Trident must stay to the fore in referendum debate

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By David McKenzie

At the September Yes rally in Edinburgh, a group of Trident Ploughshares people stood on one of the bridges on the route.  Each carried a large letter on their chest and another on their back.

Standing one way, their legend read ‘NO TO TRIDENT’ and when they turned, it read ‘YES TO SCOTLAND’.

By David McKenzie

At the September Yes rally in Edinburgh, a group of Trident Ploughshares people stood on one of the bridges on the route.  Each carried a large letter on their chest and another on their back.

Standing one way, their legend read ‘NO TO TRIDENT’ and when they turned, it read ‘YES TO SCOTLAND’.

We did not get to that point without a fair bit of serious discussion.  For many in my fluffy end of the peace movement, nationalism is a clarty word and nation states are seen not only as inadequate as an expression of community but also as inherently problematic.

So backing the notion of making yet another one can feel a bit odd.  Then there are the numerous solidarities.  Trident Ploughshares is a movement of people from all over Europe and the Scottish end of it has many folk who originate elsewhere.

What swung it for us was the conclusion that a Yes vote in 2014 would provide the best opportunity, by a long, long mile, of disarming the UK’s nuclear weapons and giving global disarmament the biggest forward jolt in decades.  And that understanding applies widely.

For so many folk the Yes 2014 spur is not cultural exceptionalism or grievance politics but the rarest of chances for taking a step towards a better society.  That simple tripos – the hope of a more equal society, sane and sustainable economics, and freedom from cruel wars and weapons of mass destruction – is surely a powerful unifying vision for us all.

OK, the doubts and uncertainties.  In the anti-Trident movement we have a few.  A big one is the possibility of a classic fudge over Trident in which the government in an independent Scotland maintains its disarmament rhetoric but lets the process drag out for years and years.  This worry is partly ignited by the extreme reluctance of the current Scottish Government to go public about the legality issue.

To state the obvious, that Trident is illegal under international humanitarian law, would be a solid commitment to an “as soon as possible” removal.  And sucking up to nuclear armed NATO does not help.

The related danger is that the wider public might be complacent about Trident fudging.  I can illustrate this with the help of Jack Straw.  In an interview this week he spoke of his teenage involvement with CND and how he became disenchanted after a conversation with a fellow activist who told him that it was OK for the Soviet Union to have nukes since theirs was “the people’s bomb”.

In this cosy chat the interviewer did not press him on the obvious, that Jack’s own government had made a parallel distinction between the UK’s WMD and the (alleged) Saddam Hussein ones.  It was okay for us to have nukes since we were wise and responsible (and white and western and civilised).  I mention this to show how weapons of mass destruction that are designed to incinerate and torture millions can become just one other item of debatable policy rather than a defining issue.

Radical types are not immune to this gently falling snow that blunts the sharp edges of horror.  That blunting process is pervasive.  I recall the first time I saw a Trident nuclear weapon convoy on a local road on its way from Aldermaston to Coulport.

It dawned on me that I was twenty feet away from a thing whose threat and purpose was mass murder.  For the first time, this was real.

That is why we see it as vital that in the run up to the referendum we keep Trident in the forefront of the campaign.  Before our little part in the September Yes rally we wondered about what sort of reception we might get.  I missed the day but Jane Tallents reported:

“As thousands of demonstrators walked past our banners we kept breaking into wide grins as we realised from the calls and cheering just how strong the support is for our message.  So many came up to us and told us that the chance of getting rid of Trident was a major reason for them voting Yes.  It was a huge encouragement!”

I share the grins now, thinking of my friend who, last year, in a discussion about independence was concerned about losing access to Radio Four but now says that if there is a real chance of kick-starting nuclear disarmament she will vote Yes.  She is part of a constituency we need to convince that genuine change is possible. I don’t think we do that by just saying so.

We have to help them to imagine it, dream it, taste it.

David McKenzie is a peace activist and Trident Ploughshares supporter

Courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice