Monday, 6 August 2012

Scotland & NATO: The real debate II

Scotland and NATO - Moving on
Back in April I wrote an article about Scotland and NATO which was prompted by a spate of almost entirely vexatious and mischievous media speculation concerning a review of SNP policy on NATO membership. My point then was that, should there be such a review, it could only sensibly be discussed on the basis of what was actually proposed by way of change rather than what it suited the anti-independence/anti-SNP media to portray as the party leadership's intentions. Intentions that we have only recently been made aware of with the publication of Angus Robertson's proposal that will be put to the SNP Annual Conference in October.

In that original article I was highly critical not only of the media but of elements within the SNP who were all too ready to have their buttons pressed by the union's propagandists in a manner which was to find an equally deplorable echo when it came to the issue of equal marriage (see my article, Petty in pink).

Among those who insist that even to think about the possibility of discussing a change to the SNP's long-standing policy of non-membership of NATO is to cross one of their "red lines" perhaps the most vociferous is Peter Curran - better known to the online community as blogger, Moridura. In fact, Mr Curran has now resigned his membership of the SNP with a characteristically melodramatic virtual flounce on his blog. As I would have pointed out if the pathologically hyper-sensitive Mr Curran was not quite so averse to even the mildest criticism, the fact that Angus Robertson's motion remains no more than a proposal at this time means that his petulant, foot-stamping exit can only be viewed as a protest against the issue being put to party members. Mr Curran is evidently uncomfortable in a party which permits open debate of even the most controversial matters. Which seems to accord with both his rigid dogmatism and his passion for censorship.

But perhaps the most curious thing about Peter Curran's intolerance towards my comments (and others') is the fact that I actually agree with him! In questioning the views he expresses on his blog I have sought, not to oppose his anti-NATO stance, but merely to draw out and clarify some of his arguments, while offering some of my own. If I have any dispute with him at all it concerns the manner in which he laces his admirably cogent arguments against Scotland being a member of NATO with superfluous and spurious attacks on the party leadership and any of its members or supporters who have the temerity to suggest that there might be some scope for a discussion outwith parameters stipulated by him.

A further irony is that, as well as formulating powerful and persuasive arguments against NATO membership, Peter Curran generally advances points which are perfectly suited to stimulating the very debate with which he so haughtily refuses to engage. That debate will therefore proceed without him. For those who wish, some small part of that debate can proceed in this place. Here, there will be no censorship. Comments are not pre-moderated. Other than as may be required by law or relevant terms and conditions, no comments will be deleted. This is as it should be.

I say Peter Curran makes pertinent, sensible points, but that is by no means always the case. In a recent blog post, he posed three questions relating to SNP policy in relation to NATO. (Although, as we shall see, he has extreme difficulty differentiating between SNP policy and what he supposes will be the policy of a future independent Scotland.) He poses these questions after rather laboriously describing a scenario which is intended to represent the situation as it stands. Or, at least, his perception of it. I reckon we can dispense with this and just deal with the questions themselves. If anybody is interested they can always follow the link above.

Before we get to those questions I'd like to address a point made in that scenario mentioned earlier. It is the assertion that the defence issue will be the "crucial" and "most complex" aspect of secession negotiations following a YES vote in the 2014 referendum. This ties in with the contention that defence will be the most pressing concern of those going to the polls in that referendum. (Even more important than Olympic medals?) I would suggest that the weight people assume to be appropriate to issues tends to be more a function of their own personal interests and concerns rather than any dispassionate assessment of what might be preoccupying the general public. Economists will think the economy most important, for example. And people with a military background and/or a special interest in some defence-related cause will tend to weight issues accordingly.

(Needless to say, Mr Curran took offence at this suggestion. But I'm built neither for walking on eggshells nor for negotiating the discursive slalom necessary to avoid giving offence to someone seems to pursue being offended as a hobby.)

To me, the idea that people tend to focus on the things that most concern them seems totally uncontroversial. And this tendency may be seen as relevant to some or all of the questions we are about to address. First, however, I shall risk the wrath of a man who appears to be almost obsessively concerned about his intellectual property rights and reproduce those question in full.

  1. Is the defence alliance question a routine party policy matter, one only for delegates of that party to decide on?
  2. Is the defence policy a major or a minor matter in terms of significance to the electorate of the devolved country, or does it also have significance to the nation state, the members of the defence alliance and to world affairs?
  3. Is it it reasonable or democratic that such a crucial policy change be debated by a small number of delegates from one political party only, or should there be a wider consultation among the total electorate of the devolved country and in its devolved Parliament?

In fact, if you take these and disentangle the essence from the pointless circumlocution, you end up with a single question. 

Is the SNP's policy on NATO membership solely an internal issue for the SNP ?

The implication being that people outwith the party might have some say in deciding party policy. Which prompts some rather obvious questions. If party policy is not exclusively a matter for party members, who else would qualify? And how?

Is this extraordinary inclusiveness to apply only to this policy? Or are these unspecified others outwith the party to have a say in all policy-making? If this policy is to be an exception, how is this justified? And if this policy can be an exception, what others might be treated similarly if the only requirement is that some group considers the policy to be of sufficient importance?

Is this obligation to open up policy-making to non-party members to apply to other parties? Or is the SNP being singled out? And, if so, why?

I could go on. But I think the ridiculousness of the notion was perfectly evident even without my efforts to throw a spotlight on it.

Our democracy involves a party political system. It may not be perfect. But it's the system we've got. And, for the most part, it works. It is fundamental to the functioning of that system that each party formulate its own policies. Ideally, there should be a democratic internal process by which policy decisions are reached. Ideally also, the policies should be sufficiently distinctive so that the voters have a real, meaningful choice when they go to the polls. But to suggest that members of one party might be directly involved in determining the policies of another is simply inane. How would it work? How could it work?

What lies behind this daft idea, of course, is the all too common fallacy of assuming that whatever policy the SNP adopts today must inevitably determine the stance of a future independent Scotland. It is the fallacy of confusing the SNP as the party of the independence cause with the SNP in its role within the party political system in Scotland and the UK. It is a fallacy which some seem incapable of escaping.

Enough of this nonsense! SNP policy is a matter to be decided by party members. Others get to express their opinion of that policy at the ballot box come election time. So long as we are talking about the NATO policy the SNP will present to the electorate, it's purely an internal party matter. It is only when it comes to the intended implementation of that policy by an elected government that a consultation process may be triggered. And only when it is an issue of fundamental constitutional import that it must be put to the people in a plebiscite.
There are, of course, sensible questions party members could, and should, be asking themselves as they consider the positions delegates will take on Angus Robertson's proposal. These will be the subject of Scotland & NATO: The real debate III.
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  1. A good article Peter and raises the questions which Mr Curran so obviously feels very strongly about but he has cut himself off, at least on his own blog, from the very dialogue he purports to desire.

    I agree with you that the whole gamut of points and counterpoints Mr Curran addressed on his blog do come down to one question.

    "Is the SNP's policy on NATO membership solely an internal issue for the SNP ?"

    The answer is self evident and is contained in the question; "Is the SNP's policy..." and there it is. The SNP's policy CAN ONLY be decided by the SNP and what better or more democratic way than by a debate at conference.
    Whatever policy is decided on can then be put to the Scottish people to accept or reject in the normal manner.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It does seem self-evident when you state the matter simply. But, regrettably, much effort is being put into muddying the waters - not least by Mr Curran. Which is why we so often find ourselves obliged to state, and re-state, the glaringly obvious.

  2. As you can see from his behaviour on his own blog and on twitter, Peter Curran diesn't do free and open debate. It is his way or you are declared a non-person.

    A good way to end up in an echo chamber of one