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May 24, 2012

thetimes

'From Cold War to Kosovo to Kabul, the alliance has proved its worth, which leaves the SNP isolated and looking daft.'
By Lord Robertson of Port Ellen

There is widespread speculation that Scotland's governing SNP is about to U-turn on its long-standing opposition to NATO membership. No wonder. Of the many questionable policies of the SNP, its hostility to the NATO Alliance is one of the daftest.

As we saw last weekend in Chicago NATO is the world's most successful and popular collective defence alliances. Created to stop the relentless march of Stalin's communist empire after World War 2, it saw off the old enemy. It then reached out to help the former members of that empire make the transition to democracy and civil control of their military. By 1995 NATO was there to stop the hideous violence of the war in Bosnia, in 1999 it again had to save the Kosovar Moslem majority from Milosovic's ethnic murderers.

Even today NATO leads the anti-piracy response to the threat to tankers in the Indian Ocean, assisted the African Union in its mission in Darfur and of course it has an enduring mission to allow Afghanistan to join the mainstream world. Difficult tasks certainly and far from its original role in countering the USSR, but essential and irreplaceable in a world of continuing turmoil.

All that means an ever-lengthening waiting list of countries wanting to join. Not one country even considers leaving. France, for decades a semi-detached member, is now fully back in the fold. Apart from Belarus, all members of the old Warsaw Pact are now full members. In Chicago they sat round one table, all part of a unique alliance of free nations.

The 28 member states of NATO know that in this interconnected world there is no credible defence in going it alone. Future defence contracts and purchases will be done collectively in NATO and to benefit you have to be at the table when the decisions are made. The huge number of defence jobs in Scotland today simply won't exist if Dads Army neutrality is to be our future.

The SNP finds itself utterly isolated among respectable and serious European and North American political parties. Their tribal hostility to NATO is shared with only a handful of odd-ball, extremist and Communist parties. That is why the embarrassment of isolation has now forced the Nationalist leadership to find a way to reverse the policy without their fundamentalists nailing them to their history.

The SNP has held firm for years to its anti-NATO stance even though the top-brass know it is an indefensible albatross round their neck in the long run-up to the Separatism referendum. But the gut of the party is still anti-American, neutralist and with a whiff of pacifism - and it will not easily brook change just because the First Minister raises a white flag.

Like many of us, these party stalwarts remember and they still applaud the remarkable and critical words of Alex Salmond when NATO intervened in Kosovo in 1999 to stop Milosovic's murdering, raping, burning, and expelling of its Albanian majority population. Even as the cattle trucks carried the terrified refugees into neighbouring Macedonia, the SNP leader called the humanitarian intervention 'unpardonable folly'.

Alone among Europe's political leaders he deludedly thought that Milosovic would respond to diplomatic soft words. To this very day the Nationalist leader will still not apologise for his disgraceful breaking of ranks as horrific war crimes were being stopped and Kosovo and its people were struggling for their independence. It will assuredly make the coming u-turn all the more difficult to sell.

Because there is a serious question of credibility involved here. The Leader will of course get his way; he brooks no dissent, but is this a recognition of the fact that the previous policy was wrong-headed or just another policy body-swerve designed to make Scottish separatism more sellable? After the Queen and the pound is it just another public relations move to market the SNP's policy for secession from the UK? Are they willing to ditch every previous policy for short term polling gain?

The electorate in Scotland is not gullible and it does not like being taken for fools. Scots know that NATO has long been the cornerstone of our country's defence. The Scots don't see themselves as Ireland or Austria (often quoted by SNP speakers) with controversial traditions on neutrality. They want to play their part in the collective defence of their country - even if the threat is from far away. So they won't be conned by a phoney exercise in papering over SNP cracks.

No issue defines more dramatically the fitness to govern in today's complex and dangerous world than defence. If the SNP really aspires to be the party of government in a separate Scottish state, they will have to do more than conveniently ditch unpopular policies; they will have to grow up and genuinely embrace the responsibilities of power. Up to now they have studiously refused to do so and it is little wonder that support for separation remains stubbornly low

Lord Robertson was Secretary General of NATO, Defence Secretary of the UK and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.

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