On November 31 more than 1,500 people demonstrated at the gates of Faslane Naval Base demanding that, irrespective of the outcome of Scotland’s independence referendum, Trident still has to go. Alan MacKinnon is a member of the Communist Party’s Scottish Committee and Secretary of Scottish CND. This article first featured in the Morning Star 09/12/2014.
Indeed, the case for scrapping Britain’s nuclear weapons system just becomes stronger. Five years of austerity has cut living standards by over 8 per cent across Britain resulting in a huge increase in poverty, insecurity and inequality.
In the meantime the British government seems determined to press ahead with the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. Already, pre-empting the parliamentary vote on replacing Trident in 2016, over £2 billion has been squandered on “long lead” items for the new submarines and the British and US governments have quietly renewed the secretive Mutual Defence Agreement which “permits” nuclear sharing in breach of the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty.
In Scotland there is an urgent need to re-engage with those on both sides of the referendum debate and harness the enthusiasm and activism of the Yes campaigners and the many anti-Trident campaigners who voted No.
In the run-up to the general election, the key task in Scotland and across Britain is to work with the existing anti-Trident opposition in the military establishment, within all political parties, the trade unions, the faith communities and the anti-austerity movement to build a broad and powerful alliance of political forces that can kill off the project once and for all.
A crucial part of this will be broadening and deepening support in the trade union movement. One of the key arguments used to justify Trident is that it brings employment to thousands of workers in Scotland and elsewhere.
But the evidence suggests otherwise. The government’s own austerity programme has squeezed the defence budget as it has other sectors, forcing cuts in the size of the army from 102,000 to 82,000 and cuts in conventional defence manufacturing.
In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor Osborne made it clear that “unprotected” budgets such as defence would face a 30 per cent cut over the next five years.
A recent analysis by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has revealed a black hole in the defence budget of at least £25 billion which will require, according to the Financial Times (October 6 2014), the number of new Type-26 Frigates due to be built in the Govan and Scotstoun shipyards to be cut from 13 to eight, threatening long-term employment at the Clyde yards.
Other cuts in military hardware and jobs in defence manufacturing will follow.
And this is happening precisely because spending on Trident is due to soar — already £2-3bn a year and
likely to consume over a third of the defence equipment budget for around a decade.
In other words spending on Trident comes at the expense, not just of jobs and services designed to meet human needs, but also at the expense of jobs in conventional defence manufacturing.
Moreover, the number of jobs at Scotland’s nuclear bases which depend on Trident has been consistently exaggerated. In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Ministry of Defence wrote to Scottish CND on October 22 2012 saying that there were 520 civilian jobs at HMNB Clyde which were “directly reliant on Trident” — a far cry from the 11,000 figure which is often cited by the supporters of Trident.
At its April 2014 conference the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) called for the establishment of a Scottish defence diversification agency (SDDA) “whose main focus will be planning and resourcing the diversification of jobs away from defence projects, such as Trident, and promoting the greening of the Scottish economy.”
This should not be confused with the UK Defence Diversification Agency which was established in 1999 within the Ministry of Defence. Its role was to find private sector purchasers for military technology — not to plan the conversion of military facilities to civilian use — and it has now been privatised as part of QinetiQ.
By contrast, the STUC proposal calls on the Scottish government to establish and, crucially, fund the new agency which should be independent of the MoD.
Any closure of a defence base would require five years’ advance warning and the agency would be charged with ensuring the provision of adequate jobs of equivalent remuneration and skill levels to maintain employment at least at previous levels.
The agency would work with the relevant trade unions, representatives of the local community and other bodies so that any new proposals were credible and had the confidence of the existing workforce.
In this way defence workers whose jobs depend on Trident or other defence work can be won to support defence diversification without risking their own livelihoods.
And finally, after decades of blocking proposals for a global ban on nuclear weapons, the US and Britain have finally agreed to attend the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons to be held in Vienna this month.
This is the outcome of years of pressure at home and abroad and represents a considerable achievement for the international peace movement.
Some 151 nations have already declared in favour of a global ban on nuclear weapons supported by a host of campaigning organisations including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Global Zero and Mayors for Peace.
More pressure will be needed if this first step is to be followed by a real breakthrough and for negotiations to start on a new treaty of abolition. It is too early to rest.