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.
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.