ON Saturday, All Under One Banner will hold a demonstration against nuclear weapons at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde, home to Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet. This will be the first major anti-nuke demo since the outbreak of Covid-19. The protest by a group best known for its big independence marches is also backed by Scottish CND.

This convergence of the national and nuclear issues is no accident. The west’s debacle in Afghanistan has opened a dangerous new phase in global politics. Any Scottish independence referendum will take place against a background of rising international tensions that must intrude in our domestic debate.

A nuclear arms race has been accelerating in recent years, partly obscured by the pandemic. For instance, China currently possesses 350 nuclear warheads. It is a fraction of the US total of 5550 or Russia’s 6255 but Beijing has reversed its “minimum deterrence” policy and is building new missile silos.

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In June, researchers discovered the construction of 119 new intercontinental ballistic missile silos near the western Chinese city of Yumen. Then in July, a second new missile silo field was identified under construction in the Xinjiang province in western China.

The latter area is home to the oppressed Muslim Uyghurs and borders directly on Afghanistan. From inside Afghanistan, the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) is fighting a guerrilla war against Chinese occupation. Last year the United States cynically removed the ETIM from its list of designated Islamist terror groups, to put pressure on Beijing. In turn, an angry Beijing has accused America of hypocrisy regarding its so-called “war on terror”.

Xinjiang also shares a common border with Indian Muslim Kashmir. There have been serious armed clashes between Indian and Chinese forces this year – hardly reported in the west. No wonder Beijing is concerned to secure friendly ties with the new Taliban regime in Kabul. For Xinjiang is now the front line in a variety of possible regional conflicts between nuclear-armed powers.

Britain is part of this new nuclear arms race. In March, UK Government sources announced that the current cap on Trident nuclear warheads (set at 180) would be raised for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

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The UK is also developing a new warhead for the Royal Navy’s next generation of nuclear missile subs. This project involves a new design and test facility at Valduc in France, where Britain is co-operating with France’s Atomic Energy Commission. This effort is clearly designed as a message to Russia, which is frantically developing a range of new nuclear weapons, including hypersonic cruise missiles. Rational folk might consider this game of international nuclear chess as insane.

Then there is America. Nice Uncle Joe Biden has just shown his

(in)competence by plunging the west into its biggest security crisis in two decades, through his misjudging the stability of America’s puppet regime in Afghanistan. But this was always on the cards.

Western military occupation of Afghanistan was itself destabilising in the long run. For the past 20 years, Afghanistan has been run by a corrupt kleptocracy defended by western arms – a kleptocracy that grew rich while Afghanistan became the world’s biggest supplier of heroin. Nato troops died in vain “defending” this idiocy.

The result of Biden’s cock-up has little to do with the Taliban hosting a new wave of jihadist terror. Rather, Afghanistan is about to slip out of the western orbit and into the diplomatic sphere of China, Russia and Iran.

The National:

China needs Afghanistan as a direct route to the freshwater ports of Pakistan, thus linking the oil-rich, central Asian states to Beijing’s “Belt and Road” project to dominate world trade. This is the new “Great Game”.

SHIA Iran was once the Sunni Taliban’s greatest religious enemy. Now Iran needs a friendly Afghanistan as a way of circumventing US economic sanctions. And mischievous Moscow sees the Taliban as a way of re-exerting lost influence in Central Asia.

All of which suggests that a humiliated America is going to resort to nuclear sabre-rattling. Work has already begun on a new ground-based strategic deterrent (aka GBSD) at a reputed cost of $100 billion. The US Air Force wants 600 of these rockets, to be ready by 2029. That is half as many again as the existing Minuteman missile force. But there are only so many times you can blow up the world.

Where does this leave an indy Scotland? There is a popular will to close Faslane and send the Trident subs packing. But that does not change the fact we will embrace nationhood in the midst of this new, destabilising nuclear arms race. An arms race in which Nato members are fully engaged – especially now the Alliance has been kicked out of Afghanistan.

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The SNP are committed to joining Nato while their Green Party coalition partners are not. A pragmatic argument can be made for steering clear of the Nato membership question till after an independence referendum, on the grounds of “not scaring the horses”.

I presume that is the reason why Alba’s conference arrangements committee has declined to put forward all of the anti-Nato motions submitted by branches for discussion at next month’s Greenock gathering.

That’s one indy party for, one against and one on the fence.

The practical problem is that leaving the UK will put Scotland out of Nato so we’d have to apply to rejoin. And that will need to go in any independence prospectus. Of course, it is possible to put the matter to a post-indy referendum. But regardless of the timing, Scotland will have to decide sometime where it stands on Nato – and hence on the nuclear death dance.

If you oppose nukes on moral grounds, you simply can’t support Nato membership because Nato is built on nuclear deterrence. The Nato website boldly declares: “Nuclear weapons are a core component of Nato’s overall capabilities for deterrence and defence … as long as nuclear weapons exist, it will remain a nuclear alliance.”

Indy Scotland might be able to get rid of UK nuclear subs and warheads at Faslane, but Nato membership will require we accept visiting US and allied ships and aircraft – remember that Prestwick Airport a major staging post for US Air Force planes.

Those Nato visitors carry nukes. We might adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as do Norway and Denmark, but that is diplomatic hypocrisy. Besides, both Norway and Denmark are part of Nato’s Nuclear Planning Group.

The National:

There is another argument in favour of Scotland eschewing Nato membership, besides moral abhorrence of nukes. Nato has long ceased to be a defensive alliance. It bombed Serbia in 1999. It invaded Afghanistan in 2001. It bombed Libya back into the Stone Age in 2011 (with SNP support).

A Scotland inside Nato would have been party to these actions. Scottish troops would have been sent to Afghanistan in their own right – and probably died there in vain just as have Scots serving with the British Army in Helmand.

This is not an argument for armed neutrality, which is the Irish position. But it is a plea for an indy Scotland to stay out of the nuclear arms race.

That is the message we should make at Saturday’s Faslane demo.