By a Newsnet reporter
Three quarters of the Scottish electorate support an independent Scotland remaining part of the NATO alliance, a newly published poll has revealed.
The YouGov survey of 1008 people in Scotland, also indicated that a similar number of SNP members (70%) believed that Scotland should continue its membership of the defence treaty.
The results of the survey will provide a boost to SNP leadership who have announced plans to debate the party’s long standing opposition to a continuation of membership should Scots opt for independence.
This week, the SNP’s defence spokesman Angus Robertson signalled a shift in the nationalist’s stance on opposition to any continued membership of the organisation that accepts nuclear weapons as part of its defence strategy.
However, Mr Robertson insisted that an independent Scotland, like the majority of NATO members, would seek to continue membership on the understanding that the Trident nuclear weapons system would be removed from Scottish soil.
The vast majority of people living in Scotland are against weapons of mass destruction being sited on Scottish soil. Churches, Unions and other civil groups have also voiced their support for the removal of nuclear weapons from the Clyde.
The poll also showed that almost two thirds of those asked, 62%, believed that the decision on whether nuclear weapons should be sited on Scottish soil should rest with the Scottish government.
Commenting on the poll, Mr Robertson said: “This survey evidence underlines the overwhelming public support for key proposals in the updated SNP defence policy. Not only is there massive support by SNP voters, but by supporters of other parties as well. It is right for us to consider remaining within NATO and focus our efforts on appropriate conventional defence for Scotland.
“At the heart of the proposals to update SNP defence policy is that defence, security and international relations should be decided by the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. We already know that there is overwhelming public support for getting rid of Trident from Scotland. This polls shows that there is strong agreement with the SNP that the final say over nuclear weapons should rest with the Scottish Government.”
Mr Robertson added: “It is good to know that there is wide support for key elements of the proposed update to SNP defence policy and hopefully this will inform debate in the run-up to the SNP annual conference in October.”
“The resolution to be presented to conference, which will be supported by Salmond, states that on achieving independence “Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with Nato.
“An SNP government will maintain Nato membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and Nato continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN-sanctioned operations.”
Claims that a newly independent Scotland could retain membership of NATO, whilst getting rid of nuclear weapons, were challenged this week by former Labour Minister George Robertson.
Mr Robertson said: “If they [the SNP] are going to rely on NATO, they are going to have to accept the strategic concept which says NATO is a nuclear alliance and members will retain nuclear weapons. But they are laying down conditions as if they are in a strong position to negotiate.
“This statement from the SNP will be greeted with derision by other countries in NATO, including the smaller ones.”
However, within hours of making the comment, Mr Robertson was reminded of a statement he himself had made in 2001 where the former MP insisted that new NATO members need not be compelled to accept nuclear weapons.
He said: “In the Founding Act NATO committed itself to the famous three nuclear ‘no’s’ – no intention, no plan and no reason to establish nuclear weapon storage sites on the territory of the new members – a commitment still valid.”
Responding to the results of the survey, Scottish Labour’s constitutional spokeswoman, Patricia Ferguson said: “If the SNP leadership take polls seriously, they will change their position on separation (sic) too as the majority of Scots want to remain in the Union.
“The problem for the SNP is that an independent Scotland is not guaranteed membership of NATO. The best way to ensure continued membership is to remain in the Union.”
Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, said: “The fact the SNP have commissioned a poll on this shows they are willing to betray their own policies in exchange for votes in a referendum.
“They have been against joining the most successful military alliance in the world for the past three decades. This U-turn is more to do with the referendum than any respect for our servicemen and women.”
SNP Defence Spokesman Angus Robertson discusses NATO membership here: