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The Scottish government's support for Nato is stronger than ever

Stand With Ukraine rally, Glasgow, March 2022 | Alamy

3 min read

Today the twin pillars of Euro-Atlantic security are the EU and Nato. With independence, we can enhance our security with membership of both

Ten years ago, my party voted to change its position on Nato membership. After years of having no enthusiasm for the alliance, we opted to embrace membership for a future independent Scotland. That decision was right then and is even more right now.

Whilst we don’t claim to have had a unique, decades-long foresight into today’s European security environment – even Nato’s 2010 strategic concept didn’t envisage the current threat picture – our change in policy represented a clear-eyed assessment of Scotland’s security interests.

Europe is now a very different place, but our decision to support Nato stands more solid than ever before. 

At the behest of a hubristic imperialist in the Kremlin, our continent has been plunged into a land war on a scale of brutality that continues to shock. Daily, we witness the mass movement of our fellow Europeans fleeing Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine; the use of energy blackmail as an instrument of war, and an ever-growing food crisis due to Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports that will hit not just the Western world, but, most harshly, those already struggling with food poverty in the Global South and other war-torn countries such as Yemen. 

Nato member-states have, to differing degrees, risen to the challenge of the times we now live in. Led by the clarifying leadership shown by countries such as Estonia, many countries, the United Kingdom included, have moved to ensure that Ukraine gets the maximum amount of military, economic and political support it needs to continue to hold the frontline of European democracy. My party supports them entirely.

The world in which I want Scotland to enter has changed so profoundly that I am not sure the collective West has yet fully understood the depth and pace of change. As Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson put it a few months ago when she announced her government’s intention to upend years of Swedish non-alignment and apply for Nato membership, “there is a world before 24 February [when the invasion of Ukraine began] and a world after 24 February”. 

Europe is now a very different place, but our decision to support Nato stands more solid than ever before

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced “die zeitenwende” – the turning point – ending decades of defence and energy policy by announcing €100bn for the German military and an end to Nord Stream 2. Finland joined Sweden in applying for Nato membership. Denmark has ended decades of European Union defence opt-outs in a referendum endorsed by more than 60 per cent of Danish voters. The EU has started acting in military procurement to support Ukraine. 

Just as these major changes in the European defence outlook cannot be overstated, I am pleased to lead the work of my party in developing a new level of ambition for a future independent Scotland’s defence posture. The changed security landscape isn’t merely the backdrop to our work, but the very environment in which an independent Scotland must be able, and willing, to play its full part as a constructive partner and ally.

Today the twin pillars of Euro-Atlantic security are the EU and Nato. Now, Scotland only has access to one as a member of the UK. With independence, we can enhance our security with membership of both. But we well understand that with membership comes responsibilities as well as rights – we fully intend to be a burden-sharing ally and play our part in strengthening the defence of our neighbourhood within Nato. There is simply no credible alternative that the security landscape, or the Scottish people, would accept.

Stewart McDonald is SNP MP for Glasgow South and defence spokesperson

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