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Speech in Scottish Parliament Patrick Harvie

14 June 2007

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I appreciate that, Presiding Officer.

There are some members for whom this morning's debate is their first opportunity to debate Trident in the Parliament, but there are others who will no doubt be thinking, "Here we are again." However, although we debated the subject a number of times during the Parliament's second session, it has been six months since our most recent debate on it.

The arguments have been well rehearsed. We have discussed the cost of the system, which affects Scottish devolved services. The cost of Trident has an impact on the amount of money left to spend on other priorities, on many of which people in Scotland would prefer money to be spent.

We have debated the strategic decision and whether replacing Britain's nuclear weapons system at this time would influence other countries to seek to acquire nuclear weapons. We have debated the hypocrisy of a country that has waged war on other countries over allegations of weapons of mass destruction and has pursued sanctions against such countries for wanting those weapons. We have debated the role of deterrence and whether the original strategic idea behind the possession of weapons of mass destruction is in any way relevant to the modern world or whether that argument died with the cold war.

We have debated the importance to local areas of the jobs associated with Trident. We have considered how many jobs really rely on Trident and how the areas in question might seek economic diversification.

We have debated the United Kingdom's international responsibilities under the non-proliferation treaty and the requirement on us to work towards disarmament. We have heard the former Labour First Minister recount his personal journey from unilateralism to multilateralism, which I believe he spoke about sincerely. However, multilateral disarmament is still disarmament. Those of us who argue against the deployment of a new generation of submarines and, ultimately, of nuclear weapons make the case that replacement fails even the multilateralist cause because it amounts to unilateral rearmament.

Just about every argument for and against the replacement of Trident has been heard in the Parliament, but three things have happened since the Parliament's most recent debate, six months ago, on the issue.

First, in January, an opinion poll carried out by ICM for the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament found that almost two thirds of Scots opposed the plan to replace Trident. That figure rose to 73 per cent if the price tag was set at £50 billion, which some people consider a conservative estimate.

Secondly, on 14 March, a clear majority of Scottish MPs at Westminster voted against the Government's proposals: 33 Scottish MPs were against them, including a majority of Labour members, 22 were in favour of them, and there were four abstentions.

Thirdly, in May the numbers in this Parliament changed. I believe that a clear majority of members here also oppose the UK Government's proposals. It is clear that there is a range of views within that majority. Some members, including me, many Labour Party members—I am sure that Elaine Smith comes into that category—most Scottish National Party members, some Liberal Democrat members and perhaps even some Conservative members, are strongly opposed to the idea of replacing Trident at all. Other members qualify that, by reference either to multilateralism or to delaying a decision.

A majority of MSPs oppose the current proposals and although I share Elaine Smith's regret that her amendment was not selected, its selection would not have altered the decision at the end of today. The Parliament can either vote by a clear majority to show its opposition to the proposals to replace the weapons—

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Surely we are talking about an important point, politically. Many of us do not consider the motion's use of the words "at this time" to be appropriate. There is a distinct difference between not supporting the replacement of Trident now and not supporting it at any time. The arguments against Trident rest whether we are talking about it being replaced this year, next year or in four years' time. If someone does not support the system, they do not support it—full stop. Surely we should have the right to have that debate in the Parliament.

Patrick Harvie: We have debated that position on several occasions. I sought to put before the Parliament a position that could gain the support of a majority of those members who are against the Government's proposals. A majority of members are against the Government's proposals and I hope that all those members, regardless of their motive for reaching that position, will be able to express it at decision time. If we do that, the message from Scotland will be very clear—the majority of Scots and a clear majority of their elected representatives in both Parliaments reject the Government's plan. I hope that members will unite behind that position, regardless of our differences on the other issues.

Sadly, the amendments are disappointing. Largely, each of them seeks to replace the policy position with an expression of deference, even though all political parties have in the past debated and voted on policy positions on a number of reserved issues. I thought that we had got over that in the second session. Not only on Trident, but on a wide range of other issues, including international development—which the Executive parties raised—the Parliament found its voice. As citizens of the world, we have a responsibility to act and to express views on issues that are not within the Parliament's legal remit. I say to George Foulkes that even local authorities in Scotland—including councils that are dominated by members of his party—have a long tradition of internationalism and of expressing views on international issues, and they should be proud of doing so.

I close by quoting Professor William Walker, who spoke at the recent conference organised by Scottish CND. He said:

"there is a unique situation in Scotland. There are nuclear weapons in a land where the mood of the Parliament and of the country is opposed to them. The Parliament has a right to express society's views. Even if it doesn't take steps to obstruct nuclear weapons—"

which we can within devolved powers—

"it can ask questions within the UK. It can raise a voice of dissent from an important new institution within a nuclear weapon state. This could have effect internationally."

I urge all parties and all members who oppose the UK Government's plans to replace the Trident weapons system and, in the interim period, its submarine system to reject the amendments and vote for the motion unamended.

I move,

That the Parliament congratulates the majority of Scottish MPs for voting on 14 March 2007 to reject the replacement of Trident and calls on the UK Government not to go ahead at this time with the proposal in the White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent.

Intervention in speech by Michael McMahon (Labour) -

Patrick Harvie: The member seems unclear about whether we are debating the issue for too long or short a time. Why does he support—as I do—the Labour Party when it brings international development issues to the chamber but reject the notion that we should debate other issues of importance to the people of Scotland, such as this reserved issue?

Michael McMahon: The debate is both too short and unnecessary.