How A Scotland “Yes” Vote Could Challenge the U.K. Nuclear Weapons Program
At 32 years old, Faslane is one of the world’s longest-running peace camps and a symbol of the widespread opposition to nuclear weapons both across Scotland, and in the Yes campaign for Scottish independence. It sits on a strip of land adjacent to Britain’s nuclear submarines, 25 miles to the northwest of Glasgow, on the fringe of Scotland’s highlands.
On September 18, Scots will go to the polls to decide if they want to become an independent country from the rest of the United Kingdom. And for Watson, one of Faslane’s permanent activist-residents, the nuclear and independence issues go hand in hand.
“The brilliant thing about Scottish Independence, from a global anti-nuclear weapons stance, is that the U.K. has no other sites suitable to host trident submarines or their nuclear warheads,” he says. “So if an Independent Scotland demands it to be moved, it will likely be decommissioned with nowhere else to go.”
A Yes Vote and a WMD-free U.K.?
Recent statements by the U.K. Ministry of Defence confirm these claims – the U.K. has no alternative locations to relocate Britain’s nuclear arsenal, which is all currently stationed in Scotland.
Until recently, the U.K. military was not even contemplating that the Scottish independence movement could succeed. However, while still behind in polling numbers, the Yes campaign has greatly closed the gap as it nears the final one-month stretch.
In response, the British military has recently discussed a “plan-B”: to claim that the parts of Scotland housing its nuclear capability are still part of the U.K. This idea, though, has been roundly rejected by the Yes campaign.
The Yes camp is a broad alliance, with momentum growing behind a Radical Independence Campaign that calls for systemic transformation into a just, equitable and ecologically sustainable new country. Occupy.com will be exploring these progressive ideas in articles to follow.
But alone, the nuclear issue has massive implications. The challenge to the remainder of the U.K.’s rUK nuclear strategy may amplify more pressure on the world’s other seven countries that formally posses weapons of mass destruction. And these ramifications help explain why the U.S. Congress recently tabled a motion supporting the No campaign, echoing President Barack Obama’s stance.
To justify the Washington position, both Obama’s and the Congress members’ language emphasized that a No vote would maintain the U.K. as a “strong” and “robust” ally.
Reading between the lines, robustness and strength could be interpreted as supporting the U.K.’s avoidance of discussion as to whether or not it should continue holding a nuclear arsenal. An extra incentive for the U.S. government’s advocacy for a nuclear Britain is the U.K.’s increasing dependence on the U.S. for maintaining its arsenal.
U.S.-U.K. Secret Nuclear Treaty
Through the Mutual Defence Agreement, a Westminster-led U.K. is moving towards replacing its nuclear program. However, a Guardian investigation questioned how the treaty would challenge Britain’s nuclear autonomy, or whether the deal would make the U.K. even more dependent on the U.S. military to manage its own nuclear weapons.
Jimmy Watson compares the Mutual Defence Agreement to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP: a negotiation that is cloaked in secrecy. “For the government, this is their bread and butter business, just another agreement with its U.S. allies. So within their logic, the public do not need to consider the decision.”
For one, Watson points out how the treaty breaks Article I of the internationally binding Non-Proliferation Treaty. “It would be prudent for British MPs to scrutinize this,” he adds, “but instead it goes ahead.”
Systemic failings of the U.K. Parliament, particularly on the question of the Scots’ voices being heard, are a core message within the independence argument. On the specifics of nuclear weapons, Watson recalls: “There is a history of Scottish politicians being against nuclear weapons, but unfortunately they are always in a minority in Westminster, the U.K.’s current ultimate authority. It has not been since the early 1980s, with the Labour Party of Michael Foot, that there has been a strong U.K.-wide voice against nuclear weapons.”
The Cost of Nuclear Weapons
“Globally, nuclear weapons are plainly stupid, especially as they cost so much money and they are so dangerous,” asserts Lavinia Raccanello, Faslane’s artist-in-residence.
The argument that nukes are a waste of money has resonated with the Scotland Yes campaign and in the rUK anti-nuclear movement. Continuing with nuclear weapons is estimated to cost the £100 billion ($168 billion).
The leading U.K. anti-nuclear group Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament authored a report providing options for what that money could instead pay for. Plans include 30 years worth of free education for the country, or payment for 150,000 teachers and nurses. Another alternative is quadrupling investment in renewable energy.
The latter proposal challenges the pro-nuclear argument that disarmament would cut jobs – since an energy revolution would accommodate the transference of workers with engineering and scientific expertise.
A 2006 Parliamentary White Paper that is a cornerstone of Britain’s long-term nuclear strategy states that there are no imminent threats to justify holding nuclear weapons, unlike during the Cold War. Instead, the paper says that threats may emerge within 30 to 50 years.
The U.K.’s Nuclear Threat to Scotland
For Watson, the threat to people living so close to nuclear warheads is one of the key reasons Scotland is more anti-nuclear than the rUK. To resist and highlight this danger, Faslane residents and peace activists have continuously blocked large convoys of trucks carrying nuclear warheads on Britain’s main roads.
The latest convoy was blocked last month near Loch Lomond, Britain’s largest body of fresh water. Commenting afterwards, John Ainslie of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said it was an insult to the people of Scotland that the convoy likely to be carrying over 40 times the strength of an atomic bomb had passed directly through Scotland’s most populous city, Glasgow.
Another Faslane tactic has been to breach nuclear security – like this past spring, when Watson and another Faslane activist illegally boarded a British submarine. These intrusions both raise publicity and show another danger of maintaining nuclear weapons – if peace campaigners themselves can breach the fences and checkpoints, others can too.
Spaces for Alternatives
“This camp is part of a global community, where people are trying to think beyond borders,” Raccanello, from Italy, tells me. “I think it is a good example of how people can live in a different direction.”
Not only a peace camp, Faslane also has a low ecological impact. For instance, it recycles stream water for sanitation and bathing, which is heated by a wood-fire stove system. Its brightly painted caravans and buses are equipped with fireplaces made from former gas bottles. Solar energy gives electricity and the other structures are a combination of recycled materials blended with old building crafts.
Comparing it to other forms of protests, Raccanello thinks the camp does not shout in people’s faces; instead, it challenges the nuclear weapons industry by showing there are alternative ways to organize. With this ethos, Raccanello is busy preparing an exhibition of her anti-nuclear sculpture-installation art that will go on show in Glasgow just before the September referendum.
Ideas proposed in a public space, where big questions can be asked and alternatives can be suggested, sums up the potential of the Scottish referendum. On the issue of weapons of mass destruction, this may have implications not just for the rUK, but also for the rest of the world.