Eric Chester reports on recent developments in the Scottish peace movement
The Trident missiles armed with Nuclear warheads located at Faslane Naval Base have become a flashpoint for Scottish activists. One of the few specific pledges made by Alex Salmond and the SNP during the referendum campaign was a commitment that no nuclear weapons would be based in an independent Scotland. The SNP was responding to a popular campaign that has continued for decades and has seen repeated efforts to block the base through mass actions of non-violent civil disobedience.
As socialists, we need to join with others in the effort to pressure the UK government to remove the Trident missiles from Faslane, as we seek to convince the peace movement to widen the focus of its actions to include a call for a nuclear weapons free Scotland and a demand that Scotland withdraw from NATO.
Faslane, NATO and the SNP
Scotland’s independence from NATO had been one of the cornerstone principles of the Scottish National Party during its recent rise to popularity. Nevertheless, Alex Salmond, with the support of Nicola Sturgeon, rammed through a resolution reversing this policy commitment at the October 2012 annual conference. This shift in policy was an important aspect of a broader effort to reassure the powers that be that they had nothing to fear from an independent Scotland under SNP control. Once having left the UK, Scotland would seek membership in NATO, while remaining a reliable subordinate providing logistical support for the United States government and its imperial adventures.
During the referendum campaign, the SNP issued a draft of a Scottish constitution that included a clause promising that no nuclear weapons would be “based” in Scotland. Furthermore, the ‘yes’ campaign urged voters to support independence on the basis that this would be a significant step in ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons.
The SNP’s position on this issue is devious and hypocritical. NATO members are required to participate in the maintenance of the “nuclear shield,” that is providing the United States with forward bases for its nuclear weapons systems. Quietly, the Scottish government has reassured NATO that it would adhere to a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy as a member state, a policy already being followed by Denmark. U.S. planes, ships and submarines carrying nuclear weapons are permitted to dock or land since the host government avoids raising the issue of nuclear weapons, and the U.S. Navy has a policy of not specifying which of its vessels are carrying nuclear weapons. In other words, business as usual but discreetly.
The constitutional provision advanced by the SNP might impact the nuclear submarines carrying Trident missiles at Faslane since these subs are based in Scotland. News stories have indicated that the Scottish government was prepared to allow for a lengthy transition period of several years to permit the UK government to locate an alternative site to home-port the Trident missiles. One alternative being considered would have based the submarines at a U.S. port, while still permitting the subs to make extended stops at Faslane.
There is no doubt that the SNP has done everything it can to confuse this issue. The Scottish peace movement needs to be clear that its aim is to make sure that no naval port or military base located in Scotland is used by any plane, ship, submarine or missile launcher carrying or delivering a nuclear weapon. Furthermore, Scottish air space should be closed to vehicles carrying nuclear weapons as well. The Scottish government has to be pressured into enforcing such a ban so that Scotland can truly become a nuclear weapon free zone, a goal that can only be reached when Scotland withdraws from NATO.
The Scottish Peace Network
This year has seen the formation of a coordinated peace movement in Scotland. The Scottish Peace Network began by protesting the government’s efforts to glorify the British role in World War I. Instead, the Peace Network viewed that war as a senseless bloodbath arising from imperialist rivalries. Demonstrations in June and August sought to connect the horrors of World War I to the ongoing wars of today.
Since then, the Peace Network has organised two demonstrations at Faslane demanding the removal of the Trident missiles. More demonstrations with this focus are on the calendar. Yet the peace movement needs to come to terms with the fact that the United States is using military bases situated in the UK, and specifically in Scotland, as a waystation for planes that are being diverted to the Middle East to engage in bombing raids on Syria and Iraq. U.S. intervention in Iraq helped to create the chaos that currently exists there. Further military actions will only add to the hatreds and discord in that region. The only way for Scotland to end its participation in this military misadventure is to leave NATO.
Issues concerning war and peace have frequently provided a starting point for social movements. When a country sends its young men and women to fight an overseas war a crucial line has been crossed. With the United States bombing Iraq and Syria and ratcheting up tensions with Russia, more wars are on the horizon. Furthermore, military spending represents a colossal waste of resources. The new generation of submarines carrying the next generation of Trident missiles will cost tens of billions of pounds. A militant peace movement can bring together activists from a range of perspectives, radicals and pacifists, to organise effective demonstrations on these vital issues. As revolutionary socialists, we need to be contributing our energies and our vision of a different society to this movement.