Thursday, May 19, 2022

The SNP leadership's doublethink on nuclear weapons is unsustainable - polling evidence shows the Scottish people want to join the treaty banning nukes completely

Perhaps the most insufferable aspect of the ongoing debate about reform of the GRA is the claim of those on one side of the debate that they are on "the right side of history" and that their opponents are on "the wrong side of history".  They sound exactly like Marxists when they say that, because Marxism is one of the few ideologies that insists the course of history is predetermined (and arguably it's already been proved wrong about that).  For non-Marxists, considerably more humility is required, because it's very difficult to tell whether you're on the right side of history when you're living bang in the middle of it. In 1940, for example, it seemed obvious to many people that fascists were on the right side of history, at least within the confines of continental Europe, because the fall of France and the Low Countries seemed to leave no route back.  Philippe Pétain's guiding principle in reconstituting the French state after the Nazi invasion was that the 1789 revolution's goals of 'liberty, equality and fraternity' had been defeated forever.  But then Hitler overreached himself by invading the Soviet Union and declaring war on the US. From that point on it seemed equally obvious that the course of history favoured the Allies, and that the future of Europe belonged to liberal democracy and Soviet-style communism.

Sometimes, what appear to be the prevailing trends of history can even contradict each other in the here-and-now.  Due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the momentous decisions that have subsequently been made by Finland and Sweden, it seems obvious that Europe's destiny is to unite under the NATO banner against a common enemy to the east.  But it's equally obvious that there's a trend in recent years towards challenging the assumption that nuclear weapons can never be eliminated, with dozens of countries signing up to a new and legally-binding treaty that bans nukes completely.  Those two historical trends are more or less in direct conflict with each other because NATO is a nuclear weapons alliance.  And yet somehow the SNP leadership have got themselves wrapped up in both.

How did that happen?  Support for the nuclear weapons ban treaty can be explained by the legacy of the SNP's long-standing status as a unilateralist party, which the membership will accept no overt backtracking from.  The support for NATO membership stems from the desire of self-styled 'modernisers' at the top of the SNP to make the party look more 'normal', with 'normality' being defined as centre-right militarism.  (During the SNP conference session a few years ago at which opposition to NATO membership was finally overturned, Alyn Smith infamously said that he was upset that the party's principled stance on peace was making it look 'odd'.)  There's been an uneasy narrative that NATO membership is not strictly incompatible with the removal of nuclear weapons from Scottish soil, but that attempt to square the circle may have been pushed beyond breaking point by the emergence of an actual nuclear ban treaty with very strict provisions. 

The SNP's militarist wing has now been emboldened by the war in Ukraine to such an extent that the defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald felt able to openly express his willingness to allow NATO nuclear weapons to be temporarily welcomed in an independent Scotland - totally at odds with his party's supposed belief that all such weapons should be wiped from the face of the planet.  That triggered a timely intervention from CND Scotland, who pointed out that McDonald's words are not even compatible with the text of the treaty that the SNP apparently want an independent Scotland to sign and be legally bound by.

Is there any way at all that NATO membership can be squared with joining a legally-binding nuclear ban treaty?  It doesn't look easy to me.  Only three EU countries have ratified the treaty so far - Ireland, Malta and Austria.  Those are all neutral countries where there isn't even any serious debate about the possibility of joining NATO.  Sweden initially voted in favour of the treaty but later decided against joining, and that was presumably partly because NATO membership has never been a non-issue in Sweden (and in neighbouring Finland) due to geographical proximity with Russia.  Now that Sweden has actually applied to join NATO, it's surely unthinkable that it will join the nuclear ban treaty in anything remotely close to the foreseeable future.

So in the real world, the SNP leadership may have to make a straight choice between whether NATO or the nuclear ban treaty represent "the right side of history", rather than pretending that both do simultaneously.  At the very least, they need to be honest with themselves and with others that what they claim to want to do - join both NATO and the treaty - is not only unusual ("odd" as Alyn Smith might put it), it's totally and utterly unique.  An avowedly non-nuclear independent Scotland would of necessity be a very different sort of NATO member, not a full-blooded 'mainstream' member like Belgium or Denmark, and there needs to be an acknowledgement of that.  

And if a straight choice has to be made, let's remember where Scottish public opinion stands on the issue of the nuclear ban treaty.  A poll commissioned by this very blog one year ago asked about the subject, with dramatic results...

Scot Goes Pop / Panelbase poll, 21st-26th April 2021:

Nuclear weapons were banned by an international treaty that came into force in January this year.  However, the nine countries that are currently believed to possess nuclear weapons, including the UK, have so far refused to sign the treaty. Do you think the UK should join the treaty and dismantle its nuclear weapons?  

Yes: 47%
No: 33%

With Don't Knows removed -

Yes 59%
No 41%

The other point I'd make is that if the SNP leadership think Alba's disappointing results at the local elections means they've crowded out any alternatives within the indy movement to Smith/McDonald-style militarism, they'd better think again.  We in Alba are determined to forge on - to survive as a party and then to thrive.  But regardless of whether we succeed or fail in that endeavour, the fact that the SNP have voluntarily gone into coalition with an anti-NATO party means that the alternative position is alive and well and living inside the Scottish Government itself.


  1. As a Marxist, I find it ironic that you first dismiss the Marxist way of thinking, and then you proceed to make an excellent Marxist analysis (i.e. materialist interpretation of historical development) of the geopolitical issues with WW2, NATO and the nuclear weapons ban treaty, and to point out their contradiction - another favoured Marxist term.
    I assume you will take this as an insult, but I assure you I tell it as a compliment.

    1. It's always good when you think a species is extinct then suddenly one appears. I look forward to seeing you on one of David Attenborough's programmes. 😀

  2. The membership and supporters are secondary constituents to be satisfied. Sturgeon, Robertson, McDonald, Smith, Nicolson, Yousaf, Gilruth, Crawley & Grady are primarily concerned with complying with the demands of their handlers in the US State Department.

  3. An interesting and informed article. Sounds like another mess created by the SNP themselves. Deliberate or accidental (incompetent)? I particularly liked your final paragraph re Alba.

  4. More moaning about the BBC.

    WGD numpty Dr Jim has this to say: - " It also turns out that Ukraine TV showed more coverage of Scotlands FM in Washington DC than the BBC in Scotland. These folks are in the middle of the most horrible war yet their broadcasters could find the space and time to cover the event. Wherever you were in America there was a news channel on which Scotlands FM could be seen."

    How Jimbo knows Ukraine and the whole of America were glued to their TVs watching Sturgeon I have no idea. Did he quickly tour Ukraine and the USA checking all the news channels😂😂😂. What I do know is that Sturgeon will not complain to the BBC as she is of the opinion the BBC is a key and valued institution. So Jimbo's idol ( Scotlands FM ) does not share his opinion of the BBC. The classic numpty response to this - silence.

  5. If only Scotland's independence movement had a female leader like Sinn Fein. We would be an independent country right now if that was the case.

    1. Thicko Hamish100 obviously has a problem reading accurately as he reads in to my two sentences all manner of assumptions that he wants to make. He tries to claim I am referring to the deputy leader of Sinn Fein but obviously I said the LEADER. He also tries to claim I am referring to Northern Ireland yet I make no mention of N. Ireland. Other numpties like Grizebard all then pile in based on Hamish's stupid comments without checking what I posted. No wonder I call them numpties.

    2. Thicko Hamish100 now realises he has been posting a lot of pish so he resorts ( without thinking of course) to a standard " his attacks on the FM are misogynistic..." . Now as I am suggesting that we would be better served with a FEMALE leader like Mary Lou McDonald rather than Sturgeon just how is that misogyny. These numpties really are thick. Hamish would have seemed a bit brighter if he had stuck to the usual stuff like Unionist or pretend independence supporter when they have no answers to points made e.g. Just why does Sturgeon love the BBC?

  6. What is Alba's policy on NATO membership?

  7. It's no coincidence that right wing American nutter Sarah Palin was born in a car.

  8. I don't think it's as black and white as that. Personally, I think nuclear weapons are evil and should be eliminated. It really is regrettable that they ever got invented. However, the reality is that our western liberal democracy is being threatened by a nuclear power, at least on some level. It seems therefore as a matter of realpolitik that being a member of NATO, whether that organisation has access to nuclear weapons or not, is a jolly good idea.

    I am not a militarist. I come from a long line of left-leaning freethinkers, my grandfather was a communist and conscientious objector, but I'm also old enough to realise that sometimes you need to set aside your principles in the short term if you wish to maintain them in the longer term.

    So, in the real world, I see no doublethink required. I also doubt, sadly, that in the real world we shall ever see total nuclear disarmament and so these dilemmas will continue to haunt us.

    1. I'm sorry, but "nuclear weapons are evil and should be eliminated, so let's set that goal aside, possibly forever, oh and by the way joining a nuclear weapons alliance is a jolly good idea" is doublethink. In fact it would be the best possible textbook example of doublethink. And one obvious problem with your plan to take an extended holiday from your principles on nuclear disarmament is that you'll just have to hope that you and the rest of human civilisation aren't obliterated before the holiday is over.