Can Trident still be stopped?

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TRIDENT STILL HAS TO GO NOW: Faslane demo: Sun 30 November. An event bringing together anti-nuclear organisations in Scotland with the intention of holding the biggest ever seen outside the gates of Faslane. Buses will drop off near the Peace Camp at the South end of the base at about 11.45am, from there we will make our way to the North Gate. For details, see: www.scraptrident.org

by Isobel Lindsay The referendum result was painful for all of us but the outlook for the left on defence and international affairs issues was particularly bleak. On domestic policy there were very slender hopes that there might be some modest extension of powers and there were still debates and choices around existing Holyrood powers. But the British state was desperate to keep a tight grip on nuclear weapons, war and peace choices and representation at international level. It is, after all, a state that defines itself through militarism. That militarism is seen as vital to the UK’s international status. One of the repeated claims during the referendum campaign was that without Trident, Britain would lose its seat on the UN Security Council (what an example to the rest of the world).

Arms manufacturing is one of the few manufacturing areas still thriving and the UK is around the fourth biggest arms exporter. Our media is flooded with carefully contrived military images and never-ending military anniversaries and events.

Whatever the stated aim, the real establishment aim is to try to convince us that the military is beyond criticism and is synonymous with the glory of the great British state.

British ministers love playing an illusory game of being big international figures, ‘punching above our weight’, up for any military intervention our big brother across the Atlantic suggests. So with no early route to change through independence, what is the strategy for the Scottish left?

There are two dates which give us an early focus. In 2016 what are called the ‘main gate’ contracts for the new generation of Trident are due to be signed. This was delayed for about two years mainly because of design changes in the US programme. Although there has already been considerable expenditure, it is minor in comparison to the main contracts. This gives us a specific decision date on which to focus and its significance is that it is after the General Election.

That election is, of course, the other target. This opens up a strategy, part of which is within Scotland’s influence and part is not. What we cannot predict in advance is whether there will be a Westminster election that fails to produce an overall majority for any one party. Current polls suggest that this is a very likely outcome so we can reasonably plan for this. If we can get a large Scottish group of MPs who are independent of the unionist parties, there could be some real bargaining power. Clearly there would be no deal to keep the Tories in power but that does not mean that this takes the pressure off Labour.

A coalition would not be attractive to either side but to offer a ‘confidence and supply’ deal in return for some significant concessions would be an important boost for a minority Labour Government. ‘Confidence and supply’ gives the guarantee of a period in government without the threat of losing a confidence motion and being forced to call a General Election and the supply side gives the guarantee of being able to pass finance bills.

On all other issues votes would be cast on a case by case decision so the government could be defeated on a bill but not have to resign. A deal of this kind would be necessary to give us any chance of stopping the Trident contracts or achieving other red-line issues because the balance of power doesn’t offer any leverage if the Tories vote with Labour.

One advantage we would have on the Trident issue is that there would be some positive support for such a deal from the minority of left wing Labour MPs and there would be financial attractions for the Treasury team. Also if there are large numbers of pro-indy MPs, there will be a much smaller number of Scottish Labour MPs. This will be helpful in negotiating any deal with Miliband since there will be many fewer of the visceral Scottish anti-SNP voices in the Westminster Labour Group.

While some of this is quite complex, the core message for voters in Scotland is not so difficult to appreciate—a strong contingent of Scottish MPs can make independent decisions and put real pressure on Westminster on behalf of Scotland and, consequently, in relation to many decisions also for the benefit of people in the rest of the UK. The question that Labour candidates who claim to be anti-nuclear must answer in the coming election is what evidence is there that they can bring about any change.

It was, after all, the Attlee Government that secretly started the nuclear weapons programme. It was the 1964 Wilson Government who went back on their pre-election pledge and proceeded with the British Polaris base at Faslane. It was the Blair/Brown Government that made the commitment to the second generation Trident programme.

Independence is still our best hope and short of that a large group of Scottish pro-independence MPs in May could at least delay the new Trident contracts.

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