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What the Scottish Parliament can do about Trident

The idea that the Scottish Parliament is powerless to say anything about Trident is a myth. Here are some things that Members of the Parliament could do:

(1) Support a motion demanding that Trident be scrapped.

(2) Call for the Parliament to recognise its obligations under international law and to seek the abolition of all weapons of mass destruction.

(3) Urge the new Parliament to review the environmental hazards posed by nuclear installations in Scotland and to take appropriate action.

There are other ways the Parliament can act and you can help.

See also Where there's a will there's a way - article on Trident and the Scottish Parliament by David Mackenzie, January 1999. And Scottish CND and Holyrood - article by Isobel Lindsay, September 1998.

(1) Support a motion demanding that Trident be scrapped.

The Parliament can articulate the opinion of the majority of the people of Scotland who are clearly opposed to nuclear weapons. This is not only something which it can do, but something which it should do, if it is to operate in the way intended. There is widespread agreement that the Parliament should be “accessible, open and responsive”. [1] The new Scottish Parliament can be a forum for discussion of Scotland’s role in global nuclear disarmament. For years Scottish Local Authorities have had very little power in the nuclear area, but this has not stopped many of them from taking a policy position opposing nuclear weapons. Not only have they indicated their desire to be “nuclear free zones” but they have also used what limited powers they have to move towards this objective. The Scottish Parliament can and should call for Trident to be scrapped and call for a “nuclear free Scotland”.

(2) Call for the Parliament to recognise its obligations under international law and to seek the abolition of all weapons of mass destruction.

The Scotland Act 1998 reserves power over foreign affairs to Westminster in the following terms:
“(1) International relations, including relations with territories outside the United Kingdom .....

(2) sub-paragraph (1) does not reserve-
(a) observing and implementing international obligations ..”[2]

In other words the new Parliament is required to observe and implement international obligations. These include obligations to uphold international law with regard to weapons of mass destruction. It is illegal to use or threaten to use weapons, like Trident, which are unable to discriminate between civilian and military targets. The General Assembly of the United Nations has unanimously passed resolutions emphasising the need for nuclear disarmament. The need to move towards nuclear disarmament is also specified in the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and the ruling of the International Court of Justice on nuclear weapons of July 1996.

(3) Urge the new Parliament to review the environmental hazards posed by nuclear installations in Scotland and to take appropriate action.

The Parliament does have some powers with regard to nuclear hazards to the environment. These are specified as the subject matter of the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 and Part I of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The Parliament could seek to review the safety of all nuclear installations in Scotland. Scottish Local Authorities have proved that they can use their limited powers to investigate and seek to restrict the hazards to the environment from nuclear weapons, nuclear powered submarines and civil nuclear establishments.

(4) Other areas

There are other ways in which nuclear weapons issues can be addressed within the Scottish Parliament:

(a) The Economy. The Parliament could investigate the cost of nuclear facilities. They could also look at how Scottish industry could diversify away from Defence Industries and move into other areas.

(b) Education. The Parliament should support an initiative to set up a Peace Studies Institute at a Scottish University and provide resources for Schools and educational institutions on Peace Studies.

(c) The law. It should be possible to establish that the threat or use of Trident is illegal under Scottish Common law. The Parliament should help to establish this and take whatever action is possible to implement a legal ruling.

(5) Reserved Powers

The Scotland Act reserves to Westminster “control over nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction”. [3] However it could be argued that the Parliament could take action which would not amount to “control” over the weapons.

Also reserved are “the defence of the realm” and “the naval, military or air forces of the Crown”. [4] While this would be the major obstacle to the Parliament acting on Trident, there are still openings, as described in the proposals above.

What you can do

Contact the candidates in your constituency and ask them about Trident. Email the Scottish CND office if you would like help or advice.

Ask Candidate the following questions:

QUESTIONS TO MSP CANDIDATES: In view of the fact that all British nuclear weapons are based in Scotland, if elected to the Scottish Parliament will you promise to:

(1) Support a motion demanding that Trident be scrapped.

(2) Call for the Parliament to recognise its obligations under international law and to seek the abolition of all weapons of mass destruction.

(3) Urge the new Parliament to review the environmental hazards posed by nuclear installations in Scotland and to take appropriate action.

Footnotes:
[1] Scottish Office Consultation on Scottish Parliament 2/4/98
[2] Scotland Act 1998, Schedule 5 Part 1 para 7 (2).
[3] Scotland Act 1998, Schedule 5 Part 2 para L3
[4] Scotland Act 1998, Schedule 5 Part 1 para 9 (1)Scottish Parliament

 
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