IN a month's time delegates will assemble in tPerth for the annual national conference of the SNP.
Unlike previous meetings when independence seemed far off, this year's conference comes only two years before the independence referendum. For that reason the debates and decisions matter as never before because they will influence the independence prospectus being prepared by the Scottish Government. The conference will also be watched by voters in Scotland, observers from the rest of the UK and further afield. It will make an important impression about the kind of nation a sovereign Scotland can be domestically and also how we will work with our neighbours and friends.
For the first time in a decade SNP delegates will debate a substantive motion on defence and security. In drafting this motion I have received substantial encouragement and advice from throughout the SNP and from external experts. At the heart of the proposal is that our defence and security arrangements should always be determined in line with the wishes of people in Scotland. Never again should servicemen and women be sent into conflicts we oppose. Never again should we be home to nuclear weapons when the overwhelming majority of people don't want them here. In contrast we should have the appropriate capabilities for our foreign, defence and security policy priorities. We should also say loud and clear that we will co-operate with our allies.
Delegates will be able to debate these priorities and my detailed proposals for the appropriate role, size, cost and capabilities of defence arrangements an SNP Government would pursue in a sovereign Scotland. A key area of the policy proposal is that Scotland should only have conventional defence capabilities. We need the naval facilities at Faslane to fulfill our maritime obligations and it would make an excellent national command and control centre. This means that Trident will have to leave Scotland.
I am also proposing that Scotland should be prepared to work with our neighbours and allies, including Nato. Our friends around the world should not be under the impression that we will turn our backs on them. Scotland is currently in Nato as part of the UK and I believe that if we reach agreement on the withdrawal of Trident we should remain within Nato after independence. Like the majority of Nato members Scotland would not possess or host nuclear weapons. Indeed we would join both Canada and Greece as members who have removed them and would take the same position as our neighbour Norway that has a strong non-nuclear policy.
Scotland is in a crucial geo-strategic location in northern Europe. This will only become more important following environmental changes to the Arctic. At present together with all our North Sea neighbours,Norway, Denmark, Iceland and the rest of the UK, we organise our conventional air defence and sea patrol through Nato. In addition Nato is critical for co-ordination, training and operations. It is in Scotland's interests to continue in Nato and our neighbours should understand that we will work with them as today. In fact we will do better than the UK Government, which has imposed damaging conventional cuts in Scotland, including the entire maritime patrol aircraft fleet.
That a sovereign Scotland should remain within Nato is also overwhelmingly supported by Scottish public opinion. In a recent YouGov opinion poll 75% of respondents wished an independent Scotland to remain within Nato and only 11% wanted to withdraw. Nearly two-thirds of respondents thought that Scotland would be safer by remaining within Nato while only 5% believe Scotland would be safer if we left.
Like many I joined the SNP because I am an internationalist and want to see Scotland play its direct part in the world. I also joined because I want to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons. The motion before the SNP conference aims to fulfill both these ambitions and Scotland will only remain within Nato if agreement is reached to withdraw Trident. It also sends a strong domestic and international message that we are getting ready for independence.
Angus Robertson MP is Westminster SNP leader and defence spokesman.
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