Speeches in the SNP conference debate on Nato and nuclear weapons were terrific.
The information was solid, the speakers committed and fluent in presenting the argument. The intellectual, ideological and political quality put the debate right up there with the late Hugh Gaitskell’s pledge to fight, fight and fight again to save the party he loved. And Margaret Thatcher’s reminder to her conference that “the lady’s not for turning” had no more electrifying effect than Sandra White’s riposte to the movers of the motion to accept Nato, warts – if not warships – and all.
She had spoken to the grassroots and young members and informed the pro-Nato pragmatists “they want nothing to do with Nato and nuclear weapons”. And Kenny MacAskill’s “I’m tired of marching. I want a seat at the table” struck a chord with the boys and girls of the old brigade, on both sides of the debate.
But other speeches were excellent, too. John Wilson MSP from Glasgow showed maturity of understanding and a tough acceptance of the difficulties of getting shot of nukes. He showed himself to be nobody’s fool, either, in scornfully dismissing the pro-Nato members’ argument that if Scotland was a good, quiet country in the lead-up to independence, signalling our happiness at playing the same sort of role in Nato post-independence, the EU and other neighbouring states would not speak or act against us. Aye, right.
Transport Minister Keith Brown, who yomped across the Falklands as a young soldier, came at the debate from the point of view of the participant and added to the focused tensions and excitement. The adrenalin overload could be felt even by the TV viewer. When the vote finally came in, nobody was more relieved than Alex Salmond, who had had to sit out the whole thing in front of cameras ready to record for studio analysis by “experts” every blink of his eye or turn of his head.
Professional that he is, the First Minister, after the blood supply was re-established to his hitherto greyish face, kept to himself what must have been a feeling of having triumphed. This was just as well because of the very different behaviour of two of his elected representatives. These eejits were excitedly giving triumphalist high-fives – giving the impression the debate was a tribute to the triumph of keeping nukes and of humbling the losers.
Sure, they were excited at their relevance, and their narrow win was important, but loosely speaking they are part of the SNP “leadership”. The wafer-thin nature of the result showed a party divided 50/50 on the better, surer way to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland. Their duty of leadership, and demands of comradeship, is to show understanding and respect for the sincerity of their fellow party members.
The winners didn’t wipe the floor with the losers – they owe it to their colleagues to explore any possible areas for genuine joint new initiatives. Also, evidence should be produced to verify the assertions made about the policies of the EU and other neighbouring states towards Scotland unless we are willing to be part of the Nato strategy.
Also, within the ranks of those who would see Scotland independent, there is a third strand of opinion that believes it doesn’t matter how Scotland plays it, other EU countries will see parallels with internal struggles by both nationalists and regionalists in their countries. The statement from the Spanish government minister, couched as it was in legalistic, diplomatic language, told Scotland and her politicians: “Don’t call us. We’ll call you. Oh, and don’t hold your breath.”
These sceptical nationalists are every bit as hard-nosed as the pro-Nato SNP leaders are about the task in front of the first Scottish Government on the foreign affairs/defence policy area. They believe that our EU and Nordic neighbours will only take us seriously and adopt policies after the Scots have done the heavy lifting of winning independence. And that, dear readers, is when the government of the first parliament after independence will need all the talents.
Some nationalists kid themselves that the world is waiting with open arms for the great day Scotland becomes a nation again, ready and willing to contribute fully to making the world a fairer and more peaceful place. Maybe. When we show up with our credentials, having won a majority to exercise sovereignty over Scotland’s affairs. But until that’s done, we’d best all respect each other’s strengths of conviction because we’ll need every last ounce of what makes us tick to win the political and legal independence that will, alone, get us to a seat round the international powerbroking tables Kenny MacAskill correctly identifies as where we want to be.