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Bye bye NATO, hello spooks

It looks like an anti-NATO victory over possible SNP policy change. This shows the left that it has genuine power, but we need to realise that this puts Scotland on the front line of London’s drive to ensure military hegemony.

So it looks like all that ‘SNP-in-NATO-U-Turn’ speculation looks to have come to nothing – for now at least (there being nothing on the provisional agenda for the National Council meeting I’m told). This is good news for lots of people. It is good news for the many people inside and outside the SNP who argued that this was a matter of principle and kept up the pressure to hold the line. It is good for the wider peace movement – a party in government in the UK has in effect reaffirmed the (in UK-terms) unthinkable idea that a ‘mainstream’ party might not take at face value the scaremongering of the ‘security establishment’. It is good news for the left generally, and it shows that it is possible to have genuine influence on party politics in Scotland. There is the merest sniff of good news for the people in Afghanisan who have been subject to some pretty dreadful military approaches to ‘restoring order’ in their country in that at least there is some international dissent that this gang of military powers is some unimpeachable force of nature unquestioningly able to impose its will where it chooses. (Not much consolation for those who have faced the ‘unauthorised’ bit of the NATO occupation, particularly the rape-and-murder bit carried out by those NATO ‘bad apples’.)

But above all, this is good news for the SNP itself. In a previous piece I suggested that Salmond needs to send a clear message that an attack from the right on the SNP’s policy agenda was not on. It might not have been quite as decisive or rapid a message as it could have been but all the hints I have heard have suggested that this message has at the least been strongly implied. And so the SNP may still be open to attack from people who really, really want to keep up their role as armchair generals, bragging about the ‘power’ of the UK military and how an independent Scotland would be, well, ‘a bit girly’. But then they’re going to be attacking anyway since that’s what they do, and if it wasn’t the imaginary enemy ready to eat Scotland alive unless we join the Big Gun Club then the would simply invent another existential threat to our very survival unless We All Do What We’re Told.

In turn for facing down this crap they keep their friends, they don’t look like sell-outs and they keep at least some of the credibility of a political party which does not just do what all political parties are expected to do (such as bend their will to the military establishment). Holding to the NATO policy will do the SNP no harm, will do the Yes campaign no harm and will leave other political parties to defend their own support for illegal nuclear weapons without being able to throw around claims of hypocrisy and sowing the seed of doubt as to whether the Scottish Government really means it when it says it will remove Trident from Scottish territory if independent. And if nothing else, they’re not heading to their National Council meeting in Perth to the sound and sight of angry anti-war demonstrators.

The losers? Obviously this is a setback for those who wanted a change in SNP policy. But it is no less of a setback for those who wish to control all questions of defence and security for themselves. I point (for example) to what I can only call the Scotsman campaign to put us all back in our place. Its pages give great prominence to what any general says about the possible demilitarisation of Scotland (in a way it wouldn’t give prominence to a child complaining about the de-choclating of teatime – the closest possible analogy in the realm of ‘well, they would, wouldn’t they?’). But it also held a conference recently on defending Scotland which seems to have taken as its de facto starting point that we are under immediate and existential threat. RIGHT NOW. FROM EVERYONE. RUN! I, though, am unconvinced. For example, one contributor sets out the case for why we need ‘defence’. First for internal enemies. But we’ve got the police for that. Second, for external aggressors. Like who? None appear to have been specified. And third to ‘promote and protect interests abroad’. This is stated as an unequivocal ‘need’. And yet there is no need to do this at all. We have no right to assume that a commercial interest elsewhere in the world will be protected at state expense. The whole basis of the argument is spurious.

These forces come together in a way you would expect in any John Le Carre novel. The media taken out to tea by ‘national security experts’. The politicians gently intimidated to believe they must do as the arms industry says. The strange breed of ‘security specialists’ whose provenance and purpose seems hard to pin down but which appears everywhere, always saying the same thing. This is the standard environment in London where no-one with an eye on power will ever contradict a word of it. This network must be more than a bit uncomfortable in a world where their command does not appear to be met with immediate capitulation.

And so, what do we take from this? Well, the first thing is that the left across Scotland can have an influence. Careful and focused messages making clear the implications of shifting right have worked before and they can again. Indeed, the left needs to make this a regular habit – picking issues to defend and to move and working across different groups to send simple messages. It hasn’t proved possible (yet) to create one focus for an entire agenda of policy change but a diligent pursuit of individual policies can be just as fruitful.

The second thing is that we probably need to be more vigilant about how various establishment forces are seeking to besiege Scotland on a number of issues. The NATO move proved too clumsy to be successful but the stream of little victories (a small privatisation here, a handing over of power to a business interest there) are just as much of a threat. The fear of independence has shifted Scotland to the other side of the ‘Great Game’. No longer is Scotland a reliable depositary of military assets for the UK military and no longer can it be assumed to be a reliable source of young men to die and hills and coasts from which to stage attacks. And as we know, in this game you’re either one thing or the other, for us or against us. Which means that Scotland will be seen as on the soft side of the possible enemies of the British State.

So we can take some comfort in the success of keeping the SNP honest. But we need to accept that the price is to make ourselves something of a target for the military establishment and its Book of Endless Terrors to Befall Scotland. Bye bye NATO, hello spooks.

Robin McAlpine