Democracy and free speech is alive and well in Scotland as the SNP engaged in an open and frank debate on the benefits, or otherwise, of remaining in NATO.
The party opened itself up to debate as delegates took sides and sought to persuade the membership of the merits of their respective arguments.
In the end, the decision wasn’t unanimous, but the message was clear – an independent Scotland will seek to remove nuclear weapons from its soil whilst remaining a full and active partner in NATO.
Those against had sought to persuade delegates that such a scenario was against the basic principles of the party, how could Scotland agree to ‘shelter’ under the nuclear umbrella whilst purporting to be against WMD?
Those in favour adopted a pragmatic stance, arguing that the changing world we now live in required the party to adjust and present a 21st century policy on NATO.
Both sides agreed that Trident was an abomination and the £250 million currently allocated to maintaining the nuclear arsenal on the Clyde could be better spent. However there was disagreement on the need to alter the 30 year position on NATO.
In the end the modernists won and the SNP will now enter the referendum campaign on a defence ticket that demands the removal of Trident but a willingness to co-operate with our allies to ensure the defence of Scotland’s air-space and waters.
It was noted that the current Union has left Scotland vulnerable, with the closure of air bases and the loss of strategic aircraft. To adopt an uncompromising stance in the face of changing world threat was to leave a vulnerable underbelly for Unionists to attack the pro-independence campaign.
Notwithstanding these warnings, this was a passionate and fiercely contested debate that brought back memories of the open politics of days gone by. There was no suggestion of cow-towing to the SNP leadership as speaker after speaker brought heartfelt oratory and thought provoking argument.
One of the most powerful was Kenny MacAskill, who had felt the wrath of the USA over his decision to grant the compassionate release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
Mr MacAskill recalled his marches alongside CND and also reminded delegates that no one could accuse him of bowing to pressure from the pro-nuclear USA. He was now “tired of marching” and only full independence would see the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland.
That pragmatic call may have swayed delegates who voted 426 to 332 in favour of remaining in NATO.
The relief was palpable on the faces of the party leadership; they wanted this.
For those critics who complain that the SNP is a rigid, compliant one man band then this see-saw debate on one of the most important areas of the constitutional debate is proof otherwise.