VLADIMIR Putin’s implied threat not to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in his war with Ukraine has put the Scottish National Party on the horns of a dilemma.
The Scottish independence movement has always taken it as a given that one of the main purposes of destroying Great Britain would be to free Scotland from the apparent necessity of hosting Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet at Faslane on the Clyde. Ridding Scotland of that ‘Unionist’ imposition is one of the few SNP policies which resonates with the non-SNP majority. What is the rationale for the policy?
On December 21, 2006, Nicola Sturgeon, as deputy leader of the Opposition in the Holyrood parliament, proposed a motion that the replacement of Trident, then being considered by the Labour government, be opposed. In her opening speech she explained why.
‘Eight countries in the world have nuclear weapons,’ Sturgeon said. ‘180 do not—and they are no less safe because of it.’
The key question here is: would Ukraine have been attacked in the way it has been if it still had the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union in 1991?
A second question is whether Sturgeon considers she has any duty to the people of Ukraine after the United Kingdom and the United States gave a guarantee of the country’s border integrity in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. This was a by-product of the accession of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the result was that all three countries handed their weapons to Russia, ostensibly to decommission them, in return for guarantees of their territorial integrity given by Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
This was not a treaty and did not result in treaty obligations, either on Britain’s or Russia’s part. But for Russia it was an important deal in that it left Ukraine defenceless against its ‘brother’ to the north at a thermonuclear level. That is what gave Putin his opportunity, both in 2014 and in 2022.
Apart from answering the easy question of whether Sturgeon was right to say non-nuclear countries are as safe as those which are nuclear-armed, the invasion of Ukraine poses a much harder one. Does she, on Scotland’s behalf, admit that her country has any responsibility for helping Ukraine maintain the integrity of its frontiers? Is she prepared to throw Ukraine to the wolves to maintain the purity of her position on Trident?
Even Sturgeon must by now be aware that Mr Putin wants the Royal Navy out of Scotland as badly as she does – and that it is the same Mr Putin who is putting Kharkov, Kiev, Mariupol etc to the torch. Is she happy to be ‘in bed’ with this man, militarily? These are questions that the hopelessly wet and unfocused Tory members of the Holyrood parliament are unlikely to ask.
It was not always so. Towards the end of the debate quoted, Bill Aitken, then a Conservative MSP for Glasgow, spoke against the SNP motion. He said: ‘The fact is that members [of this parliament] are part of a cosseted generation in that none of us has had to go to war. My father had to go to war, as did his father, but that has not happened to us because of the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons.’
He ended by saying: ‘I think that all members genuinely wish that nuclear weapons had not been invented, but the nuclear genie is firmly out of the bottle and we must deal with the situation as it is and not as we wish it was. To suggest that this country should not have a nuclear deterrent is not just to fail to learn the lessons of history but to demonstrate a naivety and irresponsibility that Parliament should reject.’
None of this deterred Sturgeon, the pure, unbendable opponent of nuclear weapons in Scotland. She said: ‘Does Bill Aitken think that the 180 countries throughout the world that do not have nuclear weapons are less safe because of that?’
Thanks to Mr Putin, we now have the answer to that question.