‘Nuclear weapons pervade our thinking. Control our behaviour. Administer our societies. Inform our dreams. They bury themselves like meathooks deep in the base of our brains…’ the peace activist Brian Quail is our guest columnist on Trident and the Union.
Mene, mene, tekel upharsin….the writing is on the wall for Trident. In America, President Obama has stated that he wants a nuclear-free world within the term(s) of his Presidency – that means by 2017 at the latest. He has also ordered an immediate halt to the development and production of new nuclear weapons. In complete contrast, Gordon Brown wants the UK to replace Trident with an updated version after 2025, when Trident reaches its ‘use by’ date. He obviously imagines that we can live forever under the threat of nuclear global suicide. Meanwhile, three retired British army generals – Field-Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham, and General Sir Hugh Beach – have written to the Times, expressing their opposition to this replacement.
In Scotland – where all the UKs WMD are based – opposition to Trident and its replacement is firm. The Churches, the Trades Union, and civil society in general totally reject the moral nihilism of the nuclear Bomb.
On Tuesday 3rd February in Edinburgh at a major conference discussing Trident the former vice-president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Judge Christopher Weeramantry, backed attempts by the Scottish government to remove nuclear warheads from Scottish soil. Judge Weeramantry presided at the international court at The Hague when it issued a historic opinion on the legal status of nuclear weapons in 1996.
In Edinburgh he offered a devastating and eloquent indictment of the possession, development and threatened use of nuclear weapons. States such as the UK which found their defence on such weapons are guilty of a callous brutality far worse than ancient tyrants such as Genghis Khan, Weeramantry argued.
Since he is such an internationally prestigious legal expert, let me quote him at length. “The self-appointed nuclear policemen of the world need to realise how their actions totally destroy their credibility; there cannot be one law for some and another law for others. The right of nations such as Scotland to challenge the deployment of weapons which threaten their people, their environment and future generations is undeniable, Anti-nuclear civil resistance is the right of every citizen of this planet. For the nuclear threat, attacking as it does every core concept of human rights, calls for urgent and universal action for its prevention.”
In truth, there is no rational argument in favour of this criminal and illegal WMD. So what is the secret? Why does it have such a hold on our society? I think Arundhati Roy hit the nail on the head when she wrote: “Nuclear weapons pervade our thinking. Control our behaviour. Administer our societies. Inform our dreams. They bury themselves like meathooks deep in the base of our brains. They are the purveyors of madness. They are the ultimate colonizer. Whiter than any white man that ever lived. The very heart of whiteness.” [from The End of the Imagination]
We are the first victims of our nuclear idolatry. We must first strangle our humanity and any sense of compassion, before we can harden our hearts to do the unthinkable, and offer our holocaust to our gods of metal. British addiction to nuclear weapons is lodged in deeply-rooted subconscious attitudes and assumptions. The Bomb is intensely symbolic. It is the ultimate totem of Britishness, the Ark of our Imperial Covenant, our White Mans Burden. It is our Palladium, the physical manifestation of the Divine approval bestowed on us – but forever taboo to lesser states outwith the law.
The possession of the Bomb is thus intimately and inextricable linked to our self-identification as British, and all that this entails. This has produced tensions in the Labour Party, because there are two distinct and opposing tendencies within the history of the labour movement. On the one hand we have the radical tradition, which regards the British state as being inherently imperialistic, one which must be essentially transformed. On the other side we have the ‘accomodationalist’ tendency, which basically buys into British nationalism, only in a much elevated and improved version.
There is little historical tension between English national identity and Britishness. The British state, after all, grew out of English history. The two identities are in fact often collated and confused. In Scotland, however, the distinction is sharp. The 1707 Union was created with massive bribes (delivered courtesy of Daniel Defoe) and was hugely unpopular. Opposition came especially from the Edinburgh citizens, who rioted outside the Parliament buildings, when the Treaty was signed in a cellar to escape them. The Treaty and the red-coated escorts were pelted all the way over the Border, and copies of the Treaty burnt at every mercat cross in Scotland. Troops were sent to quell the riots.
Later Scottish radical politicians and thinkers were not slow to make the connection between independence and peace. The Radicals of 1820, Thomas Muir of Huntershill, Robert. Burns, James Thomson Callender, John MacLean, R. Cunningham Grahame, Hamish Henderson and many others all saw clearly that the questions of peace and independence were absolutely inseparable. They realised that the bloody business of war was inseparable from the national question ±.
The banner carried by the Radicals of 1820 bore the words ‘Scotland Free or a Desert’. These words have an undreamt of significance today, when we face the choice of a free Scotland, or one forever (as Gordon Brown sees it) marked as a nuclear target, and thus fated to become a radioactive desert. This is the price we pay for membership of the British state.
Recently, Eric Joyce said that the Labour Party has a ‘proud record in nuclear disarmament’. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was a Labour government (under Attlee) that went for the British atom bomb in the first place. The Labour party supported the Chevaline enhancement program. This was devised as an answer to the improved Soviet defences around Moscow, ie. it was a first strike system – you don’t fire bombs at empty missile silos. And today the British Labour Party supports Trident, and its replacement in 2025.
Now Labour spokesmen are rehashing the old Tory (sensible and cautious) ‘multilateralist’ versus (reckless and irresponsible) ‘unilateralist’ cop-out. The indisputable fact is, that no British nuclear weapon has ever been included in any nuclear disarmament negotiations at any place or any time – ever. British multilateralism does not exist. As Bruce Kent once famously said: “A unilateralist is a multilateralist who means what he says.”
There is a long history of decent and honourable people in the Labour Party who have opposed nuclear weapons on moral grounds – the Michael Foot and Jeremy Corbyn tradition. However, the brutal fact is that these people always have been, and always will be, outnumbered by British national Labour patriots. Remember Tony Blair’s acolytes giving out free Union Jacks ahead of him as he made his triumphal walk to Downing Street? And Gordon Brown’s constant use of the word “British” (including the now infamous “British jobs for British workers”) has become tedious in the extreme. This is the mindset that clings to the ‘independent British deterrent’(which, of course, never has been either independent or British). The desperate need to be upfront with the Tory Party drives it into a perennial policy of metoo-ism. It must be seen as being ‘strong’ on defence, and uncompromising in supporting the great British state fetish, Trident.
Our message then to our friends in England is this: our freedom is yours. An independent Scotland free from delusions of Britishness, leaves England free to rediscover and redefine Englishness without dreams of imperial British status and past glories, real or imagined.
And a nuclear-free Scotland means a nuclear-free UK. Because Trident is not like a taxi; it cannot simply be shunted down to England. The four submarines can not be transferred to Portsmouth or Plymouth. They do not have the technical resources to house the beast. Principally, the 200 nuclear bombs that are at present hidden in the mountains around Coulport can not be taken south and buried somewhere in England. They don’t have a big enough mountain.
Trident didn’t just appear out of the blue; it arose form a specific historical British matrix and is essentially linked to this political system. Since its formation in 1707, the British state has been inherently, congenitally and irredeemably an imperialist political construct. Trident is the ultimate symbol of this Britishness. The time has come for us to dump Trident in the trash can of history, and with it the British state that gave birth to the monster and still jealously nourishes it.
This article was originally published in the Coracle, the publication of the Iona Community.