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The Defence of Trident

article-2101508-11BF017F000005DC-611_634x476Trident isn’t a matter of left or right any more, or the ethics of pacifism or unilateralism, it’s become a constitutional issue. It matters that all of Britain’s ‘independent’ nuclear weapons are in Scotland. It matters that they are not in England.

Rafael Behr today carefully analysed the splits and schisms in Corbyn’s Labour Party, but in doing so he seemed to evoke probably the worst argument for spending £205 billion replacing Trident.

There are valid arguments for retaining nuclear warheads. If you believe that having the nuclear deterrent will somehow ‘keep the peace’ (an argument of ontological curiosity) or if you believe that trident is part of the strategic defence of the UK you can, just about, string a case together. It doesn’t stand up but at least it has the outline of credibility to it.

But truly the worst argument ever put forward (and it is the one regularly put forward by Jackie Baillie) is the one that it is good for job creation. You would have to be void of imagination and innumerate to consider this the basis for contravening international law and unleashing the potential for this amount of death and destruction. For the 500 jobs or so that actually are derived from Trident could be re-created with ease.

A really big ASDA or a games development hub would probably do it.

But Behr’s argument was a new one. He wrote: “(Clive) Lewis is no fan of Britain’s nuclear weapons. But on Monday his speech accepted that parliament has voted to renew the deterrent, and that official policy supports renewal.”

It’s an odd approach. The logic seems to be that once parliament has voted on something you just shrug your shoulders and go ‘oh well’. Yesterday I found that morally objectionable, or economically insane, or both, but now that the Motherfucker of all Parliaments has voted on it I guess I’ll just completely alter my belief system.

It’s more white flag than red flag.

Behr continues: “Lewis understands the problem with unilateral disarmament” – we’re not told what that problem is – presumably we all know . “To keep pushing the case makes it harder to lure parliamentary colleagues back to a Corbyn banner and alienates voters, who think it signals unworldly pacifism”. Do they? No evidence is given.

But the idea now seems that we should invest in billions for WMD as a sort of bargaining chip to lure recalcitrant soft Blairites you’ve never heard of to prop up some outer post of the Shadow Cabinet.

Are you following this?

Next comes a real doozy: “The trade unions that represent workers in the nuclear industry cannot endorse a policy that would make thousands of their members redundant.”

Of course the Gareloch and most of the population of western Scotland would be ‘redundant’ in the event of a ‘strike’ to use language the trade unions might be familiar with, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The reality of Trident remains an abstract concept, but it matters where it is located. It matters because it make us a target.


Like Rachel Reeves and her “constituency tinderbox” – the response to the horrendous rise in racism unleashed by and through Brexit is not to confront that narrative and it’s sad outcomes, but to pander to it. It’s like Labour is a zone of complete opportunism in which tenets of thinking, like, say, peace, multiculturalism or freedom of movement are discarded dependent on whether there might be a vote or two in it.

It’s not just the Tories who have blundered clueless into the new Brexit landscape with an aura of complete political bewilderment. If Labour somehow can’t or won’t even unite under the most simple of concepts – freedom of movement within Europe – then we really are doomed to live in a society dominated by the politics of Farage.

But just as no-one really articulates a coherent argument for stopping free movement – other than Reeves hysterical pandering to some neo-Powellite future scenario, no-one really articulates the need for Trident. It’s just this thing that nobody sees that somehow imbues us with an other-worldly power, some global glamour, and somehow keeps Putin in check.

None of this is thought-through, none of this is coherent, it’s all a reactive spasm to some fear ‘out there’ and lends itself to the most ridiculous positions.

In response to a horrific racially motivated attack on a Polish man in Reeves’ constituency do you increase investment in community relations and education, enforce race-hatred legislation or prosecute tabloid editors for incitement? No, you make sure you don’t have any more bloody poles coming over here, that’s what you do.

In the coming year, having shed themselves of the luggage of Blair’s foreign policy madness, Labour had and have the opportunity for fresh thinking that reasserts values but confronts the realities of the real world. Following the failed model of multilateralism and clinging to Cold War weapons, or retreating into the racial politics of fear does neither of these things.

It’s a reflection of the broken incoherence of policies and values that means that Labour seems unaware of the constitutional element of Trident and incapable of reconciling its feuding north and southern branches with the opportunities of fighting for peace.

It’s as if Labour has lost sight of its hinterland. It’s as if the Blair years have really disemboweled the party of its soul, so that even if it can retrieve policies of the left and idea of principle based in some moral compass, they can’t quite realise themselves because something has been removed. So when they do ‘do populism’ it looks like Rachel Reeves blethering about imminent dystopia or the Ed Stone.

By all accounts Corbyn was impressive this week ‘The leader’s confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes’ – and his policies on a living wage and of an ethical foreign policy are to be applauded. But if he and his party can’t see the ethical and constitutional aspect to Trident and resolve it then the prospect of a ‘united front’ will be lost.

The prospect of being incinerated focuses the mind. Trident remains a matter of national and international importance, a key part of the democratic deficit and any ‘ethical foreign policy’ will be meaningless without it.


Comments (21)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Having had a look at the said article on Trident, it appears to be the continuation of the attack on Jeremy Corbyn and the thousands who voted for him, by the right wing of the Labour Party and its media supporters. It is a variant on the Scottish referendum decided matters so stop talking about independence, or ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Followed to its logical conclusion it means that the losing side in any election should just disband itself.

    The Rachel Reeves comment is in line with those made by people like Liz Kendall and Emma Reynolds after the Conservatives won a majority in the 2015 election that non-Conservatives have to emulate Conservative policies and, indeed, go further, to have any chance of winning a future election, which, of course, cannot take place because Mr Cameron’s victory in 2015 settled things.

    There are debates to be had about Trident and immigration/free movement, but Mr Behr and Ms Reeves do not make them. And, these arguments come from a range of political backgrounds; for example, consider Mr Crispin Blunt’s on Trident or how the ‘pressures’ on social services can be managed effectively by actually investing in such provision rather than using the rallying call of ‘austerity’ as a screen for the transfer of wealth and power from the very many – including most fairly affluent middle class people – to the very few very wealthy and powerful. ‘Immigration’ is a classic ‘divide and rule’ strategy. I do not claim that tackling the strength of feeling which has coalesced around ‘immigration’ is not a strong one, but there is discourse to be had. Ms Reeves seems to be joining the ‘lynch mob’.

    1. Hyperborean says:

      “Followed to its logical conclusion it means that the losing side in any election should just disband itself.”
      Isn’t that, in essence, what happened to Labour after the last Westminster election?
      The heart of the matter, many commentators, including Labour MPs, seem agreed, is that a Corbyn-lead Labour Party is probably unelectable. So the answer, apparently, is to ditch unpopular left-wing policies in pursuit of Middle England votes while tearing thee party apart in pursuit of these, which just makes Labour look even less appealing to the very voters they are cravenly trying to placate.
      The tough truth is that Middle England doesn’t want any truck with any kind of left-wing policies so the pursuit of their votes is — currently — as pointless as it is destructive. So do we just accept that Labour can never again win power as long as it remains identifiably the Labour Party, and that England, where all the votes are, is now a one-party state? (A condition that, with exemplary Freudian projection, the right wing are constantly accusing Scotland of suffering.) Well that at least would allow the Labour Party to return to its roots and rediscover the values the it originally grew from and accept a future as the provider of cogent anti right wing critiques. There would be some honour in that at any rate. But, better than that, if it could forget about being electable for a couple of rounds of elections that it shows no promise of winning anyway it might slowly begin to re-build voter trust when they see ideas and proposed policies based on genuine values, not just vote chasing. Moreover of Labour were to spend less of its time chasing the unattainable it might manage to concentrate on creating cogent and persuasive arguments that could, in time, win people round to supporting it again.
      Imagine that! A political party having the intehrity to say what it values and why, rather than disgracefully turning moral cartwheels in exactly the way that has caused so many people to lose fait not just in it but in politics and politics in general.
      The most disgraceful part of Labour’s failure to stop Brexit was its utter failure to gain the votes of those who ought to be its core constituency: the least well-off and least well-educated who, it was clear, were actually those most likely to vote for Brexit. But because Labour has ripped itself up it has not only lost their support by behaving in exactly the way best calculated to lose voter trust but it utterly failed to engage in what its founding members perhaps most believed in: education. It failed to educate its natural supporters in the reasons to reject Brexit leaving them at the mercy of those who didn’t scruple to work on their fears or to use empty sloganising over rational argument. Labour completely failed to provide people with clear, evidence-based argument in simple terms with which to counter increasingly outrageous Brexit-supporter claims and this left those who should be at the root of why the party exists rather in the position of turkeys voting for Christmas.
      Being that, their own unscrupulous vote-chasing and moral bankruptcy hasn’t gone unnoticed by those whose votes they should be able to count on. As a result they have thoroughly earned not their support but their contempt. And a major part of the Brexit vote was based on anger and a stuff you! attitude. Voters saw no reason to do as they were told by politicians who they had no reason to believe had their interests at heart.
      In Scotland this rot really set in at the time of Indyref1 when the Labour Party colluded with the Tories in what was clearly an attempt to preserve what they (mistakenly) saw as their fiefdom and were party to all the lies, disinformation and distortion that Project Fear stooped to, adding much to the contempt voters were already feeling and almost annihilating their support in Scotland as a result. All credit to those Labour activists who joined the Yes campaign when conscience dictated they should, but why was there so little sign of conscience in the Labour leadership?
      Conscience, or the lack of it, is going to be the key factor in Labour’s recovery. That and the ability and willingness to explain why their new — and they mostly need to be new — policies exist, the moral and practical bases for them. That, and only that, is what might actually attract the attention and, in the end, win the votes not just of Middle England but of the thousands of former supporters who have in recent years turned their backs on the party in a mixture of disappointment and disgust.
      Yes, Jeremy Corbin probably is unelectable — right now. I, for one, an glad of that. I’d like to see a future Labour leader whose conscience and common sense both tell him or her to reject Trident much more vehemently, commit to its removal in future and support the Scottish government in demanding its removal now, support Scottish independence because that’s the only way that Scottish voters, currently swamped out by sheer numbers in the south and effectively disenfranchised as a result, can make their votes count and achieve true democracy, work a great deal harder at regaining the trust of former supporters instead of tarting after unattainable ones, and put some true morality and values-based policies back into the party. Maybe if Mr. Corbyn actually showed more of those high moral values he is so often credited with in these ways he might turn out to be electable after all.
      But I’m an SNP member, why would I care? Because we don’t currently have independence and we do seem doomed to England continuing as a one-party state wil the Tories in unrestrained power in perpetuity. That’s why.

      1. Keith MacRae says:

        The right wing of labour and the tories know there is no case for renewal of trident in military terms.

        It’s the permanent seat on the UN security council and the perceived projection of power they crave that in their minds the rest of the world admires. The establishment have the rabid ignorant dogs of the press to create red herrings like North Korea, ISIS and other means of fear. The US would prefer the uk to come under its umbrella rather than the current set up, albeit with the US being paid.

        labour are particularly vile when it comes to trident, the only reason they support it is because post Foot 1983 they are too lazy, timid and scared to make the anti case. Along the way labour have also used jobs as a reason for retention, so much for the moral or defence case. But that’s labour, they’d sell their grannie to a glue factory if they think it would bring them power.

        The only way to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons is to gain independence, we can become the first country in the world to rid ourselves transparently of this continuing colonial burden. If emglamd wants weapons of mass destruction, let them pay, house, maintain and face the fact they become the target.

        Vote SNP!

  2. MBC says:

    I’m guessing here that the problem with unilateralism is that you lose your negotiating position?

    If we want to see a world without nuclear weapons we will have to negotiate a position with other nations who have them to give them up, and a gradualist approach, reducing stockpiles, down to zero, would appear to be the logical route.

    1. MBC says:

      Why the thumbs down? I’m not offering a personal opinion on ‘what’s wrong with unilateralism’. Just explaining what the rationale against it appears to be. Since it was asked.

  3. MBC says:

    Trident is a delivery system – weapons can be launched at any moment from constantly moving submarines deep out at sea which cannot be detected by enemy powers, unlike weapons launched from ballistic missile launch sites on land. The fear being that even if your entire country is taken out in a nuclear strike, the Trident sub could still retaliate. Thus, not worth your enemy’s trouble to strike. They will get it back, twice over, even if we are all dead. That’s the theory of deterrence.

    However, it does rather depend on technology. New satellite technology seems to be capable of detecting subs, thus making Trident obsolete as a deterrent.

    That seems to me to be the most powerful argument against renewing Trident.

    1. Kenny says:

      One Trident sub doesn’t carry enough warheads to take out a majority of Russian launch sites or to level a substantial number of Russian cities. Without the USA, there is no such thing as Mutually Assured Destruction. There is only our destruction and a petty retaliatory mass murder on our part, carried out while our remains still smoulder.

      1. Thrawn says:

        So firstly your problem with trident is that it doesn’t kill enough people???

        Secondly you are happy to accept nuclear deterrence just so long as someone else does the deterring for you…how brave and noble

        Thirdly…you assume the only country we will ever need to deter from nuclear strike is Russia…for example what if Argentina developed nukes as a bargaining chip for Falklands soveriegnty

  4. MBC says:

    I think computer technology might be the clincher. Imagine if an enemy could disable your entire Trident system or your banks just by hacking its computers? If we want to defend ourselves from enemy attack the smart money should be going into protecting us from cyber warfare.

    1. Keith MacRae says:

      US aircraft carriers already have systems that can severely curtail the electronic communications of countries without the capacity to take on a US aircraft carrier.

  5. john young says:

    It seems to me the only worthwhile investment/jobs located in Scotland are womd,we are not deemed to be a positive environment for anything else.

  6. bringiton says:

    Westminster has signed a blank cheque for son of Trident which means that the “defence” budget of a future UK is an unknown,other than that it will likely be an ever increasing amount.
    Their best hope will be that Scotland will become independent and kick Trident out of our country,giving them the excuse to cancel the whole project.
    With the proposed return to free wheeling Elizabethen trading,tbey are going to need a lot more gun boats.
    Threatening to nuke potential trading partners will not be too successful and Trident submarines are only good for one thing.
    When will Scots waken up to the fact that the UK is run by crazies for the benefit of crazies.

  7. kailyard rules says:

    A bit off topic but in a topical temporary mood, can we dispense with the word “motherfucker”. How about “journalistfucker” for a wee while ’til we see how that goes.

    Oh. and I’m all for parking Trident subs alongside Westminster on the Thames, to help with the concentration of the collective Unionist mind.

  8. Frank says:

    It’s probably off topic but I find myself increasingly wondering why the SNP, despite the new members has not had it’s Momentum moment? Instead the SNP look increasingly managerial and bereft of radical and transformative ideas whilst most of it’s MPS and MSPS – a few notable exceptions aside, look barely indistinguishable from New Labourites.

  9. Common sense to me says:

    I cannot for one minute understand the logic of the unions in this. They want trident to protect jobs.

    I have absolutely no proof whatsoever for the following and I’m relying on common sense, which is sadly very uncommon. Surely a long term, properly thought through and managed industrial strategy funded to the tune of £200b could provide quality jobs to replace those lost. Plus provide many more jobs over and above those lost. While at the same time providing a significant boost to the entire economy.
    You only need to look at the turn around in the UK’s fortunes in the Olympics over the past 16 years to see that putting in properly managed investment yields success.
    Unfortunately our UK leaders are only interested in short term gain and are incapable of running a long term vision.

  10. Redgauntlet says:

    The Trident issue is the perfect example of what Chomsky meant when he talked of how the media “manufactures consent”….

    As for the list of “unelectable Labour leaders”, here are a few of Corbyn’s predecessors:

    1) Ed Miliband
    2) Gordon Brown
    3) Neil Kinnock

    Michael Foot was the last “unelectable Labour leader” to be unelected before Corbyn…

    …Miliband, Brown and Kinnock were all “electable” unelected leaders, which is all the difference, right?

  11. florian albert says:

    ‘no-one articulates a coherent argument for stopping free movement.’

    I have come across a number of such arguments.

    1 It depresses wages of the least skilled – as even Mark Carney accepted.
    2 It puts pressure on housing and social services. (Yes, I know that many immigrants work in social services.)
    3 It allows Scotland to continue failing to properly educate and train its own young people.

    These arguments have been made by Paul Collier in ‘Exodus’ and by David Goodhart in ‘The British Dream.’

    I entirely understand why so many poles (sic) want to leave Poland to live in Scotland. Their arrival here has had a down side for many Scots. To pretend otherwise is foolish.

  12. Bill McDermott says:

    We need to dispense with the notion that Brexit was in the gift of northern England’s Labour voters. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it was the Daily Mail/Dail y Telegraph/Dail Express reading Tories of the all over England who were responsible for Brexit.

  13. Scott says:

    Well written piece Mike! Why don’t you set up an open public debate with the Labour geniuses who want to argue for Trident and we will get a couple of 6 year olds to rip them apart piece by piece? And throw in a couple of Tories to help there argument fallacies. The single most determining factor in OPPOSITION to trident is that it does make us a TARGET And it is a weapon of lethal mass murder Scotland has rejected so often and finds it imposed upon us. It is a deadly roulette played on our nation esp in these new Cold War times when the Neo cons of America want Putins head on a plate and have wanted him on his knees before them for years. We are closer to a nuclear war now than we ever have been……….

  14. Frank 2 says:

    Given that war is a reality in life, and has been for a few thousand years at least, I trust that all those who want to get rid of trident will be perfectly willing to stick a bayonet in some stranger who is trying to stick a bayonet in you. That is what it will come to when we come face to face with reality – unless, of course, we shelter under someone else’s nuclear umbrella. A world at peace would be a wonderful achievement but simply getting rid of trident won’t bring it about.

  15. Thrawn says:

    “The reality of Trident remains an abstract concept, but it matters where it is located. It matters because it make us a target.”

    Do you really think that if Scotland removed nuclear weapons but remained part of EU + NATO (as is SNP policy) we would not still be a target if a generalised nuclear exchange took place. And even if by some miracle/oversight/quisling treachery we weren’t do you imagine our lives would be worth living if England, Western Europe and USA were reduced to rubble? Of all the reasons against Trident this is the stupidest.

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