‘Bairns not bombs’ was the alliterative war cry of the Yes campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. Car stickers proclaimed the message of disarmament all across the country. It united the left, giving it a common cause to fight. Daniel Speirs discusses the presence of the bomb which almost led to the demolition of the Union it was supposed to protect.
Sitting here writing this article, I am only too aware of the immediacy of the threat. Any accident or incident at Faslane Nuclear Base just over 30 miles away will obliterate me and almost everyone I know, destroying the whole of Scotland in minutes.
But it is a national problem, and a growing one. Hard pressed families across the UK must feed the beast. Vital tax money is being turned over to weapons of mass destruction rather than invested in public services or international development. Every single voter in the upcoming General Election in May has a stake in this issue.
The prevailing political view seems to hold that Trident is important for national security. The massive expense is justified by the benefits to the UK in bolstering its international stature, and providing a credible threat to deter potential security threats.
Public opinion on the renewal of the system appears decidedly mixed. Various polls carry any number of permutations, with results varying depending on the exact question asked, the region of the UK and the organisation carrying out the report. Both sides claim to come down on the side of the popular vote, but it is unclear exactly what that vote would be.
What is perfectly clear is that political support for Trident is unwavering. Conservative and Labour front benches see retention of the nuclear deterrent as vital to their shared foreign policy interests. There are some back bench dissidents on the Labour side, but their views are largely drowned out by the majority.
The main political challenges to Trident come from the smaller and regional parties. Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have long taken a strong line against the UK’s nuclear weapons, championing the cause of pacifism and environmental responsibility in order to distinguish themselves from the centre-right establishment parties.
General elections, however, are about winning seats. In a notoriously restrictive first-past-the-post electoral system, nobody expects the Green Party or Plaid Cymru to make any huge strides, despite disenchantment with the prevailing consensus.
However, opponents of Trident can look to the Scottish National Party for salvation this May.
Despite the party’s mixed views on a range of subjects, placing it much closer to the centre of the political spectrum than the other two parties, the SNP has maintained a resolute opposition towards nuclear weapons in the UK since 1963.
This ideological stance has benefited the SNP tremendously in the intervening years, setting it apart from the major Westminster parties, as well as underlining its otherwise shaky social democratic credentials.
Having benefited from such a close association with the disarmament cause, it is now time for the SNP to deliver a meaningful political blow against the nuclear consensus. Opinion polls regularly place the SNP on upwards of 40 seats- ahead of the Liberal Democrats, and enough for them to be considered ‘kingmakers’ in the UK parliament after May 7th.
New leader Nicola Sturgeon, a powerful voice for disarmament within the party and a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), faces a huge test. If, as expected, the SNP return a huge bloc of MPs in Scotland, the onus will be on the other party leaders to thrash out a coalition deal, one which is likely to include the SNP.
Both major parties have ruled out any formal coalition, but an informal coalition with Labour- where the parties collaborate on an issue-by-issue basis- is not inconceivable. In this format, there will have to be key concessions on both sides.
It remains to be seen whether Sturgeon will stick to her guns and demand unilateral disarmament. Interviews up to this point have been mixed, with the lure of genuine Westminster authority perhaps distracting her from this crucial issue.
Given Sturgeon’s long-running personal involvement with the campaign, it is perhaps unlikely that she would discard such a golden opportunity to force Labour into banning the bomb. But party political advantage has reduced the greatest of politicians in the past, and may do so again.
Making Britain only the second country to get rid of nuclear weapons would be a fitting legacy for the first female First Minister. It would certainly espouse the kind of social democratic image which she is hoping will get voters on board in years to come as the SNP prepare to force another referendum on independence.
And perhaps, regardless of your stance on the constitutional question, there is good cause to will the SNP on to a commanding position at Westminster, if, like me, you live in constant trepidation of the submarines which lurk just below the surface of the Clyde.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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