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:
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.
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.
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.