An independent Scotland and membership of a nuclear armed NATO are not incompatible – Yet another policy stood on its head by the SNP

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – Motion addressed by MSP’s, in the Scottish Parliament

That this Parliament recognises that the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force on 22 January 2021:

The first meeting of state parties (1st MSP) will take place in Vienna from 22 to 24 March 2022:

It further notes that the 1st MSP will determine the rules of procedure for observers and state participators, deadlines for disarmament, verification and removal of nuclear weapons, and victim remediation with an emphasis on the disproportionate impact on indigenous communities and women and girls:

The Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will take place from 4 to 28 January 2022:

The UK is a state party to this treaty, and is accordingly bound by Article 6, which is to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”:

Civil society groups in Scotland, including in the Glasgow Anniesland constituency, consider that the decision to increase the UK’s nuclear stockpile creates a higher risk of an accident on Scottish roads, as warheads are transported to and from Faslane, Coulport, and notes the reported calls from civil society groups for the UK Government to uphold its commitment to Article 6 of the NPT and to engage with the 1st MSP on the TPNW in Vienna next year.

Speaking to the debate for the SNP government Ash Denham, Minister for Community Safety said: “The Scottish Government supports the objectives of the international treaties on nuclear weapons and we will work with partners to make an independent Scotland a nation that is free of nuclear weapons.”

Comment: Note the weasel words. Use of the pluralistic term “treaties” is revealing.

A Nuclear Ban in Scotland

Scotland cannot sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in its own right.

Obligations of Parties to the Treaty

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) prohibits States Parties from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, or stockpiling nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Signatories are barred from transferring or receiving nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices, control over such weapons, or any assistance with activities prohibited under the Treaty. States are also prohibited from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices. Lastly, States Parties cannot allow the stationing, installation, or deployment of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices in their territory. In addition to the Treaty’s prohibitions, States Parties are obligated to provide victim assistance and help with environmental remediation efforts.

States Parties of the Nuclear Ban Treaty met at the Vienna International Centre in June 2022 to discuss and analyse the treaty’s progress thus far.

The UK did not attend, despite the fact that it was responsible for untold suffering due to nuclear testing in the 1950s. The UK’s absence demonstrated a refusal to accept responsibility in remediating the harm caused to indigenous people living in Australia and The Christmas Islands due to nuclear testing. Article 6 of the Treaty states:

“Each State Party shall, with respect to individuals under its jurisdiction who are affected by the use or testing of nuclear weapons, in accordance with applicable international humanitarian and human rights law, adequately provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance, without discrimination, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion.”

The UK Government’s position

The UK is committed to the long term goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the cornerstone of the international nuclear non proliferation regime and the essential foundation for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and for peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

As a responsible Nuclear Weapons State the UK continues to work with international partners towards creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. However, it will not sign the treaty which has been published today. It has previously been made very clear that the treaty, if signed by all nations will bring lead to a world without nuclear weapons. But this treaty fails to address the key issues that must first be overcome to achieve lasting global nuclear disarmament.

It will not improve the international security environment or increase trust and transparency. The unpredictable international security environment of today demands the maintenance of the nation’s nuclear deterrent. And further shifts in the international security context cannot be ruled out which could put the UK and it’s NATO allies, under grave threat.

This treaty also risks undermining and weakening the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, which has played an unparalleled role in curtailing the nuclear arms race. The NPT continues to make a significant contribution to the strategic stability that the international community requires. The NPT must be upheld and strengthened because of, not despite, the complex security challenges that we all face. It remains the right framework for progress across all three, mutually reinforcing, pillars, including disarmament.

The UK firmly believes that the best way to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is through gradual multilateral disarmament negotiated using a step-by-step approach, within existing international frameworks. Productive results can only be achieved through a consensus-based approach that takes into account the wider global security context. It is only through building the necessary mutual trust between states, and through putting into place the key international architecture to help build the conditions for further disarmament, that realistic and effective route can be progressed towards the mutual goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

The UK has not taken part in the negotiation of this treaty, and does not intend to sign, ratify or become party to it. The treaty will therefore not be binding on the UK. Furthermore, the UK would not accept any argument that this treaty can constitute a development of customary international law binding on the UK or on other non-parties. Importantly, states possessing nuclear weapons have not taken part in the negotiations. As has been made clear, the UK, as a Nuclear Weapons State, has been pursuing a step by step approach to nuclear disarmament consistent with the NPT and its other treaty commitments.

The UK will continue to work with partners across the international community to press for key steps towards multilateral disarmament, including the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and successful negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty in the Conference on Disarmament. And will continue to play a leading role in disarmament verification.

Stewart McDonald SNP Shadow Cabinet Defence Minister

Asked if an independent Scotland would ban any nuclear weapons including, for example, a visiting US nuclear-armed submarine, McDonald would only say that an independent Scotland would not “permanently host nuclear weapons from other states.”

Quite where his statement squares with official SNP policy is confusing since until now the party has insisted that an independent Scotland would ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

NATO membership is incompatible with TPNW

The TPNW is clearly at odds with NATO membership and incompatible with a US nuclear-armed sub using Scotland as a base. NATO’s opposition to the treaty could not be clearer, as evidenced by the statement it issued when the treaty came into force, which said:

“NATO is a defensive alliance. The fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear capability is to preserve peace, prevent coercion, and deter aggression. A world where the states that challenge the international rules-based order have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is not a safer world. As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. Allies are determined to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective, and reject any attempt to delegitimise nuclear deterrence. We do not accept any argument that the ban treaty reflects or in any way contributes to the development of customary international law. The ban treaty will not change the legal obligations of our countries with respect to nuclear weapons.”

Has Nicola Sturgeon handed Scotland’s defence policy to Westminster

The First Minister publicly boasted about being a member of CND before she joined the SNP but it appears she has handed over defence policy to Stewart McDonald. Policy made on the hoof is never satisfactory but it might just be that anti-nuclear party members will have other thoughts on the matter.

Scottish peace activists head for Nobel Peace Prize procession with backing of Nicola Sturgeon


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