In a new paper on a future Scottish Defence Force, Malcolm Chalmers raises serious issues about just what kind of force an independent Scotland could actually operate. He questions whether or not Scotland could afford the significant military hardware the Ministry of Defence currently plans to introduce – the new Type 26 frigates or the F-35C aircraft. I don’t know whether that’s the case or not, but what he rightly accepts – though with some qualification – is that an independent Scotland would inevitably scrap Trident.
He also acknowledges the obvious difficulty which others have also recognised – where would the new Trident operating base be? And – even more difficult – where could a new armaments depot be located? In light of these difficulties, he suggests that Scotland would accept some sort of short-term foreign-leasing arrangement for the Faslane base to continue housing Trident.
He does at least nod to the ‘widespread opposition [to Trident] within Scotland’, and acknowledges that ‘there would be strong domestic pressure on a new Scottish Government to take a brave anti-nuclear stance’, but Chalmers concludes that a new independent SNP administration would be prepared to compromise its anti-nuclear stance and accommodate Westminster’s defence needs on gaining independence, in order to maintain cordial relations. There are many, of course, that would strongly disagree with such a suggestion.
But much of Chalmers’ paper is based on the questionable assumption that an independent Scotland would overcome the conflict that its opposition to nuclear weapons and NATO would pose by joining that nuclear alliance for reasons of political expediency.
I haven’t seen any formal indication that the SNP intends to change its position, although there is a bit of speculation about this in the blogosphere. But it’s clear that an independent Scotland could not expel Trident and then join NATO without significantly undermining Scottish opposition to nuclear weapons. As Chalmers rightly states, ‘A Scotland in NATO would have to endorse a Strategic Concept that states that ‘as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance’.
But Chalmers’ assertion that remaining outside of NATO would be ‘stepping out of the European mainstream’ is wrong and must be challenged. Other EU states with similar sized economies and populations – and good relations with the UK – including Sweden, Austria, Finland and, perhaps most relevant, Ireland, remain outside of NATO.
CND welcomes the fact that a major political party is prepared to ask the hard questions about the survival of a Cold War military alliance based on nuclear weapons. We only wish more politicians would do so. NATO continues to maintain tactical nuclear weapons across Europe against the wishes of ‘host’ countries, threatens other states with nuclear weapons – as it did with Iraq in the build up to war in 2003, and engages in destructive foreign military interventions that lack support in the UK – whether in Scotland, Wales or England.
The discussions around Scottish independence could well blow open a far wider debate on the future of the NATO alliance as well as on Trident. That would be an extremely welcome development.