‘Scrapping Trident – a ‘red line’ issue!

Some thoughts by Kenneth Wardrop, Chair of Stirling CND and Member of the SNP City of Stirling Branch
The 2015 General Election campaign and the manifesto commitment by the SNP to scrap Trident, put the issue of the UK’s nuclear weapons system centre stage in the election debate and became a red line issue for the SNP. It also represented a bold position from a mainstream political party in the UK with the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems all committing to renew Trident in the life span of this new Westminster Parliament.

At the heart of the SNP manifesto commitment is the overwhelming moral and economic argument for the scrapping of the Trident Weapons system – with opinion polls continuing to show that the majority of Scots agree that the UK should give up nuclear weapons. In January 2015 a YouGov poll for the Times showed, that when ‘Don’t Knows’ were removed, 53 per cent of people in Scotland want to see an end to nuclear weapons, with only 20% saying they want to see the UK replace Trident with an equally powerful nuclear missile system.

Stirling SND

Stirling CND at a Glasgow Demo ( courtesy of Stirling CND)

The resounding success of the SNP campaign means that 56 out of 59 of Scotland’s new MP’s are unequivocally committed to the scrapping of Trident. John Ainslie, Coordinator of Scottish CND stated in March 2015 that: “We are disappointed that the Labour party will commit to renewing Trident in their election manifesto. This goes against the views of many of their own candidates as well as the majority of people in Scotland. In a time of austerity the last thing we should be doing is spending £100 billion on more weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons only make the world more dangerous, they do nothing to make us any safer.” The argument by many of these Labour MP’s is that they believe in Multi-lateralism rather than Unilateralism and you will hear them say that effort should be put in to non – proliferation negotiations yet successive Government’s record on this is poor. Many Labour MP’s state that Trident is: “the ‘minimal-cost’ credible nuclear deterrent” – this while we have food banks in our country! In April 2015 however, it was widely reported in the UK press that 75% of Labour Party candidates were opposed to renewing Trident. Ian Murray MP (Labour) and Scotland’s only Labour MP has made public statements regarding his opposition to the renewal of Trident. So there may be opportunities for the new block of SNP MP’s to sway their Westminster colleagues in the Labour Party?

Employment: Reality Check

Claims that Scotland would lose thousands of jobs if the Trident nuclear weapons system is taken out of service or moved elsewhere have been thrown into question following an admission by the Ministry of Defence that only 520 civilian jobs at HM Naval Base Clyde are dependent on Trident.

The figure was released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in response to a freedom of information request from Scottish CND, who asked the Ministry to provide a definitive up-to-date number of jobs at the Clyde base, which includes the Faslane submarine port and the Coulport nuclear weapons store, which directly rely on the Trident strategic weapons system.

MoD replied that “there are 520 civilian jobs at Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Clyde, including Coulport and Faslane, that directly rely upon the Trident programme”. MoD employs 159 personnel at the Clyde base, with private contractors Babcock Marine and Lockheed Martin UK Strategic Systems employing 254 and 107 people respectively. The majority of the jobs are for engineering and science specialists.

During a visit to Faslane on 29 October Defence Secretary Philip Hammond claimed that: “The Faslane complex is the largest employment site in Scotland with over 6500 jobs underpinning the local economy”. A further 1500 jobs would be created at Faslane when the Astute and Trafalgar class fleet submarines moved to the base, he said, with even more jobs generated in the local economy as a result of ‘multiplier’ effects.

About 3,500 of the jobs at the Clyde base are uniformed Royal Navy personnel, 1,700 are contractors and 1,600 are other civilian employees, most of whom work principally on other aspects of the Navy’s submarine programme, rather than Trident. Claims that all these jobs would be lost are based on the unlikely assumption that the Ministry of Defence would close the entire Faslane base immediately.

An expert study into the economic consequences of cancelling Trident commissioned by the Scottish Trades Union Congress and Scottish CND concluded that the total reduction in direct and indirect civilian employment across Scotland if Trident was scrapped would be less than 1800 and that this reduction would not take place until after 2022.

The Scottish National Party has calculated that diverting £1 billion from the Trident replacement programme into infrastructure spending in the west of Scotland would generate around 15,000 jobs.

So in short there are probably no more than 1,800 jobs directly dependent on Trident while re-allocation of the spending has the potential to create 15,000 jobs.

Of course the three Plaid Cymru and one Green MP are also opposed to Trident Renewal. The challenge ahead is to build on this potential support to create a strong voice and heightened public opposition to the renewal of Trident. In Scotland, where the Trident weapons system is based at Faslane, it is certain there is an overwhelming opposition in amongst our Westminster parliamentarians, Holyrood MSP’s, and amongst the majority of Scotland’s citizens to the renewal of this weapons system, and in fact the early scrapping of the existing Trident system. Perhaps we should be calling for a referendum on the renewal of Trident given the scale of the cost against the backdrop of the chancellor George Osbourne’s forthcoming announcements of a further £12bn of welfare cuts.

DEADLY CARGO from Camcorder Guerrillas on Vimeo.

A weapons convoy in Stirling

A convoy of warheads is transported round Stirling Ring Road. Image courtesy of “Stirling’s Secret Visitors” Stirling CND

In Stirling, Trident is a doorstep issue, as we see (as regularly as every 6 weeks), Nuclear Weapons convoys travelling Stirling’s rural roads and the parking up at the MOD’s Defence Support Group facility in Forthside. These convoys are travelling from Coulport on the Clyde to Burghfield near Reading (and sometime Aldermaston). See the Nuke Watch website for more information  and watch the film ‘Deadly Cargo’  by Camcord Guerillas as well as Stirling CND’s short film on the convoys.

Stirling CND working with Stirling University CND campaign actively locally to raise awareness of the convoys and keep pressure on Government at all levels to try and stop this traffic.

Trident: the Costs

Trident first entered service in 1994 and has a 30 year life span which means that in 2016 the UK Government will have to make the decision to commit to renewal of Trident if it is to be replaced in 2024. The decision to renew Trident was deferred in the last Parliament to 2016 and is likely to be an early action by this new majority Tory Government.

Each year for the next 15 years, the operation of the Trident weapons system will cost the UK £3.7 billion. For the same amount, the UK Government could invest in: 15,000 more health visitors; 15,000 more teachers; 300 Sure Start centres; 12,500 new council houses per year; solar energy for 345,000 council houses and still leave an additional billion pounds available to support our existing armed forces.

The Tories are advancing an austerity manifesto while remaining committed to the current Trident weapons system and supporting replacement of Trident at a cost of between circa £125 billion over the life time of the project.

The UK Government are spending billions on the Trident replacement programme before the decision is made by Westminster in 2016 to go ahead with the new system. The initial “Concept Phase” of the project cost £900 million. We are now part-way through the “Assessment Phase” which will cost £3.3 billion, giving a total of £4.2 billion.[Source: Sunday Herald].

Trident: A Single Issue?

Trident is I believe not in fact a single issue – it is also a key symbol of the things we want to change in Scotland. The argument by the ‘Westminster establishment’ parties sums up the UK’s outdated approach to our relations with the rest of the world. The claims that Trident are an independent deterrent are also undermined given the nature of the Mutual Defence Agreement with the United States first signed in 1958 and recently renewed which means that the weapons cannot be used without the consent of the US. Recent statements by Philip Hammond the Tory’s Defence Minister and cold war sabre rattling against Russia and the suggestion that the UK could host US nuclear weapons again are a further indication of a ‘Rule Britannia’ doctrine to geopolitics.

At this time when we are commemorating one hundred years since the First World War what we have witnessed is Britain’s 100 years of conflict – with the Guardian Newspaper stating on 11 February 2014 that: “Apart from WWI and WWII, between 1914 and 2014 British forces have engaged in large and small scale conflicts in 28 countries in Africa, the Middle East (including Suez and Iraq), Asia (including Korea), and the Falklands, plus punitive operations in defence of empire, cold war operations, post 9/11 support for the US, and the ‘troubles’ in Ireland” .

It is often argued that having an ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent weapons system is vital to ensure the UK’s continued seat at the table as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. £125bn is an expensive price to pay for that seat. It is also a hangover of Britain’s imperial past. It has also been argued that there is no prerequisite for UN Security Council members to have nuclear weapons to ensure a seat at the table. Though the current 5 members China, France, USA, Russia and the UK all have nuclear weapons. The UN Security Council in addition to the 5 permanent members also has a rotating membership for a two year tenure which in 2015 will include Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela. While new permanent members of the council have been proposed with Brazil, Germany, India and Japan being suggested members, recognising a new geo political global order.

Over the past few months we have heard the debate about the UK’s inability to defend itself properly whilst we wage illegal ‘offensive’ wars. The irony of Scotland’s lack of sea and air defences of our key North Sea and North Atlantic energy assets, and reconnaissance/ surveillance aircraft to assist in air sea searches and monitoring of air movements by foreign military aircraft whilst the UK Government commits billions on Trident – is of concern to the Scottish public!

A key issue that is often thrown at us by Scottish Labour and the ‘establishment’ Westminster parties relates to the scrapping of Trident and the potential impact on jobs at Faslane.

Bairns not Bombs

Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Bairns not Bombs Rally in Glasgow

Jackie Baillie MSP (Labour) for West Dunbartonshire often claims there will be 11,000 P45’s issued if Trident were not renewed. However this is a total misrepresentation of the situation.

The Independence Benefit

Of course as an independent country Scotland is due an 8.4% share of the MOD’s UK assets worth £7.5 billion, and it has been stated that we would have an annual defence budget of £2.5bn to be spent on conventional forces – and that Faslane would be a combined naval and military HQ for Scotland’s defence forces. The SNP have stated that scrapping Trident will free up £200 million annually as a dividend based on our proportion of UK defence spending.

What about the issue of membership of NATO and the issue of nuclear armaments (the SNP as you may know committed in 2013 to join NATO on independence following a very close vote at conference) – of the current 28 NATO members only 3 have nuclear weapons – these three being the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Scotland can happily be a Nuclear Weapons Free State and also be a member of NATO.

Our small country is host to the largest cache of weapons of mass destruction in Europe, there is an overwhelming moral and economic case against Trident and we have a chance to redefine our position and role in the world by scrapping Trident – let Scotland lead the way to a nuclear free world.

Finally a word from our First Minister and party leader Nicola Sturgeon: “I don’t think there is any dangerous, tense military situation that can ever be made better by the presence of Nuclear Weapons.” [First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, 19 February 2015]

SAM_4842Kenneth Wardrop is a member of Stirling City Branch of the SNP and is also the Chair of Stirling CND

Please visit Stirling CND for more information.
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Views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not agree with those of the Stirling City Branch of the SNP or the SNP itself.