Thursday, 25 October 2012
NATO And The EU
After a conference in which the SNP leadership's main aim was to convince the delegates that it was essential for an independent Scotland to join NATO and attained their goal by a very slim margin of consent, Alex Salmond and the rest of the leadership could have been forgiven for congratulating themselves and returning to the humdrum business of running the country.
Before I leave the NATO issue, I have yet to find verification for Angus Robertson's adamant statement in which he insisted 75 % of Scots want Scotland to belong to the organisation. All I can find is reference to a poll dated July 2012 and commissioned by the SNP, in which 1,008 people in Scotland were asked a question about staying in NATO and 756 seemingly supplied an affirmative answer. Is this one poll a suitable sample on which to base a complete change of policy from a party which has rightly been proud of being against nuclear weapons?
I struggled to understand why the issue had suddenly received so much prominence, particularly when no friend of mine had ever mentioned membership of NATO and many have voted SNP because of its non-nuclear stance.
On Monday, two list SNP MSPs tendered their resignation from the party in protest over its new NATO policy. The departures of John Finnie and Jean Urquhart leave the SNP with 65 MSPs and an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament of just one. Both MSPs will now represent their electorates as independents but will support the Yes campaign for independence.
I don't accept the majority of Scots want to belong to NATO and cannot understand why NATO membership is so essential to winning the independence referendum. It's not about silencing their opponents because NATO was seldom mentioned in political circles until the SNP suggest they may be considering a change of policy back in the summer. It could be about putting some meat on the bones of a weak defence policy but will that be enough to attract floating voters in the next two years? Or will voters reject a party which now supports a nuclear alliance?
A couple of questions I would like to ask Alex Salmond - "Have you taken any specific legal advice from Scottish Government legal officers about your decision to include, in your new policy, that Scotland's membership was dependent on Trident nuclear weapons being removed from Scotland? Has NATO been informed of this and if so what was the response?"
For the past 24 hours Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and other senior members of the party have been on a damage limitation round of the television and radio studios, in an effort to stem the flow of accusations about the First Minister being untruthful regarding membership of the EU. It's my view he was ambiguous in the Andrew Neil interview but does it matter?
The average voter doesn't watch the Politics Show so probably was unaware of the controversy created by the implication that the Scottish Government had received legal advice about EU membership.
For those like me who are anti-EU membership, I always assumed that any government paper, prior to publication, is forensically examined by the best legal minds the Scottish Government can provide. Being a trustworthy soul, I also assumed that SG legal beagles would have been in touch with their counterparts in the EU to ensure that what is made public meets their legal requirements. However, that's not so and I've learned a good lesson; no government document is necessarily legally correct.
The First Minister, in the past 24 hours, has cited the Ministerial Code on several occasions, however it provides only guidance and is not a rulebook. Does the citing of the Ministerial Code make it appear as if the First Minister is hiding behind a mysterious piece of Scottish Parliament documentation? It would seem so.
How damaged is Alex Salmond from the last few days? He may be able to ride the storm about his words in the Andrew Neil interview, but the loss of two loyal MSPs on a point of principle may do the party much more harm in the long term.