Since its establishment in 1934 the SNP has had as its raison d’etre the pursuit of an independent Scotland, a nation able to exercise self-determination free from the “dead hand of Westminster” which, ministers at Holyrood would argue, is stifling growth and holding Scotland back from fulfilling its potential.
By anyone’s standards, it’s a radical vision.
Having done what no party was supposed to have done last year, namely win an outright majority of its own in elections to the Scottish Parliament, the SNP and Alex Salmond seemed invisible.
Against weak opposition and with the public having given him and his party a thumping mandate suddenly nothing seemed impossible. Indeed, as recently as the beginning of this year, polling suggested a majority of Scots favoured independence.
Fast forward to today and one wonders if the mounting reality of what independence would mean is starting to dampen the radical vision for independence so often espoused by senior SNP politicians.
Firstly, under plans drawn up by the SNP, an independent Scotland would retain the pound as its currency with the London based Bank of England remaining its central bank. Is this really “independence”?
Now we have the first minister and his allies scuttling around promoting the idea that the option known as “Devo Max” under which Scotland would gain control of everything apart from foreign, defence and certain limited tax and economic powers should also be on the ballot paper.
Putting aside the fact that being able to set your own foreign and defence policy is at the very heart of the notion of national sovereignty, the first minister is now striking a lonely figure in this regard, attacked as he has been in equal measure by pro-independence campaigners Margo MacDonald, Patrick Harvie, comedian Elanie Smith and former SNP leader Gordon Wilson, all of whom have recognised and argued forcefully that the inclusion of a second question would be a “co-op” and suggest Salmond is looking for a face-saving way out of a defeat of his long held dreams of independence.
And now, in the latest sign of the impact the prospect of independence is having on the SNP we hear the party is preparing to debate at its annual conference in October its historic opposition to NATO membership, an event likely to cause substantial ruptures within the party.
• Salmond’s Yes to Independence campaign splits. Again 9 Jul 2012
• Do the SNP see England as a foreign country already? 2 Jul 2012
Emphasising the systemic shift this would be in SNP policy, the Herald’s editorial this morning concludes:
“A generation ago it would have been unthinkable for the fiercely anti-nuclear Scottish National Party to propose that an independent Scotland should join Nato.
“Yet, the party’s autumn conference will consider a motion that Scotland should remove nuclear weapons but join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, whose ultimate deterrent in nuclear weaponry.
“Since it is to be put forward by Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader and defence spokesman, this can be taken as the preferred policy option of the leadership. If it is agreed, it will breach a shibboleth for many of the party’s most faithful foot soldiers.
“For 30 years the SNP’s stance has been anti-Nato because the party is opposed to nuclear weapons and, as Nato is a nuclear alliance, an independent Scotland would not apply for membership. For many grassroots members and activists, especially on the left of the party, this was a point of principle and the reason for joining the SNP rather than Labour.
“Expelling Trident from Faslane and Coulport but remaining a member of Nato is a compromise solution that would leave the SNP vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. While the party can claim it remains committed to the earliest possible withdrawal of Trident from Scotland, some experts say that removal could take up to 20 years.
“At the autumn conference, two years away from the referendum on independence, Alex Salmond and his key lieutenants will be looking beyond their membership to the wider electorate. Seeking Nato membership is a bold move on the part of Mr Salmond, in keeping with his reputation as a politician who likes to take risks. The aim will be to convince waverers that Scotland’s security will be guaranteed under independence.”
“This will cause enormous ructions within the SNP, as there are people within the party who think that Nato is immoral in that it has a strategy that’s dependent on nuclear weapons.
“The situation facing Alex Salmond is the one that faced Neil Kinnock in the late 1980s. Labour realised two-thirds of UK voters quite liked the nuclear deterrent.
“Although it was very hard for Kinnock to change Labour’s policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, he realised that if the bulk of the population disagreed with you, you either change that position or stay in opposition Alex Salmond may take a similar view on the SNP’s position, but he will face stiff opposition within his own party.”
“If there is a real prospect of Alex Salmond being defeated at this autumn’s party conference, then it is possible that he will withdraw the proposal. Of course, given this would be the second time he had done this, then that would be the end of any attempt to change the policy before the 2014 independence referendum.
“But it would be a very brave person who would attempt to take on Alex Salmond within the SNP. He is probably the only person who could bring about this change within the party.”
U-turn if you want to? The first minister is definitely for turning.