Robertson's warning on 'cataclysmic' independence plan

Former NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson. Photo: PA

Former Labour defence secretary Lord Robertson has never been one to hold back on rhetoric.

So his description of the SNP's plans for independence as being "cataclysmic in geo-political terms" is not a surprise.

Some, mainly those of a Unionist persuasion, would see his use of language as merely colourful.

Others, including the SNP's Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon say it is "crass and offensive".

On that you pays your money and you come to your own conclusion.

But what of the substance of the issue that George Robertson, as he was before his peerage, has raised? After all, he is also a former NATO secretary general.

In a nutshell his case is that the break up of what he calls the second military power in the West would have a serious effect across the world.

He warns that other Western powers would have concerns about this and there is a suggestion - no more - there are reservations in the US administration.

Independence, Lord Robertson says, would get a loud cheer from Britain's "adversaries and enemies".

In response to the substance of his argument Ms Sturgeon argues that the SNP defence policy with its relatively new commitment to NATO makes perfect sense.

As to the charge of US concerns she says that Washington is taking a position of strict neutrality on independence.

However, membership of NATO - until recently opposed by the SNP - is key to their stance ahead of the referendum in September.

What do we know about this? This is the official SNP line.

"An independent Scotland can follow the path of similarindependent nations and make our own contribution tocollective defence arrangements which, as part of NATO,far surpass any security that is offered by Britain alone."

– Scotland's Future, Scottish Government white paper on indepedence
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (right) launches the Independence White Paper with First Minister Alex Salmond Credit: PA

The SNP's opponents say that NATO is, at its heart, an alliance which relies on nuclear weapons.

This is how the alliance itself puts it.

"...as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance. Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of NATO’s strategy, even though the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote."

– NATO strategic concept adopted at the Lisbon summit 2010

Ms Sturgeon says that Scotland will play a full part in NATO, as a non-nuclear weapon power, like many other countries in the alliance.

However, the SNP is also opposed in principle to the idea of nuclear weapons which they frequently describe as "weapons of mass destruction".

In recent weeks the referendum debate has focused on issues like currency, EU membership, the fears - or hopes - of businesses.

Defence has not featured very highly. Lord Robertson's intervention has changed that.

It's a very serious issue and most voters will want to look beyond the rhetoric - from both sides - and study the arguments.

So would Scotland be able to join NATO easily or might one member state use its veto? NATO's council has to be unanimous.

Fascinating extract from a Royal Society of Edinburgh and British Academy document published today:

"The Scottish Government states that it “will notify NATO of our intention to join the alliance… the basic premise of NATO is that all members must make an active commitment to the alliance and Scotland would recognise and play our full part in building collective security and capability”. However, the White Paper also states that “The Scottish Government is committed to securing the complete withdrawal of Trident from an independent Scotland as quickly as can be both safely and responsibly achieved”.We cannot say how NATO’s Council will respond to these twocommitments. But, as the Council acts by unanimity, we can say that its position will be determined by whichever member state is both most hostile to Scotland’s proposals and prepared to threaten a veto."

– Enlightening the Constitutional Debate, Royal Society of Edinburgh