Lord George “Devolution will kill nationalism stone dead” Robertson of Port Ellen is among several ennobled former Defence Secretaries who’ve been busying themselves with writing to the press this week. And for once, it’s not about dog dirt and potholes.
As well as being co-signatory with several other Conservative and Labour peers to a letter in the Telegraph urging the UK to commit to a like-for-like replacement of Trident, Robertson also bothered the Herald with a missive aiming to “nail some wild assertions and fallacies about Scottish public opinion on the subject”.
We could score a cheap point here by noting that the befuddled pensioner apparently thinks the SNP secured 45% of the vote “in the 2010 General Election” – rather than in the Holyrood one the following year – but instead we’ll point out the ermine-clad statesman’s rather more serious attempt to mislead.
Robertson draws attention to a recent poll conducted by another of his titled chums, Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, but for some reason elects to present its conclusions in an inexplicably selective and misleading manner. For example, of the Scottish voters polled he asserts that:
“Only one-third (34%) said the UK should give up nuclear weapons completely.”
Yet that figure comes from a caveated question later on in the poll. Lord Ashcroft’s survey, the full results of which can be seen here, starts off by asking a much simpler and more direct question on the subject of nuclear armament:
“In principle, do you support or oppose the UK having nuclear weapons?
DON’T KNOW: 15%“
Let’s just repeat that: only 37% of Scots support the UK having nuclear weapons.
The 34% opposition figure quoted by Lord Robertson comes from the next question, which offers a range of options for a decision to be made in almost 20 years’ time, when the existing Trident system will become obsolete. The 34% in favour of scrapping it is in fact the most popular option.
Lord Robertson’s preferred choice, the replacement of Trident with an equally powerful system (“We firmly believe that we should not water down the strategic deterrent”), is backed by just 20% of respondents. Another 31% support a completely theoretical cheaper and less powerful nuclear armoury about which no details were offered.
The implication of the line in the good Lord’s letter to the Herald, of course, is that two-thirds of Scots want to see the UK retain nuclear missiles. The reality, even on his own highly selective parameters, is that the slimmest possible majority – 51% – supported that idea in an extremely abstract sense, and dependent on the existence of an unknown and possibly illusory alternative two decades into the future.
Further on, Lord Ashcroft muddies the waters still further by asking Scots what their view would be in the event that Scotland was independent. At that point the picture changes radically, with 50% in favour of expelling the weapons from the new nation and only 35% wishing them to remain, presumably in some sort of annexed UK sovereign enclave – the same option which was hotly and strenously rejected by Downing Street this very week as “not a credible or sensible idea”.
(Robertson then embarrassingly cited a UK-wide survey with a tiny Scottish sub-sample, but curiously chose to omit a TNS-BMRM poll from this March which found an overwhelming four-to-one margin against replacement.)
We doubt many people are fooled by Lord Robertson’s clumsy attempts at manipulating information – or indeed pay any attention to anything he says at all, given his track record of perceptive political insight. But it seemed worth painting back in the elements of the picture he’d left out.
In his memoirs, Tony Blair revealed the truth of Westminster thinking about the UK’s nuclear “deterrent”. The book noted that “The expense is huge and the utility non-existent in terms of military use”, but the former PM admitted that he’d shied away from disarmament for purely political reasons, deeming it “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”.
It’s remarkable that with the cat so long out of the bag and the horse so far bolted from the stable, Unionist politicians are still trying to sell the absurd notion that Trident plays any part in the UK or Scotland’s safety (“we should not take risks with our security by downgrading to a part-time deterrent”). In that context, crudely twisting a few poll figures is the least of the deceit.