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.