When I did the first blog on NATO membership a few weeks ago, I was accused by one cybernat of "hysteria" for even suggesting that the SNP intended to discuss its NATO policy at the June meeting of National Council, the other policy-making body of the party. Despite the party leadership having cancelled that "discussion", there is still a hell of a lot of egg on a hell of a lot of cybernat faces, as once again, a "dearly-held SNP principle" is about to bite the dust as "pragmatism" holds sway. It's a funny word pragmatism; it keeps cropping up in the currency of political debate whenever there is a need to change a policy position, particularly one where principle is being discarded.
Pragmatism has a long history in the SNP. During the debates on devolution in the party in the 1970s, there was a resolution calling for the party to campaign for devolution, submitted at the Motherwell conference of 1976. On my way to the rostrum, I was stopped by a senior office bearer who knew I intended to move against the resolution, and told to set aside "principle" as what the party needed was "pragmatism". I was told the Scottish people "will never forgive us if we are seen to stop them getting a Scottish Parliament". I moved the direct negative, arguing that we could never trust the Unionists to deliver and, that we were betraying our own principles by agreeing to fight on our opponent's ground, by fighting their fight for them. The party decided to support devolution and was duly stitched up in 1979 but more importantly, the Scottish people were stitched up for another two decades - because some people believed that "pragmatism" could deliver what principle could not.
"Pragmatism" dictated SNP support for the Constituional Convention - at least until the party was told it had to ditch independence. The same "pragmatism" dictated support for the EU and the euro because we could not afford to be seen as "isolationist", much better to surrender sovereignty over ever-increasing areas of our national life, after all, whatever control was surrendered to the EU would hardly affect being "independent". It is now widely recognised that anything that might cause concern to the Scottish electorate will be allowed to remain within the control of either the EU or Westminster, just so long as it can be argued by the party leadership that "pragmatism" is much more likely to deliver the desired end result of a "Yes" in the referendum. The problem for many Nationalists is recognising what the end result is likely to be. The SNP still claims to support Scottish independence, but if their ambitions are achieved, it will be a state of independence barely recogniseable to its original supporters, where agriculture, fishing, trade and commerce together with much else is controlled by the EU, where sterling will remain the currency, the Bank of England will determine monetary policy and fiscal policy will be a function of agreement with Westminster, the monarchy will continue as Head of State and Scots will still be British. A supine membership has allowed the SNP leadership to offer what is no more than a parody of an independent state that even Gilbert and Sullivan would find difficulty in doing justice.
It has not gone unnoticed among Nationalists, that the cheer-leaders for this emasculation of the SNP as a political force dedicated to the restoration of sovereignty to the Scottish people, is the very Unionist media the cybernats love to hate. Numerous articles have appeared recently, approving of the "pragmatism" of the SNP leadership and the First Minister in particular. The journey travelled by some of the most prominent office-bearers in the leadership, including the First Minister, has been much longer than that of many of the ordinary party members, as so many in the current leadership were members of the '79 Group, who pilloried ordinary party members throughout the 1980s, because they were considered to be too "right wing". There is little to be recognised of the "left-wingery" trumpeted by the old '79 Group and, when they ditch opposition to NATO, their "pragmatism" will have placed them at a spot on the political spectrum once occupied by those they claimed to despise.
Of course, it will be claimed there has been a change of circumstances, therefore a change of mind is justified. In The Scotsman of 20th July, Jim Sillars wrote a substantial piece in which he supported the change of policy to retain membership of NATO. He wrote, "I have never felt shame in a change of mind. I went from staunch Unionist to independence because I saw that as being in Scotland's interests. Although the architect of the "Independence in Europe" policy, I am less than enamoured with the EU post-Lisbon Treaty and the profoundly undemocratic and foolish handling of the euro..." Jim and I are of an age, we have been active in politics over the same time scale, although not always on the same side. I have to admit I struggle to find any change in circumstances that warrants a change from "Unionist" to "Nationalist", other than a recognition that Unionism was never in Scotland's interests and that Unionists were wrong. Nor do I see any change in the circumstances which dictate the end game of the EU. The aim of the founding fathers was always a United States of Europe, with "ever closer political union", to be achieved by "gradualism" and gaining increasing levels of control at the centre. Anybody with any knowledge of currency unions and how they work, both in principle and practice, warned over many years about the consequences of a single currency in the EU. I have written extensively on the subject over 25 years and finally left the SNP as a consequence of being unable to persuade the party members to my point of view.
Unfortunately the damage that has been done has been incalculable because people were more prepared to listen to the "pragmatists", rather than take a principled stance. Jim Sillars also argues, "Scotland geographically is crucial to NATO's integrity and capability in the European sphere. It (the USA) has a strong national interest in the maintainance of the geographical integrity of NATO, as do Germany, France and the other members. ....What could NATO members do if the SNP government says it will give their Alliance notice to quit? Snooker our membership of the EU, that's what." So, that argument states that unless Scots are prepared to continue to be a prime target if there is a nuclear war, we will not be allowed in their club. "Pragmatism" dictates that we can't afford to offend the big boys in this power game because they will isolate us if we do. This is despite the fact that no one has yet been prepared to identify a potential aggressor or enemy for an independent Scotland, an enemy so powerful as to be seen as a threat to NATO's interests. When the Alliance was formed there was no doubt that the Soviet Union was the actual as well as the perceived threat; but the Soveiet Union no longer exists, some of those which were the Soviet's client states, are themselves now members of NATO and Russia itself, is a member of the Partnership For Peace.
This is one occasion where there has been a very obvious change of circumstances, where a once very obvious and identifiable threat is no longer a threat, therefore it appears to me to be perverse to seek to strike a political stance which might have been more appropriate before the Soviet union broke up. Russia, under Putin, is not to be trifled with, particularly if like Georgia, a country was once an integral part of the Soviet Union. But that is hardly the case with an independent Scotland. I can hardly conceive of a situation where an independent Scotland would side with an enemy of England and the rUK, or of Western Europe for that matter, or to allow our country to be used as a base for aggression towards any country within that geographical area. There is really no realistic necessity therefore, for any of those neighbouring countries to see an independent Scotland as a potential threat of any description, a potential threat that needs to be brought within the NATO fold. As far as the EU is concerned, a growing number of Scots would quite happily tell the EU where to put its membership, particularly the "ever increasing political union" part. The EU is growing less important as a trading partner and if Scotland is to take advantage of its expertise and technical knowledge in the oil industry and deep sea drilling, it will be in China and Larin America, not the EU. If the rUK are so keen to retain its own membership of NATO, it will surely be just as keen to have the nuclear weapons stored on its territory. I look forward to the arguments employed by those MPs whose constituents will be asked to give them a home, after all, they will also fall heir to all the wonderful employment that goes with them.
Those SNP members who are persuaded that membership of NATO can be acceptable so long as nuclear weapons are not stored in an independent Scotland, may like to consider the "principle" behind their argument. They may believe their opposition to nuclear weapons is satisfied, just so long as Scotland does not store them. To me that is not a principled argument against nuclear weapons, it is an argument FOR nuclear weapons, but not on my soil. Nuclear weapons are fine, just so long as someone else keeps them, stores them and fires them. That way, we can shelter under the nuclear umbrella without getting our hands dirty. NATO is a nuclear Alliance with a first strike nuclear policy and, if SNP members vote to join NATO, that is what they are voting for. A vote for NATO membership but with no nuclear weapons stored here, is a totally unprincipled stance, which will no doubt be sold as yet another doze of "pragmatism" which has to be swallowed. It would be a great deal more honest to go the whole hog, retain NATO membership, keep Trident on the Clyde and preserve all those lovely jobs.
There may be some in the SNP for whom this will be the deal breaker, where membership of the party is no longer possible for them, if they want to retain their own integrity. It came much earlier for me, with membership of the EEC because it was the first step in surrendering the sovereignty the SNP claimed to want to restore to the Scottish people. No one in politics expects to agree with every policy their chosen party will promote over a lengthy period of time. If they do, they must have no principles of any sort, or they are careerists first and foremost and principles are never a consideration. That could hardly be said of anyone who joined the SNP in the early days, when the possibility of being elected to office came to very few; but there must be many party members who have had to seriously question their membership in recent years, as the party leadership has ditched one principle after another in pursuit of elected office.
It has always been argued that politics is a dirty game and if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen or, if you can't ride two horses at the same time, get out of the circus. I could always understand that line of reasoning in other parties because their aims were so broadly similar that it was a farce to argue they stood for principles of any description. That has certainly been true in recent years with Thatcher/Major/Blair/Brown et al. I always expected more of the SNP because it was more than just a political party, it represented a cause - the restoration of independence to the Scottish people. I stopped believing that when the party, in the interests of "pragmatism", adopted "Independence in Europe" and once that slippery slope had been trodden for the first time, every next step became easier and easier to take. Now, when I look at what the SNP calls "Independence" I have to ask myself if I understand the meaning of the word any more because what the SNP calls independence, falls well short of my understanding of the term. The discipline in the party in recent years has been exemplary but the loss of members has been disguised by the influx of new members, more in tune with the party's definition of independence. However, the party leadership must realise it is getting very close to the point where the revolving door it has created, is shedding members at a faster rate than it is bringing them in.
Even the watered down version of independence now being offered by the SNP, has failed to increase the numbers in favour, if opinion polls are to be believed. That suggests that Scots are not going to be persuaded by granting concession after concession; that even those who are not openly opposed, are not going to be swayed by something which is reducing week by week and which seems to offer so little change that it is hardly worth the bother. A policy which started out aiming not to scare horses, has bored them to death and removed any challenge or exitement there might have been in being independent. If the same people who produced the corrupt banks and bankers, the corrupt MPs and their fiddled expences, the same monarchy at the head of a system of privilege that reeks of corruption, are to be left in charge of large areas of our country, where are the changes going to take place that will improve our society? Sometimes, just sometimes, principles are worth fighting for, they are worth taking some risk for, some things should be done because they are the right thing to do.