Radical Indy Conference 03: The Referendum and Trident
Isobel Lindsay of CND is speaking at the Radical Independence Conference workshop – “An ethical foreign policy: scrap Trident, no to NATO, troops out” – on Sat 24th Nov.
The Referendum and Trident
One of the great moral and international issues at stake in the Referendum campaign is the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons. Independence will open the door not just to removing Trident from Scotland but also achieving UK nuclear disarmament and giving a major boost to the international disarmament campaigns. Of course, independence does not guarantee this but it gives us an incomparably better prospect than trying to convert the British state. We have had over fifty years experience of this under different parties. There is not the slightest indication that there is any prospect of change at Westminster. On the contrary, they are pushing ahead with the new generation of Trident at vast expense.
We will have to tie our pro-independence politicians as tightly to their commitments on this issue as we can. The plus side is that the political consensus in Scotland is significantly different from England. In the last vote on the Blair/Brown Government’s Trident renewal proposal, a majority of Scottish MPs voted against. There are still a number of those left in the Labour Party in Scotland who are anti-nuclear but they are dominated by Westminster Labour policy. With independence they would be free to support the SNP, the Greens, the SSP and many civic institutions in demanding the early disarming of Trident.
All of the UK’s nuclear capacity is in Scotland at the Faslane/Coulport complex. Scottish CND’s report ‘Trident – Nowhere to Go’ shows that there is no existing site in England or Wales where Trident could be based. A new base would be likely to take up to 20 years to build – it took 14 years to expand the Faslane base for Trident. The suggestion that it might be based in France or the US is highly improbable. The French base is too small and there are strong constitutional and logistical objections to siting it in the US. A US naval expert, Norman Polmar, dismissed the suggestion of basing it in the US – “Setting up a base two to three thousand miles away is ludicrous. It would be easier and cheaper to buy the city of Faslane.” (Global Security Newswire). If Scotland were an independent state and required the removal of warheads, the Westminster Government would be in serious breach of international law if it did not cooperate in their removal. This can be done quickly. (See SCND’s report ‘Disarming Trident’). The warheads can be deactivated in weeks and these two hundred bombs can be removed gradually from Scotland within two years at most. The Government in London would have to decide whether to store them for years at a base like Honnington or, hopefully, take a positive decision to deactivate them permanently.
This would be a truly significant international contribution. In itself the rejection of nuclear weapons in Scotland and a clause in the constitution prohibiting them from Scottish territory would be of great interest throughout the world and would put Scotland in a powerful moral position to campaign for wider disarmament. But this would be magnified if the outcome was that one of the first three nuclear powers no longer had the capacity to launch a war of mass civilian annihilation. We could be proud of our achievement. We would also free up resources both for ourselves and people in England by stopping the madness of spending around thirty billion pounds on buying the new generation of Trident and around another seventy billion on cost throughout its lifetime.
What about the jobs issue? There is considerable ignorance and misinformation on this. Faslane is now the base for all British submarines . There are 2500 civilian jobs there but the number related to Trident is very modest. The Ministry of Defence’s own figure is 520. The other 2000 civilian jobs are involved in other submarine work and would have to be there even if Trident was disarmed. The main Trident jobs are outside of Scotland. The submarines are serviced in Devonport, warheads are made and serviced in Burghfield and Aldermaston, the missiles are built and serviced in the US. An independent Scotland would certainly wish to get rid of the other submarines at Faslane but the timescale could be different and the Westminster Government would be very anxious to have time to build other submarine facilities. While two years should be the timetable for nuclear warhead removal, there could be a period of five years or so for the other submarines and this would give a little more time for job diversification in the area. The money saved by not going ahead with the new generation Trident and getting rid of the existing system would be available for job creation.
The SNP leadership won their pro-Nato vote by only 52% after pulling out all the stops and forcing ministers to vote for it. It is conditional on Nato acceptance of Scotland removing the UK’s nuclear weapons and putting a constitutional block in place. Westminster could veto that membership and a Scottish Parliament could vote against it. So there is certainly still everything to play for on the Nato issue and this is important for the wider foreign policy aims of an independent Scotland. The debate we need to open up is what should Scotland want to achieve in the world and who do we want to work with.
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Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Isobel LIndsay’s, can be found here.