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ScrapTrident


Into the lions den

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When the secretary of Dunfermline Labour party asked me to participate in a debate on Trident Replacement I gladly accepted. Putting the case in favour of Trident was to be a full time AMICUS official speaking in his personal capacity (Amicus has recently adopted a position of opposition to Trident Replacement). He must be a brave man, I thought. It has proved very difficult to fi nd Labour Party or trade unions fi gures who will publicly argue the case for Trident renewal. Little did I realise that it was me, not my opponent, who was walking into the lion’s den.

The debate started well enough. I presented what I believed to be a compelling case against a new generation of nuclear weapons and laid some stress on the issue of jobs and the need for a planned programme of arms diversification as per the STUC/SCND study. My opponent knew his audience well. He immediately went for the jugular. It was all about jobs. Arms diversification, he argued, had never in his experience produced a single job anywhere. This was a community on the doorstep of Rosyth Dockyard, the biggest employer in the area with a workforce of around 1500. The Naval Base had already been closed down. The dockyard had some years earlier lost out to Devonport as the refitter of the Trident submarine fl eet and now survived almost exclusively by refi tting Royal Navy surface vessels. It is to be the site for assembling the Royal Navy’s 2 giant carriers which are due to enter service in 2012 and 2014. All of the audience were Labour Party members. Several had worked at the Dockyard or had family and friends who did. One after another they came into discussion and supported the renewal of Trident. They had not just bought the argument about jobs. They bought the whole ‘Nuclear Defence’ argument hook, line and sinker. They argued that we needed nuclear weapons to defend us from attack from Russia, China, Iran or North Korea and rubblished my warnings on the dangers of nuclear convoys. I responded that even the government agreed that Britain faced no enemy threats and that nuclear weapons are no use against terrorists. I argued that the way to protect their families was not to start a new arms race, but to get the government to support a Nuclear Weapons Convention and not to go ahead with a proposal which would bind us in as a nuclear weapons state for the next 50 years. But by this time they were not listening. Only one member of the audience, an elderly woman, supported my position. My case was not helped by the fact that the chairman allowed my opponent the last word on every occasion. Winning the argument in a town dependent on the defence industry was always going to be difficult. Even though Rosyth does not now do any Trident related work, they clearly identified with the whole defence industry. For future debates we should always try to ensure supporters are present. It was not the force of the pro-Trident argument which won the day but the sheer number of those who supported it in discussion that swayed the debate. We will be better prepared next time.

 

Alan Mackinnon