Trident is a reserved issue, so how can the recent Holyrood election results affect it? During the campaign, Trident and nuclear weapons were not mentioned very often. Because it’s devolved, because parties feel their stance is well known or for some other reason?
Despite this all the parties published a manifesto position about Trident. The SNP has clearly been against nuclear weapons all along. An anti-Trident agenda has been pursued; supporting a cross-party group, sending delegates to international conferences and calling debates. It has been difficult to support the settled will of the Scottish People against nuclear weapons.
The Greens have been consistently against Trident within their wider remit of seeking peace. Specific manifesto promises support this. The 6 MSPs were elected on a ticket of ‘bolder Holyrood’ so can be expected to use their pivotal position to help the SNP move towards a nuclear free Scotland.
Labour has been a bit of a mess, fudging the answers at hustings until the manifesto was eventually published, a position complicated by the unions. Unite is divided over Trident replacement and GMB is definitely in favour while other unions, and the STUC, take that traditional view that bombing trade unionists elsewhere is unacceptable. The Scottish Labour conference in November took an anti-Trident position forcing Dugdale to reverse her position to being against Trident. In theory, of the 24 Labour MSPs only one, Jackie Baillie (with majority of 108!), is in favour of Trident.
No change with the Conservatives staunchly supporting mass destruction, now with twice the number of MSPs. This rise in numbers means that even though Scottish Labour has changed its position, Trident might now have more support in a Scottish Parliament, not less.
Unfortunately, and negatively, the invisibility of Trident in the election campaign might also be an expression of a general poverty of aspiration around the Scottish elections. In some of the larger parties, there appeared to be a genuine lack of vision of Scotland as a nation with its own place in the world. This may be lack of confidence, or down to selection of candidates not yet used to looking beyond local politics. And yet, we can look further. Scotland can align herself with the 127 nations in the world who reject nuclear weapons and are calling for a global ban.
It is universally acknowledged that one of the main benefits of the referendum campaign was to unite our disparate parties and factions (though we condemned Labour and the Tories for doing this). For a short time, it looked as though we could learn to lay aside differences to unite in campaign-based politics, thus, also giving voice to people who find the party system toxic. Sadly this temporary unity slipped during the election campaign but opposition to Trident provides an opportunity to regain it.
In the British context, the next challenge will be the Trident renewal vote. What form will it take? And when will it be? Of the 59 Scottish MPs, 58 have stated they will vote against renewal. This is likely to show a clear divide between the will of Scotland the will of the rest of Britain.
Possibly there will be a similar division of opinion over Europe. Scotland will have moved further again from the position of the rest of Britain. In this context, it will be easy to make the point that independence is the likeliest route to nuclear disarmament. At Scottish CND, we are planning a summer campaign to drive this point home, coinciding with the SNPs planned summer campaign for indyref 2.
So what’s changed as a result of the election? Without an overall majority the SNP must compromise/work with other parties and the main opposition is no longer Labour (24 MSPs) but Conservatives (31 MSPs). What can we hope for? That the anti-Trident parties acting together without succumbing to point scoring; leaders of all anti-Trident parties signing up to support the Global Ban; Labour unites strongly in anti-Trident position; small tweaks to the law to protect protestors and try to hinder convoys are made; some government funding for the disarmament movement is provided; an active cross-party group for nuclear disarmament gains engagement from all parties; and myths are debunked such as the erroneous jobs argument promoted by Jackie Baillie. Plenty to be going on with there, then!
Veronika Tudhope was vice-chair of Scottish CND for several years and is now a staff member. She was a candidate for the Scottish Green Party in 2016 Holyrood election and the 2015 Westminster election.