'It would be cataclysmic for Scotland to become independent, it would aid the forces of darkness, it would threaten the stability of the western world'
These remarks, uttered way back in April by the former Secretary General of NATO George Robertson caused a political storm in Scotland. The Yes campaign was quick to claim the moral high ground and attacked Lord Robertson, accusing him of exaggeration and peddling fantasy to terrify voters. Blair Jenkins said,
"George needs to calm down and tone down the rhetoric if he wishes to make a meaningful contribution to what is a generally measured and even-tempered debate on the right democratic choice for the people of Scotland."
Soon a consensus was established. How silly of the former NATO man to use such 'insulting and offensive language' (Nicola Sturgeon), how wrong of him to frame the referendum in such 'apocalyptic and menacing terms' (Blair Jenkins). Some No supporters found his words a step too far, and the Herald Scotland reported that
'...one Coalition insider said Lord Robertson's language was "hardly helpful" to the UK Government's attempt to accentuate the positive pro-Union case, while a Labour MP described the remarks as "over the top".'
The words used are strong indeed. They are memorable, they strike a chord. However, rather than quibbling about their appropriateness or jeering at his theatrical imagery, we should really be asking if his grasp of geo-politics is accurate or inaccurate. Furthermore we should be asking serious questions about the security of a Scotland outside the United Kingdom. These are the two issues this piece will briefly explore.
The past few months have seen an alarming descent into violence across the world. The conflict in Israel-Palestine continues to rage with no end to the suffering in sight. Syria is still caught in the grip of a bloody and vicious civil war. ISIS, one of the more horrific groups to emerge from the war in Syria has recently forced the ancient Christian community of Mosul in Iraq to flee the city. Much closer to home trigger happy rebels (probably armed although not directed by the Russian government) shot down a passenger jet over Ukraine, killing everyone on board. Further afield, the murderous necrocracy of the Kims still holds sway in North Korea. Japan, China and their neighbours squabble over tiny scraps of rock in the middle of the ocean and Thais come to terms with another military coup.
A government that still regards Eastern Europe as its personal playground; a fundamentalist group that sees women as possessions to be covered up and mutilated - to equate governments and organisations like these to 'forces of darkness', although perhaps undiplomatic and rather biblical, does not seem, to my mind, necessarily wrong. By mocking his choice of words we perhaps miss Robertson's point and hugely cheapen his argument.
Part of what Lord Robertson was desperate to convey is that our world is dangerous and unstable. As the last few weeks have shown, he is entirely correct. It is certainly not fear mongering to draw our attention to the fact that there are many governments and organisations in the world that stand directly opposed to what we in the United Kingdom hold dear. Anyone who believes that that Scotland has no enemies and faces no threats are deluded and naïve. They are the fantasists, not Lord Robertson.
As many have pointed out, the United Kingdom possesses one of the best intelligence services on the planet. Our intelligence service is linked to those of our allies through the Five-eyes Network (which includes the US, the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia). Leaving the United Kingdom would mean leaving forever this network of information gathering and sharing. The implication of this is simple, as Adam Tomkins has observed
'Leaving the five-eyes network would make Scottish assets and interests more vulnerable to attack, to espionage, and to sabotage.'
Without the United Kingdom's intelligence services and armed forces it is likely that an independent Scotland would be exposed and vulnerable in an increasingly hostile world, unable to project power abroad and reliant on the protection and support of foreign nations. Obviously I am not suggesting that an independent Scotland would suddenly be ripe for foreign invasion but on issues like cyber crime (for example) the country might regret not being able to deploy the resources and manpower of the United Kingdom's intelligence services.
The reason Lord Robertson's comments received such blanket condemnation is not hard to see. His speech fitted perfectly into the 'negative campaigning' paradigm much loved by the SNP (surely one of the great ironies of this referendum, the 'No' side accused of being 'negative'!) Better Together, terrified of not appearing 'positive' quickly disowned him.
His comments probably were too bombastic, too metaphorical and too vivid. In any case, Robertson's remarks should certainly make us pause for very serious thought. All Brits should consider the consequences of dividing the armed forces and Scots must reflect on the result of leaving the umbrella of the United Kingdom's intelligence services.
Faced with an aggressive and assertive Russia meddling in Eastern Europe, religious extremists tearing the Middle East apart and distant rumblings in the South China sea, the phrase 'better together' takes on a serious and solemn significance.