By Brian Quail
In the sort of words never to be uttered by Margaret Thatcher or her successor Tony Blair, let me say out loud and clear: Sometimes I get it wrong – spectacularly wrong. For instance, I am the man who, as a young teacher in the staff room of St Aloysius College in Glasgow in the late sixties, assured my colleagues that the Russians would never go into Czechoslovakia.
I argued that the situation was not the same as in Poland, where there is a long and grim history of direct Russian intervention; Czechoslovakia has a history of indigenous radicalism that was not intrinsically anti-Russian, as in Poland. And so on. All of which was, and is, true. Then came ‘68, and the tanks came takatakataka into Prague. and I was left with egg on my face, feeling very foolish indeed.
Why do I make this confession? Because I am going to make another, more topical one. Before the last general election I covertly hoped for a Tory victory. This admission I made secretly, to close friends and family only. A Tory government in London would make clear blue water between England and Scotland. The Scottish electorate would realise that there only hope for progress and a worthwhile future, lay in independence, and would accordingly vote for it with the SNP. Thus, in my naivety, did I reason. Come the Election, and the consequent Coalition government is as good as a Tory victory. And contrary to all my hopes and expectations, the Labour Party is reaping the benefit. Its support is rising high in Scotland; recent polls putting it 10% ahead of the SNP. So once again I’ve got it wrong, and, sad to say, Iain Gray’s tanks are heading for Holyrood. Or so it appears, for now.
It seems I grossly underestimated the strength of the addiction to Labourism among the Scottish voters. When things get tough, the punters reach for their great comfort blanket, the Labour Party. This reaction is not subject to rational criticism. Nor is it frustrated by the woefully untalented and incompetent performance of Iain Grey, a man for whom the word “nonentity” could have been specially coined. And the undoubted achievements of the minority SNP government (freezing Council Tax, Prescription charges, abolishing Graduate tax, etc.) are long forgotten.
Confession may be good for the soul, but this outcome is still a depressing situation. Which leads to a problem for me. When I started writing this, I made a promise to myself that this would be one piece where I would not mention the “T” word. I would give the lie to the common perception that I am obsessive about nuclear weapons. Show everybody that I was not a nuke-geek, a nerd hooked on atomic bombs, like I was into collecting Gormiti models, or cigarette cards.
But I can’t do it, because they haven’t gone away. They are still here. Nothing has changed. Trident is still on patrol, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on full alert. And we go about our daily business as if it were not.
Here is the great paradox of Scottish life. All sections of Scottish society reject Trident. The Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church, the leaders of all Faith communities, the Trades Unions, the creative and cultural workers, are unanimous in this matter. Yet the people vote for parties committed to Trident, apart from those who vote SNP.
Glasgow East had a decent and honest MSP, John Mason, who was resolutely anti-Trident. The constituency voters, a large proportion of whom are Church of Scotland members or Catholics, voted him out, and chose instead Margaret Curran a Labour Party loyalist who – in defiance of the teaching of the Churches – supports Trident. Explain, please. Somebody. I can’t.
It is as if the whole hellish thing were unreal. Trident is not seen as an actual, existing evil, of unparalleled and unimaginable depravity. It has become normalised, and thereby rendered invisible.
It is precisely and solely because we do not live in a normal, self-respecting, independent state that we tolerate this situation where we are the dumping ground for all the UK’s atom bombs, and home to the biggest nuclear arsenal in Europe. Trident is therefore integral to our lack of independence. And our lack of independence is integral to the existence of Trident. They are symbiotically linked.
So while with sinking heart I realise that once again I am banging on about Trident, in my defence I quote the words of Martin Luther, “here stand I, for I can do no other”. It’s not my fault; it is the nature of reality. Honestly.
There are many other things I would love to be busying myself with, many other projects that I would dearly love to be concerned with. But Trident is here, and that threatens everything, every hope, every dream or ambition. And until we settle this, everything else must take second place.
As the great Russian physicist and “father” of the Soviet H-Bomb, Andrei Sakharov, wrote, “the struggle against nuclear war must take precedence over every other human activity and interest”.
The trouble is that Trident has a profound psychological role. This is the ultimate totem of Britishness, the great British National Fetish. It is our sacrosanct palladium, our Arc of the Covenant which history has bequeathed to us, but denied to all lesser breeds outwith the law. And so the Brits cling to it with a quasi religious loyalty. And as long as the Scottish people buy into the mythology of Britishness, they will be enslaved to our gods of metal, our great British Idol, Trident.
When May 2011 comes, and we have the crucial election for the Scottish Parliament, we will will face a clear choice; to vote for one of the British nationalist (Unionist) party, all of which are pro-Trident, or to vote for the SNP, the one major political party which maintains a principled opposition to the UK’s criminal and illegal WMD, Trident.
My Baldrick-style cunning plan of having a Tory government in Westminster leading inexorably to an independent nuclear-free Scotland seems to have backfired disastrously. It just hasn’t happened, and the Unionist Labour Party has gained the advantage. But , as the famous Polish patriot Prince Poniatowsky said “to accept defeat, but continue the struggle – this is victory”. La lutta continua.
Whatever happens in May, it will not lessen my absolute hatred of nuclear bombs or any weapon of industrialised mass-murder, nor weaken my conviction that political independence is a noble and desirable aspiration for the people of Scotland.
So I am sorry to end up yet once more banging on about Trident, but you see, as an honest and patriotic Scot, I have no choice.