Scotland should be Nation 148 out of the 193 UN member states supporting the statement initiated by Costa Rica in New York this week to attain and maintain a world without nuclear weapons. But we live in a constitutional monarchy in which we have no effective voice or choice.
There is a growing global understanding that nuclear weapons are a terrifying anachronism, standing in the way of the world’s developing capacity for urgent and universal legal and technical responses to conflict, migration, hunger and the climate emergency. But Scotland is in the grip of a fever of privilege that has us lose our senses in a grotesque adulation of the absolute control to which we consent like lemmings, whatever the cost, inconvenience and perils to which it exposes us.
Even as the war in Ukraine calls out nuclear deterrence as a dangerous fiction that increasingly and terrifyingly demonstrates the enormous deficit in the UN Security Council’s energy or capacity for effectively delivering any response to security threats except different forms of violence and force, even with the input of the non-nuclear-armed non-permanent members, there is an ongoing debate about the value (or otherwise) of military alliances. In Scotland, it expands to include who would be our future allies and how we would negotiate cooperation as the constitutional question arises again.
The UK Government’s flagrant disregard for the opinions or the safety of the people who live here (Scotland cannot change UK Government policy) is seen in our relationship with the EU, the UK’s modernisation of the nuclear weapons deployed from Scotland, their immigration policy and choosing to go to war. They don’t need to bother about what we think in Scotland.
Our close neighbour Ireland is committed to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons along with the other UN WMD prohibition agreements, ensuring that the global community will protect their government’s ability to say no to nuclear weapons. Similarly, a Scotland that accedes to the TPNW could not allow any nuclear weapons activity on its territory, whatever relationship it had with another state. It is time that Scottish Government officials and politicians explore practical steps and opportunities arising.
Scotland would be better served by contributing to the global good by making a clear commitment in the realpolitik to the UN rules-based process, upholding the UN’s sustainable development goals, signing all the prohibition treaties on weapons of mass destruction, and observing the UN legal instruments to uphold and protect human rights.
Formal education criteria (a devolved responsibility) that included a commitment to literacy on UN processes and transnational responsibilities could produce, within five years, a generation of young adults with confidence in themselves and their country’s capacity for intergovernmental advocacy.
Through devolution, Scotland is recognised as a cogent cultural and legislative entity. Its parliament is elected every five years through a system of proportional representation meaning that those elected far more fairly represent the wishes of the electorate than the first past the post and devil take the rest system utilised at Westminster. At Holyrood, it is practically impossible for a dominating political party to form a government without the inclusion of members of other parties.
Legislative powers devolved to Scotland were set in the Scotland Act, by the UK Parliament at Westminster but could benefit us all by being extended and strengthened to reflect the views of the people.
The presence of nuclear weapons sited in Scotland unfairly impacts the people of Scotland’s human right to life – unfairly because the UK’s nuclear arsenal is based here despite legitimate opposition.
We are not talking here about opinion polls by YouGov, we are talking about the actual votes cast by the electorate for those who represent them and form the Scottish Government. In the UK Parliament the overwhelming majority of Scottish MPs have also consistently rejected the upgrading, replacement or maintenance of the Trident system, but without effect, because we are always outnumbered (the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster was even further reduced by 13 to 59 out of a total of 646 after devolution in 1998).The people of Scotland are particularly discriminated against because we carry greater risk than other UK citizens of being impacted by accidents or attack involving the weapons store and the submarine base, even though we have no meaningful representation in decisions about them.
The weapons are not based, and the warheads are not stored, in the territory over which those who make the decisions can reasonably claim any mandate other than might is right.
As in so many matters, The UK Government acts with an impunity that highlights its real and lasting disregard for its citizens, including particularly the elected representatives of people in Scotland. We in Scotland hope for at least understanding and ideally solidarity from citizens in the rest of the UK.
The increased risk to the environment and to human health arising from the discharged waste from nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines at Faslane since 2020 is not scrutinised by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency or the Scottish Government, and the information regarding these dangers is not made available to Scottish agencies or individuals.
This is also the case for the impact of the 200-plus nuclear warheads stored at Coulport. The cap on the exact number increased last year, three months before the Scottish elections delivered a parliament with an increased majority of members who have signed the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Pledge for global prohibition and elimination. Amongst the world’s countries, there is huge support for Scotland to be able to contribute, rather than be misrepresented at the UN. 147 UN Member States supported Costa Rica’s statement in New York.
We could be welcomed as Nation148 through a contribution to external relations and through modelling an alternative to patriarchal, neo-colonial, extractive and elitist policies that threaten our survival. Scotland’s support for the TPNW is working towards that, not merely as a tactical move, and independence will not reduce overall resistance to the UK Government as though Scots were the rats deserting a sinking ship.
By highlighting and resisting the affront to Scotland’s democracy that the UK Government’s nuclear policies present, the UK’s so-called mandate can be called out, and a start made on dismantling entirely the system upon which it relies.