AMONG those who can contemplate mass slaughter, the euphemism is sometimes the deadliest weapon of all.
It can be launched without warning, as if from a clear sky, and leave not a trace of rational thought behind. It lays waste to self-respect, too.
Take the phrase "non-nuclear weapons states". On the face of it, the words bear only a single interpretation: countries without nukes. According to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey are just such paragons. It is, after all, a well-known fact: these are staunch Nato allies who never make the lists of nuclear club members.
But this doesn't mean – see how the euphemism detonates – that they don't have piles of nuclear bombs lying around, ready for use. Nor does it mean that their pilots are not trained in the delivery of such devices. The Germans send their aircrew to the United States for that very purpose. This is what Nato likes to call "nuclear sharing".
Granted, the "gravity bombs" in question are merely tactical. They could only immolate certain bits of an unspecified enemy's population. Granted, equally, that there are far fewer of these devices than there were back in the 1970s, when the US was parking 7300 nukes in Europe. And granted, above all, that the Germans, Belgians and Dutch now want rid of these relics. But strangely, that part is proving tricky.
Others in Nato insist that a deal is a deal – having bombs that can be delivered by Europe's dual-capable aircraft is central to the spirit of a mutual defence treaty. Preening yourself on your virtue while expecting the Americans to do the nuclear dirty work is bad form. Malcolm Chalmers, head of the nuclear security project at think tank the Royal United Services Institute, put it best in a recent paper on Nato's "nuclear dilemma".
Proponents of tactical nukes argue, wrote Chalmers, that "as long as extended nuclear deterrence plays a central role in Nato doctrine - it is important to ensure that as many member states as possible are involved in the maintenance of the forces that symbolise that policy, not least because this act ensures that non-nuclear states then have to 'dip their hands in the blood' of preparing to use these weapons".
As the organisation itself puts it, while describing the latest "Strategic Concept", agreed in 2010, "as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, Nato will remain a nuclear alliance". Lest there be any doubt, its website adds: "The supreme guarantee of the security of the allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the alliance."
So the question arises: are Scotland's Nationalists prepared to "dip their hands in the blood"? For members of Nato, it's not optional. Anyone who says we can claim a seat in the organisation after independence and inoculate ourselves against moral responsibility misrepresents reality. Above all, they misrepresent Nato. Yet that is exactly what is going on as the SNP leadership prepares to discard still another principle.
The motion for the party's October conference from Angus Robertson, defence spokesman, states that "an SNP government will maintain Nato membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and Nato continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN-sanctioned operations". To paraphrase: we want the jersey, but we don't want to play the rough, dirty game.
That will sound very fine, no doubt, when an independent Scotland claims its place on Nato's nuclear planning group, which brings together the defence ministers of all 28 member countries except France. The forum, as Nato describes it, constitutes "the senior body on nuclear matters", dealing with "a broad range of nuclear policy matters, including the safety, security and survivability of nuclear weapons, communications and information systems, as well as deployment issues".
What view will Robertson offer, one wonders, on "deployment issues" where Trident and alliance loyalties are concerned? And how will he express his delight at being in partnership with countries – England, the US, France and the like – whose stated yet supremely illogical intention is to preserve their nuclear weapons for "as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world"? Why would an SNP government be so eager to keep such company?
The tawdry answer isn't top secret. The party leaders are deploying another referendum-busting bombshell. If polls say the voters are keen on Nato membership yet opposed to Trident, the voters will be told this tortured compromise is available, rational and even – ignoring a few facts – moral. Since the Unionist parties are wedded to nuclear lunacy, the SNP shouldn't lose too much support. Or so the thinking goes.
It will lose one vote, that I can guarantee. As the months have passed and the notion of independence has been boiled down to a tepid soup – new name, same taste – I've been anticipating this moment. I've done my best to work out how Scotland can be independent, in any sense, under the Crown and within the sterling area. But Nato is another matter. Nato membership is submission to a doctrine and the doctrine is criminal.
I'm being immature, obviously. Jim Sillars, who has been around these arguments a few times, warns darkly that Nato countries will take revenge if submission is not forthcoming. He claims Scotland's membership of the EU would be at risk if the SNP prefers "never-never land" to Nato. (Someone had better tell the Irish.) But equally, Sillars also seems to think a defence policy and a referendum vote are the same thing.
The difference needs to be remembered. We will not be voting for a government in 2014. SNP policy towards Nato is irrelevant to the referendum, just as the SNP's supposed enthusiasm for the Queen or the pound is irrelevant. A future Scottish Government will not be bound by the policies Alex Salmond cooks up to get a Yes vote. Nevertheless, those policies might destroy his chances of forming such a government. There's an irony.
I'll vote for independence any day of the week. I won't vote for a Potemkin village, all facade and no substance, just because Salmond decides such is our destination.
Has Angus Robertson mentioned, meanwhile, that the Afghanistan catastrophe is "Nato-led" under the auspices of the UN? The mission fits his motion perfectly, and it remains an abomination.
The SNP leadership might yet be brought to its senses. Some of the membership have realised, not a moment too soon, that unquestioning loyalty is not invariably a virtue. Had they asserted themselves sooner, the cause of independence would not be in such peril. But that's probably why my variety of nationalism has no need of capital letters.