The Constitution Page: defence

For more than half a century people have campaigned against nuclear weapons. The basic tactic was always ‘convert the opposition, then get it elected’. Now all that is changed, utterly. In Scotland, we have won. Game, set, and match. We have a government in power which shares our goal. It is the opposition which is pro-Trident.

Frankly, I don’t think we have really grasped the fact that we are within sight of victory – if Scotland choses independence. Scotland’s freedom from Trident means the UK’s also. Because Trident is not like a taxi. It cannot be simply moved from Faslane to somewhere in England – Plymouth or Barrow, or wherever. This is because it requires a huge support system, namely the base at Coulport where 150 nuclear weapons are buried deep underground in the hills of Loch Long. England doesn’t have such mountains, so there’s nowhere to put the support system

Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 reserves to Westminster “control over nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction”. Thus, by its own words the British state recognises that Trident is a WMD. As such, it belongs to a prohibited class of weapons, and illegal. It violates the Geneva and Hague Conventions, and the other acts of International and Domestic Law, which uphold the sacrosanct principle of civilian immunity. So, it is not enough for the SNP simply to oppose Trident on political grounds. It must recognise and affirm the present illegality of Trident.

The Catholic Bishop and the Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and the leaders of all other Faith groups have condemned Trident, as have the Trade Unions and all sections of Scottish civil society. Yet this criminal and illegal WMD is imposed on us, as will be its replacement in 2025 costing a thumping £75 billion.

But now we see all the opposition parties in Scotland united in supporting this British WMD, Trident. There is a perverse logic to this situation. Labour, like the Tories and LibDems, is a Unionist party. This means that they are a nationalist party – I.e. British nationalist. Trident is the ultimate symbol of Britishness. This is our national fetish, the sacrosanct totem of our great power status. And is has ever been so.

Back in 1947, at the start of the nuclear age, Ernest Bevin famously stated that “We’ve got to have it, and it’s got to have a bloody Union Jack on it”. And today, Tony Blair writes in his autobiography “I could see clearly the force of the commonsense and practical arguments against Trident, yet in the final analysis I thought giving it up too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”.

John McTernan, one of Blair’s special advisers, said “If we didn’t have Trident we’d be Belgium. Some people would find that a comfortable place to be. I wouldn’t. If Britain is going to be a major power, Britain should have the kinds of weapons a major power has.”

The people of Scotland have no interest in Great Power status, and no nostalgia for our imperial past. The pro-nuclear stance of the Scottish Labour Party not only reflects an abysmal moral nihilism and lack of principle at the heart of the party, it is a betrayal of the many honest and decent Labour party members who have worked, and continue to work, in the cause of nuclear disarmament.

A nuclear free Scotland means a nuclear-free UK. The UK would then be in a position to exert pressure on the French to abandon the absurd folly of their ‘force de frappe’, and thereby create a nuclear-free Europe. Europe could then join the other nuclear-free regions of the world (the Pacific, Africa, South America, the Antarctic, all of which are at present nuclear free), as part of the process of making a world free from the threat of global nuclear suicide.

So we are faced with a moral choice of unparalleled magnitude. The choice we make will have enormous implications not only for Scotland, but indeed for the world. It really is up to us.

Brian Quail is a member of Scottish CND’s executive and of the SNP

Government Strapped for Cash? Facing a Fiscal and Monetary Crisis? Making Policy decisions that are increasing your indebtedness and making it likely your party could be swept back into the political wilderness after a short time in power? Hell-bent on committing tens of billions of pounds on what is really just a “trophy” project? No, I am not talking about Alex Salmond’s rate-capping, health and local service cutting SNP Scottish Government blowing Scottish taxpayers money on a bridge to be built from Chinese, Polish and Spanish steel. At least Alex’s Chinese bridge will get used.

The biggest and most pointless trophy project around is the replacement of Trident Nuclear Missile Defence system. Some of our Atlanticist friends in the Labour movement could have been forgiven for the original Polaris scheme when weapons of mass destruction seemed (to them) to be justifiable to get to play with the big war-mongering nations like the USA and the USSR. By the time Polaris was replaced by Trident the ‘Trophy’ project was bigger and massively more expensive but it was a pointless and idiosyncratic defence gesture. Even in the UK’s biggest military interventions not even the hawks could claim Trident was a factor.

Now we have been told the UK must find the money to rebuild our Weapons of Mass Destruction once again. Already hundreds of millions of pounds have been committed in design costs following the Trident Initial Gate report published in May 2011. Then there is the secret cost of the ongoing nuclear weapons research at Aldermaston. The BASIC Trident commission will be published in 2012 as will the Trident Alternative Review. I suggest the convergence of these two reports presents an ideal opportunity for the Labour Party to commit to stop the replacement of the UK’s Nuclear arsenal once and for all.

There are three other reasons to support the No Replacement position. I will not pretend I have ever preferred or supported armaments expenditure over other peaceful and productive civil expenditure. However, I have kept informed about the various services views on their hardware. A modern helicopter fleet and modern planes to land on the two aircraft carriers the UK is committed to building, would be high on any list. Then there is the actual income required to be able to keep the two aircraft carriers in the UK defence force, rather than leasing one out to a foreign power and the urgent need for troop carriers on land with the highest defences against roadside bombs. There are also more priority hardware demands.

The second is the devastation we are already seeing to our armed forces personnel numbers. I have done two attachments over 40 days embedded in uniform with our army regiments in a variety of conflict zones and I would give way to no-one in my admiration for their courage and commitment. Neither will anyone convince me that they will not remain our biggest asset in present and future conflicts which those we work with in NATO value much higher than a WMD carrying submarine fleet. Labour’s focus should be on rebuilding equipment and personnel capacity if it decides that any new defence spending is required.

The final reason why the Labour Party in Scotland and in the UK should come out against renewing Trident is that it is increasingly unpopular with Labour and non-Labour voters. By 2009 58 per cent of those polled across the UK supported the proposal that Trident should be abandoned (Sept 2009) with only 38 per cent supporting retention. With 62 per cent of Labour supporters and 71 per cent of Lib Dem supporters against Trident retention, scrapping the Trident replacement programme makes sense. With the same 2009 poll confirming Scotland’s public opposition to Trident higher at 66 per cent, there is a strong argument that if the Scottish Labour Party wants to truly reflect the wishes of the Scottish electorate they should oppose the Trident replacement.

To those who say people wanting rid of Trident need only wait for Independence to get it, I see the danger of hopes being dashed. In the latest version of the Independence spin there is talk of retention of monetary union and even “some form” of “fiscal pact” with the UK. Given the revelations now available from the historical archives in the booklet “Trident – No Place To Go” it is clear moving the submarines and the missiles to any other site would be less safe and less secure. A large, rich and powerful nation like the UK (backed by the USA) would use guile, persuasion, bribery or whatever it takes to keep the present facility at Faslane and Coulport and I think they would succeed in those negotiations. If Salmond would do dirty deals with Murdoch, a big fat lease arrangement might be too financially attractive to refuse.

The only way to end the waste and the shame of the UK spending further billions of pounds on replacing the Trident WMD arsenal is to have a Labour Government elected in the UK, committed to end the Trident programme. It is now up to the newly autonomous Scottish Labour Party to commit to that policy to speak up for Scotland’s interests and lead the UK Labour Party to a new more rational and peaceful future.

Michael Connarty is Labour MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk

As the referendum campaign ratchets up, and the old establishment starts to awaken to the potential of what a vote for an independent Scotland might mean, concerns are starting to be expressed in high places as to the implications independence has for defence. Not necessarily on conventional defence, where a common imagining of the shape of Scotland’s future armed forces seems to be taking place at Holyrood, but on the future of Trident in Scotland.

Independence is the one constitutional option on offer in the autumn of 2014 which makes the removal of Trident an enticing possibility. And it is this which is concentrating minds within the Westminster Government and the MOD.

In a timely new analysis of the alternatives facing Trident post ‘Yes’ vote, Scottish CND and CND have co-published ‘Trident: Nowhere to Go’, authored by the ever-credible John Ainslie. It revisits those options the MOD had when deciding where in the UK to locate Polaris nearly 50 years ago.

In the document, those alternative possible locations are, one by one, clinically ruled out as viable options today, meaning that Trident would, as the title states, have literally nowhere to go in the UK if it was forced out of Faslane and Coulport. This does offer the intriguing possibility that the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent could have to move to the US or even France to continue to function, or to be served from a completely new-build floating complex. And each of these ‘outsourcing’ options would cost billions upon billions of pounds to design, commission and run, not least because the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty would insist that these facilities would still have to be 100 per cent UK run.

One question which is increasingly being asked at the moment is; if there is such an unprecedented level of uncertainty about the future of Trident, why is the Government pushing ahead with its replacement? A number of ‘gateway’ decisions on the progress of the new system have still to be made, although undoubtedly billions have already been spent or committed, particularly at the weapons processing facility at Burghfield. Pressure is starting to build behind this logical questioning of the Government’s drive to commit to a replacement but not apparently yet from the Lib Dem coalition partners, who had previously argued for a longer term view of Trident’s replacement.

In the event of a vote for independence, there is no doubt that Westminster would use every possible threat, sanction or even bribe to maintain Trident in Scotland. Would this be resisted or would an accommodation be made? In January, Patrick Harvey asked Alex Salmond if he would rule out such a deal in the future. His response was pretty clear: “It is inconceivable that an independent nation of 5.25 million people would tolerate the continued presence of weapons of mass destruction on its soil”.

Trades Unions, faith groups and civic Scotland as a whole have consistently opposed Trident, as have (according to opinion polls)the majority of those living in Scotland. Can these forces push Trident onto the agenda for a Devo Max option? Or will the many whose principles and beliefs see Trident’s abolition as their number one priority have only one real option in 2014?

Mike Arnott is Secretary of Dundee TUC and a member of Scottish CND’s Executive

The starting point: can anyone honestly see any prospects of the British state engaging in serious nuclear disarmament or deviating even marginally from US foreign policy? The two are linked since the US controls whether we have nuclear missiles or not. The record of both Tory and Labour governments at Westminster offers no grounds for optimism. Since the early 1960s we have seen Labour in opposition take an anti-nuclear stance which is then reversed in government. Now, despite the end of the Cold War, there is no-one in the UK Labour leadership who will even hint at getting rid of Trident. The post-imperial aspirations for big power status are heavily dependent on the military and nuclear role. A Scottish state would not have these aspirations. Its status would have to come from quite different directions – from social, cultural, scientific achievements and from being a modest but constructive international player like Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland. Of course we cannot be certain that a Scottish government would stand firm in any negotiations on Trident; what we can be certain about is that our chances of achieving nuclear disarmament not just in Scotland but in the UK would be massively better with independence.

All of the UK’s nuclear weapons capacity is based at Faslane/Coulport. If a Scottish government insists that no nuclear warheads be allowed in Scottish waters or land (as New Zealand did), we could disarm Trident very quickly. We would have to agree to store the warheads (disabled) at Coulport for a short period until another storage facility could be built (or hopefully a decommissioning process). If nuclear-armed Trident submarines are not allowed to use Scottish waters or land, there is no other site for them in England or Wales that has the physical requirements and the infrastructure. The options have all been rigorously examined in SCND’s report Trident – Nowhere to Go (download at Not only would it be difficult to find a suitable site, it would cost billions and take years to recreate that infrastructure.

The only argument put forward by those to want to support the British state but are anti-nuclear is that the Scottish Government would allow Trident to remain, either permanently or on a long lease, because they would yield to bribes or threats. This ignores the fact that Scotland would have two big defence negotiating cards and many smaller ones; one of our main uses for the UK has been as military real estate. As well as Trident, Faslane is the base for all of the UK’s submarine fleet. While finding a site in England does not present the same problems as Trident, huge amounts of money have been spent on facilities at Faslane and it would be very expensive and take some years to recreate these. So the MOD would also be very anxious to retain this facility at a time of financial cuts. Trident does not create many jobs in Scotland – according to the MOD less than 500 of the 2,500 civilian jobs at Faslane. There are more Trident jobs outside of Scotland – refitting is at Devonport, warheads are produced at Burghfield, and the missiles are built and serviced in the US. The great majority of the jobs at Faslane are related to the other submarines which are nuclear-powered but not nuclear-armed. While we would want these to be moved eventually, a fixed leasing period would be negotiable and would be another important bargaining card in any independence negotiations.

Isobel Lindsay has been a leading activist in peace movement organisations since 1960