Independent Scotland and NATO


An independent Scotland’s defence policy would be based on pursuing active global partnerships including NATO membership, Alex Salmond confirmed today in a speech to one of the world’s most influential and trusted think-tanks.

Addressing the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, the First Minister said the Scottish Government’s policy for a newly-independent Scotland was to secure membership of the strategic alliance while remaining free of nuclear weapons.


In his address – entitled Scotland as a good global citizen – the First Minister pointed to Scotland’s existing friendships with the USA and other nations, including her “closest friends” and neighbours across the UK and Ireland, and crucial allies across the European Union.


The full text of the First Minister’s speech is as follows:

Before I start this morning, I want to acknowledge the fact that Baroness Thatcher died yesterday.  She visited this institution as opposition leader in September 1977. She was a truly formidable prime minister and one who was a staunch ally of the United States.

It is an honour to speak here this morning at the Brookings Institution – one of the most respected think tanks in the world.

I’m in Washington to strengthen economic links with America, to discuss Scotland’s constitutional future, but most of all to mark the lasting friendship between Scotland and the USA.

That friendship is commemorated every 6 April, on Tartan Day – although we have now turned that into a whole Scotland Week of events. The 6 April – the anniversary of the sealing of our Declaration of Arbroath – was declared to be Tartan Day by a Congressional resolution in 1998 and by a presidential decree in 2008.

That presidential decree said “Scotland and the United States have long shared ties of family and friendship… The Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence signed in 1320, embodied the Scots’ strong dedication to liberty, and the Scots brought that tradition of freedom with them to the New World.”

In Princeton on Tartan Day, I paid tribute to James Witherspoon – a former president of the University – who exemplified that shared dedication to liberty, as one of two Scottish-born signatories to the US Declaration of Independence.

I also noted that another former president of Princeton, Woodrow Wilson, once remarked that “every line of strength in American history is a line coloured with Scottish blood.”

I am due to speak later this evening at a reception at the US Capitol. The Capitol is yet another example of the links between Scotland and the US – it was designed by William Thornton, a graduate from Edinburgh and Aberdeen Universities.

The foundation stone for the Capitol was laid by George Washington on 18 September 1793.

18 September is also due to become a significant date in Scotland’s history. I announced three weeks ago that on 18 September 2014, people in Scotland will vote on a straightforward question, the most important that we have had to decide in more than 300 years – should Scotland be an independent country?

That choice is one for the people of Scotland to make – and we will do so after a clear, vigorous, democratic debate.

However I am aware that our decision, and its consequences, are of interest to many other nations – especially those, like the USA, with whom we share such close ties of culture and history; trade and commerce; friendship and family.

And so today I want to set out what independence would mean for Scotland in an international context – how we would engage with the wider world. In doing so, I want to talk in particular about our continued membership of the European Union and NATO, and more broadly about how Scotland would participate as a good global citizen.

Before the 1707 Act of Union, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, a member of the auld Scots Parliament, said that “all nations are dependent, the one on the many, this we know.”

He went on to warn that “If the greater must always swallow the lesser” it would be to the detriment of all.

Saltoun was emphasising a truth which is especially relevant in the modern world. All nations are interdependent.  And an independent Scotland will achieve its goals through partnership.

But as an independent nation, we would be able to choose our aims, our partnerships and our priorities. That is the fundamental case for independence.  Because the best people to take decisions about Scotland’s future – about international relations or any other issue – are the people who choose to live and work in Scotland.

Since the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999 – after 300 years – we have already strengthened our links with allies old and new – with advanced economies and fast-emerging ones. Our Scotland Week celebrations provide just one example of how links between Scotland and the USA have been promoted in recent years. 

I accompanied a Scottish trade delegation to New York last week, and I have been able to announce significant investments from Daktari Diagnostics, the life sciences company, and SAS, the business software services firm.

This type of success illustrates exactly why Ernst and Young has named Scotland, for the second year running, as the top destination for foreign direct investment out of all the areas of the UK, including London.

Indeed, for the foreseeable future, and regardless of what happens in September 2014, the USA will remain Scotland’s biggest trading partner, biggest foreign investor and biggest tourism market outside of the United Kingdom.

However we have different approaches for different countries. Our friendship with Pakistan is based on the large diaspora which makes such a major contribution to modern Scotland. Our ties to China and India have developed through shared economic interests, as well as the links between our people.

Our overseas enterprise agency, Scottish Development International, has 30 commercial embassies around the world – the most recent one of which has been established in Brazil.

This is a policy of targeted engagement, guided by enlightened self interest. Independence would increase our autonomy and profile in pursuing such an approach.  However, it’s also worth stressing that as an independent nation, Scotland’s most important friends and partners would remain unchanged.

Our friendships with the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are based on a deep shared history, but also on modern ties of trade, people and values.

Closer to home, the remaining nations of the United Kingdom, and Ireland, will remain our closest friends as well as our closest neighbours.

And the other nations of the European Union and northern Europe, as a result of shared geography and shared democratic values, will continue to be crucial allies.

I want to say more about the European Union – partly because it is an issue that has been discussed a lot in Scotland, and partly because I recognise that it is important here in the USA.

Any real consideration of the history of Europe would recognise that in recent decades the EU has been a force for good – a force for peace, prosperity and security.

As the world’s largest single market, EU membership brings massive benefits and opportunities for Scotland.

Despite all of the current difficulties in the Eurozone, we saw a reminder of that just two months ago – with the announcement of the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and the USA. Estimates show that once this is established, the European economy will get a stimulus of half a per cent of its GDP.

For Scotland, given that the USA is our largest individual trading partner outside the UK – our trade with the EU as a bloc is greater – the agreement will be especially good news.

There is a fundamental shortcoming with Scotland’s current position in the EU, however. On a range of issues –  from fisheries and agriculture, to employment and economic development  – the Scottish Government currently has responsibility for policy-making in Scotland; but we have no formal or direct representation when it comes to the many decisions made in Brussels.

One advantage of independence is that it would enable us to gain full and equal membership of the European Union – allowing us to co-operate on an equal basis with 27 other member states, more than half of which have a population of less than 10 million people.

Following a vote for independence in 2014, the Scottish Government would immediately make a notification of intent, confirming that as an independent nation, we want to continue within the European Union.

Our planned independence date is March 2016. The UK Government’s own chosen legal expert, Professor James Crawford of Cambridge University, has given his view that it would be “realistic” to expect negotiations to have been concluded by that date.

After all, Scotland would begin negotiations as a country which would be a net contributor to the EU budget, and whose people are already EU citizens.

We would begin them as a country which already applies the body of EU law and policy. And we would begin them as a country keen to be an equal and constructive partner in the EU.

Angus Roxburgh is a highly-respected broadcaster and journalist who was the BBC’s foremost Europe Correspondent in Brussels.  He summed up the position well in an article last month. “What would any country gain by making Scotland leave (the EU), wait a while, and then rejoin? Out of sheer self-interest every country would want to avoid such pointless disruption.”  His conclusion was clear. “Scotland’s accession would almost certainly be the smoothest and quickest in EU history.”

An independent Scotland would also be an active member of other multilateral organisations, ranging from the United Nations to NATO. Of course, membership of NATO is an issue of particular interest here in Washington.

Last year the governing party of Scotland, the Scottish National Party, changed its position to supporting membership of NATO, following a principled, open and very thoughtful debate. 

It could be argued that membership of Partnership for Peace would enable us to fulfil many of our defence requirements as does Ireland and Finland.

But we understand why, in the international community, countries such as Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and indeed the USA – would prefer it if we signalled our intention to be part of the NATO Alliance as an independent country.

Such a step would demonstrate clearly our commitment to working closely with those friends and allies. 

We should acknowledge that NATO is a cornerstone of defence policy for these nations and therefore membership is a responsible decision for Scotland to seek.

It’s worth reflecting here on Scotland’s geographical position.  Scotland is located in key strategic position in northern Europe. To our east is the North Sea, to our west the Atlantic, to our north the Icelandic gap.

Environmental warming in the High North and Arctic is occurring faster than anywhere else on the planet, and the average temperature in the region has surpassed all previous measurements in the first decade of the 21st century. During last summer the Northern Sea Route was free of ice and this trend is set to continue and become the norm.

There are therefore significant opportunities including renewable energy as well as oil, gas and mineral extraction and new international shipping routes. Up to 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered gas reserves and 10 per cent of oil resources are believed to be located in the Arctic.

The waters around Scotland will become even more important for fisheries, for energy and for transportation. And as things stand, all air and naval policing in northern Europe is co-ordinated through NATO. It makes sense for Scotland to work within NATO on such important issues.

As a member of NATO, an independent Scotland would also fulfil the Article 5 commitment to collective self-defence, recognising its obligations to the international community. 

Scotland’s participation in the future either in peace-keeping or military operations would be on the basis of legitimacy.

I have recently argued that an independent Scotland should have a written constitution. In my view that constitution should include safeguards on the circumstances under which we commit our armed forces to theatres of conflict– such as a requirement that military action is in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

At a time when – as President Obama made clear in his State of the Union address – the world’s focus must be to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, for an independent Scotland to host nuclear weapons would be absurd. No-one seriously holds the view that an independent Scotland – a nation of five and a quarter million people – should be a nuclear power.

Only three of NATO’s 28 members are actually nuclear-weapons states. The majority, including Canada, Norway and Denmark, are fully committed members of the alliance without hosting nuclear weapons.

We recognise that the safe removal of the UK’s Trident system would require careful discussion with the UK government and our NATO allies. But our aim would be clear – we would require the speediest but safest removal of Trident from our shores.

An independent Scotland would not be a global superpower.   But we would be a good global citizen.

Scotland already has a wide-ranging co-operation agreement with Malawi. That reflects our historic links to that country, and our determination to target our present, limited development budget in a way which allows us to make a real difference. 

Other countries demonstrate, on a day to day basis, how much can be achieved by targeting resources, or by focussing on areas of particular expertise. It is one of the advantages that smaller countries have, both in economic development, and in international engagement – they can be more agile in developing clear strategies, and exploiting their comparative advantages.

For example Denmark and Sweden are global leaders in international development; Ireland plays a significant role in peacekeeping; Norway has developed expertise in conflict resolution.

Scotland is in an excellent position to assist peace and reconciliation efforts. In recent years we have already hosted important discussions such as those that led to the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, which helped progress devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Scotland also hosted the first dialogue outside the former Soviet Union between parliamentarians from the South Caucasus.  In 2003, delegations from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan discussed the frozen conflicts of their region.

There is much more that we can do as a sovereign state to host and support these initiatives. Not only is Scotland a good location for these kinds of meetings and discussions, but our current democratic journey, based on civic, non-ethnic and peaceful principles are a useful backdrop. Scotland can contribute much directly to the rest of the world as an active global citizen. This is something I look forward to immensely.

For Scotland, the global effort to tackle climate change is a good example of an international issue where we can have a significant influence.

In 2009 the Scottish Parliament unanimously voted for the toughest climate change targets in the world – committing ourselves to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020, and by 80 per cent by 2050. 

We have established the fifteen million dollars Saltire Prize for marine energy – one of the largest commercial challenge funds in the world – which we run in partnership with National Geographic here in Washington.

There’s enlightened self interest at work here. Renewable energy is one of Scotland’s best economic growth prospects in generations, given our research base, our engineering heritage, and our immense natural resources – we have 10 per cent of the European Union’s wave power potential, and a quarter of its offshore wind and tidal power potential.

But we also recognise the environmental imperative for action. As President Obama said in his inauguration speech earlier this year, failure to act on climate change “would betray our children and future generations.” 

That’s why last year we became the first government anywhere to establish a climate justice fund. Climate justice is the concept that nations which have benefited from industrialisation have the obligation to help less developed countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change.

Scotland’s stance has received support from Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Al Gore, among others. It’s a message that I took to the Communist Party Central School in Beijing in 2011. I made the case again in Princeton on Saturday.

The first projects in Scotland’s climate justice fund are helping communities affected by climate change in Malawi and Zambia. The fund is currently small – tiny – in terms of the scale of the global challenge, but it will make a real difference to people’s lives, and it sends a strong message to the wider world.

To adapt an expression of President Clinton – although Scotland cannot use the example of our power, we can use the power of our example.

And of course, all of our work on this issue raises a final, hugely interesting and relevant question.

If Scotland can succeed, in showing global leadership on one of the most significant environmental, economic and moral issues facing the planet – namely that of climate change – why on earth shouldn’t we have control over our own defence, international development and foreign policy, let alone our own tax rates and welfare system?

Ladies and gentlemen, earlier in my speech I quoted President Bush’s Tartan Day proclamation of 2008, and President Obama’s inauguration speech and state of the union address. I want to end by quoting a speech given by President Kennedy 50 years ago this year,

President Kennedy was addressing the Dail Eireann – the Irish Parliament – on a return to his own ancestral homeland. He therefore spoke in some detail about the contribution small nations can make to world affairs.

He praised Ireland’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions, and pointed out that “the achievement of nationhood is not an end but a beginning…;  self-determination can no longer mean isolation; and the achievement of national independence today means withdrawal from the old status only to return to the world scene with a new one.”

Since President Kennedy spoke, many more nations have attained independence. As recently as 1990, Europe had 35 countries – now it has 50. Of the 27 countries which currently make up the EU, six of them did not exist as independent states before 1990. When the United Nations was founded, it had 51 member countries. Now there are almost 200.

In 2014, I believe that Scotland will choose to join those nations.

We will do so knowing – as President Kennedy knew – that self-determination cannot mean isolation. States are interdependent as well as independent, and nationalism must embrace internationalism.

That’s why an independent Scotland will be a staunch friend of our neighbours and allies. We will participate actively in international organisations such as the EU and NATO.

We will use the powers of independence to strengthen Scotland’s voice in the world. And we will use that voice – together with our allies – to promote democracy, international law, climate justice, and human rights.

So as the Presidential decree of 2008 recognised, it is fitting that we celebrate the “long shared ties of family and friendship” between Scotland and the USA this week. We can look forward to those ties being renewed and strengthened in the years to come – as a newly independent Scottish nation embraces enduring alliances, values and friendships.