AS I write, Europe is teetering on the brink of war in Ukraine. It does not matter that this is the result of brinkmanship on the part of the Putin regime, anxious to deflect from its internal problems. Or that the West has been equally bellicose by unnecessarily extending Nato membership eastwards over the past two decades, in a manner that was bound to provoke Moscow eventually.

The point is that we are where we are. And any false step could trigger a major conflict in Europe involving the big powers for the first time since 1945.

The only pertinent question is how to get out of this mess. Putin has dug himself into a diplomatic hole by insisting not just on guarantees against future Ukrainian membership of Nato, but by insisting on the withdrawal of Western forces from EU states bordering Russia.

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President Biden has talked up the Ukrainian crisis as a diversion from his badly handled exit from Afghanistan, making it virtually impossible for Putin to back down. Boris Johnson has blundered into the crisis in order to draw attention away from Partygate – and made himself look ridiculous in the process. What a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.

But has anyone stopped to ask ordinary folk what they think about a prospective war over Ukraine and the likely impact on the global economy? The loss of Russian gas supplies to the EU – the most probable instant effect of an invasion – would boost energy prices even higher. This is a conflict that will hit everyone in their wallets, not just Russia or Ukraine.

The latest public opinion polls on the threat of a war make interesting reading. In the UK, Germany and France, less than 50% of voters actually support “defending” Ukraine should Russia invade. Surprisingly, the biggest opposition is in Britain – probably because few people trust a word the Tory government now says. The war faction in the UK Parliament – led by the urbane Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat (below) – may dominate the media, but ordinary Brits are less convinced.

The National:

The new Cold Warriors in the Tory Party and the White House have taken to blaming the Germans for going “soft” on Putin – explained as a consequence of the dependence of the German economy on Russian gas. However, with both German and French citizens leery of a war on their doorsteps, it would be a brave politician in Berlin or Paris who was prepared to be as bellicose as Joe Biden or Boris Johnson.

The decision by Germany not to send arms to Ukraine actually goes back to Angela Merkel, not the new Social Democrat-led coalition. Merkel was a pragmatic politician to her fingertips and realised that the root of the current crisis lies in the West using successive, unsavoury regimes in Kiev to put pressure on the Kremlin. Interestingly, recent polls show that more Germans than Brits are prepared to “defend” Ukraine (49 to 44%). Remember that the next time the Tory tabloids denounce Berlin.

In America till now there has been a majority in support of action to defend Ukraine, though at 54% of the electorate, such support is hardly substantial. Pro-Trump voters are largely of the opinion that the Ukraine conflict is “none of America’s business”. With Trump the current favourite to win the 2024 presidential election, that could be significant. It is certainly being noted in the Kremlin (below).

The American response is influenced heavily by age and class. Hawkishness is strong in older voters and among those earning more than $50,000 a year.

The National: The Kremlin

Some recent polls suggest the balance of popular opinion in the States may even have swung in favour of staying neutral in any Russia-Ukraine conflict, though we are still within margins of error. I dare say American voters might change their minds if a shooting war started, but for present the sceptics are on the rise.

I mention this because here in Scotland a number of prominent SNP figures – particularly those at Westminster – have taken a strong line against Moscow in the current crisis. At the start of this month, three SNP MPs – Alyn Smith, Stewart McDonald and Dave Doogan – made a flying visit to Kiev for supportive talks with the Ukrainian foreign minister, Mykola Tochytskyi. Rather pointedly, the trio did not visit Russia or hold talks with any Russian diplomats.

The First Minister herself, writing in The Guardian, has come out in defence of Ukraine. She even blamed the Tories for allowing Russian oligarchs privileged access to the UK, thus helping to give Putin a sense of political impunity.

Nicola warned: “We cannot be blind to the circumstances which have led to the current crisis, and that includes the situation where wealth with direct links to the Putin regime has been allowed to proliferate here in the UK with often the scantest of regard paid to its provenance or to the influence it seeks to bring to bear on our society.”

I agree with the jibe at the Tories. The City of London is one of the major conduits for laundering the ill-gotten loot that underpins the Kremlin regime. Yet Tory hypocrisy is not new. I also get the fact that Messrs Smith and McDonald are keen to burnish Scotland’s reputation as a firm ally of the Baltic States and smaller East European nations, the better to win diplomatic recognition for Scotland’s demand for a second independence referendum.

However, we are talking about a prospective shooting war. Already, according to UN calculations, some 13,000 people have been killed (one- quarter civilians) and circa 30,000 wounded in fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014. A full-scale Russian invasion would more than add to that horrible tally. In these circumstances, no-one in Scotland should risk grandstanding.

I’m prepared to accept that Alyn Smith and Stewart McDonald are serious in their endeavours. My beef is that I don’t believe it is in Scotland’s interests to side with Nato’s ill-judged expansion eastward to the Russian border, which is the root cause of this crisis.

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The West accepted (and continues to live with) Finnish and Austrian “neutrality” outside Nato after the Second World War. Why Ukraine should be an exception beats me. Especially if it leads to a wholly avoidable war.

When the SNP membership voted to accept Nato membership in 2012, it was to take the issue off the agenda for the forthcoming independence referendum. It was also a declaration that the SNP wanted Scotland to play a “constructive” role in Europe.

I seriously doubt if SNP members expected this stance to lead to SNP MPs being cheerleaders for reckless Nato expansion. Or that being “constructive” diplomatically meant supporting (implicitly) the more right-wing, authoritarian European governments in using Nato as a means of provoking Moscow.

I hold no brief for the Mafioso in the Kremlin. Equally, I don’t want to see an independent Scotland turn into an uber-bellicose Nato cheerleader, just to prove our European credentials. Independence allows Scotland to chart its own course. Naturally, we will be internationalists because we want to be good neighbours. But that does not mean we should run blindly into other people’s conflicts.