Wound Up in the Weeds of Westminster

There’s a century long tradition of MP’s with radical intentions taking the train to Westminster and getting caught up in Westminster’s cultural and political weeds. Recently Scotland on Sunday ran an article on the SNP Westminster defence team’s submission to the Ministry of Defence consultation on the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP).

Based upon the SOS reportage and the accompanying article by the SNP’s defence spokesperson it appears that some of the relatively new batch of SNP MP’s have become tangled up too.

What was said in the article (my request to the spokesperson for a copy of the submission remains unanswered ) was in some respects relatively uncontroversial, though once again the Westminster group endorsed the “Resurgent Russia “trope.

However, one aspect of the submission is certainly controversial, and should be of concern to all in the SNP and the broader anti nuclear movement who think that Trident removal is , or should be, the overarching priority in any SNP defence and security policy. If anyone thinks otherwise, I would advise them to watch a recent lecture on the matter. Noam Chomsky at St. Olaf College – May 4th 2018,


The SNP submission, according to SOS reportage, deplores the UK Government’s failure to bid to have the reconstituted NATO Atlantic Command established in Scotland. If the NATO Atlantic Command were stationed in Scotland it would be used as another block to remove Trident.  Bizarrely then, we  have the UK Ministry of Defence saying no thanks , at least for now, to the SNP’s Westminster defence teams offer to put in place a barrier on the road to Trident removal from Scotland.

In policy terms the Westminster group’s decision to back a beefed-up NATO presence in Scotland raises serious questions about their commitment to crafting an road map for the removal of Trident from the Clyde.

They engage, as they should, in the discourses around UK defence and security matters yet have, as far as I am aware, have had little so say about the developing of a road map for Trident removal.

Of course in political terms, that aspect of their submission destabilises the delicate balance where NATO membership is tolerated, rather than supported, by the grass roots membership of the SNP. Lest the Westminster Group forget , though in fairness some of them weren’t even in the party at the time, and they may not know this, the pro NATO switch was “won” by the tiniest of margins, a mere 15 votes.

Tooling up for future constant expeditionary war as Americas imperial auxiliary , as the UK’s existing and future procurement program irrefutably proves, continues to lie at the heart of British defence policy and to be fair the SNP defence team have, on occasion, distanced themselves from some of that. Moreover long before the Westminster newbies arrived other parliamentarians were developing important diplomatic links at the United Nations during the formulation process that gave birth to the recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

However the Westminster group cannot be allowed to forget that they represent a party that aspires to independent statehood for Scotland and their  role as UK legislators is secondary. Consequently they should be taking a more nuanced , informed and frankly useful position on “Russian Resurgence”, rather than allowing themselves to be portrayed as Theresa May’s “loyal” opposition on the matter.

NATO  has decided to reprioritise its naval forces in the North Atlantic and no doubt we will hear much more about it when the Undersea Defence Technology Conference takes place in Glasgow in June. Moreover I’m not suggesting that this “resurgence” be dismissed. However the reality is that Russia is not the Soviet Union. Despite its sometimes-violent bluster, Russia sits in or around tenth place in the defence expenditure league tables, depending on who’s league table you look at.

I do recall attending a Conference on an unrelated matter 18 months ago in Stockholm. At one of the conference receptions I was introduced to a Russian who became very angry when I point out, that Russia no longer had the military reach of the former USSR.

It’s undoubtedly the case that Putin’s Russia is very loud and in some parts of the world violent too, but then again who isn’t? Recently, in the week of the RAF’s centenary,  it’s Head pointed out that it’s operating at a tempo not matched since World War Two.

If we in North Western Europe have security issues with the Russians they are not, in the parlance of defence analysts “kinetic” , they are in realms of cyber security and fake news.

Moreover the “ready audiences” for the fake news and its variations are made “ready audiences”  in large part by the inaction of Western Governments. The Scottish Government is about to do what it can in this area. However, given its limited powers its ability to mitigate will be limited too – and grievance discontent and disillusionment with the political mainstream will probably continue to fester to the electoral advantage of the far-right.

Of course Westminster Defence team are entitled to take a position on Russia’s fake news offensive and related cyber security issues but that position cannot be allowed to weaken the SNP’s stance on Trident removal.  Any pronouncement from anyone in a key position in the SNP cannot consider themselves immune to challenge if they undermine this central tenet of a defence and security policy for an independent Scotland, removal of Trident from the Clyde.

Every detail of SNP defence and security policy and indeed economic policy needs to be stress tested against the road map of Trident removal. Not to do so , as the announcement of a desire for a significant increase in NATO infrastructure in Scotland graphically illustrates, shows what happens when policy is formulated in the Westminster – Whitehall bubble.

It should be noted that in early 2016 the Royal United Services Institute , HQ around the corner from Horse Guards in Westminster, hosted a seminar in the Scottish Parliament to discuss the “Resurgent Russia” theme to its members in Scotland but really it real aim was to sell the theme to the SNP.

Those of us who attended the event,  were told it was to be the first seminar. in a series of six. However RUSI have never been back and given the Westminster SNP call for more NATO infrastructure in Faslane, RUSI clearly don’t feel they need to come back.

There’s  irony of course in the underlying reason why the MoD did not bid, just yet anyway, for NATO’s reconstituted Atlantic Command. That underlying reason is the attitude to NATO of the grass roots membership of the SNP.

At yet another social event, this time at an SNP fundraiser on home turf, a leadership figure mused with me over how the post 2014 mass membership SNP would view the pro NATO membership position. The consensus was that the current NATO  policy would have no more durability than snow on a spring dyke if exposed to open democratic debate by the membership of the party.

At the time I stressed that I had no wish to open up the matter again, that everyone understood that NATO membership would be tolerated as long as it was not aggressively proselytised .

The Westminster group has by there own actions put the issue of NATO back on the agenda. To dodge it now is no longer an option. Some might argue that this submission by the defence team does not technically represent party policy.

However the SNP’s NATO cat is now well out of the bag again and it has to be addressed, the actions of the Westminster Group leave us with no choice.

Comments (22)

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  1. Lena says:

    Interesting post highlighting one of several ‘difficult’ areas for the SNP in relation to defence/intelligence. Use of Prestwick in area of rendition flights is another.

  2. kevin brown says:

    I am an SNP member, for now, but I am becoming increasingly disillusioned. I am one of those who joined in 2015.

    It is most upsetting to me that the SNP is becoming just another ‘evidence optional’ neo liberal party. When I survey Russia’s behaviour in recent years, I don’t see it as ‘resurgent’ or especially aggressive, but rather as reactive to NATO outrages: the NATO engineered coup against the Ukrainian government springs to mind.

    And regarding Russian ‘fake news’, I read an interesting post by Caitlin Johnson recently, to the effect that RT would be out of business almost instantly if *anti war* commentators such as Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, John Pilger et alia were allowed a voice via the western corporate media — which of course they aren’t. Pointing out such inconvenient facts as NATO’s post 1989 encroachment on Russia’s borders, for example, is ‘bad for {the armaments] business’, and we can’t have that now can we?

    I guess posting the above makes me a ‘Russian troll’. I am beginning to have major misgivings about belonging to a political party that has joined the rush to war by joining the Washington and London based chorus that the Russian Federation is the boogieman (today’s ‘red beneath the bed’) against whom we must REARM, REARM, REARM!

    1. Iain McIntosh says:

      I believe Russia is like a bear, respect it and live in harmony with it and you will not have any problems.

      Poke it, surround it and make false allegations against it, and you will have problems.

      Russia has poor human rights internally, but is it any worse or better a country than the US that has ruined the Middle East, executes people before the use by date on a drug expires, pulled out of the Paris treaty and pulled out of the Iran deal, most definately not.

      Regards the SNP, are they perfect, no they are not. But the SNP are the only force that will lead the Scottish people to freedom and out of NATO. United we stand, divided we fall, etc. Could the SNP be any more clearer on trident – no! I have trust in the SNP, I do not trust any british political party!

      I too wish to be clear of NATO, mainly becasue it is an offensive force rather than a defensive partnership. I also look at Ireland and how well they manage without NATO and have good relations with all countries. Can you imagine the bewilderment if you asked an Irish person if they missed not being in NATO? But whilst we are in this cursed union, we too sadly are in NATO, with clenched teeth.

      No political party is perfect, but in Scotland the SNP are the only party that is worthy of trust.

      P.S. I would give my back teeth to see John Pilger do an investigative documentory on Scotland and the union.

      1. Jamsie says:

        Facts dear boy, facts!
        They maybe inconvenient to the nationalist but most people still prefer them to fiction.
        NATO has never been an offensive force.
        It is an organisation formed for mutual defence which has occasionally strayed into peace keeping.

        1. Jamsie says:

          And I do believe the SNP is committed to being part of NATO.
          Are you another nationalist who is off message?
          Nationalism seems to be one contradiction after another.
          Is it any wonder Indy is not the choice of the people of Scotland?

          1. Iain McIntosh says:

            “british Nationalism seems to be one contradiction after another.”

            Davidson today was calling for powers to be devolved from London, last week Davidson was voting for powers to be retained by London.

            Who is right, Davidson or Davidson?

  3. Alf Baird says:

    If there were to be a snap UK election then I expect to see SNP MP’s and candidates campaign for their own and Scotland’s withdrawal from Westminster upon election should they secure a majority of Scottish seats. SNP candidates therefore only require the one single policy objective – that is to dissolve the UK union as far as Scotland is concerned. The people of Scotland can then determine for ourselves all NATO and Trident matters and all else without other nations telling us what we can and cannot do. However if the SNP leadership and candidates again refuse to campaign on an independence ticket, which is a fundamental denial of the party’s raison detre, they will stand to lose the trust of many more supporters and members, which is what happened at the last GE.

    1. John O'Dowd says:

      Absolutely correct Alf. We don’t need permission to take our independence. As we have seen both in IndyRef and Brexit, Referenda are manipulated and tampered with, and give inordinate power to the organised forces of occupation.

      Indyref 2 promises to be even worse – with the forces of evil better prepared and better organised.

      Scotland was betrayed by a previous rigged Parliament – our salvation should come by the Parliamentary route.

      There will also be something deliciously satisfying about this being achieved by the UK’s favoured rigged electoral system – first past the post.

      Such sweet symmetry!

  4. john young says:

    We will find out to our cost that the SNP are just another political party who,s “raison d,etre”is tolook out for themselves,they will go with whatever as long as they are drawing a wage from the public,I know many that would ditch them in a minute but have no real alternative,get shot of the lot of them they are all just the same don,t we ever learn politics/politicians will mos certainly fail you.

  5. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    Before we all get our ‘nickers-in-a-twist’ let’s just remember where this came from – SoS and we all know their lack of veracity when it comes to the SNP.

    1. Yes Charles. Nothing can ever be wrong because of the bad media.

      1. Iain McIntosh says:

        Is suggesting that people should take into consideration the stance of a paper and an article’s intention when accessing an article, not an extremely valid point?

        Being condescending to readers is not helpful!

  6. Alan Crocket says:

    A timely and perceptive article. As an SNP member, I deplore recent statements in the Commons by some of our MPs which could perfectly well have fallen from the lips of the most rabid warmongering neocon nutcase.

    Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP group, approvingly quoted the notorious Henry Jackson Society on Russia and, joining the jingoist throng, elevated the Skripal incident to “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”, i.e. an act of war. He expressly associated his fellow SNP MPs with his remarks, thereby implying that he had canvassed them and got their approval, though I would be dismayed if that was the case. He was equally impetuous, blinkered and self-righteous in his cast-iron certainty that in the Douma incident “the absolute horrors of chemical weapons and chemical warfare were laid bare” and “families and loved ones were murdered in the most horrifying circumstances”.

    Here’s Stewart McDonald, SNP defence spokesperson, on Skripal: “Everybody understands what is happening here today and there can be no criticism of the tone that the Prime Minister has adopted. She will know that, under article 4 of NATO, she can raise this as a concern with our NATO allies. Does she intend to do so?” Well, just as a matter of interest, Article 4 of NATO states: “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” God help us if an attempted murder, whether by Russia or not, can conceivably threaten the UK’s territory, independence or security. His suggestion that it should trigger the provisions of the largest and most lethal military defence pact on the planet is ludicrous and incendiary.

    Similarly indignant, Martin Docherty-Hughes of the SNP Westminster Defence Team, and member of the HC Defence Committee, fulminated: “I commend the Prime Minister for their statement and the robustness with which they addressed the House. Will they assure the House that in the coming days, when they discuss next actions with our allies, they will act robustly with some of our more recalcitrant NATO allies—notably Spain—who give port facilities to the Russian fleet to allow them to refuel? Enough is enough.”

    In a context where NATO has for years been goading Russia along its Eurasian border, and we are being softened up with continuous anti-Russian propaganda, I regard such remarks against that country, a large, heavily-armed and nuclear sovereign state with which we are, thankfully, still at peace, to be foolish and dangerous, nor do I think they reflect the view of most people in Scotland, still less of SNP members.

    (Incidentally, if they are so concerned about (alleged) state murder, perhaps they would care to direct their attention to Section 7 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994, which allows a UK minister to authorise the commission abroad of any crime whatsoever, and which is in fact a wider latitude than that given by the equivalent Russian law, which restricts such acts to the suppression of terrorism.)

    And while these three were huffing and puffing about Russia, Stephen Gethins, SNP spokesperson for international affairs, sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is supposed to hold the Foreign Secretary to account, and which had Boris Johnson in front of them for two solid hours, declined to lay a glove on him. The whole session was just a free pass for Johnson, with Gethins coming across as a full member of the cosy club.

    I say nothing about the good work of those MPs on other matters.

  7. Graeme McCormick says:

    Instead of getting drawn into the Westminster web the SNP should be drafting a defence policy for an independent Scotland including the costs involved and the equipment required.

    There is no reason why The First Minister does not appoint a Cabinet Secretary for Defence and Security now as part of preparing the nation for Independence.

    Pre contract discussions could take place with defence equipment suppliers, a framework for service employment contract could be prepared, and council areas could be invited to bid to host the facilities required. Counter terrorism and cyber security units need to be developed here and now.

    We have to confront British Nationalist Defence values with an alternative which is realistic and ambitious

    1. Clive Scott says:

      Graeme, good post. I
      simply do not understand why the SNP have not worked out an equipment procurement list and fleshed out a budget for it. A starting point would be to list what Norway, Sweden and Denmark have in the way of military assets and from that see what Scotland actually would need for coastal defence. No need for any of the power projection toys so beloved by the nutters in the MOD and the Westminster fruitcakes. No need for any second hand rubbish from rUK either – start afresh with all equipment brand new, with everything that floats built in Scotland.

      1. David Allan says:

        Clive and Graeme

        I recommend a read of Common Weal’s “How to start a new Country” Robin and his team have made reference to the issues you refer to . Ideas and solutions in abundance on procurement as well as all matters on potential defence policy.

        I imagine Peter Murrell will have a similar SNP working group investigating similar topics!

  8. tartanfever says:

    Russian fake news and cyber interference. Really ?

    Funny, and I thought it was down to a posh boy schooled at Eton running an UK based company that was operating such practices.

    Double Agent Colonel Skripal involved with UK citizen Christopher Steele (former spy turned private investigator) , the man hired by Hillary Clinton’s team to produce a ‘dodgy dossier’ to de-rail Trump’s Election campaign, who subsequently went into hiding.

    Remember when the Russia was accused of hacking into Vermont’s power grid and ‘killing pensioners’. Turns out that was real ‘fake news’

    And the Podesta e-mails, where Podesta was victim to the most basic of phishing e-mail that most people just delete as spam nowadays. No sophisticated, national scale computer fraud happening here.

    Or the DNC hack, where US whistle blower Bill Binney, ex NSA Global Intel Chief, demonstrates that the amount of data downloaded in the given time frame was impossible as internet connection speeds that fast simply do not exist in that geographical location. It had to have been physically downloaded by an inside source on the DNC staff.

    Where the author says:

    Consequently they should be taking a more nuanced , informed and frankly useful position on “Russian Resurgence”, rather than allowing themselves to be portrayed as Theresa May’s “loyal” opposition on the matter.

    I would suggest he may consider doing the same.

  9. SleepingDog says:

    Actor A does not need a military budget if they can fake an act of war by Block B against Counterblock C. The closer our weapons systems come to automation, the easier they are to fire by artificial intelligence (although social engineering may be almost as perilous).

    From Whence the Threat to Peace? Perhaps we should consult the modern equivalent of the oracle. As Chomsky says, detecting violations of international treaties are easy enough when leading officials of rogue states are brazen enough and actually boast of breaches. Wind up the doomsday clockwork and let us compute.

    Back briefly to constitutional law. Chomsky says that the USAmerican constitution holds valid international treaties to be the highest legal authority. The UK “constitution” holds God, then the monarch to be the highest legal authorities. So Armageddon is legit on Queenie’s say-so (did anyone ask Meghan if she’d consult her President before pressing the Big British Button?).

    Perhaps it matters little what political manifestos say: if nukes ain’t legal, wrap up the Trident crimes scenes in yellow tape, invite the IAEA inspectors in, and step back from the brink.

  10. Ottomanboi says:

    As we see in the case of North Korea possessing nuclear weapons has psychological ‘clout’. The concern by the US that Iran should not develop such a clout speaks articulately of their geo-political significance.
    A nuclear England next to a non-nuclear Scotland may suit some old style anti-bomb veterans but others might consider that a cause for sleepless nights given the likely uncertain direction a gung-ho British state outside the EU might take.
    Nato has proven itself a useful tool of American interests. History indicates those interests when given expression, rarely subject to veto, have had deleterious consequences.
    An independent Scotland ought ideally to be non-aligned but with the capacity to counter the threats of ‘régime changing’ states and the means to defend itself if necessary.
    To think otherwise does raise the question of what is meant by the terms ‘independence’ and ‘sovereignty’.

  11. Wul says:

    “To think otherwise does raise the question of what is meant by the terms ‘independence’ and ‘sovereignty’.”

    Hmm….dunno. Perhaps we could ask the 95% of independent, sovereign countries in the world that manage fine without the capability to fry millions of their fellow human beings in a few seconds..

    1. Ottomanboi says:

      The current situation in which the great US of A finds itself, effectively ‘trumped’ by the skilfull moves of Kim, suggests that when dealing with the self-styled ‘leader of the democratic west’ it pays to have some aces up ones sleeve.
      Fear of the US and its nuclear capability has kept the world in check for decades. No longer. Perversely, Kim has shown how to do it when confronted by a ‘régime changing’ bully and rogue state.
      I have no love of nukes but compared to continued US hubris and hegemony they begin to look less rebarbative.
      The world has always been a dangerous place even before nuclear devices. The one constant is the mega-power with global imperialist ambitions dressed up as ‘peace’ prepared to crush all the uncooperative.
      Nuclear NK has put a stop to this one and amazingly won a few admirers in SK into the bargain

  12. Wul says:

    John Maclean said that we need armies because we steal from other people.

    Perhaps the bomb signifies the size of the thefts that we have made.

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