My first version of this post started,
The Scotsman is well-known for its anti-independence stance and its twisting of ‘stories’ to suit its agenda, eg see here, but today it has surpassed itself with a non-story. They have been scraping around in the bottom of the barrel for so long that there is no barrel left. They’re in the gutter.
Today they carry this headline,
There is no doubt in this headline: a question mark at the end would have left the position open but, no, the Scotsman is claiming that there is definitely an SNP plan linking Trident to the pound. But the Scotsman gives no evidence of such. There are no sources indicating a plan exists. There is nothing other than some quotes from Dr Phillips O’Brien, director of the Centre for War Studies at Glasgow University, which give little basis for the Scotsman’s claim.
The article is short and so you can read all of it below.
It was clear to me that the Scotsman had whipped up a controversy out of very little and I was going to continue to write in that vein but then I thought, ‘Why not ask Dr O’Brien?’. When I wrote extensively about Trafigura in 2011 and 2012 I contacted the interested parties. Why not do that now?
And so this afternoon I emailed Dr O’Brien as follows,
Dear Dr O'Brien
I hope it's OK to contact you.
Today's Scotsman carries an article - Scottish independence: SNP Trident for pound plan - which is built around comments you are reported to have made. Unfortunately, the Scotsman has a reputation for over-stating the difficulties of independence, for slanting stories to the negative and for producing stories with misleading headlines and statements.
Today's story could fall into these categories and so I ask if the story accurately reflects your views. For example, the headline 'Scottish independence: SNP Trident for pound plan' and first paragraph, 'The SNP government is ready to allow the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons to remain on the Clyde after independence in exchange for keeping the pound, according to a leading defence expert.' allow for no doubt. There is a plan.
The quotes attributed to you - "have to make deals", "What we see on Faslane and on defence issues and security is an attempt to say, ‘Look we will be more reasonable on this than we seem to have been in the past publicly’.", and “Reading the white paper, they’re saying, ‘we can host these weapons for the long run’.” - don't carry that strength.
I watched a BBC interview of yours from the 27th September last year and I was struck by your straightforwardness: I couldn't judge whether you were pro- or anti- independence. This is unusual to see. I note that in that interview you said it was reasonable to expect Scotland to retain Trident for between 5 and 15 years simply to allow rUK to determine what it wanted to do with nuclear weapons and to make the necessary physical arrangements to house them should it (rUK) itself decide to retain nuclear weapons.
Therefore, I ask if the article is an accurate reflection of your views and of what you told the Scotsman and if not in which ways. Do you believe there is a definite plan? Do you think there is enough wiggle room for the Scottish Government (SG) to retain Trident in return for the pound? Are there any other comments you wish to make about the article or about deals the SG might make regarding Trident. (sic)
I look forward to hearing from you but if my contact is inappropriate please accept my apologies.
[The emphasis above is mine for clarity and was not in the original email.]
Dr O’Brien replied within 1 hour. I had wanted to publish his reply in its entirety provided this was acceptable to him. Perhaps, understandably, he would rather I did not quote him verbatim but was happy that I summarise his views, provided I stated that this was my summary.
Calum’s Summary of Dr Phillips O’Brien Reply
The first point of interest was about the tone of emails he has received. Whilst he thanked me because my email was respectful he said that others he had received today were not. This is disappointing because, as I said in reply, ‘respect …. costs little but is worth much.’ We do ourselves no favours by being disrespectful. I made more of this in a previous post about Barrhead Travel.
The next point is that he says the article goes a little far and he qualifies this by saying that the White Paper does not rule out Trident remaining in Scotland for a considerable period. In his BBC interview he thought it reasonable that Scotland could host Trident for between 5 to 15 years to allow rUK to make its decisions and any physical arrangements to house them. He states that the White Paper gives no guarantees or deadlines but rather only gives a view that Trident should be removed by the end of the first parliament.
Thirdly he says, in terms of an independent Scotland’s anti-nuclear policy, that the Scottish Government only state that they will not maintain nuclear weapons and say nothing about other NATO countries bringing nuclear weapons into Scottish waters. In his BBC interview he goes slightly further by saying that were Scotland to ban any ship with nuclear weapons from its waters, as New Zealand has done, then Scotland would not be allowed to join NATO.
Fourthly, he believes that Scotland is in a weak negotiating position in that it wants much, quick Nato entry, easy EU membership and a currency union but has little to bargain with other than Trident. Dr O’Brien doesn’t state the following explicitly but I think he believes that, because of its weak negotiating position, Scotland may have to do a deal it would otherwise not want to do.
Finally I don’t know what Dr O’Brien’s views are on Scottish independence. He says that he is not anti-independence but that doesn’t mean he favours independence.
Scotsman Story and Dr O’Brien’s Views
I go much further than does Dr O’Brien. He says that the article goes a little too far. I say the Scotsman has gone way beyond what Dr O’Brien has stated.
The Scotsman says there is a plan, and the SNP government is ready to do a deal, to retain Trident for a currency union. The Scotsman leaves no place for doubt in these statements.
Dr O’Brien makes no mention of a plan but says only that the White Paper leaves options open. He may think that Scotland will end up having to do a deal about Trident but even this is far from what the Scotsman alleges.
I believe there was the potential for an interesting and important article had the Scotsman been straightforward in how it reported Dr O’Brien’s views but the Scotsman is only straightforward in its absolute negativity towards independence and in its desire to advance the cause of unionism at every opportunity even when no cause exists.
Finally I thank Dr O’Brien for his openness.