Advertisement

Independence would have 'strengthened' terrorists groups - ex-NATO chief

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Peter MacMahon, ITV Border Political Editor. Photo: ITV News

Extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda would have been strengthened by a 'Yes' vote in the Scottish independence referendum, a former Labour defence secretary has claimed.

George Robertson, who went on to become Secretary General of NATO, said it if the UK had broken up "the enemies of freedom...would have had a field day."

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who played a key role as Labour shadow Scottish Secretary in drawing up plans for devolution in the run up to the 1997 election, has long been a vociferous critic of the SNP and nationalism.

In an interview for tonight's Representing Border programme ahead of the 20th anniversary of the two-question referendum on devolution on 11 September 1997.

I asked him about remarks he made before the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 where said the "forces of darkness" would welcome a 'Yes' vote. Was that not just a completely over the top statement?

Lord Robertson told me: "If the second military power in the West had broken into two, if Scotland had become a separate state, if the UK was broken into two, the effect on Western solidarity would be cataclysmic without any shadow of a doubt.

"We in the UK are the second military power in the West, after the United States. We have a nuclear deterrent...breaking it up, and with the SNP's objective of stopping that nuclear deterrent, that would have left all nuclear power in the West in the hands of Donald Trump and perhaps the French.

"So that the ripple effects of separation in the United Kingdom would have had dramatic consequences and the enemies of the West, the enemies of freedom and of tolerance, of the values of the West would certainly have had a field day."

I put it to him that this was very extreme rhetoric which his opponents would argue the Scottish people did not buy?

Lord Robertson, who rarely gives interview these days, replied: "Well, the Scottish people at the end of the day choose not go down the separatist route, and choose to vote against independence and that is good.

"But from the point of view that I had, my experience as Defence Secretary, my experience in NATO, I know what those people....I called them the forces of darkness, well if you look at Al Qaeda at ISIS, the so-called Islamic State and their techniques if they are not the forces of darkness in the world today then what is?"

But surely he was not arguing surely that ISIS would have rejoiced or even benefited from a 'Yes' vote for Scottish independence?

His answer: "If the UK was to break up and the West was therefore to be weakened as a consequence of that, and it would have been, then those people, global terrorists global organised crime would undoubtedly be strengthened as a consequence of that.

"We're very much in the United Kingdom part of that robust, strong, freedom-loving group of countries in the world and therefore the separation inside the United Kingdom would have had enormous ripple effects and I don't think people can actually deny that."

Former Secretary General to NATO, Lord Robertson. Credit: PA

Finally, I suggest that the SNP would say that the view you hold is simply scaremongering and not many of your Unionist colleagues would use that kind of language?

Lord Robertson's responded: "I don't know whether my views are unique or not. I think they are shared by large numbers of people in Scotland. That's why people rejected the independence option when it was put before them.

"I'm not an extreme Unionist, I just happen to believe that the United Kingdom works.

"All of the arguments that I hear the Nationalists using at the moment against Brexit apply to the British internal market,to the relationships that we have inside the United Kingdom, the way in which we developed institutions over three hundred years that would be smashed as a consequence of separation.

"That can sound extreme but actually to a lot of people it makes good, common sense. We are one country and we are strong as a consequence internally and we play our part in the world as a whole."Breaking it up would be enormously damaging whatever way you want to look at it."

I asked the SNP to comment on Lord Robertson's view.

Tommy Sheppard, the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, and a former Scottish Labour party official, said: “This is insulting nonsense.

"He was proved wrong about devolution, he was ridiculed for his doom-mongering in 2014 – it’s truly remarkable that anyone still listens to Lord Robertson at all. An attempt at graceful retirement is well overdue for his lordship, who sounds more ludicrous with every year that passes.”

More on this story