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ScrapTrident


Isobel Lindsay's SLR Review

Isobel Lindsay looks over eight years of anti-war, anti-nuclear writing in the Scottish Left Review and shows how what once was seen as dissent is increasingly seen as mainstream common sense

The two big war and peace issues involving the UK since the founding of Scottish Left Review have been the Afghan and Iraq wars and the further entrenchment of BritainÂ’s nuclear commitment with the decision to undertake the Trident renewal programme. The enthusiastic militarism of New Labour went further than most people on the left could have expected and, far from there being any interest in phasing out the Trident base, we had the decision to commit us to another fifty years of nuclear weapons (all of them now in Scotland).

SLR was far from being alone as a critic of these decisions. That went well beyond the traditional left and the peace organisations and involved much of civic Scotland. But we did produce a consistent critique since the Afghan war and have explored new approaches to international justice and peace issues. In the middle of the first phase of the Afghan war we said the implications were (January 2002):

Isobel Lindsay looks over eight years of anti-war, anti-nuclear writing in the Scottish Left Review and shows how what once was seen as dissent is increasingly seen as mainstream common sense

The two big war and peace issues involving the UK since the founding of Scottish Left Review have been the Afghan and Iraq wars and the further entrenchment of BritainÂ’s nuclear commitment with the decision to undertake the Trident renewal programme. The enthusiastic militarism of New Labour went further than most people on the left could have expected and, far from there being any interest in phasing out the Trident base, we had the decision to commit us to another fifty years of nuclear weapons (all of them now in Scotland).

SLR was far from being alone as a critic of these decisions. That went well beyond the traditional left and the peace organisations and involved much of civic Scotland. But we did produce a consistent critique since the Afghan war and have explored new approaches to international justice and peace issues. In the middle of the first phase of the Afghan war we said the implications were (January 2002):

1) The brutality threshold has been lowered. If you say you are engaged in an anti-terrorist campaign, you can do anything no matter how brutal and the NATO powers will give at least tacit support. You can destroy a whole city as in Chechnya or hundreds of Kurdish villages in Turkey and this will be ‘understood’.
2) Civil rights are disposable. If you say it is in the name of anti-terrorism, you can lock people up without trial or access any form of private communication.
3) The cowboys are in charge. International institutions and treaties are completely marginalised and the US will do what it wants, where it wants.
4) The UK is seen by the rest of the world as the European voice of America, just another client state.
5) Unless those with grievances are encouraged to develop non-violent resistance strategies, terrorism will be regarded as the only way to make an impact. The type of terrorism will become even more underground and difficult to track.
6) Good news for the arms industries. The message is that those with the most powerful modern weapons win. No-one may feel they can take on the US in a conventional military conflict but in relation to their own regional conflicts, the drive to acquire new weapons systems is set to increase.

A very accurate prediction except we have retrospectively to modify the last point. It was certainly good news for the arms industry and the security services industry but the ‘winning’ of this war and the later Iraq war was very short term.

There were many, including some on the left, who went along with the Afghan attack on the assumption that it would have a liberating effect from an oppressive regime, especially for women. Some simply thought it was inevitable that the US would have to find someone somewhere to bomb in revenge for 9/ll and that a ‘big bang’ success would be sufficient to satisfy the dented pride and prestige of the US. It might as well be the unpleasant Afghan regime as anywhere else and it was weak enough to be defeated quickly. Never mind the massive destruction of infrastructure and people in a poor country and the franchising of much of the fighting on the ground to brutal warlords. But even we underestimated how stupid and arrogant the Bush government would be in failing to focus on economic and social development for several years in Afghanistan before embarking on another major military adventure. While few can now defend the Iraq war, we are still subject to a stream of propaganda with the Labour Government, the Royals and the media spinning together a Boy’s Own tale of goodies, baddies and the prospect of victory, all of it just as deplorable and stupid as the initial war.

With the Iraq war we were in the mainstream and that mainstream has seldom been so right in its predictions. While opposition to the war brought ScotlandÂ’s largest demonstration for decades, it was one of the low points of the Scottish Labour Group at Holyrood that they refused to support a motion against the war that would have reflected the majority view of the Scottish public. In retrospect, it would have been opposition to this war and later to Trident renewal that could have given Scottish Labour a distinctive, non-Westminster identity but there was no vision or courage to offer that leadership.

The Iraq saga undermined most of what remained of Labour’s moral authority and, while there were individuals who honourably stood out against their leadership, the impact of the war diminished even further the numbers and conviction of the rank and file. On the other hand it encouraged alliance-building among all the others – the trade unions, the churches, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the SSP, the Greens, the Muslim community. This alliance was to continue around the other big war and peace issue – Trident – and was important, particularly for the SNP in helping it to gain acceptance among the left and civic activists.

In the third issue of SLR (February 2001), the late Tony Southall comprehensively outlined the case against Trident and the British nuclear role.

“When we take on Trident we should be clear that we’re taking on a critical part of the British capitalist state. Nuclear weapons were developed from 1946 when a state that had been getting economically weaker and politically less influential since the late 19th century tried to reassert itself by becoming the world’s third nuclear power and developing its own supposedly independent nuclear deterrent. Thus Britain was able to continue to justify a permanent position on the Security Council and its claim to sit at every table. The British bomb was one of the components in promoting the myth for its own population that Britons still ruled the waves. It took its place alongside the royal family, the supposedly democratic parliament, the legal system and a myriad of institutions that provided the kernel for the kind of flag-waving patriotism that’s a feature of English culture in particular……….It (the Blair Government) showed its manifesto commitment to pursuing worldwide nuclear disarmament was so much hot air as it voted against a UN resolution to set up a conference with exactly that aim.”

The only British nuclear weapons are now based at the Coulport/Faslane complex so the constitutional issue is closely interlinked with the disarmament issue. Were Scotland with full state powers to decide that Trident should go, it would be very difficult and expensive for Westminster to find a suitable site and build the necessary infrastructure. Campaigning against Trident had already accelerated over the past decade with the base blockades and hundreds of arrests so the announcement that the UK Government was proposing to spend billions on a new generation of nuclear weapons that would be operational for another fifty years was seen by many beyond the organised peace movement to be an outrageous decision and one that flew in the face of our commitments in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Even before the vote was taken at Westminster, a massive and expensive project related to the new Trident programme was well under way at Aldermaston. This involved building the largest computer in Europe, a huge laser and other experimental design facilities and new bomb manufacturing development at Burghfield. The assumption was always that even if some Labour MPs rebelled, it would go through the Commons with Tory votes.

The reasons for taking what many, including some pro-nuclear sources, considered to be a premature decision was probably explained by technical developments in the US, the commercial interest of Lockheed Martin which runs Aldermaston, and the determination of Blair to commit to a long-term nuclear weapons strategy. It is to Brown’s shame that in the notorious Mansion House speech, he unequivocally said ‘Me Too’. This was a shock to many in Scotland who still believed that Brown would be different when he became Prime Minister. As with the Iraq war, opposition in Scotland covered a wide institutional range as well as a substantial popular majority.

But changes have taken place in Scotland over the last year. After the new Government came in last May, the Greens took the initiative to table a motion against Trident replacement. This time Labour abstained and the Liberal Democrats voted with the SNP and the Greens so the motion was passed with a substantial majority and is now official Holyrood policy. It has enabled the Scottish Government to convene a working group on Scotland Without Nuclear Weapons to examine what initiatives the Government could take within the devolution powers.

There is, of course, another dimension to the war and peace issues. What positive initiatives could we take in Scotland to promote peacemaking and global justice? Over the years in this magazine activists like Helen Stevens, Margaret Lynch, Judith Robertson, Liz Law have written about our need to develop alternatives to war and exploitation. Scotland needs to generate a new international vision. The Left has been right in its critique of militarism. It needs also to show that there are alternatives.

Isobel Lindsay is Vice Convener of Scottish CND

 
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