By a Newsnet reporter
The UK’s former Ambassador to NATO has said she will be voting Yes in the independence referendum.
In a letter to the Scotsman newspaper, Dame Mariot Leslie, said: “I shall be voting Yes on 18 September.
“I am a democrat, and believe that the geography, economy, demography and politics of our country are so distinctive that they are best served by our own sovereign government.”
Dame Mariot, who retired from her Ambassador role earlier this year, dismissed claims put forward by opponents of independence that a newly independent Scotland would be blocked from joining NATO.
She said: “I am sure that it would be in Scotland’s interest to join Nato and to continue to anchor our own defence in a wider alliance of Western democracies.
“But I am also in no doubt that the other 28 Nato allies would see it in their interests to welcome an independent Scotland into Nato. No ally would wish to interrupt the integrated Nato defence arrangements in the North Sea and North Atlantic – least of all at a time of heightened tension with Russia.”
Dame Mariot Leslie’s roles for the UK have included heading up the FCO’s Environment, Science and Energy Department from 1992-93, and leading the Policy Planning Staff from 1996-98.
On her return from Norway she became the Foreign Secretary’s Counter-Terrorism Envoy and Director, Defence and Strategic Threats, before going on to become Director General, Defence and Intelligence at the FCO in 2007, and a member of the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee.
Dame Mariot was responding to claims made by No supporter General Sir Richard Shirreff who has said that a newly independent Scotland would face difficulty in its bid to become a member of NATO if Trident nuclear weapons were to be removed from the Clyde.
Challenging the claim directly, she added: “A democratic, non-nuclear Scotland with strong military and technological traditions would fit naturally alongside similar Nato members in Northern Europe,and would be likely to join them – and the UK – in looking for multinational solutions to the pressures on their defence budgets. “
The intervention by the former Ambassador was welcomed by the Yes campaign and the Scottish National Party.
Deputy First Minister and Yes Scotland Advisory Board member Nicola Sturgeon said: “This is a very impressive and important endorsement for Yes – Dame Mariot is an enormously experienced diplomat who worked at the highest levels, and she speaks with authority on Scotland’s potential and opportunities as an independent country.
“I am confident that having experts of her calibre publicly backing Yes will encourage many more undecided and No voters to decide in favour of Yes.”
Commenting on behalf of the SNP, MP Angus Robertson MP, who is the party’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Spokesperson, added: “Dame Mariot’s intervention makes it clear beyond doubt that there is a valuable and valued place in the international community for Scotland.
“We can make our own way in the world on the basis of our own policies and values – all we need to do to turn this opportunity of a lifetime into reality is vote Yes on the 18th.”
Speaking on behalf of Better Together, former Nato secretary-general George Robertson said: “Ms Leslie is entitled to her opinion but even she will see how difficult it would be to get 28 countries to agree to admitting a country determined to disarm another Nato state.
“The SNP is not just non-nuclear, it is anti-nuclear, and no other Nato country takes that position. Expelling the UK deterrent – especially when president Putin is reminding the world about his – would be a serious block to Scottish membership.”
However earlier this year Mr Robertson caused outrage when he controversially called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be allowed to join NATO. The former Labour MP, now Lord, said: “There’s no security in Europe, unless there’s an eventual perspective of an organisation that says: We stand for values, stand for liberal values. And that has to include Russia, whether under the present or a future leadership,”