Scottish Labour must clarify its stance on Trident

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  By Steven Griffiths

It has long been clear that, if they remain in government, the Tories intend to replace Trident, and this week’s Lib Dem Trident Alternatives Review shows that they are also committed to maintaining the UK as a nuclear state in the face of public opposition.  But what of the Labour party?

The Blair government imposed a three-line whip on a Westminster vote on the issue back in 14 March 2007, and Jim Murphy, currently the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, stated earlier this year on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that, “We’re in favour of the UK retaining a nuclear capability”.

  By Steven Griffiths

It has long been clear that, if they remain in government, the Tories intend to replace Trident, and this week’s Lib Dem Trident Alternatives Review shows that they are also committed to maintaining the UK as a nuclear state in the face of public opposition.  But what of the Labour party?

The Blair government imposed a three-line whip on a Westminster vote on the issue back in 14 March 2007, and Jim Murphy, currently the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, stated earlier this year on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that, “We’re in favour of the UK retaining a nuclear capability”.

However, we also recall that when Ed Miliband was elected leader of the Labour party in 2010 he said that the UK needs “to look very carefully at whether renewing Trident is the necessary or the right thing to do”.  On that much, he is right.

The UK coalition government’s austerity measures are nothing more than an attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.  Welfare and health budgets are being slashed whilst politicians of all hues rush to tell us that we need a £100 billion nuclear ‘deterrent’ to give us ‘security’ and a ‘seat at the top table’.

Here in Scotland, the trade unions, the churches, and civic society all stand against nuclear weapons.  Anyone who does not live in a political ivory tower can tell you exactly what the priorities are in our communities – and it is not for the renewal of a massively expensive, Cold War relic that can never be used.

NOW is the time for Ed to spell out exactly what the Labour Party policy is on Trident.

There are voices within the Labour Party who still claim to support disarmament.  However, the truth is that these people are increasingly looking like no more than a progressive fig-leaf, and history shows that successive Labour governments have been happy to retain nuclear weapons.

For too long, elements in the Labour party have been running with the nuclear fox and hunting with the disarmament hounds.  It’s time for them to come clean.  In 2014, the people of Scotland will vote in an independence referendum that gives them an opportunity to make Scotland a nuclear free country.

Arthur West, Chair of Scottish CND, is on record as saying:

“Trident is emerging as a key issue in the referendum campaign, but the leader of the Scottish Labour party has refused to say anything about it. Does Johann Lamont want Weapons of Mass Destruction to stay on the Clyde for the next 50 years? Does she think that this is the best way to spend £100 billion? Does she support the twelve Scottish Labour MPs who want to scrap the plans to replace Trident? The Scottish people have a right to know where she and the Scottish Labour Party stand.”

Back in 2011, the Scottish Labour Party held a leadership election.  Johann Lamont was duly elected as leader, and Anas Sarwar as deputy leader.  During the leadership campaign, Scottish CND asked each of the leadership candidates to complete a survey to find out their respective views on the issue of Trident renewal.

The results make for interesting, and confusing, reading with no clear consensus amongst the candidates, as this summary of the responses illustrates;

Summary

  • Ken Macintosh and Tom Harris both thought that the UK should retain nuclear weapons
  • Ian Davidson thought Trident should be scrapped
  • Anas Sarwar thought the UK should be should be actively seeking multi-lateral nuclear disarmament but also looking at alternatives to Trident, including a non-nuclear defence policy.
  • Ian Davidson and Anas Sarwar both thought the Scottish Labour conference should look at Trident
  • Lewis Macdonald thought the UK should keep Trident as a bargaining counter for disarmament and the issue should be dealt with at the UK Policy Forum.
  • Johann Lamont did not respond to the survey which was sent by post then by email (twice).  Nor did she reply to a message left on the answering machine in her office.

Scottish CND wrote to Ms Lamont again on 7 September 2012, asking for her views on Trident.  No reply was ever received.

Time To Come Clean
It is a matter of record that Johann Lamont has a disappointing record on the issue of Trident.  On numerous occasions she has abstained or voted against motions in the Scottish parliament opposing Trident replacement.

In fact, as recently as March 20 this year she abstained from voting on Scottish Parliament Motion S4M-05988, calling on the UK Government to acknowledge the opposition of the Scottish Parliament to nuclear weapons and to the presence of Trident in Scotland, and further calling on the UK Government to explore options for the removal of Trident ahead of the so-called main gate decision in 2016.  The vote was carried regardless, despite not a single Scottish Labour MSP voting in favour (if you’re interested in how your own MSP voted on the day, search here using ‘Trident’ as you key word).

Labour’s mixed messages and Lamont’s continued silence on this issue simply isn’t good enough.  They are our elected representatives – we deserve to know what they think on such a major issue.  A failure to communicate, a failure to disclose, a failure of transparency is a failure of democracy.  It is for that reason that, this week, the Scrap Trident coalition sent a letter to every individual Scottish Labour MP and MSP whose views are in doubt asking them to clarify their position on Trident.

The replies may take some time to return, especially now that both parliaments are on their long summer holidays.  Nevertheless, we are patient and we can be persistent, and we intend to make sure that we get a clear statement from every single Scottish Labour parliamentarian.  As we receive those replies we will publish them so that the public can judge them for themselves.

Here is the full text of our letter to Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont MSP:

Dear Ms. Lamont,

The recent letter by 36 representatives of the Labour Party to the Guardian newspaper, on Thursday 20 June, regarding replacing the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system has reignited the nuclear weapons debate within the Labour Party.

A decision on the replacement of Trident is due to be taken in 2016. The cost to do so has been estimated at £100 billion. Many people in the UK would choose to prioritise this level of spending on health, welfare or education, particularly during a period of government imposed austerity.

As an organisation established in explicit opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland, the Scrap Trident coalition would be interested in hearing your own views on this matter. We realise that this may well be a judgement for your party’s conference, but we’d like to know your opinion. Do you personally support a debate on Trident replacement at your party conference?

We note that on Scottish Parliament Motion S4M-05988, debated in the Scottish Parliament on 20 March 2013, calling on the UK Government to acknowledge the opposition of the Scottish Parliament to nuclear weapons and to the presence of Trident in Scotland, and further calling on the UK Government to explore options for the removal of Trident ahead of the so-called main gate decision in 2016 that you abstained

An opinion poll by TNS BMRB for Scottish CND, published in March, indicated widespread opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland. As an elected representative in the Scottish Parliament, we believe that, on such an important issue, it is incumbent upon you to clarify your own opinion.
We look forward to receiving your reply.

Below is the full text of our letter to Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Anas Sarwar MP:

Dear Mr. Sarwar,

The recent letter by 36 representatives of the Labour Party to the Guardian newspaper, on Thursday 20 June, regarding replacing the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system has reignited the nuclear weapons debate within the Labour Party.

A decision on the replacement of Trident is due to be taken in 2016. The cost to do so has been estimated at £100 billion. Many people in the UK would choose to prioritise this level of spending on health, welfare or education, particularly during a period of government imposed austerity.

As an organisation established in explicit opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland, the Scrap Trident coalition would be interested in hearing your own views on this matter. We realise that this may well be a judgement for your party’s conference, but we’d like to know your opinion. Do you personally support a debate on Trident replacement at your party conference?

In addition to this, Early day motion 150, tabled 21 May, for the 2013/14 session states:

“That this House notes the findings of the National Security Strategy that a nuclear weapon threat from another state is of low likelihood; further notes a procurement cost of £25 billion and an estimated lifetime cost of over £100 billion for the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon system; believes that there are greater spending priorities both at the Ministry of Defence and across other departments; and urges the Government to cancel plans to replace Trident.”

Do you intend to support this motion?

An opinion poll by TNS BMRB for Scottish CND, published in March, indicated widespread opposition to nuclear weapons in Scotland. As an elected representative to Parliament for a Scottish constituency, we believe that, on such an important issue, it is incumbent upon you to clarify your own opinion.

We look forward to receiving your reply.

Johann Lamont and the Scottish Labour party cannot stay mute indefinitely.  At some point before 2014 they need to voice an opinion – for or against.  If they refuse to give an answer on this major issue, which could hardly be higher on the political agenda, then they will lose all political credibility.

Perhaps they already have?  Nevertheless, the future of Scottish Labour is not our concern.  Our only concern is to Scrap Trident, and our message could not be clearer: No More Silence – We Demand Answers!

Steven Griffiths is a member of the Scrap Trident coalition