Revealed Part 2 – The Scottish Government and NATO’s Communications

Earlier this month on the blog I published my FOI return surrounding the Scottish Government and NATO’s communications.

The returns detailed the following:

  • Only one contact took place between 2007 and 2014
  • The contact was Scottish Government officials visiting NATO HQ in Brussels with UK Government Officials on 8 June 2013
  • The meeting was arranged by the UK Government’s Foriegn and Commonwealth Office following a request via a phone call from the Scottish Government
  • The meeting’s discussion were to be treated as confidential as are all NATO-UK Government meetings
  • However, five months later the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence (Scotland’s Future) stated, “Yes. The Scottish Government has opened contact with NATO regarding an independent Scotland’s membership of the organisation” (Scotland’s Future: 2013. pg. 466)

I was interested in regards to the phone call between someone in the Scottish and British governments to organise this meeting. Following the earlier FOI I placed a subsequent one specifically on the phone call.

Here is what was disclosed to me:

 

FOI NATO 1/2
 
 
FOI NATO (2/2)

As you see then the Scottish Government does not hold any information regarding this phone call. This phone call could have been where we began to chart the start of an independent Scotland’s defence policy, it is important historically.

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Revealed – The Scottish Government and NATO’s Communications

It was currency unions not military unions which fuelled debate in the final weeks of the independence referendum.

Every now and again, however, defence would be raised as a referendum issue.

On every occasion the same two arguments from the opposing campaigns would be pushed into spotlight; Better Together would claim that independence would end Royal Navy supported shipyard and Faslane based jobs while Yes Scotland rebutted by explaining that independence would stop Scotland being dragged into more ‘illegal wars’ like the 2003 Iraq war.

The backbone of an independent Scotland’s defence policy would be membership of NATO, claimed the Scottish Government. Membership would be on the condition that there would be no hinderance to Edinburgh’s plans to end Faslane as a host to the rUK’s nuclear weapons systems.

There could still be nuclear weapons in an independent Scotland’s territory though, as the white paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ explained:

“While they are both strong advocates for nuclear disarmament, both Norway and Denmark allow NATO vessels to visit their ports without confirming or denying whether they carry nuclear weapons. We intend that Scotland will adopt a similar approach as Denmark and Norway in this respect.” (Scotland’s Future: 2013, pg 465)

This government white paper also had another interesting snippet on NATO. It asserted that communications lines between the Scottish Government and the organisation had been opened:

 

“Q. Have there been discussions with NATO about Scotland’s membership?

A. Yes. The Scottish Government has opened contact with NATO regarding an independent Scotland’s membership of the organisation.” (Scotland’s Future: 2013. pg. 466)

I found this surprising when rereading through my copy of the paper. It seemed that no newspaper had inquired about these two sentences in the document. So I sent through a Freedom of Information Request to the Scottish Government to establish what contact was made between these two organisations.

 

NATO FOI (1/5)
NATO FOI (1/5)
NATO FOI (2-3/ 5)
NATO FOI (2-3/ 5)
NATO FOI (4/5)
NATO FOI (4/5)
NATO FOI (5/5)
NATO FOI (5/5)
The FOI covered the period of  the SNP’s 2007 election victory to the 18th September 2014. I asked for details of all the communications between the two organisations.

As you can see then the Scottish Government only had one brief contact: a 4 hour visit to Brussels with UK Government officials on 8 July 2013.

Furthermore, the exemption explanation under  section 32(1)(a)(ii) of FOISA 28 states that, “the meeting…was held on the understanding that the detail of discussions would be treated as being in confidence”.

This is important. Either one or two things occurred then from this July meeting to the two sentence answer published in November 2013; the Scottish Government broke the confidence agreement on the nature of the talks or they placed the assertion in the document knowing that it would be impossible to establish what was discussed at the meeting due to UK Government – NATO confidence agreements.

The matter needs probed further.

As an aside to the above blogpost I must stress that I fully believe that if Scotland became independent the balance of probabilities show that it would become a member of NATO, as Montenegro is about to do.

This should not however discourage close examination of this most important political and now historic document.

SNP and cannabis: will openness lead to the devolution of drug laws?

With further devolution talks under way many areas of public policy is being scrutinised by academics, politicians and journalists. Devolution is a messy and confused business. For instance, Westminster accidentally devolved Antarctica (seriously). But on more serious matters many of the devolved and reserved powers overlap. A striking example of this is drugs. Scotland’s drug legislation is currently legislated on at Westminster yet Health is a devolved issue. Many would argue this leaves Scottish Governments dealing with the problems drug use creates yet not having the power to create solutions to these issues of Scottish public health.

Many members of Scotland’s governing party the SNP have been surprisingly open in the past about their drug usage (solely cannabis) which perhaps could lead to an open discussion on the possible devolution of drug legislation.  In 2007 the MSPs below respondonded openly to journalist Tom Gordon’s questioning.  Indeed 50% of the SNP’s shadow cabinet in 2007 admitted to smoking cannabis.

Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland’s new First Minister has spoke of her relationship with cannabis in the past. Her student days at the University of Glasgow are often remarked as her training ground for politics with her involvement in the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association. Moreover, her time in Glasgow also resulted in the First Minister dabbling in weed:

“I experimented when I was a student, but it made me sick, so I didn’t use it (cannabis) again. It and I didn’t get on.”

Furthermore, Sturgeon pledged her support in a 1999 survey of MSPs for the decriminalisation of cannabis for medical use. Speaking as the SNP’s Shadow Minister for Justice in 2004, Sturgeon reiterated her support for medical cannabis usage in her weekly local newspaper column:

“I have never understood, for example, why cannabis can’t be used for medical purposes if doctors think it can help relieve suffering.”

Drug laws are currently a ‘reserved’ matter which is decided at Westminster. Sturgeon and the SNP could potentially push for these powers to be devolved in the Smith Commission devolution talks which are currently being held.

Shona Robison

Promoted this week in Nicola Sturgeon’s first cabinet reshuffle, Shona Robison is another SNP cabinet member who has publicly admitted to using cannabis. Scotland’s new Health Secretary admitted to trying it also in her student days:

“I think it was a party and it might have been getting passed around. I tried it once, didn’t like it, and had a puff as everybody did, and that was it”.

It appears then the Health secretary will not be prescribing a joint to the Scottish nation.
Bruce Crawford

Bruce Crawford is an MSP for Stirling and member of the ‘Cross-Party group in the Scottish Parliament for Scotch Whisky’ (which sounds like a fantastic group). Crawford admitted to trying a joint on the trip home from a Scotland v Spain match in his twenties.
Fergus Ewing

The most unlikely name on the list. Renowned for his social conservatism, demonstrated by him abstainment on abolishing Section 28 and fighting against an outright ban on foxing, Ewing really does fit the ‘Tartan Tory’ tag which once lampooned many SNP politicians in the 1970s. The Scottish Government’s Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism was once suspended for two weeks as a 16 year old for being caught smoking a joint at his prestigious public school, Loretto.   Naughty Ewing.

Tricia Marwick
Elected MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes in 2011, Marwick gave up her long standing SNP membership when she was appointed the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer (essentially the speaker as in the Westminster parliament). Marwick said she tried the drug “at a flat party in Edinburgh” and that she “choked and I coughed, it was the most disgusting thing I ever tasted”. We unfortunately can’t expect any stoned chairing of First Minister’s Questions then.

Quotes taking from:
http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/Test/politics/article63936.ece
Evening Times, Nicola Sturgeon, ‘Cannabis law is still open to confusion ‘January 27th 2004
Evening News (Edinburgh), Ian Swanson, ‘TORY CHIEF IN CALL FOR LEGALISATION OF CANNABIS’, November 2nd 1999.