HAS the war in Ukraine ended the chance of a successful bid for Scottish independence, at least in the near future? One voice arguing this is former BBC pundit Andrew Marr, who in an article in the New Statesman suggests that – post-Putin – the SNP will have to choose between its long-standing opposition to hosting Nato nuclear weapons on Scottish soil or losing a second referendum. Marr concludes that the Nats probably will stick with opposing nukes and so be rejected by an electorate that is more hard-headed about dealing with Moscow.

Marr also offers the sage advice that the Brits can’t move their nuclear subs anywhere else than the Clyde. He thinks that English ports are too close to crowded sea lanes and big population zones to b safe and that using US or French naval facilities is ruled out on political grounds. Clearly our Andrew (who campaigned for me during his brief sojourn in Portobello Labour Party) fails to see any irony in parking Trident submarines outside Glasgow in order to avoid accidents near Portsmouth. The refrain that Putin favours Scottish independence in order to undermine the so-called British nuclear deterrent – actually the missiles are American property and can’t be fired without their permission – is just the latest nonsense invented to confuse the constitutional argument. Scotland demands the right to self-government on grounds of basic democracy. Since when did Vlad the Invader respect anybody’s democratic rights?

As for Marr’s foray into military strategy, if the Brits want to pay a fortune to keep a few nuclear subs (that scare nobody) as a prestige project then I’m sure they will find somewhere in England to moor them. If the locals object, then it just shows how daft and unpopular the nuclear deterrent idea is in the first place. However, the resurrection of the nuclear debate in Scotland is not really about Trident, or its successor systems, per se. Rather, it is about pressuring the SNP and the national movement to further abandon their traditional scepticism regarding militarism and military spending. Remember that the SNP conference only voted to accept Nato membership in 2012. Even then the vote was 426 to 332 against, meaning that more than 40% of members were still unwilling to embrace a foreign military entanglement despite being bullied by the SNP leadership. Plus two SNP MSPs, including the redoubtable Jean Urquhart, quit the party over the shift.

Here is the real bottom line: the liberal commentariat (regardless of its wobbly stance on independence) and the current, pro-Nato SNP leadership are using the odious Russian invasion of Ukraine as a lever to shift the party’s defence stance towards supporting increased military budgets. This has serious economic and diplomatic implications that need to be discussed openly and not camouflaged by an emotional reaction to the Ukraine disaster.

READ MORE: Sweden and Finland ‘to apply to join Nato in May’ amid Russian invasion of Ukraine

In a recent paper for the Reform think tank, the SNP’s Westminster defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald, made a plea for more military spending by an independent Scotland. He argued: “Nato is a burden-sharing alliance and Scotland, like all member states, will be expected to share in that burden. That means a new level of ambition on defence, similar to that being shown by our neighbours, compared to what we put forward in the 2014 independence referendum”.

This unusually discrete wording (for McDonald) avoids giving numbers. Let’s provide some hard figures. The 2014 independence White Paper suggested that defence spending would be £2.5 billion or circa 1.5% of projected GDP at independence. Note: that was still a lot more than the figure for UK military spending inside Scotland, though less than Scotland’s notional contribution to the total defence budget including Trident. However, the SNP’s defence promises have already changed a lot since the 2013 White Paper.

In 2014, Nato adopted a pledge to raise each member state’s military spending to at least 2% of annual GDP. The UK claimed to be meeting this target already by fiddling its pension liabilities – hardly what was meant by the promise. Since 2014, SNP spokespersons have insisted that an indy Scotland inside Nato would meet the 2% obligation. They have little choice. However, the infamous SNP Growth Report, written by Andrew Wilson and published in 2018, throws a spanner in the works. This document proposes an annual defence budget equivalent to 1.6% of Scottish GDP – far less than the Nato commitment.

The Sustainable Growth Report has never been officially repudiated or suspended by the SNP. However, its financial calculations are clearly at odds with the Nato target – and that was before the Ukraine invasion. Since the Russian assault on Ukraine, Nato members – Germany in particular – have promised significant increases in military budgets, far in excess of the notional 2%. We now live in an era of wars and rumours of wars.

At the height of the Cold War, UK defence spending ran at more than 8% of national income. Even in the 1980s, it was around 5% of GDP. The current global insecurity suggests we are headed for a return to at least 5% again, and within the decade. In other words, an independent Scotland inside Nato – especially one led by an SNP committed to winning international approval by being a “good” member – would see proposed military spending running at least three times the rate proposed in the indy White Paper or the Growth Report. That is what Stewart McDonald is afraid to spell out. Many will say that this is a regrettable necessity and could even have positive economic benefits for the defence industries and technology in Scotland. I beg to differ. For starters, we don’t have much of a local defence manufacturing capability in Scotland and we will end up importing foreign aircraft and tanks, in a rush of toxic military chest-beating. Second, diverting scarce human talent and technical resources to a new military establishment will hurt economic development, not expand it. Scotland needs more decent houses, not submarines or jet fighters.

READ MORE: Putin's Russia is turning into North Korea – and people who live here are scared

But what about Great Russian expansionism, you ask? The re-emergence of great power rivalry will not be blunted by starting a new arms race. Inevitably, such an arms race will involve China, the world’s second largest economy and a very different kettle of military fish than Putin’s Russia (which has a true economic muscle barely the size of Spain’s). And just as inevitably, trying to deal with the criminal gang in the Kremlin by Nato expansionism will only widen the conflict zone. Just wait till Putin persuades the Bosnian Serbs to launch a renewed Balkan war behind Nato lines.

Instead, progressive groups in the West should be helping similar movements in Russia and Belarus to overthrow their dictatorial regimes from within. Putin’s dictatorship is far from solid. Nato – by expanding into Eastern Europe and invading Afghanistan and Libya – gave Putin the excuse to try and consolidate his shaky grip on power by playing the nationalist card.

And the West was happy to keep Russia an underdeveloped economy based on cheap commodity exports, lest it face commercial competition.

Provoking a new arms race only compounds these historic errors. Scotland should think twice before joining in.