Life During Peacetime


This is the first of a series of articles from Closer. The many dividends of living in a non-nuclear Scotland would include genuine security, democratic accountability and massive savings in costs.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.” President Eisenhower, 1961

“ The first advice I’m going to give to my successor is to watch the generals and to avoid feeling that just because they were military men their opinion of military matters were worth a damn.” President Kennedy in a private comment to Ben Bradlee.

‘JFK’s Last Hundred Days’ Thurston Clarke Penguin 2013

In response to the question “Should we have any kind of nuclear deterrent?” Michael Portillo said, “No, it’s completely past its sell-by date. It’s neither independent, because we couldn’t possibly use it without the Americans, neither is it any sort of deterrent …It’s a tremendous waste of money. It’s done entirely for reasons of national prestige and at the margins it is proliferation.”

An independent Scotland could do worse than take the advice of Eisenhower, Kennedy and Portillo. But why are so many politicians with defence responsibilities unable to tell the public the truth until they have left or are about to leave office? Des Browne, the former UK Defence Secretary is another example. He has been a frequent critic of nuclear policy since leaving government. Politicians get constrained by the web of conventional wisdom created by senior military, civil service and defence industry leaders and this is further strengthened by the bellicose nature of most sections of the press. This is why Scottish independence offers us such great opportunities but only if we introduce fresh- start thinking and don’t go along with the stultifying ‘continuity’ argument.

When the Scottish public are asked sensible questions, they respond with quite sensible answers. All defence policy should start with the question of what threatens security. In the recent Wings Over Scotland survey carried out by Panelbase, the sample of 1015 Scots were asked “ Which of these do you think represents a significant threat to Scotland in your lifetime?”

The results were:

Conservative Governments elected by the rest of the UK 52%
Being attacked by terrorists 34%
Being attacked by North Korea 7%
Being attacked by Iran 5%
Being attacked by space monsters 4%
Being attacked by China 4%
Being attacked by Russia 3%
None of the above 24%

They were then asked “Which of these threats do you think the siting of nuclear weapons at HMNB (Faslane) provides Scotland with a practical defence against?”

Being attacked by North Korea 18%
Being attacked by Iran 17%
Being attacked by terrorists 16%
Being attacked by Russia 14%
Being attacked by China 12%
Conservative Governments elected by rest of UK 8%
Being attacked by space monsters 5%
None of the above 58%

So by far the greatest threat to Scotland’s security is perceived as political – being controlled by a Westminster government opposed to Scotland’s political values and priorities. The threats of attack by the ‘bogeymen’ states is only seen as realistic by a tiny number of voters and a majority sees nuclear weapons as not relevant to the real security threats that Scotland might face. And they are right. State on state attack has become very rare especially if you exclude the actions of the US and the UK. There is no reason to think that this is because states have become morally superior to what they were like in the past but because wars have been shown to be very expensive and unlikely to be successful even if you have great technological advantage. Also so much economic power and rivalry is concentrated in corporations with cross-national interests. Given how much money the Chinese have invested in the US and how much US debt they have bought, it would be distinctly counter-productive to bomb it.

The fact that Scotland has been used for so long as a military convenience gives us a special opportunity not just to change Scotland but to make a major international contribution to nuclear disarmament. We have the greatest concentration of nuclear fire-power of any part of Europe outside of Russia and it’s based just twenty miles from Scotland’s biggest city. The whole UK delivery system is at Coulport/Faslane. The SNP, the Greens and socialist groups have supported the inclusion of a clause in the new Scottish constitution prohibiting nuclear weapons on Scottish territory. If Westminster were required to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland, this would in effect mean the end of their nuclear programme since finding an appropriate site in England together with the huge cost of infrastructure would take around fifteen years. SCND has done a detailed analysis of this (Trident – Nowhere to go) which has not been disputed by defence experts. And we could achieve the removal of nuclear weapons quickly. Within a few months the Scottish Government could require the removal of warheads from the missiles. Coulport has the storage facilities for these and Westminster would have to create new storage facilities. The warheads could then gradually be transferred over a two-year period. (Disarming Trident, SCND). We would hope that the logic for the rest of the UK would be to dismantle these. This would give Scotland the moral status to play a significant role in promoting international nuclear disarmament and do so at a time when many of the signatory states to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of disarmament progress by the nuclear powers.

Scotland’s defence policy should be developed in the context of a Human Security approach. Traditional models of defence are based on the belief that their main purpose is preventing attack from the armed forces of other states or protecting overseas interests. This is not our contemporary reality, especially given Scotland’s position with well-defined historical boundaries. Our biggest problem is having a major nuclear base on our territory. What are the more likely serious threats to our citizens that could undermine their basic human rights and life chances? A nuclear accident, major environmental degradation or a deadly health epidemic would be examples of top-tier risks. Serious organised crime, an economic slump, an authoritarian government which removes basic civil liberties, the collapse of energy services – it is in the context of these risks to our security that we should form a policy on the role of military resources. Protection from invasion is part of this but a very low risk. Protection of resources and infrastructure to which we have a legitimate right is part of this. But independence would give Scotland the chance to step out of the imperial military/industrial complex. We should not be involved in the kind of aggressive expeditionary role that has dominated UK policy and taken up so many billions of military resources that could have been used to build international goodwill through good development aid. We could try to do what Cuba has done with its medical aid, perhaps building up international teams for education development. This would not be disengagement from internationalism but the chance to increase our internationalism.

We would expect Scotland to have modest requirements for military hardware – transport planes, helicopters, anti-aircraft missiles, naval vessels suitable for protection of oil, fishing and any other offshore interests. Most of our military personnel could stay at home not in barracks. At present Scotland pays 3.3 billion pounds every year towards the UK Defence budget. Various estimates of adequate defence expenditure for Scotland would provide a saving of between almost two billion a year to 800 million. Think what could be done with that annual bonus. We could begin to address other security issues – food security, energy security, economic security and the 52% of Scots who saw Conservative Governments as the most likely threat would have the reassurance that for ever more, it would be voters in Scotland who would decide who was in government.

Comments (4)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Nick Jardine says:

    Informative article Isobel, thank you.

    That quote from Eisenhower still rings so true today. To update it I would include the role of the mass media in spreading over exaggerated claims of imminent attack that the UK government are so keen to promote. It’s one of the greatest weapons they have in manipulating the British public into a state of unnecessary fear. Cameron’s recent quotes on N.Korea having the capability to launch missiles that could reach the UK mainland being a good example.

    As further background viewing, I would thoroughly recommend the TV series ‘The Power of Nightmares’ by the wonderful Adam Curtis. The 3 x 1 hour programmes chart the rise and fall of two groups, the radical Islamists and the American Neo-cons from the 50’s up until 2004 when the series was made. There’s a lot in there about Blair and Brown in the 3rd of the programmes also.

    If you want to understand how we are manipulated by governments, this is the series for you. And of all things, it was made by the BBC !

    It’s available for viewing for free at ‘Thought Maybe’ a documentary film website (
    where you can type in a search for ‘The Power of Nightmares’.

    ( I won’t post a direct link as I’m not sure of etiquette on this site, but hope it’s ok that I’ve mentioned these programmes)

  2. Got my edition through the post thanks.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Great, thanks, feedback by email appreciated.

  3. Hi Bellacaledonia … it feels like its been a very, very long time that Scotland’s voices have been ignored on nuclear weapons … this film ( was produced by Red Star and the War Zone Tour Committee in 1982. This was Red Star’s second documentary for CND. It follows two women cyclists linking together the CND groups located around Scotland. The groups tell their own story of living and campaigning alongside the US and NATO bases strewn throughout the landscape.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.