Relations between SNP members and the party leadership have been under strain recently over the Salmond affair and the lack of preparations for Indyref2, so you might have thought that they would be looking to mend fences. Not so. The high heid yins seem to be provoking an even deeper division by watering down the party’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament.

CND supporters in the SNP are furious that the defence motion for this week’s conference has ditched a commitment to signing the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This follows the party’s recent submission to the UK integrated defence review which did not mention unilateralism and instead referred to the dreaded words “multilateral nuclear disarmament”.

As The Herald reported this week, defence analysts like Professor Phillips O’Brien see this as a sign of “maturity” by the SNP –  a coming to terms with the reality of being a member of Nato, which is a nuclear alliance. But many SNP activists, including the former leader Alex Salmond, definitely do not. They see it as preparing the ground for nuclear weapons to remain on Scottish soil well after independence.

This is hugely controversial and it seems bizarre that the leadership has chosen to make this move now, when even senior members of the UK defence establishment are saying Trident is an expensive anachronism. Unilateralism is in the SNP’s DNA – it’s in my DNA too. Like many of the older generation of Scottish nationalists, my mother, Chrissie Macwhirter (the first woman to become National Secretary) originally joined the SNP because of its commitment to renounce, unconditionally, weapons of mass destruction. She did so because of Labour’s abandonment of this principle in favour of supposed multilateral disarmament. Ever since, the SNP has been the only major party committed unequivocally to the true faith.

Multilateralism implies that our nuclear weapons will be dismantled only when everyone else disposes of them by international agreement. This sounds sensible, prudent even. But the problem is that it has manifestly failed. There has been very little actual disarmament in the half century since the UN’s Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) committed the nuclear states to “pursue negotiations in good faith toward nuclear disarmament”.

Good faith went out the window during the Cold War, and especially in the 1980s. The introduction of intermediate range nuclear weapons in Europe, like cruise missiles, led to genuine fears that a war was imminent. There were massive demonstrations across Europe; peace camps were set up in Greenham Common and Faslane; CND supporters linked arms across Scotland in the biggest protests seen here until the recent independence marches.

The 1984 BBC docu-drama “Threads” about the impact of war caused near panic. It was called “the night the country couldn’t sleep”. Rightly so, since both the US and the Soviet Union were committed to the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD. After the collapse of communism it emerged that only the wit of a Lieutenant Colonel in the Soviet Air Defence, Stanislav Petrov, had prevented nuclear war breaking out in 1983 when a surveillance satellite wrongly identified five US missiles heading for Moscow.

Tensions eased in 1987 when Russia and America signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty halting the installation of cruise and Pershing missiles. But the nuclear threat never went away. Only last year, Donald Trump scrapped the INF. Vladimir Putin has been hailing his new “invincible” hypersonic nuclear missiles as an expression Russian national pride.  Many more countries have acquired nuclear weapons since the 1960s. India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea and potentially Iran. So for supporters of CND, the threat is very real, even if the general public seems relatively relaxed.

They suspect that the language of multilateralism is being used to defer the whole issue of nuclear weapons, much as Labour did under Neil Kinnock in 1989, when it abandoned unilateral nuclear disarmament for electoral reasons. The supposed commitment to multilateral disarmament didn’t prevent Tony Blair forcing through the renewal of Trident in 2007 to the dismay of Labour’s many unilateralists – including one Jeremy Corbyn.

Now the same process appears to be happening in the Scottish National Party.  I say “appears” because the leadership insist that they are as committed as ever to getting rid of Trident if and when Scotland becomes independent. But textual analysis of the defence motion for this week’s conference and of their submission to the UK defence review, suggest otherwise. It looks as if a large dollop of multilateral fudge is being deployed.

At the very least, the SNP seems to be engaged in the New Labour tactics of “removing the negatives”: quietly disposing of policies that appear to be unpopular with voters. Very few in the SNP leadership actually want to keep nuclear weapons, but they think independence should come first. Why have a policy that loses votes? Younger SNP members are mainly interested in gender politics and climate change. The party adopted Nato membership in 2012 which implied acceptance, at least, of US nuclear weapons in the Clyde.

CND respond that it is possible to be a non-nuclear member of Nato, like Norway or Denmark. More importantly, they point out that, as recently as 2017, Nicola Sturgeon was an enthusiastic supporter of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The TPNW was the great achievement of the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN. The omission from this week’s SNP conference motion is significant because this Treaty has just been ratified by 50 UN countries, which means it becomes law in January 2021.

ICAN sought to use international law to outlaw nukes, much as biological weapons were successfully outlawed in 1993. Weapons that kill civilians indiscriminately, like Trident, are already technically illegal. Though the nine nuclear states have always used their muscle on the UN Security Council veto their abolition. ICAN sought to mobilise non-nuclear states arguing that their very existence is threatened by nuclear weapons, and that they have a right to demand security.

CND supporters naturally assumed that a sovereign independent Scotland would sign up to the TPNW and are dismayed that this has been removed from the conference motion. The SNP leadership should restore it pronto if they have any sense. This party has too many splits and divisions right now to allow a fall out over nukes.