Independent Scotland would operate ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, says UK government as SNP tries to allay Washington’s fears
Scottish first minister Alex Salmond launched a 670-page white paper on independence.
Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA
An independent Scotland would allow submarines and warships armed with nuclear weapons from the US, Britain and other Nato countries to dock in its ports as part of what was dubbed as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to guarantee membership of the North Atlantic alliance.
In a sign of the Scottish National party’s determination to reassure wavering voters – in the face of a commanding lead for the pro-UK camp – the Scottish government outlined a series of concessions by offering to share its military bases with the UK and even softening its stance on the timetable for removing Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent.
Buried in the detail of 670-page white paper on independence, launched in Glasgow by the Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, it emerged that his government wants to qualify its staunch nuclear free policy by saying that nuclear-armed vessels from Nato countries would be free to use its ports on a confidential basis. It confirmed that an independent Scotland governed by the SNP would aim to eject Britain’s Trident nuclear fleet from the Faslane base in Argyll and Bute “with a view” to achieving this by 2020. But it softened its previously hardline position by saying this was its “aim and intention”, indicating that it was willing to compromise further.
The fresh approach suggests that British nuclear submarines will be allowed to join other Nato nuclear vessels operating in Scottish waters.
Amid concerns in Washington that a nuclear free Scotland would ban its warships and submarines with nuclear weapons from the vast Scottish territorial waters in the North Atlantic, the white paper commits an independent Scotland to follow the example of the Nato members Norway and Denmark.
It starts by stating: “It is our firm position that an independent Scotland should not host nuclear weapons and that we would only join Nato on that basis.”
But the white paper then states that – like Norway and Denmark – an independent Scotland would allow Nato to visit Scottish ports “without confirming or denying whether they carry nuclear weapons”. It added: “We intend that Scotland will adopt a similar approach as Denmark and Norway in this respect.” The UK government claimed that the Scottish government had embarked on a major dilution of its pledge to create a nuclear-free Scotland.
A spokesman said: “They buried this policy and now they’d like to bury the news. But now the truth is out. They’ve just given a green light to nuclear subs in Scottish waters – on the basis of don’t ask, don’t tell.” The signs that the SNP is willing to allay the concerns in Washington – in a move that would ease any application to join Nato by an independent Scotland – came as the Scottish government reassured voters that independence would not lead to a revolution.
In his foreword to the 670-page white paper Salmond wrote: “Scotland will remain within the Union of the Crowns with Her Majesty The Queen as our head of state, but we will have a modern, written constitution … Of course some would prefer Scotland to become a republic, to leave the EU or Nato, or to have our own currency. After Scotland becomes independent, any political party seeking to make these kinds of changes would first have to win support to do so in an election.”
As part of what is being called by the UK government a “de-risking strategy” to reassure undecided voters, who account for as much almost a quarter (24%) of the electorate, the white paper confirmed that an independent Scotland would insist on forming a sterling currency union with the remainder of the UK. The SNP had previously proposed such a union as an initial step before joining the euro.
The sterling currency union was rejected as fantasy by the former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, who heads the pro-UK Better Together campaign. This prompted Salmond to warn that David Cameron would be in breach of his undertakings to the Scottish people if he rejected a currency union.
The first minister pointed out that in last year’s Edinburgh agreement, which paved the way for the referendum, the two governments agreed to respect the referendum result and to work constructively “in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom”. Salmond said: “The Bank of England and sterling are as much Scotland’s assets as London’s assets. They are certainly not George Osborne’s assets. We put forward in this paper our willingness to accept liabilities. We are also entitled to the share of assets.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, went even further and indicated that an independent Scotland may refuse to accept its share of the UK’s liabilities if London refuses to allow Edinburgh to form a sterling currency union. She told the BBC that the logical conclusion of declining to allow an independent Scotland to join a sterling currency union would be that “Scotland couldn’t then be expected to take a share of liabilities”.
The warning on the shared currency was dismissed by the UK government and by pro-UK campaigners. UK government sources said that sterling is an institution, rather than asset, which means that an independent Scotland would be in no position to link it to a negotiation on the breakdown of UK assets and liabilities.
Johann Lamont, the leader of the Scottish Labour party, told the Scottish parliament: “The deputy first minister says if Scotland isn’t allowed to keep the pound we shall simply default on our debts.
“The reality is this: the SNP are asking for a divorce but they want to keep the joint bank account. So is Plan B simply to do a runner?”
The white paper offered further assurances on defence by saying that conventional military bases would be shared between Scottish and UK forces in an independent Scotland for a transitional period. This could even continue after the transitional period.
The paper said: “The negotiation of shared arrangements as a transitional measure would not preclude such arrangements being carried forward into the longer term, where both the rest of the UK and Scotland considered them the most effective means of delivering defence capabilities.”
A UK government source gave this short shrift: “There is limited capacity to share military resources and there is very little in this document on that. So no one should vote for independence on the basis of asset sharing in the future.”
The SNP will argue that its proposal to open Scotland’s waters and ports to vessels with nuclear weapons is the logical conclusion of its decision to model its Nato application on Norway. Angus Robertson, the SNP’s defence spokesman, said: “We will take our regional and collective security responsibilities seriously within NATO as a conventionally armed country.”
Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and other BBC favourites will still be on air to Scottish viewers if they vote for independence. The threat of losing the programmes was raised last week when the Sun reported that a vote for independence would mean Scottish viewers would have to pay for the BBC.
Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, challenged Alex Salmond that the white paper “asserts” that an independent Scotland would be able to keep the pound, would stay in the EU and “Scots’ viewers will be able to watch Strictly Come Dancing”.Robinson added: “Wouldn’t it be more honest to voters to add words like perhaps, maybe, fingers crossed and hope for the best or maybe the document should say if the UK treasury agrees, if the Bank of England agrees, if 27 EU member states agree, if the BBC Trust agree?”
Salmond replied: “As long as the BBC remains in public hands, which we hope will be for a long time to come, then we are entitled to have a share of the assets of the BBC.” A new Scottish Broadcasting Service would take over BBC Scotland and would form a joint venture with the remainder of the BBC in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish government also suggests that BBC1 and BBC2 would still be shown with the SBS having the right to opt-out and run its own programmes.
The danger of blank BBC screens was raised in the Sun last week by Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader in Scotland. She said: “The SNP simply cannot guarantee that we’d still get Dr Who after independence. We get the best of both worlds — distinctive Scottish broadcasting and world-class BBC programmes.”