On NATO and Scottish Independence

In the referendum on Scotland’s independence held in 2014, I advocated what I termed a ‘YES/BUT’ position. My reason for the ‘BUT’, on which I insisted, is that, in a neoliberal world, pressures on nation states are immense. In 2022, these pressures have not diminished. However, in the context of war between Russia and the Ukraine, fresh challenges need to be highlighted.

I was horrified to learn, in The National for 17 May, that Nicola Sturgeon regards membership of NATO as a cornerstone of an independent Scotland’s security,  It seems that the SNP favours opposition to Trident only to cast us into NATO’s maw.

We need to remember that NATO is a military alliance – one whose ‘crown jewels’ are its nuclear weapons. (I quote from Thomas Meaney’s ‘long read’ in The Guardian for 5 May 2022.) To be a member of NATO is to situate oneself unambiguously in the U.S.A.’s sphere of influence. National independence can no longer be real.

I think that a sense of ethical proportion needs to be kept in mind. How the North British peninsula is to be governed is a trivial issue compared to the question of whether we base our security on the moral obscenity of nuclear threat. It is, of course, understandable that we sympathise with the Ukrainian people whom Putin wants to crush underfoot. But it is vital that we do not fall into a simplistic “goodies versus  baddies” style of politics where NATO temporarily takes a morally superior stance. States, including European states, have come to base their security on a combination of statecraft and cunning and mutual military threat. Putin’s war against the Ukraine indicates how fragile such security is. 

Trident test launch in 2012

The devil or the deep sea? When I discovered Sturgeon’s endorsement of NATO, my first inclination was to cast my commitment to Scottish independence in the rubbish bin. A moment of thought conviced me that such a melodramatic gesture was worthless. The nuclear future pictured by Johnson and the Tories (and a large part of the Labour Party) is every bit as bleak as Sturgeon’s acceptance of NATO implies. 

We are in a frightening situation. In it, I can only urge that we oppose nuclear weapons everwhere and in every shape or form. Casting Trident aside, if this is still possible, counts for nothing if independence ushers  NATO in. Fight! Fight! Fight! using direct action. In so doing, disregard laws regarding trespass and property that we do not, and cannot, respect.

Comments (16)

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  1. Antoine Bisset says:

    The UK has become embroiled in World Wars a couple of times. We joined WW1 in part because we had signed the Treaty of London the previous century. We joined in WW2 because we signed a mutual defence pact with Poland the previous week. We are now in a mutual defence pact, NATO, along with a number of countries for whom our soldiers will have to die. One of these countries is Turkey, an unstable islamic republic with strained relations with neighbouring Russia.
    We should not sign treaties or defence pacts with anybody. Governments change, alliances change. The USA is not, and. has never been our friend. The USA would willingly see the UK obliterated if it increased their hegemony in the world by a jot.
    There is no safe route. For a small nation, independence is the safest of the precarious options only if it means being independent of defence alliances and one-sided treaties. We stand alone.
    We can let the world know that, like the 93rd at Balaklava, we’ll die where we stand, if needs be.

    1. 220522 says:

      How is standing alone, rather than in solidarity with others against a common threat, the best policy?

      1. Antoine Bisset says:

        We have gone to the aid of other countries as assault of the existence of treaties. We lost a great deal as a result of WW1. I don’t expect any country to come to our aid if we are attacked, not Spain, not Luxembourg, not Slovenia. The USA has worked tirelessly to reduce the power of the UK and will certainly find reasons not to become involved. In short, treaties have only worked one way, the UK has given, others have taken.

        1. 220523 says:

          Why do you suspect that the NATO alliance wouldn’t come to our aid if we were attacked?

      2. Niemand says:

        Because you never have to commit to help others or ever make any judgments of such solidarity, so in WWII Hitler would have remained unopposed. It is like walking past the the person being attacked in the street and ignoring it saying ‘none of my business’. Though of course the neutral states in WWII reaped he benefits of those who were willing to stand up to Hitler with force. It is hard not to see at as anything other than a selfish, self-isolating stance.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Antoine Bisset, it is notable that alliances, as much of military, foreign and diplomatic policy generally, are exercised by royal prerogative in the British Empire/UK, outside any democratic influence and largely without public scrutiny..
      The Labour party in power have been as imperial as the Conservatives, as historian Mark Curtis details.

      The nature of nuclear weapons of mass destruction, with their high secrecy and security, and centralised command and control systems, have been used to steal democratic power away from the publics of nuclear states. See Elaine Scarry’s Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom, for a fuller explanation. The British royal system was ready-made for them, but look around the world at other nuclear-armed states to see how nukes warp their polities.

  2. 220522 says:

    Yep, the moralistic ‘goodies versus baddies’ narrative is a bit of a trap. We need to get beyond it in our analyses and subsequent responses.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      And, we also have to recognise where we are now and start from there.

      I have been a long time supporter of CND and still think unilateral nuclear disarmament is feasible, as do many of my fellow Scots. However, many do not, probably a greater number. And, many of them, like I do, want Scotland to become independent. Richard Gunn is right to reject his ‘perfectionist’ impulse.

      1. 220523 says:

        I’ve no doubt it’s feasible. I just don’t see why we would want to, other than as a form of virtue-signalling. Our getting rid of them alone won’t make the world any safer, however righteous it makes us feel.

        1. Are you against unilateral nuclear disarmament?

          1. 220523 says:

            I don’t see the point. Unless, of course, everyone did it.

        2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

          My comment was not so much about unilateral disarmament per se, but about the fact that, a person’s vote for independence should not be conditional on supporting something else. For example, I have read some supporters for Gender Recognition demanding that unless Scotland pledges unequivocally to support them, then they will oppose independence. (I use gender recognition here as an example because I had read such a piece in the last few days.

          You oppose unilateral disarmament, which is a valid position, and it is something we can decide AFTER independence, because, whether we like it or not we are part of a state – UK – which is strongly supportive of nuclear weapons and an Opposition which supports retention, too, despite the fact that many of its voters support disarmament and all of the Scottish Labour MSPs, bar one.

          1. 220523 says:

            ‘…a person’s vote for independence should not be conditional on supporting something else.’

            I don’t see anything wrong with using the Scottish government’s desire for independence of the UK as leverage in furthering the interests of one’s own communities. My vote for its independence is conditional on the Scottish government enacting, as an intrinsic part of the independence process, greater community empowerment and more participatory decision-making in relation to public affairs.

          2. 220523 says:

            BTW I don’t oppose unilateral nuclear disarmament; I just don’t see the point of it.

  3. Richrd Gunn says:

    I write to offer thoughts on some comments that my reflections on NATO and Scottish independence have attracted. Many thanks, for the the thought-provoking quality of what you say.

    First, I reply to the direct question asked by the editor of Bella Caledonia. Am I an advocate of unilateral nuclear disarmament? Yes, I am. I have been a member or supporter of CND from my teenage years and continue to be so today. The only change in my convictions is to add in support for Trident Ploughshares. All and every nuclear weapon must be opposed, unconditionally.

    Various of the readers who have read my piece on NATO and Scotland have asked whether I refuse to support innocents and friends. Am I like someone who walks past a person being attacked in the street, ignoring it and declaring that it is none of my business? My reply is that such a comparison is idiotic. It is true that, in my view, no-one – correction: no-one in their right mind – is morally entitled to help friends by launching a nuclear attack. Nuclear weapons are weapons whose use are indiscriminate and are weapons of MASS destruction. Besides, there are numerous ways, short of bombing, of helping individuals who are under attack. For example, our country (be it the UK or an independent Scotland) may welcome refugees and transport them safely to our shores. The UK is, of course, notoriously bad about this – especially when refugees are brown or black. To these thoughts, it may be worth adding that so-called ‘liberal interventionism’ involves bombing people whose chief role in the scenario is to die.

    To my comment on my support for CND and unilateralism, I should like to add a further thought. When unilateral disarmament has been achieved, a fresh and still more ambitious argument begins. As Alasdair Macdonald helpfully observes, unilateral disarmament in a country is only a beginning. Fear of nuclear extinction must be universal. Nuclear weapons must be banished world-wide.

    1. Niemand says:

      To be clear when I made the comment about ignoring an attack in the street I was not referring to launching nuclear weapons as an analogy. I was responding to the comment that we should not seek to offer military help to a neighbour under attack (because they would ‘never help us anyway’, apparently, but almost certainly untrue) as we did, for example in WWII, Spanish Civil War etc. I stand by that comment completely and don’t understand why you think I was talking about helping ‘friends by launching a nuclear attack’.

      For the record I support unilateral nuclear disarmament and actually went to prison in the 80s for an associated anti-nuke action.

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