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Showing posts with label SNP and NATO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SNP and NATO. Show all posts

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Truth and transparency in politics – unrealisable ideals or practical necessities?

JESUS: To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.

PONTIUS PILATE: What is truth?

I am an atheist, and do not recognise the Bible as the word of God, nor as an objective historical account, but I do recognise it, in its many translations, especially the King James version, as a great work of literature, of poetry, one containing deep insights into human nature and behaviour.

Like most men, I lost my idealised view of  politics and politicians early in life, recognising that the ‘art of the possible’ involved compromise, and compromise sometimes involves avoiding tight definitions if the agreement is to hold across divergent viewpoints.

For example, in diplomacy and in negotiation, ambiguity is sometimes necessary; indeed on occasion – say, in collective agreements between management and union - it is the essence of an agreement clause that it be subject to more than one interpretation, which is the antithesis of legally drafted agreements. This is sometime called the “agree fuzzy now, fight detail later if necessary …” approach. So like Pontius Pilate, politicians only ask the question What is Truth? rhetorically, and don’t expect an answer.

The first duty of a politician is to gain power, the pre-requisite of any political programme, however high-minded. But in a democracy, a politician with any real values must constantly test expedient actions against two fundamental questions -

Does the greatest good for the greatest number outweigh the rights of the few or the individual?

Does the end justify the means?

Professors of ethics will tease you with many ethical dilemmas relating to these questions. Suffice to say, there is no absolute answer to either of them. To both, I say sometimes the answer is yes, dependent on circumstances and sometime the answer is an absolute no – for me, anyway.

The possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction provides my absolutes and I say that to possess them is absolutely wrong and to contemplate their use or to use them is absolutely wrong. I also say that it is at best naive, and at worst hypocritical to suggest that they can be possessed with no intent to use them, and without taking appalling, unacceptable risks.

There are sharply divided views on whether the United States of America and Harry Truman were right in their decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, or whether it was a crime against humanity, indefensible against any ethical standards. (I say ethical and not religious standards, because many ministers of religion then and now have defended the use of nuclear weapons.)

Their use then was justified by America by saying YES to both of the questions above. The only mitigation I can suggest for Truman is that it was the first use of nuclear weapons, no one knew for certain what their destructive power really was until that moment, no other country had them, so a nuclear exchange leading to Armageddon could not have resulted, and the destructive power, awesome and terrible though it was, was as nothing to what can be delivered today by a single Trident submarine.

Scotland will soon be facing great choices in its march towards what I hope will be its independence as a nation – a non-nuclear nation. If that great goal is achieved, the credit will be substantially the SNP’s – the great progress towards it could not have been achieved achieved without them, and without the belief, commitment and unremitting hard work over decades of many people with a great ideal. The campaign for independence is now being led by the SNP but with the involvement of  many other groups and parties, and groupings within the three major parties.

But there is now a worm in the SNP apple and that worm is NATO. NATO is a nuclear alliance, committed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and the dominant countries within it will brook no interference from the member countries within NATO with non-nuclear policies.

When the critical decision must be made on the first use of nuclear weapons since 1945, NATO will not seek the permission of the member countries in a democratic vote, nor will they seek the endorsement of the people or the UN. The dominant nuclear powers in NATO will act militarily and unilaterally to unleash the whirlwind – that is the stark, realpolitik.

If a nuclear strike is launched, every member of NATO will be culpable, whether they endorsed it or not.

For an independent Scotland to seek membership – or a continuation of present UK membership – of NATO is wrong and dangerous. Attempting to hide behind Norway’s stance and that of other non-nuclear NATO members is wrong because they are wrong to be members, and because membership of a nuclear alliance is incompatible, any way you slice it, with a non-nuclear stance. The current status of Scotland as the home of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is also fundamentally different from any other NATO member country.

In recent months, the SNP has failed in transparency over their defence policy and failed in transparency over the intentions of the leadership in relation to NATO. They have allowed speculation to rage unchecked from their opponents, and they have not only failed to inform their supporters of their true intentions, they have actively misled them by pretending that no game was afoot, leaving many members – not me – defending the indefensible.

I intend to blog in detail on this, with facts and detail, but today, I had to say this to get it off my chest. But maybe all is not lost …

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Mitchell Survey of SNP members – and Scotland on Sunday

Scotland on Sunday is in full unionist attack mode today, in the guise of objective journalism. Read it and the Sunday Herald side by side and you might wonder if they published in the same country. Kenny Farquarson is in his Cassandra mode, tapping the side of his nose knowingly and making confident forecasts about SNP defence policy changes, and keeping the kind of company that goes with his theme – George Robertson and Jim Murphy.

I have to say that little in the Mitchell Report will come as a surprise to anyone in the party: the age profile of activists, the strands of opinion on defence issues and on NATO. Anyone conducting or consuming a review of grass roots membership views and their demographic profile in any major British political party and expecting to find a monolithic consensus on fundamentals of policy or a party comprised of young activists was going to be disappointed.

I know from my own writing on the nuclear issues, on defence matters and on the monarchy (I’m in favour of retaining the Queen) – and the responses to them - that my core beliefs on these matters are not uniformly shared across the SNP. Like any social democratic party, the SNP is centre left, and by definition contains some views to the right of that spectrum.

Compared to the deep schisms and near anarchy of the three unionist parties, the SNP is an oasis of consensus and rationality.

The nuclear issue and NATO are defining issues for me, but since no other major party is anti-nuclear or anti-NATO in its policy, if that policy changed I have nowhere else to go, except to some fantasy land of a re-grouping of the left in a new party committed to Scotland’s independence before the referendum. So I will stay with the party to independence, whatever shifts it may or may not make in policy.

However, I  have hopes - but not high hopes - that the SNP will move swiftly to a decisive restatement of policy on defence and NATO – the policy is clear enough – and will comment on the Mitchell Report. Perhaps it won’t, and will feel it more appropriate to keep its eye on the independence ball. I will understand that priority, but be disappointed.

If the SNP were to abandon its non-nuclear stance and compromise on NATO, it would lose part of its soul, and as the only major British party with a soul, that would be sad, and realpolitik would reign supreme.

And though they spoke with the tongues of men and of angels they would become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

(with apologies to Paul, to the Corinthians, to James Mason and Carol Reed.)