Westminster, the Bomb and the SNP
The significance of the fact that the first outing of the new SNP Westminster parliamentary group was a set piece full frontal assault on the Trident fleet cannot be overestimated. The Westminster response was to try to do the next best thing to ignore it with a 500 statement, but with 56 MPs the adjournment debate around Able Seaman McNielly’s revelations of nuclear submarine safety was news after all.
Historians consider issues around the relationship of the public of a country and its military institutions as key determinants in assessing a country’s democratic health or otherwise. Obvious examples are France at the end of the 19th Century in relation to the Dreyfus Affair or the United States in the sixties and seventies in relation to the Vietnam war.
U.S. Secretary of State Dean Aitchison let slip, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, that the UK was America’s lieutenant. That although the British liked to call it a partnership it was actually something quite different. Post 9/11 interventions has stretched the UK’s armed forces almost to breaking point in terms of commitment and also professional humiliation in the eyes of the Americans. Mindful of French and American Experiences the last thing the MoD press officers need is an avowedly anti nuclear party as the third party in the commons.
During the referendum and GE 15 campaigns Trident was a key issue, the question is can it remain so? Can the Scottish bloc at Westminster, within the context of a Tory majority government rather than in a hung parliament situation, keep UK nuclear weapons and all they stand for high on the political agenda?
The impact of the McNeilly debate reinforces a distinctive aspect of the culture of the SNP as its anti nuclear position is almost as much part of its DNA as its support for independence so slippage on that aspect is not on.
Moreover, opposition to Trident was becoming a defining characteristic of Scottish political culture even before the transformative referendum and GE15 campaigns. The timing of William McNeilly’s whistleblowing could not have been more opportune. How then is the SNP to keep Trident and all that it stands for high up the agenda?
This will be achieved in my view by the new Westminster group developing the different dimensions of the Trident critique. The cost aspect has widespread support and understanding. Progress on issues around the actual dangers of nuclear weapons and proliferation has been made but not nearly enough. Work on Trident as a key totem of British culture requires to be done. One could argue that to end Trident into end Great Britain.
Another dimension of the anti Trident campaign needs also to be opened up, the constant expeditionary warfare mode of recent, current and if the preliminary work on the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review is to be believed, future UK defence policy.
Due mainly to a hostile Westminster consensus underpinned by a hostile mainstream media, the anti nuclear critique has at times been portrayed as so narrow that pro-nuclear response script has become formulaic. “Yes , pacifism is an honourable position, and yes, so to is opposition to nuclear weapons but there are issues around national security to consider”, indeed.
There needs to be a discourse around what national security actually is, rather than what the establishment and the mainstream media say it is.
The size of and the resources available to the Scottish Westminster bloc gives them the opportunity to develop a new alternative national security narrative. Moreover it is important that the Scottish bloc understand that they need not start from scratch in developing an alternative.
Over a number of years, important international institutions, notably the United Nations but also research institutes some of which are based in NATO countries, like Canada, have fleshed out in considerable detail, not only the theoretical but practical aspects around the concept of Human Security.
It is important to understand that Human Security is not some distant poor cousin of National Security. Human Security is actually an alternative way of looking at National Security. It does not begin and end in aid programs to the developing world, it develops the tools of conflict resolution and facilitates an analysis of the real security needs of a country, be it Scotland or the UK.
As we enter the summer of 2015 the SNP has never had so many cards to play. Now is the time to develop alternative political visions and narratives that are guaranteed to have profile. These alternatives will be contested of course, but that simple fact of a open discourse will be a defeat for the Westminster consensus , which bye the way , hardly received a ringing endorsement in the rest of the UK.
Here in Scotland the post referendum media in both print, but more importantly online, will expect the progressive values talked about during the last two years to underpin more detailed SNP policy development now that an additional 8 million in short money is available for that purpose.
Moreover in the context of the electoral politics around the proportional list seats in next years Scottish Parliamentary elections the Greens and elements of the left beyond the SNP will inevitably go even further.
Down in Westminster no action won’t be an option either though in this case the pressure as always be from the political right. The forthcoming 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review will be an exercise in justifying and covering up institutional dysfunction and incompetent decision making in the prosecution of recent UK defence and security policy. The Scottish bloc must challenge this as I have said there are credible , internationally recognised alternatives, even in the UK context. Moreover it’s a debate that the SNP is mandated by the Scottish people, to involve itself in.
However with the advent of the Scottish bloc the 2015 SDSR has, from the Westminster establishment perspective, another, in some ways even more important function. It will be used to invite the Scottish bloc to buy into the Westminster’s defence and security consensus. It will invite the SNP parliamentary group to become ” critical friends” in future UK foreign adventures.
The extent to which the Scottish bloc resists attempts by Westminster to assimilate them will be the measure of them. Every day and many times a day for the next five years they will be told that resistance to assimilation is futile. The bloc have the institutional strength that come with the numbers to resist this. They have a mandate from the people to proffer alternatives. Meanwhile Scotland will be watching, and given the tools of the post referendum media and social media, not be waiting.
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