The foreign policy choices for an independent Scotland were argued at length last Wednesday by key political speakers in Glasgow’s Queen Margaret Union (QMU). The debate was held as part of a series of talks on Scottish independence ahead of a student referendum on the subject later this month.
The debate was attended by senior political figures including Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for External Affairs and International Development in the Scottish government and Willie Rennie MSP, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Key speakers also included Isobel Lindsay, chair of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and former army officer Stuart Crawford.
Issues involving the future of Trident were first brought to question, with first speaker Dr Phillips O’Brien, director of the Scottish Centre for War Studies, discussing the future — or lack thereof — for Faslane.
He argued: "There is no way an independent Scotland could keep Faslane (HM Naval Base Clyde) going. It has no future. Faslane is in the worst possible place you can imagine. The one thing an independent Scotland should be able to do is control its oil and gas. Getting from the oil fields to Faslane is the most difficult single journey in Scotland."
Humza Yousaf spoke of his optimism for the global platform Scotland will be granted if the country gains independence: "Not even our harshest critics could doubt Scotland will prosper economically, financially or even as a trading nation. This vote in 2014 is about choices. Those choices not to get involved in illegal wars, the choice to tackle climate change, to tackle world poverty and to choose not to keep nuclear weapons on our soil. It means we don’t condemn a dictator’s brutality one year, and the next year canoodle with them."
Isobel Lindsey argued for Scotland’s right to remove nuclear armaments: "We have nuclear weapons not because they have any military use but because it gives us status. It has the assumption of empire behind it and wanting to be important in the world. Scotland is dragged along as the British state on the coattails."
She claimed that under an independent Scottish government, it would take under two years to remove nuclear weapons from Faslane.
The SNP's stance was criticised by Willie Rennie, who argued the SNP was trying to evade responsibility for their involvement in Britain’s colonial past:
"The nationalists like to create this impression that we’re all benevolent pacifists. The Scottish parliament voted for the Iraq war. For numerous elections, Scots voted for a Trident Labour party. Just because Scotland will be independent, doesn’t mean these islands will be free of nuclear weapons."
Tension heightened as questions from the audience were taken for the guest speakers. The Yes supporters were more willing to speak up in their defence of independence, meaning a stream of probing questions for the Liberal Democrat leader.
One student, propelled by jeers from the crowd, directed his anger at Willie Rennie’s speech about Scotland and Empire, shouting: "Your arguments are so old and out of time, very similar to your own party."
Olivia Begg, a 4th-year Spanish student, was left worried and frustrated by the outcome of the debate:
"As a pro-unionist, I was disappointed by the Better Together campaigner. I don’t think he put a strong argument across for the union. It concerns me because if someone went in with no opinion, they would have left in support of the SNP.
"I thought that the SNP campaign was quite idealistic. They were definitely making out that if Scotland were to go independent, there would be no problems.
"There was a good point made by a student that criticised Scotland’s desire to be absolved of responsibility for the UK’s actions. He said the notion seems to be that if we separate ourselves from the UK, we somehow wash our hands of the problems there."
The student poll on independence will be held from 10am to 6pm in the QMU and Glasgow University Union on Thursday 21 February.