Alex Salmond brushes aside the foreign policy facts for Scotland

Scottish nationalists’ assertion that everyone else would bend to Edinburgh’s will is wrong

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Scotland will renounce weapons of mass destruction and then saunter into the Nato nuclear alliance. So eager will be the EU to fling open its doors that it will skip the formalities, and Edinburgh will pick and choose among the terms of membership. The world, in other words, cannot wait to welcome an independent Scotland into its warm embrace. So says Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National party, as the nation prepares to vote on separation.

Things are not quite like that, of course. Many European governments fear that a vote for Scottish independence will give succour to separatist movements across the continent. They have little interest in making life easy for a new breakaway state.

The US has made no secret about its fears of what the break-up of Britain will mean for the cohesion of the western alliance. Nuclear deterrence is at the heart of the organisation’s strategic concept. As Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the outgoing secretary-general, observed this week, each of the 28 existing member states would have to sign up to the admission of an anti-nuclear Scotland.

For Mr Salmond’s nationalists, these are inconvenient facts to be brushed aside, like the many outstanding economic questions, as English scaremongering. All those other states – in the EU and Nato – could be relied upon to discard their prejudices and interests in celebration of Scottish independence. Mr Rasmussen, José Manuel Barroso at the European Commission, the White House and anyone else you can think of will play a different tune after Thursday’s vote.

Beyond insisting that Scotland will banish the Trident nuclear missile system from the Clyde and that it will not be drawn into conflicts in the Middle East, Mr Salmond does not have a foreign policy for his new state. And on this last issue – the reach beyond the Middle East of Islamist extremism – the murder this week of Scottish aid worker David Haines has raised the question as to whether Scotland could so easily inoculate itself against the harsh realities of the wider world.

There is nothing to say that either European neighbours or the US would seek to isolate a Scotland that decided to strike out on its own. Over time it is entirely plausible to imagine it being welcomed into both the EU and Nato. The deception in the nationalist campaign lies in the assertion that everyone else would bend to Edinburgh’s will and allow Mr Salmond to dictate his own terms.

The idea that Scotland could join the EU with a share of the British rebate, no commitment to sign up to the Schengen area’s open borders and a permanent opt-out from the euro is regarded as risible in other European capitals. Mr Salmond seems to believe that, even as Scotland breaks away from the UK, it can inherit all the opt-outs negotiated by the Westminster government. It is not going to happen.

Nor will the Nato treaty be moulded and amended to suit Scotland’s tastes. Scotland may succeed in banishing Britain’s nuclear weapons – something that will hardly win it friends in the alliance – but it would not be accepted for membership as an anti-nuclear-weapons state.

Take it on trust, the nationalists say. Scotland would move quickly to build its own military forces, its own intelligence and security services, and a diplomatic corps the envy of its partners. All these things are indeed possible. But they will require time, lots of it – and, critically, the enthusiastic help and co-operation not just of Britain but of other western governments.

Mr Salmond, as far as I can see, does not have anything you could call a world view. Instead, in the tradition of children in the playground through the ages, he prefers to respond to the hard questions by putting his hands over his ears and shouting as loudly as he can: “I can’t hear you.”

philip.stephens@ft.com

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