Alex Salmond accused of misleading voters over Trident base promises

Both political opponents and allies of Scottish government say pledge to join Nato is at odds with stance on nuclear disarmamant

Alex Salmond’s government has been accused of misleading voters over the viability of its plans for joining Nato while also closing down the Trident nuclear base by both his political opponents and his allies.

The Scottish government found itself under attack from two fronts after the Guardian revealed that senior Nato officials had warned Scottish civil servants that an independent Scotland would be unable to join the alliance if there was a dispute over the future of the Faslane submarine base near Glasgow.

Salmond has insisted that if he wins next year’s independence referendum, the Scottish government will apply to join Nato while simultaneously starting talks with the UK government to urgently remove Trident weapons from Faslane, surviving a major revolt on the issue at last year’s SNP conference.

The first minister said Faslane would instead become a conventional naval base. But his pledge to force out Trident is being vigorously opposed by the UK government, in part because of the immense cost and time needed to build a new nuclear port in England or Wales.

On a fact-finding mission to Nato headquarters on 8 July, Scottish officials were told that aspiring members would be barred from joining Nato if there were live territorial or military disputes with its neighbours, or if there was a threat to Nato’s pro-nuclear policies.

Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Tories, and Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, said that warning was a significant blow to the credibility of Salmond’s defence strategy, which is designed to woo both mainstream and centre-left voters.

Davidson said the first minister “doesn’t have a clue about defence issues”, adding: “Defence of the nation is the first responsibility of any government, yet once again Alex Salmond has been caught playing fast and loose with the truth – making assertions without checking the facts.”

Rennie added: “It is little surprise that Nato officials are concerned that an important part of its defence utility could be unilaterally undermined by one of its new members. [To] be a normal member of an alliance you should expect to comply with its rules, ethos and purpose.

“If the SNP want to ditch Trident they’d need to ditch Nato too. Leaving Nato would leave Scotland without the cornerstone of defence in Europe, potentially exposing us to considerable threats.”

That criticism was partly supported by Salmond’s allies in the pro-independence movement. Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green party co-leader, said that Salmond and the SNP should consider reversing their pro-Nato policy before next year’s referendum. This would strengthen the moral and political case for independence, he said.

“The prospect of removing abhorrent weapons of mass destruction from Scottish waters is a hugely compelling argument for independence; membership of an outdated, dangerous club is not,” Harvie said.

“Scotland can play a peaceful and constructive role in the world, and by taking responsibility for foreign policy and defence we would be able to take …read more