2007 - 2021

The Elephant in the Room


Continuing our #IndyIdeas series Steven Griffiths on behalf of the Scrap Trident coalition.

The picturesque town of Helensburgh on the north shore of the Firth of Clyde and the eastern shore of the entrance to the Gareloch is a popular destination for day trippers and tourists alike. On a pleasant summer’s day the esplanade and pier are thronged with people relaxing and enjoying an ice cream while taking in the views. Helensburgh really is the epitome of the douce, wee Scottish seaside town and the nearest it comes to a commotion is when the iconic paddle steamer Waverley calls in to the pier during summer sailings.

Something separates Helensburgh from similar other UK seaside towns, however, and it is time that we acknowledged that, as for too long it has been the elephant in the room in Scottish politics. You see, also situated on the Gareloch, just 6 miles north of Helensburgh, is HM Naval Base Clyde. Commonly referred to as Faslane, it is the Royal Navy’s main presence in Scotland.  The naval base at Faslane does not, as might be reasonably expected, support vessels designed to protect oil and gas platforms or fishing grounds in Scottish coastal waters. Instead, its purpose is something much more disturbing and malevolent and it’s time to talk openly about exactly what that is.

In the late 1950s, after the establishment of the US Navy Nuclear Submarine Base in the Holy Loch, Faslane was chosen to house the new British nuclear-armed Polaris submarines. Work commenced in 1962 and was completed in 1964. In 1968, Resolution, the first of the UK’s Polaris ballistic missile submarines began active service. Since then, for 50 uninterrupted years, nuclear weapon bearing submarines have slipped silently in and out of the Clyde.  Today, Faslane is home to the four Vanguard class submarines, which carry Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons.

Now let us be clear about precisely what nuclear weapons are and what they are designed to do. Nuclear weapons are by nature indiscriminate. Massively powerful, they strike military targets and civilians without distinction. They kill everyone in their blast zone, from newborn babies to placid great grandmothers.  And let’s be clear, they don’t just kill people but completely annihilate them. People at the centre of the blast are atomised. Nothing of them remains. The UK’s nuclear weapons are designed to kill millions of civilians instantly in an insane act of vengeance, with many more millions dying or poisoned by radiation in the months that follow, including unborn babies in their mothers’ wombs. Does anyone really believe that, even in time of war, such an action is not perverse, unscrupulous and immoral?

As well as being immoral, this is contrary to international law.  The International Court of Justice in the Nuclear Weapons case, Advisory Opinion (1996) stated that “States must never make civilians the object of attack and must consequently never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets”.

Allow me to distil all of the above into one simple sentence – Trident is an illegal weapon of mass destruction. Simple, and yet we host it in our country, 30 miles away from our biggest city, and we almost never talk about this aspect of it. Why are we mutually afraid to recognise this? When we do debate Trident it is almost always centred on the economic arguments.

Source:  Greenpeace

Source: Greenpeace

Admittedly, Trident is hugely expensive. In 2016, the Westminster parliament will vote to decide whether to replace the current Trident system. If parliament decides to do so, the total lifetime cost to UK taxpayers will be £100 billion. Meanwhile, all of the UK establishment parties promise more austerity for the poorest and most vulnerable.

If you were a visitor to this country you might imagine that the churches and the people of Scotland, who are known to oppose nuclear weapons, would be clamouring for Trident’s immediate removal with no successor ever contemplated. You might imagine that the Faslane base, which facilitates this dark moral stain on our collective conscience, would have been for the last 50 years the single most important issue in our political discourse. Sadly, this is not so. The UK establishment’s nuclear consensus has meant that they have effectively kept any serious discussion of the morality of nuclear weapons out of the spotlight.

In truth, the idea of unilateral disarmament had receded from high points in the 60s and 80s and had become began to take on something of the air of a lost cause. This year’s independence referendum campaign changed all of that.  Initially, diehard anti-nuclear protestors had to argue for a place for Trident within the list of critical issues. However, as the campaign matured it became apparent that Trident had become a totemic example of Scotland’s wishes being swept aside to serve London’s interests. Suddenly, Trident was the issue.

The referendum result came in, and was a disappointing No, but unexpectedly something had changed forever in Scottish politics and the campaign is far from over. As the replacement decision in 2016 fast approaches, Trident must remain as an issue at the forefront of public discourse in Scotland. We have collectively awoken and can no longer ignore the fact that our small country is host to the largest cache of weapons of mass destruction in Europe. We will no longer be fed an anodyne political agenda by the Westminster establishment’s tame media.  The day-trippers at Helensburgh can no longer lick their ice-creams and paddle obliviously in the peaceful waves breaking gently on the shore as the killer submarines slink by unseen.

At noon on November 30 the Scrap Trident coalition are organising a demonstration at Faslane. We intend it to be the biggest anti-Trident event ever held outside the base.

We are encouraging everyone to come and see for themselves the miles of high fences with razor wire, the electronic alarms, the infra-red cameras, the guard dogs and the armed guards.  We want people to come and look at this ominous, ugly and sinister place set incongruously against the beauty of the southern highlands, and think about the true nature of this base where daily they prepare for almost unimaginably destructive warfare.  We must do the right thing, stand up, and demand change. The Westminster parties and the media won’t like it and they will be unanimously against us – good! We can no longer ignore the elephant in the room; it is time to confront it.

We hope you will join us.


Comments (29)

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  1. Ian says:

    To use the same analogy the UK establishment will simply refuse to see this elephant until we get rid of the out dated First Past The Post electoral system. Until we can change this I don;t see how we can make mainstream Westminster politicians accountable to the views of the people they were elected to supposedly represent, certainly not the views of the people in Scotland for sure.Too many of our London based party politicians have a vested interest in keeping the US happy and making megabucks from the arms industry.

    1. If we hold the balance of power after the 2015 GE then Trident should be one of the 4 red line issues. Support from the Yes Alliance on a confidence and supply basis with a few immediate key concessions – certainly one being that Trident isn’t ‘renewed’ in 2016, another being that fracking requires public consent in any locality, and maybe even another that we have a referendum on FPTP where we are offered a genuine Proportional Alternative not the worst possible alternative (which was what they offered in order to make sure it was rejected). It could simply be the system already used for Holyrood since – although its not perfect – people can see that it works.

  2. Shaun says:

    How can trident be cut without also cutting the associated jobs?

    I think trident is less of an issue to most Scots than you’d like to believe, and will continue thinking so until I see something which suggests otherwise.

    1. Wul says:

      Some things are much, much more important than money. This is one of them.

    2. Annette says:

      Immoral and dangerous undertakings are not justified by the observation that they provide some jobs. I remind you of A Modest Proposal made by Jonathan Swift in 1729 – such a business would undoubtedly create jobs, but would you endorse it?

      Besides, a military base does not create wealth, it uses up taxpayers’ money. The same amount of money, invested in productive industries, tourism, renewable energies, agriculture, the arts, practically ANYTHING else, would create more wealth AND more jobs.

    3. Gordon says:

      c/f David McCann’s link. Also I believe that there are fewer than 500 Scottish residents employed directly on the Trident nuclear weapons facility. I think we could find them more useful employment elsewhere.

      1. lastchancetoshine says:

        520 And there’s nothing to say that they are all actually resident outwith duty time on the base.

        “Mr Ainslie obtained figures for civilian jobs at Faslane under freedom of information legislation.

        They identify a total of 159 Ministry of Defence jobs in Scotland and 254 jobs at Babcock Marine as being dependent on Trident, as well as 107 jobs at Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems. The exact locations of the Lockheed Martin jobs were not available.”


  3. Jan Cowan says:

    We are being used by WM and US. Time to take control.

  4. lastchancetoshine says:

    There’s two elephants… unfortunately a lot of people think trident is just super.


    1. Excellent article.

      As for the supposed second elephant: The misleading nature of the question asked is the reason why John Curtice’s poll was so out of line with all the polling that consistently shows that people in Scotland object to Trident. By now we know how to smell a rat when the establishment tries to use an imaginary elephant to obscure the one staring us in the face:

      See: http://www.newsnetscotland.scot/index.php/scottish-news/9343-trident-poll-scots-were-asked-about-submarines-and-not-weapons

  5. GlasgowAnni says:

    Please don’t forget the many committed people who have consistently maintained a presence at the Faslane peace camp for over 30 years, 365/24/7. They are the elephant in Faslane’ s room, a constant reminder of it’s pernicious purpose. They are often forgotten until the rest of the country occasionally remembers Faslane and bolts down to Helensburgh to make a point. They will find welcoming, peaceful people living in basic but cheerfully painted caravans showing us all that another way of living is possible.

    1. Thanks for reminding us all

  6. Wull says:

    This is THE issue. More should have been made of it during the referendum campaign; more should be made of it now. It has to be put in the forefront in the 2015 General Election, immediately by the SNP and also by the ALLIANCE that will hopefully contest that election, comprising the SNP, the Greens and others. If Scotland is the heart of that ALLIANCE, Trident nevertheless remains a UK-wide issue. The ALLIANCE must therefore have a UK-wide dimension. Why should a near-bankrupt UK, which cannot even service its debt, waste our resources on these useless weapons? They are so immoral that they cannot be used under any conceivable circumstances … And if that means the UK stops wasting still further resources on pretending to be a super-power, when it is no such thing, then so be it. Time to cast aside all imperial pretensions ….

  7. Alexe Weir. says:

    I do not support Scottish Independence or the SNP but I do support scrapping of Trident for the whole of UK. What is the point of just moving it a few hundred miles down South.

    1. Jane Tallents says:

      As Lauren says below there is nowhere for it to go down South but I’ve never met anyone campaigning against Trident that just wants it shifted anyway. The Scrap Trident demo at Faslane on Nov 30th is for people of all parties and none and for both Yes and No voters. Its for everyone who wants to see an end to having UK nuclear weapons wherever they are built or based. Hope to see you there Alexe. See http://scraptrident.org/ for more info

    2. Dean Richardson says:

      As far as I can tell, the only reason the UK government has nukes is as a ‘status symbol’ and because Uncle Sam insists. The US Federal Government owns the weapons and decides on whether to use them, but the British taxpayer has to pay for the ridiculously expensive ‘privilege’ of manufacturing them and ‘minding’ them at Faslane.

  8. John Simpson says:

    If Trident is our first line of defence then it must be the first point of a nuclear attack. With the type of weapons they have now that means most of the population of the central belt would either be atomized or affected by fallout. Forget morals or cost or jobs, let everyone who would be affected know exactly how they would be killed and you might get a lot more protesting. We are paying , literally, for a weapon whose possession could lead to an uninhabitable Scotland bereft of people!
    But London would be safe.

    1. Dean Richardson says:

      I agree with you on all but your last point. The senior politicians might be safe (but for how long?) in their bunkers across the south of England, but London would not be safe from fallout. Remember all that volcanic ash from Iceland that was affecting much of western Europe a few years ago? Well, if there were a nuclear explosion in or near the west of Scotland, it would be a similar story, but with acid rain.

  9. Lauren says:

    Alexe, Scottish CND have published a fully referenced briefing paper which shows clearly that there is no viable alternative to Faslane/Coulport. That is why if the people of Scotland decide to remove this abomination it will effectively disarm the UK of nuclear weapons. The briefing paper can be read here: http://www.google.co.uk/url?url=http://www.cnduk.org/information/briefings/trident-briefings/item/download/165&rct=j&frm=1&q=&esrc=s&sa=U&ei=gXhXVJigBfSUsQSs34GICA&ved=0CBoQFjAB&usg=AFQjCNGLuHcGp5IZqwqyF3aCvatz8XbxjQ

  10. Ian Campbell says:

    I agree there is not enough talk about the immorality of Trident rather than merely its costing too much, but it’s not true to say that all churches are silent on the subject. Several churches are listed as supporters on the anti-Trident petition website http://www.rethinktrident.org.uk and several prominent Christian leaders including the Anglican Archbishop of Wales and the Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, who is ale president of the UK branch of Pax Christi, an international organisation campaigning for peace, which is one of the sponsors of the petition. Many years ago the Scottish Catholic bishops took a lead in condemning the possession of nuclear weapons but I do not know the position of the present hierarchy.

  11. john problem says:

    I wonder how much Westminster charges Scotland for this, in truth. Other charges amount to £46 billion – a high price to pay for staying in the Union……johnproblem.com has the details.

  12. Scrapping Trident was a major issue in the referendum campaign. Time for all of us who were so vociferous on the “Bairns not Bombs” front to make an effort to get to Faslane 0n November 30th.

  13. habibbarri says:

    AT this Remembrance Season when the UK government is promoting militarism, while leaving it to charities to care for and support those wounded mentally and physically in wars, wear a Poppy for Peace. There’s still time to buy them for the 11/11.


  14. arthur thomson says:

    I’m still trying to work out why I am so offended by your comment Alexe. Suffice to say that I am absolutely a supporter of getting rid of nuclear weapons and if coincidentally that should benefit those who oppose Scottish independence then I’ll take the rough with the smooth.

  15. Tony says:

    To help ensure Trident is not replaced, please ask your MP to sign the following House of Commons motion on the subject using the link below:


    Thank you.

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