Some policies are so flawed that their catastrophic shortcomings can be articulated in a single image. General election campaigns are peppered with examples of visual messages so reductively powerful that they isolate, in the minds of voters, the essence of why they shouldn’t vote for a party or candidate.

Margaret Thatcher was already on her way to a convincing victory in 1979 when the Conservative party ran its now infamous ‘Labour isn’t working’ billboard advertisement, depicting a long queue of people snaking out from an unemployment office.

The same party won again in 1987 thanks, in large part, to a campaign poster depicting a British soldier, arms held aloft in surrender, above the headline “Labour’s policy on arms”.

The image conveyed more effectively than any number of words or debates the futility of Labour’s then policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The Herald: HMS VictoriousHMS Victorious (Image: free)

It was a moment of awakening for the party, which had abandoned its long held commitment to an independent UK nuclear deterrent seven years earlier, under the sclerotic and dangerously deluded leadership of Michael Foot.

An extensive defence policy review confirmed, in the minds of the new leadership, that if it was ever to hold power again, it needed to grow up.

The naïve belief that a nuclear power single-handedly disarming would ultimately lead to every other state with nuclear weapons following its example, thereby making the world a safer place, was always for the birds.

Almost 30 years on, that remains the policy of the SNP which describes nuclear weapons as “wrong strategically, morally and financially”.

While its politicians stick steadfastly to talking only about arrangements for an independent Scotland, the implication is clear: it believes the UK government’s spending on nuclear weapons is immoral and wasteful and that it should unilaterally disarm.

Sir Keir Starmer’s announcement, last week, that a future Labour government would aim to raise Britain’s defence spending to 2.5% of GDP, and renew the Trident weapons programme on the Clyde, was met with predictable outrage and handwringing from nationalists.

The SNP’s defence spokesman Martin Docherty-Hughes described the commitment as “grotesque” and accused Sir Keir of “throwing billions down the drain”.

But for how much longer can the SNP continue with a policy that is informed by factors and concerns other than security, and is riven with inconsistencies and contradictions, not least of which is that, under its plans, an independent Scotland would remain part of NATO, a nuclear alliance?

In an SNP-led independent Scotland, the UK’s Vanguard-class nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered submarine fleet, based at HMNB Clyde, 40 miles west of Glasgow would be removed.


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The Royal Naval Armaments Depot Coulport on Loch Long, where UK nuclear warheads are stored, processed, maintained would be mothballed, while the Faslane Naval Base on the Gare Loch, where the Vanguards are homeported, would be retained as a conventional military base.

Initially, under Alex Salmond and continued under his successors, the SNP has crafted a distinct national identity for an independent Scotland on the international stage, positioning it as a proactive, and positive, force in global affairs.

Under this model of "new politics" – articulated in the Scottish Government’s 2013 white paper on independence – Scotland would actively engage in global issues, operating as a mediator, facilitator, and an advocate for peace.

The problem for the party, is that many of the arguments and comparisons it used to bolster its arguments then, have since been taken over by events, which have had the opposite effect.

Several studies examined Ukraine's denuclearisation following the Soviet era, a decision that, like in Scotland, was influenced by its national identity conceptions.

The establishment of an independent Ukrainian national identity, which portrayed Kyiv’s relationship with Russia positively, was pivotal in the elite's choice to abandon the country's nuclear legacy.

Ukrainian politicians and officials supported the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the belief that, by renouncing nuclear weapons, it would bolster its international reputation and affirm its new identity as a responsible member of the global community.

How many of those in that country’s current leadership now regret the decision, wondering whether Vladimir Putin would have thought twice about invading a nuclear armed Ukraine?

In drafting the 2013 white paper, Salmond drew parallels with other nations, including Norway, Finland, and Sweden which, he argued, made the kind of contributions to international peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and development aid to which he aspired as leader of an independent Scotland.

Since then, Finland and Sweden have moved to be part of the NATO nuclear defence umbrella, and Norway regularly hosts NATO exercises, in large part as a response to the threat of Russian expansionism.

It was never intellectually sustainable for the SNP to propose that an independent Scotland should abandon its financial commitment to supporting the nuclear deterrent while accepting the protection afforded by NATO and its nuclear armed members.

While there are non-nuclear NATO members, Scotland is already structurally and practically enmeshed in a defence relationship with what would be its closest ally, and to disentangle that would be expensive and potentially catastrophic for the defence of both countries.

Westminster would face significant challenges in establishing alternative facilities to replace Faslane and Coulport, as there are currently no viable sites within the UK. Even if a solution was devised, involving the relocation of residential, commercial, and industrial properties to accommodate new facilities, it would entail enormous costs and could take up to 20 years to complete.

In those circumstances, the rest of the UK would be compelled to reassess the viability of maintaining a nuclear capability, given the challenges and expenses involved in replicating Faslane and Coulport or developing an alternative nuclear delivery system and infrastructure. That would inevitably leave the people of Scotland less, rather than more secure.

Nor has the SNP committed to meet the level of defence spending that is expected of NATO members, stating only that it would spend the money saved by scrapping Trident on bolstering conventional forces.

The Herald: Angus RobertsonAngus Robertson (Image: free)

A defence white paper unveiled by Angus Robertson, the party’s external affairs secretary, last month, suggested an independent Scottish government would create its own diplomatic network worldwide, establish a new intelligence agency, and develop a comprehensive armed forces infrastructure encompassing air, land, and marine capabilities.

However, there was no mention of associated costs, nor of how a defence budget would be allocated, what kind of weaponry would be purchased, or how many troops would be recruited and trained.

In keeping with doveish sentiments associated with scrapping Trident, clearly the party doesn’t want to be drawn into discussion about the billions of pounds it would be necessary to spend to defend its citizens, nor of the specific kind of artillery, tanks, and combat aircraft it would purchase.

With a general election pending there’s plenty of scope for other parties to make hay with the SNP’s woolly, conflicting and morally ambiguous defence policy. It can’t say it hasn’t received ample warning of an imminent attack.