Full disclosure at the outset – I won’t be at SNP Conference this Friday, or indeed at all. Despite what some who should know better may claim, it costs delegates a bob or two to pay our attendance fees and go along, far less to partake of a Snowball or two as part of the evenings’ socialising. A previous post of mine may give a hint as to why this isn’t an option for me this year. [EDIT] Thanks to a combination of very kind family & friends, and a delegate dropping out at the last minute, I shall indeed be heading to Perth. I am a relieved, grateful, and happy weegie.
But I still have an influence on the resolutions being discussed at Conference as a rank and file member, along with thousands of others who’ve been discussing at branch meetings across the country the main item on this year’s agenda – the SNP’s position vis a vis future NATO membership. And let’s make absolutely sure that point is underlined at every opportunity – it’s the party membership who ultimately determine this or any other policy position of the party, now or in the future, and when our opponents attempt to denigrate that fact, ask how much internal democracy is on display at one of their interminable panel sessions. It would be wrong to say the level of knowledge and passion displayed by the fellow members of my branch on this fundamental debate was surprising, because they are, amongst a multitude of superlatives, knowledgeable and passionate. But it has fair gladdened the heart to see us take our deliberations seriously, scrupulously, and in good faith.
It’s a debate, however, that isn’t necessary. Not because our nation’s continuing post-independence membership of NATO isn’t important. And not because we should avoid difficult issues because they might ruffle a few feathers. But because we are setting a chunk of our manifesto on the table four years out from the very election we want to present it at. Scottish NATO membership won’t be determined at Conference, wasn’t decided at last year’s Scottish Parliamentary Election, and it won’t be determined at the referendum. Our country’s position on NATO membership can only be decided at the inaugural elections to a fully sovereign parliament in Edinburgh, because it’s only that which provides any incoming government of whatever political stripe with the mandate to commence legislative work on previously reserved matters.
That may all seem fairly self-obvious. But sadly, it’s a message that seems to have been lost over the last couple of months.
A great deal of the focus has been, entirely correctly, been on the position of Trident and the associated bases and infrastruture in a post-independence, pro-NATO Scotland. So I’ll not dwell too much on that aspect, except to say that the residents of Akrotiri and Dhekelia who thought Cypriot independence might mean the end of UK military bases on their land would seem to have been disappointed. Or have a gander at the Treaty Ports left in place on the soil of the newly-indepdendent Irish Free State. Concentrate instead on the wider foreign policy implications of continued NATO membership.
I don’t think I’m alone in the world in being a mite sceptical at US external relations. When any country manages to outlast the decrepit Soviet Union and the pomp of the Victorian British Empire in an Afghan occupation timeline, you know something’s gone a bit Pete Tong.
Being in NATO means a tacit acceptance – and I would argue, endorsement – of these and other follies. I don’t suggest that France and Germany agreed with the invasion of Iraq, or indeed individual acts of successive US administrations. But by remaining shackled to a US-dominated military superstructure, we place a great deal of our national and moral interests in the hands of the Pentagon. The same Pentagon that funded right-wing extremists in their 2002 coup against democratically-elected Hugo Chavez. The Pentagon that decided the fact that 17 out of 18 of the September 11th murderers were from Saudi Arabia was grounds to drop cluster bombs on Afghanistan, install their man as President, then later begin negotiations to bring the Taliban back in play. The Pentagon that lends its support to the reprehensible occupation of Palestine by funneling tens of billions of dollars of military aid into the Israeli regime. Frankly, I could fill another 1,000 words with the grotesque failure and immorality of successive occupants of the White House, Democrat or Republican. We want no part of it.
If NATO genuinely was a pooling of military resources and assets amongst nations in a spirit of mutual respect and co-operation, I don’t doubt we’d feel differently about it. But it’s not. It’s a Cold War relic, an historical artefact kept in operation for its benefit to those promoting a greater Pax Americana. Whether it’s the UK government or Scottish government accepting of this, I don’t want those making decisions in my name to accede, however implicitly, to these values.
We’ve been patronisingly told that maintenance of current party policy would be handing a gift to those who seek to lower the aspirations of the Scottish people and keep the wheels on the UK jalopy. What an insult. What a disgrace. The idea that we as a movement should roll over on a key core of what makes who we are, on the basis that some Unionists may clap their hands in glee, is as idiotic as it is unthinking. It’s the same logic I came across at a selection hustings many years ago, where a candidate addicted to self-promotion and muppetry§ proclaimed “Your vote could make Labour FURIOUS!”. Even my bum-fluff chinned self could see the inherent insult implicit in such messages – ‘don’t support who or what is best – support what winds up your opponents’. What an abdication of belief, of vision, of ideology.
There are undoubtedly many genuine, principled supporters of NATO in the SNP. I extend the utmost respect to them, particularly for sticking to those beliefs when we on the other side were confident our views would coincide with the party’s views for the foreseeable future. The members and activists I know who’ve consistently maintained their stance are amongst the best I know. I would encourage them to stick to their guns and vote with their beliefs.
But those who would seek to vote Yes to NATO because they’ve been told it’s the easy path, because it’s what certain individuals and external interests want, because they fear the response from our political and media opponents – I hope they consider the lessons of New Labour, and the results of chiseling away at our core values and political soul bit by bit. Sooner or later, there’s no more soul to chip.
§ Dorothy Grace-Elder in 1999, since you ask.