‘Vigil’ and the Reality of Nuclear Weapons

Guest blog by Isobel Lindsay (Scottish CND Co Vice Chair)

Avoidance behaviour is entirely understandable and in many contexts is essential to enable us to get on with life and stay sane. So I don’t blame people for wanting to forget the reality of nuclear weapons. In UK politics and media there is a long history of normalising ‘nukes’ and presenting them in patriotic British imagery.

But sometimes avoidance is a massive risk. It is like sitting on a sunny beach and ignoring the person shouting ‘tsunami’. We have the same problem with climate change which together with nuclear weapons are the twin threats to life as we know it on our planet. Especially in Scotland we cannot risk not thinking about nuclear weapons; they are on our doorstep.

So congratulations to the BBC for showing the drama ‘Vigil’ set on a Trident submarine and in Faslane/Coulport. Obviously these are not the actual locations but they are very accurately reconstructed. Irrespective of how the plot develops, the drama shows the mundane reality of delivering mass destruction and the secret state ever ready to cover up inconvenient truth

We have about 200 nuclear bombs based in Scotland. There was supposed to be a reduction taking place to a cap of 180 but the UK Government announced last year that it was increasing that cap to 240, showing complete contempt for the commitments it signed up to in the Non-Proliferation Treaty. One of these bombs could devastate a city.

These warheads are transported to and from Burghfield in the South of England for servicing, in road convoys that pass through our towns and cities. Few people know this is happening but they can be easily traced. This is one example of potential terrorist risk which is never mentioned.

Even if through the lens of drama, it is still a valuable starting point to see the physical reality of these warheads, their delivery systems and the human vulnerability of those who operate them in very stressful environments. But only a starting point. We need to engage people in the wider understanding of why the weapons are there and why there has been so little progress in disarmament. The ‘British’ bomb is a fantasy. It is entirely dependent on the US and has been for well over fifty years. The UK does make its own warheads but it has to rent the delivery system from the US, the submarines have to be designed for US missiles and these missiles go back regularly to the US for servicing. No-one seriously believes that the US does not keep effective control over targeting. The British bomb is and always has been a political project, not about defending but about trying to cling onto great power status.

But making people aware of the terrible risk and the phony justifications is not enough. Without hope that change is possible, people may feel that avoidance is the best option – forget it and assume that it will never happen. There is hope but only if we become an independent state. Having watched this crucial issue play out at the British level for sixty years, despite the many very committed peace movement people there are in England, that is a realistic assessment. Even Corbyn, a life-long CND activist. did not change Labour policy on this issue because it was considered to be politically impossible. The whole delivery system is in Scotland. There is no other suitable location as SCND in its report ‘Trident – No Place to Go‘ has shown. If Scotland immediately ratifies the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, commits to a clear road-map for removal and makes this a very red-line issue, we will be making the greatest contribution that a small nation can to starting to roll back the nuclear arms race.