reports that its leadership was considering proposing a change to the party’s policy on Nato.’
(If one took that statement at face value, the leadership didn’t start considering any change till 17th April at the earliest, but managed to produce a policy paper including one by mid-July!)
The other dates in the timeframe are as follows -
Late 2013 – launch of detailed policy papers on the shape of an independent Scotland by the Scottish Government
In effect, this will embrace the key negotiating objectives for the Scottish Government across a wide range of issues if they win a YES vote in 2014.
Autumn 2014 – the independence referendum
Following a YES vote, negotiations will commence almost immediately on the terms of independence, including the crucial defence issues. If the outcome is NO, or on a two-question referendum, a devo-max outcome, what follows is anybody’s guess …
May 2015 – latest date for UK general election
A change of government at this point early in the negotiations over independence would have major significance for the negotiating agenda: the idea that there would be a seamless continuation is untenable, and a new government could repudiate provisional agreements already reached and introduce new items to a still live negotiating agenda. It is highly unlikely that they would repudiate a fully-completed and signed agreement, however.
May 2016 – Scottish Parliamentary election
At this point, negotiations on the independence of Scotland could be complete (unlikely, in my view), near-complete (a possibility) or have a long way to go, especially on the defence-related issues (highly likely).
The implications of a change in the power balance at Holyrood or even a change of government are enormous and far-reaching.