The SNP hierarchy got its way at the party’s conference in Perth yesterday, 19th October, narrowly [394-365] winning the vote to ‘update’ the party’s defence policy to support potential membership of NATO by an independent Scotland.
Those who lost by 29 votes have agreed to respect the vote – but this was the day the SNP formally sold its soul.
Angus Robertson MP, a politically unappealing apparatchik and the lead protagonist in this move, was fully Blairite in the case he put. ‘You have to respect the evidence’, he claimed repeatedly, in a stormily received torch song for pragmatism [if that's not a contradiction in terms].
The evidence offered was that the polls show 75% of Scots want to see Scotland, independent or not, under the NATO umbrella. The consequence for the SNP leadership is that therefore the party must adopt a pro-NATO membership policy.
This method of divining policy by following the polls sits oddly with continuing the campaign for independence when poll results continue to show a substantial majority for retaining membership of the United Kingdom.
The SNP position on this one is that they hope to persuade people to change their minds on independence – a reasonable and honourable intent.
So why not hope to change minds on NATO – a more universally important and equally reasonable and honourable ambition?
It is arguable that the day Blair persuaded the Labour party to abandon Clause 4 was the day the party forgot its identity and found that an irrecoverable loss. It wasn’t about Clause 4 as such. It was about whether or not the party retained its core values and about whether or not those values and the principles they bred still took precedence.
This was the party that went on to replace the rights of the workers, enshrined in Clause 4, for the rights of the rich.
Power compels compromise in a manner we regard as ‘corrupting’. A party prepared to compromise in order to get power can be guaranteed to offer little resistance to more serious compromise if it gets into power.
Labour, after its abandoning of Clause 4, went on to be, in power, one of the most unprincipled regimes we have lived through – and often totalitarian, as in much of the poorly framed and philosophically shocking legislation put up by David Blunkett as Home Secretary and scrambled through by the party’s Yessir majority.
An SNP which can agree to oppose Trident yet ask to be a member of NATO – with that organisation’s lead policy of first strike nuclear deterrence – can expect, should it win the independence referendum, to see its leadership find a way of letting Trident remain at Faslane.
And the principled party faithful who fought so honestly yesterday, would have no leverage then.
The degree of distortion of its nature the SNP has now shown itself prepared to accept in the cause of independence now makes that independence itself a tissue-thin fiction.
Independence has to be more than a spivvy salesman’s relabelling of second hand goods.
Scotland, as planned, would have an ‘independent’ head of state – the Queen; an ‘independent’ currency – the GBP; ‘independent’ policy making powers – dictated by the European Union; and an ‘independent’ defence policy – governed by NATO membership.