Trident – Nowhere to Go

In the first of our #IndyMax series exploring how independence could mean essential transformation not abject continuity Brian Quail explores why  an independent Scotland means the end of Trident in the UK.

This is the title of a detailed analysis of government archives published by John Ainslie of Scottish CND in Jan 2012. This timely report analyses, using the MoD’s own assessments, why alternative locations to Faslane and Coulport in Scotland are simply not tenable.

With locations including the 2012 Olympics sailing venue, National Trust land and densely populated residential areas, there is simply nowhere for Trident to go. An independent Scotland means the end of Trident in the UK.

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.

But it is not enough for the Scottish government to be opposed to Trident politically. It must also find the courage to recognise and affirm the manifest illegality of Trident.

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 violates the Geneva and
Hague Conventions, and the other acts of International and Domestic Law, which uphold the sacrosanct principle of civilian immunity.

On 21st October 1999 Sheriff Margaret Gimblett instructed the jury at Greenock Sheriff Court to acquit Angie Zelter, Ellen Moxley and Ulla Rode, who had been charged with causing £80,000 damage to a Trident related barge. The jury did so, and Trident was – ipso facto –
recognised as being illegal. Thus was a noble and honest decision.

On 30th March 2001, in the Lord Advocates Referral (LAR) Lords Prosser, Kirkwood, and Penrose overturned this decision, and in a perverse and shameful display of toadying to the imagined interests of the British state, ruled that Trident was legal. They claimed the rules of war do not apply in peace time. (We were, in fact, at war in Kosovo at the time of the LAR, as we are now at war in Afghanistan.)

Since then, courts in Scotland have used this LAR ruling as a precedent, and all those who seek by peaceful, non-violent, direct action to uphold the law and frustrate the deployment ot Trident, have been found guilty. This farce simply cannot go on. The new Scottish government must find the courage to challenge the LAR, to admit that this was – quite simply – wrong, and to confront the UK government directly on the illegality of Trident.

The fact remains that all the Unionist parties support the UK’s government’s present deployment of Trident, and its replacement in 2025 with an even more advanced nuclear WMD.

Their is a perverse rationality in this. Since the nuclear fetish lies at the very heart of the (British) nationalism that all the Unionist parties share, they are logically obliged to kow-tow to this great British national idol.

The current political debate in Britain is not internationalism versus nationalism, as the ultra-left fondly imagines. What we have in the UK is a conflict between two opposing nationalisms. British (which is imperialistic and conservative), and Scottish, which is (generally) more social democratic and internationalist in character. One cannot
be a genuine internationalist, without first recognising the cogency and validity of nationalism. The British ultra-left is very keen on supporting anti-imperialist movements and nationalist aspirations in foreign lands, but perversely opposed to this same phenomenon when it
is a question of Scotland’s future. Their much-vaunted internationalism is in fact a mask concealing the face of good old-fashioned British imperialism. Who was it said we are destined to become what we are afraid of?

The British left has not yet made the connection between nuclearism and Britishness, and, in Scotland, has paid the price in its self-indulgent road to oblivion. They fail to see the innate
imperialism of the British state. All talk about “the British road to socialism” is as contradictory and irrational as talking about “the Zionist road to socialism”

The British state is historically, congenitally and irredeemably an imperialist construct, as is Zionism. To try to build socialism – or any progressive political structures –  on this basis of the continued existence of the British state, is building castles in the air.

The problem for SCND is that some of our members are long time activists in the Labour Party, and resolutely opposed to independence (“separatism”).  So, what do they do? My message to these people is this. You must decide which you hate the most, Independence or

If it is independence, then you can vote for a pro-Trident Unionist party, and the UK will be stuck with Trident (and its replacement in 2025) indefinitely. If it is Trident, then swallow hard, and vote for independence. This does not necessarily mean voting SNP – the Green Party also support independence. And that’s an end to Trident.

Also remember that  the new independent Scottish Parliament will inevitably reflect the political culture of Scotland. It will contain members of the Conservative Party, the SNP,  the Green Party – and the Labour Party. In an independent Scotland this party will hopefully
return to its historical support for independence (“home rule”) as well as other radical political ideals. Like anti-nuclearism.

Comments (17)

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  1. Edinburgh Quine says:

    I’m no expert on the law, Scottish, english or international, but the sentence “…courts in Scotland have used this LAR ruling as a precedent,….” jumped out at me. I remember a long time ago, Nicolas Fairbairn, if memory serves was an advocate, said that one of the main differences between Scottish and english law was that Scotland did not use ‘precedent’; each case had to be judged on its merits. Can any experts out there clarify?

  2. LJS says:

    Good article and I entirely agree the British left opposition to Scottish independence is based on a short sited, outdated and vastly over simplistic analysis of what the independence debate is about.

    As to the prospect of the rUK being disarmed post independence, I wouldn’t hold my breath as I’d expect in the negations Scotland to allow rUK to lease both the submarines and warhead bases till a replacement could constructed south of the border. There are many reason behind this. 1, to avoid wider international fallout amongst NATO countries, 2 as a barging chip in the independence negotiations, 3 as an act of goodwill toward the country that would remain our largest trading partner and 4 because the lease would not be cheap.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      It is meaningless to talk of allowing Trident to remain “as an act of goodwill toward the country that would remain our largest trading partner”; there are millions of people in the rest of the UK who are just as opposed to Trident as we are. What we have to do is to mobilise them to welcome getting rid of Trident. Yes, there will be enormous pressures on the Scottish government to agree to Trident continuing to be based in Scotland. It is up to SCND, and it is up to everybody else who is opposed to these illegal and immoral weapons of mass destruction, to apply enormous pressure on the Scottish government, and on the British government, to get the bloody things out of our seas, lochs, and hills. Also, it would be totally unacceptable to use them as a “bargaining chip”. If anybody in the Scottish government, or in the Scottish Parliament, should show signs of being willing to do so, their disgustingly immoral stance should be publicly denounced, and there should be demonstrations against them. As for “wider international fallout”, the same thing applies as applies to the rest of the UK. There will be countless millions in many, many countries who would whole-heartedly support what we are doing. It is up to us to seek to mobilise them.

  3. Siôn Jones says:

    As I understand it, after #indy, the former united kingdom dominion (The rest of us or – FUKD) will be a completely new state, though inheriting the treaties and obligations of the former state (UK) . As the UK is already a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty, that would surely preclude us from having any WMD at all, wouldn’t it?

    1. hindmost says:

      The United Kingdom was formed by the Union of the Crowns. The Entity formed by the Acts of Union (there were 2, a Scottish Act and an English Act) Is Great Britain (the great is a geographical term to differentiate between this entity and Lesser Britain, Brittany). The dissolution of the Union would leave two successor states England and Scotland both of which will retain all the previous states treaties and obligations. As a result both successor states will inherit the position of Great Britain when it signed the Non Proliferation Treaty.
      Which was as a state in possession of nuclear weapons. So either successor state possessing nuclear weapons would not be a breach of the NPT. The obligations for states possessing nuclear weapons are laid out in Articles I, II and III of the treaty and are about preventing non nuclear weapon states from acquiring such a capability. None of which would come into play here regarding transfer of these weapons between Scotland and England. Article VI requires nuclear weapon states to move towards a multilateral treaty on nuclear disarmament. It is worded so vaguely that all it amounts to is those states should negotiate in good faith on such a treaty and under no timescale.

      What Scotland can do post independence is claim the weapons, as they lie within Scotland’s borders, and do what no nuclear weapon state has done before, unilaterally disarm. Have the warheads destroyed, the warheads are the “independent” component of the system. The missiles, launch tubes and fire control system are supplied by the US who also retain the firing codes, our “independent” nuclear deterrent can only be used with US approval. Having destroyed the warheads neither England or Scotland possess nuclear weapons. Should England try to reacquire such a capability then Articles I, II and III of the NPT may come into play. Given that England no longer has the facilities in place to enrich fissile materials to weapons grade creating such a facility would be a breach of the NPT, this is the argument being used against Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Neither successor state would retain a permanent seat on the UN security council.

      1. The UK accord signed last week between Westminster and France opens up the possibility of the Scottish based (Trident) WMD being relocated to France. The control of these weapons may also then pass to the new joint command centre based in France.For joint read US France

  4. Welshguy says:

    Seem to remember reading Milford Haven (in Pembrokeshire) being cited as a possible alternative site for the subs post-independence (i.e. dump it on Wales instead). Could almost be a net good thing for the national movement here – we’d have to make sure the opposition to it emphasised the English Imperialism of such a move.

    1. hindmost says:

      That’s for the subs, there is no other facility in the UK which could house the warheads. It’s estimated that it could take 10 years to build such a facility

  5. Robert Peffers says:

    What rump would that be? Only Two countries signed the Treaty Of Union, Scotland & England. England, at that time also included Ireland by act of the old Irish Parliament. Wales remains, to this day an English Princedom. So although Wales and N.Ireland will not just vanish they were part of England under English law. The whole reason for the Treaty of Union was because the People of Scotland were sovereign and their law was sacrosanct and couldn’t be absorbed by English law as the people were sovereign. Thus, post independence the Joint parliament ceases to exist and, as all members were not elected to an English parliament they cannot just assume the former union parliament inherits them. They were not elected as members of an non-existent parliament of England. There will be no Rump UK. How could there be while we all have the same monarch as a united Kingdom? So a united Kingdom but not a united Kingdom parliament.

    1. hindmost says:

      The entity formed by the union of the crowns was the United Kingdom. The entity formed by the Acts of Union was Great Britain. Hence the entity of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, latterly The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Following independence there would exist a United Kingdom of England Scotland and Northern Ireland.

      1. hindmost says:

        Pressed send to early.
        Thus the parliament at Westminster post independence will revert to being an English Parliament plus any additional constitutional responsibilities which it has accrued since the Union and without all the devolved responsibilities which have occurred since that date.

  6. Trident can go to France and the rest of the UK can choose a nuclear union with the French, Paris has been calling the nuclear tune in the UK for a few years now.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      Any attempt to base “British” nuclear weapons in France would be hugely controversial with the people of England, Northern Ireland, and Wales; and any attempt to allow British nuclear weapons to be based in France would be hugely controversial with the people of France. If any such agreement was in fact made between governments in London and Paris, the leaders of both of these governments would find themselves looking for another job within weeks.

    2. ayemachrihanish says:

      posted above
      The UK accord signed last week between Westminster and France opens up the possibility of the Scottish based (Trident) WMD being relocated to France. The control of these weapons may also then pass to the new joint command centre based in France. For joint read US and France

  7. douglas clark says:

    The problem Westminster has with Trident is that there is a completely legitimate case of NIMBYism about it. David Coull is, I think, right in supposing that the French, as opposed to their government, would take exception to the Rump UK deterrent being based there. I’m not so persuaded that the Rump UK would be all that bothered. At least it wouldn’t be in their own back yard.

    It tends to concentrate your mind when the majority of WMDs in Western Europe are just down the road.

  8. Caadfael says:

    The perfect place for Trident —
    Portsmouth just 80 miles down the road – just the job!

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