No room for SNP’s nuclear naivety as Putin threatens world
THE SNP has always struggled with foreign policy — remember Alex Salmond’s dismissal of air strikes against Serbia in 1999 as ‘unpardonable folly’?
In fact, the British intervention in Kosovo ended what the United Nations later described as ‘a systematic campaign of terror’.
The former First Minister and his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, are sworn enemies these days, but they share common ground as opponents of the Trident nuclear deterrent — which the SNP describes as a ‘immoral, ineffective and expensive’.
It’s a philosophy that takes no account of the harsh realities of the modern world — which suits the separatists, as they’re long accustomed to coming up with policies for a Scotland free of the UK yoke, which deep down they know are unlikely ever to be enacted.
But in the context of Putin attempting to re-draw the map of Europe — while casually issuing threats about the use of nuclear missiles — the SNP’s continued anti-Trident stance is not only barmy, but also downright dangerous.
The party’s Commons leader Ian Blackford believes it’s ‘far-fetched’ to think that the weapons would protect Britain, and he envisages ‘absolutely no change’ to the SNP’s position.
The Ukraine crisis has triggered a fundamental re-think on defence across Europe, with Germany deciding to hike its spending to more than 2 per cent of it economic output.
But there’s no such gear-change for the SNP, even in the face of a dictator who thinks nothing of killing children to further his aims.
Mr Blackford’s colleague Angus Robertson was questioned about the party’s anti-nuclear agenda on the BBC’s Any Questions programme on Friday, and was at pains to make clear that he didn’t want to be drawn into a debate about independence.
Old habits die hard, however, and within seconds he was claiming that Scotland could still be a Nato member if it didn’t have Trident missiles based on the Clyde — Denmark and Norway are in the Alliance, after all, and don’t allow nuclear weapons on their territory.
Mind you, Nato’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has said an independent Scotland would ‘not automatically’ become a member of the group, and would have to gain the approval of all 28 allies before it could re-join as a new country.
Independence is a one-way path to geopolitical irrelevance — one that would leave us ever-more isolated at a time when long-established assumptions about the world order have been shattered, virtually overnight.
Of course, most rational people want to see the end of all nuclear weapons, but the current deterrent has served us well for decades.
The UK has signed up to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — we now have the smallest stockpile of nuclear warheads of the five nuclear weapon states (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US).
But the steps taken to reduce the stockpile haven’t led others to follow suit, so getting rid of ours entirely would leave us easy prey for megalomaniacs like Putin.
Russia has 6,375 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has 5,800, and China has 320, compared to 215 in the UK, while Pakistan, India and Iran have never confirmed nor denied having nuclear arsenals — and none of them have ever signed the Treaty on non-proliferation (from which North Korea withdrew in 2003).
The SNP says the government running the rest of the UK can do what it wants after Scotland has seceded, as long as it moves Trident out of Scotland — a kind of high-level nimbyism.
But its white paper on independence contained an acceptance that Scotland would have to allow Nato nuclear-armed vessels to transit Scottish waters.
Ahead of the 2014 referendum, some military analysts suggested that the SNP hierarchy were more open-minded about keeping Trident than the majority of its grassroots supporters.
In effect, they might be prepared to keep the missiles based in Scotland in return for concessions at the negotiating table — retaining Sterling might well be top of the list.
Gambling with national security is light years away from Mr Blackford’s high-minded rhetoric about the evils of Trident, but we know independence trumps all other priorities — indeed it often seems there are no other priorities.
The problem is that the Greens are now in government in Edinburgh, limiting any room for manoeuvre.
The SNP has become a prisoner of a policy that has been exposed as utterly unsustainable, but ideological incoherence is par for the course for the Nationalists — and we can expect them to carry on regardless.
Margaret Thatcher, who was a strong supporter of the nuclear deterrent, described defence spending as being like ‘home insurance’ — ‘you did not stop paying the premiums because your street was free from burglaries for a time’.
Putin’s deplorable actions have prompted rapid reassessments of defence expenditure around the world, not least in the UK where the Armed Forces have been subjected to reckless cuts under successive governments.
The SNP’s plans for a Scottish army post-independence were risible — the fag-packet blueprint it came up with resembled a Dad’s Army-style home guard more than a professional militia.
Yet defence is — or should be — the overriding priority for any country, and it is sobering that it has taken Putin to despatch his troops across the Ukrainian border to remind us of that simple truth.
It’s also worth remembering that Faslane and Coulport support around 8,000 jobs, which under the SNP’s anti-Trident plans would disappear — much like the 100,000 jobs dependent on the North Sea oil industry, which the Nationalists have now disavowed.
The UK’s Trident missiles are carried by four Vanguard-class submarines, at least one of which is always at sea on strategic patrol to provide a credible counter-strike capability intended to deter any aggressor.
They are due to be replaced by new Dreadnought class boats from the early 2030s at a cost of £31billion, with an additional contingency fund of £10billion, spread over 35 years, equating to about 2.5 per cent of Government spending each year.
The annual cost of maintaining the deterrent is estimated at about £2.5billion — these are big figures, but realistically it’s peanuts when it comes to national self-defence.
Their critics like to claim that weapons of mass destruction could not morally be used, and that the ballistic missile forces have made no appreciable contribution to the safety of UK citizens over the past half-century.
But the proof that they’re worth having is the absence of nuclear conflict, and the idea that morality figures meaningfully anywhere in the discussion, with Putin’s forces killing children and fleeing refugees, isn’t tenable.
The fantasists of the SNP have grown accustomed to drawing up grand plans for an alternate state, despite no real evidence they can manage the existing one.
But there’s no place for its naïve insularity in the midst of war, when a ruthless tyrant has ripped up international law — and is determined to plunge Europe back into its nightmarish past.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on March 8, 2022.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant