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.

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The 20 Women For Independence Members That Called In Police Scotland

Leading today’s news agenda in Scotland is the unraveling tale of financial mismanagement at the pro-independence campaign Women For Independence (WFI).

The initial first grumblings of trouble were unearthed by the Daily Record’s David Clegg. Since then Clegg has uncovered that Natalie McGarry MP is at the centre of the story. Around £30,000 of donations, all raised from ordinary pro-independence individuals, is currently unaccounted for.

It is alleged that Ms.McGarry was responsible for WFI’s PayPal account, the main source of ‘crowdfunded’ payments to the group.

Out of the 23 members of the Woman For Independence national committee 20 signed a statement which includes the following:

“But what we can say is that following our first AGM in March and the adoption of our constitution and robust and appropriate systems, concerns emerged in late summer regarding financial probity. For several weeks now we have been examining the finances of the organisation for the last financial year, 2014/2015.

We have identified an apparent discrepancy between our donation income and the expenditure which we currently have evidence of.  We have exhausted all opportunities of obtaining adequate evidence or explanation to account for this discrepancy.

“Women for Independence has been, and is, supported by thousands of women and men who have donated to our work. We know that every one of them will share our profound disappointment that this situation has arisen.”

Natalie McGarry on the campaign trail
Natalie McGarry on the campaign trail

The three that did not sign was Natalie McGarry herself and two others who could not be contacted before the time of WFI’s publication. Of the 20, 7 are SNP candidates in the coming Scottish Parliament elections.

Calls for McGarry to be suspended are growing louder. 

The story itselfwill raise many headaches for SNP HQ but so too will the fact that SNP candidates were prepared to politically throw one of their existing MPs under a bus for the sake of an external organisation. Indeed even more worrying for the SNP leadership is how a leading member of a rival party, the Green’s Zara Kitson, could have a part to play in the potential downfall of one of their most well known MPs.

If you are wondering why the SNP attempted to centralise and control Yes Scotland then look no further than this £30,000 mess and Business for Scotland’s, now former SNP MP after the party whip was withdrawn, Michelle Thompson ongoing saga.

The full list is below:

Ashten Regan-Denham (SNP Edinburgh Eastern and Lothians list candidate)

Carolyn Leckie ( Scottish Socialist Pary MSP 2003 – 2007)

Gillian Martin ( SNP Aberdeen East candidate)

Jeane Freeman (SNP Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley candidate)

Julie Bell ( SNP Kirriemuir and Dean branch, WFI Angus)

Maggie Lennon (SNP Glasgow SNP list canddiate)

Maggie Mellon (British Association of Social Workers Vice-Chair)

Mairi Tulbure (2014/2015 Avondale SNP Convener)

Margaret Young

Marsha Scott (Chief Exec of Scottish Women’s Aid)

Michelle Rodger (SNP West of Scotland list candidate)

Rebecca Jones

Rosemary Hunter (SNP Mid Scotland and Fife list canddiate)

Sandra Mills

Selma Rahman

Sheila McCole

Sue Lyons

Suzanne McLaughlin ( SNP Glasgow list candidate)

Victoria Heaney

Zara Kitson (Green co-convenor candidate)

 

The Ulsterisation of Scottish Politics

 

 

Comparisons to Northern Ireland always make some people uncomfortable.

Whether it’s the rampant sectarianism, its murderous past or the area’s harsh accent it seems Scots don’t like being compared to our close neighbours.

Yet we share not only the same passport and an intertwined history, but now our voting patterns also.  For many voters in Scotland the essential dividing line in their party political support is centred on its constitutional position: are they for or against independence.

This is the Ulsterisation of Scottish politics, a phenomenon which seems it could be here for a while.  As long as people care about independence, or maintaining the Union, first and foremost then the constitution will play a large role in deciding whose box they cross at elections.

Elections in Northern Ireland are mini-referendums with political party’s sole existence either to maintain the status-quo or to end the Union’s reach on any part of the island of Ireland.  Very few supporters of remaining part of the United Kingdom would vote Sinn Fein or SDLP at any election, indeed few Nationalists would vote for any Unionist candidate.

In Northern Ireland it is not “the economy stupid” which fuels electoral support but “the union stupid” which matters most.  This is what will grip Scotland’s electorate in the coming May 2015 General Election in Scotland too.

The latest ICM poll of Scottish voting intentions had the pro-independence combined popular vote share at 47% and Unionist combined popular vote share at 53%.  With margin of errors included, pretty much a mirror image of the referendum result.

dup

They are many, many reasons for the decline of Labour in Scotland.  For any Labourites who wish to halt the decline it would be important to remember that the descent into second place in opinion polls did not begin on after the 18th of September 2014.  Indeed, between the 1999 and 2011 Scottish Parliament elections Labour have lost 277,931 votes.

The post-referendum decline of Labour’s fortunes centres on those famed ‘traditional Labour voters’ who voted ‘yes’.

Independence is what their politics revolves around now.  They haven’t forgotten about the economy or the NHS, they simply see independence as the answer to any ills that inflict the pair.

New Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy will in 2015 attempt to move the battleground in Scotland away from the constitution and back on traditional Labour pursuits, like saying nasty things about the Tories.  I don’t think that will cut the mustard anymore.  The constitution is central to people now, be that good or bad.

If you care about the Union then it seems illogical, completely illogical, to vote for the SNP even if you support their social policies if there is even a sniff of a second referendum.

Perhaps we will even see tactical voting in constituencies to ensure Unionist candidates win and the vote is not split three or four ways.  Moreover, even one day we could see electoral pacts at constituency levels like in marginal seats like Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where at the 2010 election, a joint Unionist candidate was selected between the DUP and the UUP.

We are a little too early for that, but we are on the trajectory.  Former Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow, Michael Kelly voiced his support that Labour voters should vote Liberal Democrat in the Gordon constituency which Alex Salmond is standing in at May’s election.

Scotland may not have the harrowing and blood-soaked recent history of Northern Ireland, but it will now have its voting patterns.  Welcome to Ulsterisation.

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.