Trident – who pays?

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by Hazel Lewry

On May 5th 2011 the Scots overwhelmingly re-elected the SNP on a solid anti-nuclear, pro-independence platform. The first shots in the power struggle have already been fired and they certainly appear to be accurate, precise, considered, and with little possibility of collateral damage for Scotland.

The English mainstream media are giving the appearance of an old English warship, where broadsides are fired indiscriminately in the hope that a few cannonballs might hit something and perhaps even cause some damage. Effectively the London media are becoming Alex Salmond’s best allies at the present time.

London’s media seem to be in the process of appreciating something London’s politicians are not. While much of England’s media is sensing the fact that the Union may be very close to its death throes, Westminster’s politicians appear to be in an ongoing state of complete denial. That London’s media appears incapable of comprehending the Union it knew is already well dead, is equally obvious.

About the only person in London who on the surface appears to understand the implications of the present situation is David Cameron. DC isn’t trumpeting that fact either. Mr. Cameron isn’t stating “it’s Scotland’s choice” because it’s a position he wants to be in, he’s stating that because he knows he has no choice.

David Cameron and one or two of his inner circle appear to be very well advised as to the real status of the Union, and that either Scotland or England can withdraw from it at any time. They’re undoubtedly praying that Scotland’s billions keep flowing south. They will work to ensure it.

To understand this clearly one has to realise that the difference between the two countries is very basic, England still has no independent parliament, and the UK parliament has full sovereignty over the English. Even if there were to be a referendum in England (there won’t) Cameron as head of a sovereign parliament is under no legal requirement to do anything about it. Any referendum in England would only be advisory unless declared otherwise. The English are utterly disenfranchised between elections and completely under represented during elections. They appear unaware of this.

In Scotland, Alex Salmond has to abide by the wishes of the people, who are Sovereign. Any referendum in Scotland has to be obeyed by the government. In 1979 the wishes of the Scots were circumvented by fudging the way the poll results were counted. It turned into a “No” vote. A sad Labour party betrayal.

In 2011 with Holyrood in session and a majority government pledged to put Scotland first, this should not happen. It also brings us full circle. The SNP were elected in a landslide on what was primarily two significant platform differences from the Unionist parties, Independence and no nuclear. Almost everything else in the Nationalist’s platform was copied.

Westminster has now acknowledged that there will be no nuclear power stations planned for Scotland during the life of this parliament. They seem to still not understand that this may be the last Parliament of a co-joined nation.

It is this denial of circumstances that is the only apparent and conceivable issue which can be leading to Westminster plunging ahead with Trident. Trident is a nuclear replacement program now estimated at costing between £26 billion and £29 billion. That’s in the region of Scotland’s annual base budget. There appears a problem in potentiate here.

The Scots have given their government a clear mandate of no nuclear. Unlike the Independence platform there was no subsequent referendum promised on the nuclear issue. No nuclear means simply – no nuclear. It would appear that Alex Salmond and the Scottish Government have it incumbent upon them to follow through on this election mandate. Do it, or lose credibility, credibility is a chief trading card of the present SNP administration, not least in comparison to the opposition party’s.

The nuclear power plants will reach an end of life stage in due course; new units will not be built, so that is one issue dealt with – it will simply come to pass in the fullness of time.

Trident is the elephant in the room. Westminster is to begin spending in the very near future, reportedly £3 billion this year. It appears a requirement that the Scottish Government inform Westminster siting Trident in Scotland would be in direct violation of the sovereign wishes of the Scottish people as expressed in the May 5th 2011 poll. Trident will not therefore come to Scotland.

In view of those wishes when the current nuclear fleet reaches the end of its life, no new nuclear military facilities can be situated within the borders of Scotland. It will perhaps re-enforce the current political situation. The shock in London at such a communication will undoubtedly have strong global echoes.

A letter of advice to Whitehall should also contain the clear statement that in view of the significant cost of the Trident system, that if the upcoming referendum declares either full Scottish Sovereignty, or a more limited version with control over fiscal expenditure, Scotland will not be liable for any part of the debt incurred by the present UK government’s acquisition of Trident.

If the UK government wishes to proceed with the purchase of Trident, which it presently has a theoretically limited authority to do (a constitutional argument could easily be made it no longer has such authority based upon May 5th with respect to nuclear), then the rump of the UK will have the sole responsibility of both siting and paying for the weapons system. Period.

Notification of a nuclear free Scotland should also include a requirement that the rusting hulks of obsolete nuclear submarines currently in a state of near abandonment and advancing decay at Rosyth, near Edinburgh, must also either be decommissioned in situ at UK expense, or moved outwith the country prior to a set “nuclear free” date.

The “nuclear free date” may be phased, either by bringing in the civilian or military aspect first, allowing both are not undertaken simultaneously.

A letter of agreement should be required of Westminster within a set time frame, this to prevent it being effectively “kicked into the long grass”. Requesting a letter of agreement that Westminster confirm with the sovereign wishes of the Scottish people within such a set time on an individual issue such as this would also open the way for subsequent actions which are indisputably within the right of the Scots.

No response within the required timeframe could be taken as agreement by default. The timeframe could be short, between 30 to 90 days. There is only one present question to be answered after all and it boils down rather simply to “does Westminster respect the sovereignty of the Scottish people in this matter”.

It is certainly not a highly diplomatic stance on the part of Holyrood, but at present it appears to be the only one made possible by the combination of Westminster’s current actions being inconsistent with the stated wishes of the Scots. Scotland is not after all forbidding Trident, simply restricting its funding sources and locations. If Westminster then decides Trident is both still affordable and desirable it will proceed. If Whitehall does not decide to proceed with Trident perhaps it will build more schools and hospitals in England and Wales, reducing the burden on its elderly and infirm.

Of peripheral interest to this particular Scottish situation was Barak Obama’s middle eastern speech on May 19th in which he unequivocally stated the US would stand tall for those nations wishing to assert their rights of free choice, and do everything to ensure bullying and misinformation or aggression by neighbouring states, or from internal sources, was severely curtailed.

Although this may not be the situation foremost to Mr. Obama’s thought process, none could argue the applicability, for the United Kingdom is unique. It has one nation (England) encompassing another, Wales, by the ancient right of conquest into one political entity. England then gave up statehood of these nations as well as its own to form a construct called the United Kingdom under treaty with the Scots in which the original three nations have no independent representation other than what the “UK” decides.

Then there’s Scotland, who again has independent parliamentary representation, and thereby as much sovereignty as the Scots themselves now have the will to choose to exert through it. The Scots entered the Union under a treaty, and it was voluntary, they may leave or remove powers at any time.

Anticipate an earlier test of the US stance towards nationhood than perhaps even America’s administration foresaw. The outcome of this test is completely unknown, as the US is the country selling the Trident weapons system, even though they’re reputedly going to quietly ensure the UK can’t use it without permission.

American corporate profit or civilised principle – the future will tell if Holyrood asks. If Holyrood does make these demands of Westminster, as is right and appropriate, we might expect London in its myriad forms to “go nuclear”.