Why we need to scrap Trident

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  By Steven Griffiths
 
Last week’s announcement from David Cameron that the government is to consider spending money from the UK’s £10bn aid budget on peacekeeping and other defence-related projects has been rightly slammed as deeply concerning and counterproductive by agencies such as Christian Aid.

  By Steven Griffiths
 
Last week’s announcement from David Cameron that the government is to consider spending money from the UK’s £10bn aid budget on peacekeeping and other defence-related projects has been rightly slammed as deeply concerning and counterproductive by agencies such as Christian Aid.

Many have seen the move as a cynical ploy to appease his party’s right-wing backbenchers who are growing increasingly strident and confident following their recent victory in forcing the PM to pledge to hold a referendum on Europe.
 
That the UK government is intent on further turning the screw of its savage austerity programme, this time overseas, while simultaneously turning its back on progressive steps towards a better society comes as no surprise to anyone who is involved in the UK trade union or peace movements.
 
As a member of Scottish CND, as a workplace industrial relations representative, and as an NHS employee, I am well aware that Cameron’s failed austerity policies have cut tens of billions from public and welfare services whilst pointedly ignoring the billions of pounds of public money committed to ensuring that the UK can continue its pointless global military posturing.

This week, as the UK loses its top AAA credit rating for the first time since 1978, it is a sure sign that even the financial institutions, so carefully protected by this government, are recognising that ‘austerity isn’t working’.  Still, Cameron and Osborne, in the face of all advice to the contrary, repeat their mindless mantra of “more cuts to public spending are needed” and still there is one part of public expenditure that they seem to overlook.

The 11-year long Afghanistan war – which everyone knows is futile and lost – has cost the UK taxpayer around £6 billion a year.  Why, and to what end?

But the reckless ‘defence’ spending doesn’t stop there; two aircraft ‘supercarriers’ are currently being built at a cost of £7 billion.  Then there’s the £15 billion to be spent buying 150 F-35 jets from the US5, each of which will cost £85 million plus an extra £16 million for the engine.

And then, of course, there’s the daddy of them all, the Trident nuclear weapons programme.

The yearly maintenance costs for the current Trident programme are a massive £2.2 billion a year.  Bizarrely, despite the findings of the National Security Strategy that a nuclear weapon threat from another state is of low likelihood, the UK government is committed to replacing Trident and bringing a new nuclear weapons system into place by 2028.  It is absolutely intent on doing this, despite a procurement cost of £25 billion and an estimated lifetime cost of over £100 billion.

From where I’m sitting, this plan looks utterly insane.  In December 2012, my own employer, Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board, sent a letter to frontline staff warning them to prepare for a surge in demand as new welfare reforms are pushed through this year8.

The Health Board letter stated:

“The impact of these changes will be far reaching and practitioners are reporting increased demand for services as a consequence of financial worries.

We expect increased demand for mental health and primary care services and there is likely to be a negative impact on carers.”

Last year’s timely and influential GPs at the Deep End report, carried out by the University of Glasgow, should be required reading for every politician in Scotland.  The report comprises the responses of general practitioners working in the 100 most deprived general practices in Scotland to the question “How have the current austerity measures affected your patients and your practice in the last week (beginning 20 February 2012)?”

The GPs assessment of just how damaging austerity is to vulnerable people and communities is truly horrifying, and the annex to the report, in which we are give one paragraph real-life histories of those patients questioned, are frankly harrowing.  Numerous other studies throughout the UK and Europe give the same warning; austerity is damaging our health and welfare systems at a time when we need them most.  Is no-one listening?

Well to some extent, perhaps, the Scottish government is.  In the Scottish Spending Review 2011 and Draft Budget 2012-13 a commitment was made to protect NHS spending by allocating an additional £826 million to the health revenue budget in Scotland over three years, and this at a time of real terms reductions in the overall budget of the Scottish Government as the Coalition’s cuts begin to bite.  Holyrood’s record of protecting Scotland’s NHS from the Conservative led Coalition’s austerity and privatisation agenda is appreciated but the question from inside the health service is; Is it enough?

The NHS in Scotland does not exist in isolation and, as the Coalition actively seeks to shrink the state for ideological reasons, our partners in providing care to the vulnerable such as social work departments, are feeling the pinch.  According to the UK government’s own figures, the number of public sector jobs in the UK set to be lost by 2017 has also been revised up from 400,000 to 710,000.  As the year progresses and, as the UK government’s Welfare Reform Act begins to wreak its predicted havoc, it is only set to get worse.

So, why are we committing to spend £100 billion on Trident?

Raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions last year, SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said:

“The £163m that Scotland is currently paying towards Trident could be spent on 3,880 nurses, 4,527 teachers or a host of new schools and hospitals in our communities. This is even before we consider the extra £84 million a year that is proposed we spend on its replacement over the next 15 years.”

What does Scotland need most?  What would the people of Scotland choose to spend the money on?

If the answer is decent public services and more Scottish jobs then the decision is a simple one – Scrap Trident.  It is quite clear that the Trident programme doesn’t bring jobs to Scotland it merely diverts money away from real services with a positive social impact towards a costly white elephant that endangers lives.  It is for these reasons, and others, that I am a member of the Scrap Trident coalition.

The Scrap Trident Coalition is a diverse ad hoc collaboration that includes representatives from the peace movement, disabilities groups, trade unionists, the green movement and other grassroots political campaigning groups in Scotland.  We believe, and opinion polls consistently support our view, that the public will is for Trident to be scrapped and for the money to be put to better use. 

That popular rejection of Trident is the reason we have organised the ‘Scrap Trident’ April weekend of protest.  The weekend will begin with a national demonstration in Glasgow on April 13th followed by a mass peaceful blockade of the Trident base at Faslane on Monday 15th.  Sunday 14th will be devoted to workshops, meetings and direct action training.

As a member of CND, as a trade union representative, and as a public sector worker, I will be attending.  If you believe in redefining the priorities in society and in working together for a progressive future I urge you to do so too.  More details of the event can be found on the Scrap Trident website (www.scraptrident.org).

Steven Griffiths is a member of the Scrap Trident Coalition, Trade Union Representative for the Society of Radiographers.