SNP 'considers Nato policy change'

British troops serving with Nato in Afghanistan
Image caption The SNP has been opposed to Nato membership for more than 30 years

The SNP leadership is considering proposing a change to the party's policy on Nato, BBC Scotland understands.

The party has been opposed to membership of the military alliance for more than 30 years.

But the next meeting of its National Council in June is expected to discuss whether an independent Scotland should remain in Nato.

The SNP would maintain its commitment to ditching nuclear weapons.

On Monday, the UK will conduct a military exercise with Nato allies off the west coast of Scotland.

Whether Scottish forces would continue to take part in such manoeuvres after independence now appears to be a live issue within the party.

Professor James Mitchell of Strathclyde University said his research suggested any proposal to remain part of Nato would get a fair hearing from the SNP membership.

He said: "The majority of members would support Scottish membership of Nato, but it has to be said that it is a bare majority and the strength of feeling on this is not great.

"In other words very few of the SNP's members feel that this is a matter of great urgency and great importance".

In a Holyrood motion to mark the 60th anniversary of the alliance, Nationalist MSP Jamie Hepburn said Nato was a destabilising factor in the West's relationship with Russia, that it relied on the continued use of nuclear weapons, and that it serves no useful purpose in the modern world.

Two government ministers - Angela Constance and Aileen Campbell - were among those who supported the motion.

But the SNP provost of Stirling, Fergus Wood, wrote a letter to a national newspaper earlier this week in which he said he supported an independent Scotland retaining its Nato membership.

Ewan Crawford, a former special advisor to the SNP leadership, said a proposal to change the party's policy on Nato was likely to be looked on more favourably by members than anything that would threaten its staunch anti-nuclear stance, which he said was "part of the SNP's DNA".

He told BBC Scotland: "Even although clearly this is a discussion that the leadership is having, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if this in any way compromised the SNP's anti-nuclear stance it wouldn't even be countenanced.

"The other point of course is that although the SNP is hostile to nuclear weapons, it wants to be international, it wants to join things.

"Therefore if they can join international communities, if they can engage in international cooperation without doing anything to overturn the SNP's anti-nuclear stance, then clearly that's something they are at the very least going to consider".

The SNP currently advocates Scotland becoming a member of Partnership for Peace, like Sweden, Austria, Finland and Ireland, which allows bilateral cooperation between Nato and non-Nato countries.

The party's policies are reviewed four times a year, with members proposing motions for debate. It is understood that no motion relating to Nato membership has yet been submitted.

An SNP spokesman said: "Anything that may happen in the future is mere speculation.

"If a motion is submitted it will be considered by the party's Standing Orders and Agenda Committee who will decide if it goes forward for debate. This reflects the democratic processes at the heart of the SNP."

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