Tag Archives: Better Together

The “Accidental Ignition” of a UK Wide Debate on Nuclear Weapons

19 Aug

As I sit writing this nuclear warheads capable of bringing about the death of millions of innocent civilians are stored in Scotland as part of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapon system.

This concentration of illegal weapons of mass destruction was installed in Scotland without the express consent of the Scottish people.

As part of the independence referendum campaign, the SNP, along with other political parties and many grassroots organisations, have made it perfectly clear that a Yes vote will lead to the removal of Trident nuclear weaponry from Scottish territory.

It is therefore not too much of a stretch to conclude that, given the political consensus amongst those in the Yes campaign, a vote for independence is also an express declaration by the Scottish electorate that they do not want to have weapons of mass destruction in Scotland.

In light of this possible outcome, many in the rest of the UK have been pondering the question of what exactly to do with all these weapons should they be banished from Scottish waters.

One possibility that has been suggested is that the rest of the UK government and the Scottish government could enter into an agreement to continue to base the weapons in Scotland following a Yes vote.

There would appear to be some merit to this suggestion. After all, the costs and risks associated with moving such a vast stockpile of highly destructive weaponry would be enormous and would take years of planning to put into practice.

The first problem with this approach, though, is that the Scottish government of the day would in all likelihood be morally bound to consult the electorate on such a deal, if it was ever proposed, before being able to allow the continuation of Trident in Scotland.

The second, and far more immediate problem, however, is that negotiations to establish such an agreement would take place within the framework of the wider negotiations about independence and thus put the Scottish government in an incredibly strong position vis-à-vis the remaining UK government.

Perhaps in slightly simplistic terms, this argument could be phrased along the following lines: “If you don’t agree to a currency union then you will not only have to find somewhere else to put your nuclear weapons, but you will also have to pick up the bill for doing so. Oh and by the way, the U.S isn’t going to be too chuffed about their main ally not having a nuclear deterrent so you better hurry up.”

The point here is not the specific bargaining chips (e.g. currency or lower debt repayments for weapons) but the wider point that significant implications are likely to flow from Scotland having such a strong bargaining position in the negotiations following independence.

With such a deal appearing not to be in the best interests of the remaining UK following independence, then, many have now started to look at the possibility of housing the UK’s nuclear weapons somewhere else in England.

Remember: the UK government has absolutely no policy on what to do with nuclear weapons in the event of a Yes vote – something that once again surely strengthens the hand of a Scottish government during negotiations. The UK government has explicitly stated on numerous occasions that they are not making contingency plans of any kind for independence and this includes making a backup plan for their nuclear arsenal. (I know, I know, I can hear you all taking your queue from the thousands of column inches that have been written on this point and screaming “But what about Plan B? Where is the Plan B? Surely you must have a Plan B? We demand a Plan B!”)

Given this self-confessed complete lack of advance planning by the UK government, one must rely on the work done on this matter from reputable think tanks and various other academic outlets (which the UK government never reads and certainly doesn’t think about because, please don’t forget, they are not making plans for a Yes vote.)

One such report, found in last week’s Guardian, is of particular interest. Compiled by The Royal United Services Institute, the report states that the option “given most credence to date” for storing the nuclear warheads is the Fal estuary to the north of Falmouth which offers “good shelter and a comparatively isolated location”

The study then goes on to acknowledge that there would however be safety concerns: “Introducing nuclear-armed [submarines] to Devonport will unavoidably introduce a new risk that an accidental ignition of one or all of a submarine’s Trident D5 missiles could spread radioactive material over some of Plymouth’s 260,000 inhabitants.”

Currently the nuclear weapons are based near Glasgow where the surrounding population is well over 1 million people. Nuclear warheads have therefore been transported along the M74 motorway to Glasgow before. Presumably the same accidental ignition risk exists whenever they are moved? And even if it doesn’t, shouldn’t the people of Scotland at least know a bit more about what this accidental ignition risk involves?

But don’t worry about complaining or protesting about this state of affairs whether you live in Glasgow or in Plymouth. The report makes it perfectly clear that it would make absolutely no difference: “Any local opposition might delay but not stop relocation.”

In another section of the report that looks at the wider context of the proposal to move the weapons to the South of England, the Royal United Services Institute observes that: “”The various challenges of relocation would probably trigger a wider national discussion in the [rest of the UK] on whether or not the strategic benefits of retaining nuclear weapons exceeded the costs involved.”

So there you have it. A vote for independence would not only be a vote expressing the democratic will of the Scottish people to remove nuclear weapons from their country, it would also trigger a wider discussion throughout the UK on whether or not retaining the weapons would be beneficial at all.

On the other hand, a No vote in September means… nothing at all. The weapons stay near Glasgow without the democratic consent of the Scottish people and the wider debate across the UK about the continuation of Trident is never held.

Instead, 80 Billion pounds of British taxpayers’ money will be spent on servicing these abominable weapons during an era of austerity at a base near the city of Glasgow where 33% of children live in poverty.


We Cant Go On Like This

9 May

The Status Quo in Contemporary Britain

Contemporary Britain is no longer fit for purpose. It has ceased to function effectively, failed to deliver, let down the people, become morally vacuous, is no longer supportable and has surrendered its right to be described as “Great” in any meaningful sense of the term. In short, it’s on its arse.

Observations of this nature have been commonplace amongst those immersed in the world of commentary and opinion for as long as anyone can remember, and there is certainly no shortage of enthusiasm for such sentiment today. Although worryingly prevalent, I am not referring here to the reactionary, daily mail subscribing lunatics who proclaim that all has gone to the wall, society has become bankrupt of all decency and that it won’t be long before dogs are throwing buckets of water on us in the streets. Instead, I am referring to the ever increasing number of everyday folk who share in the belief that something has gone horribly with the old country and that a fundamentally different approach to the nation’s problems is required.

Far from calling for some utopian revolution that would establish absolute equality for all, large sections of the population have simply come to the sober conclusion that the status quo is manifestly unsustainable and that “we can’t go on like this anymore.”

While there are of course numerous reasons why so many have come to express a desire for substantial change, the following provides a brief (but fair) summary of the situation:

– Britain is one of the richest countries in the world
– But Britain is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world
– Today, the 5 richest families in Britain earn more combined than the poorest 20% in society.
– Of all the world’s developed economies, Britain is the second lowest pay.
– Income inequality among working-age persons has risen faster in Britain than in any other OECD country since 1975.
– The number of people seeking food from food banks has tripled since 2012. A large number of these people are in work and are therefore NOT unemployed.
– The rate of under-five childhood deaths is higher in Britain than any other nation in Europe except Malta.

When faced with such a depressing set of facts, one is immediately compelled to ask what can be done about this dire state of affairs. Unfortunately, the response from all sides of the political establishment over the years has been, to put it kindly, varying degrees of “not very much.” Worse still, there has been little indication that there will be any change to this scandalous level of complacency anytime soon – an austerity driven, low pay economy is the only model on offer from Westminster, with even the Labour Party agreeing in principle.

And so, with voters across the UK fast approaching another general election utterly devoid of genuine alternatives, the future political direction of the country is once again to be left to those who can convince the largest number of people that they are the least bad option or – in what is without doubt my least favourite of all electoral propositions – the lesser of two evils.

What’s on Offer?

Thankfully, for the first time in many people’s lifetimes, there exists the possibility of bringing about some kind of substantial change to such a sorry set of circumstances in September this year.

The first point to make here is that whether one is in favour of independence or against it, the very fact that the option is even on the table at all conclusively proves the diagnosis that what we have right now simply isn’t good enough. After all, if everything was going along just fine, or even if things were just a tad unbearable, there would have been no need to pose the independence question in the first place.

Now, to be fair to the variety of different elements that make up the Yes campaign, they have at least put forward different packages of proposals that merit consideration as possible solutions to current levels of inequality and injustice. Whether it’s the plethora of policy papers from the Common Weal dealing with things like energy and industrial democracy, or the proposals for a living wage and enhanced childcare provision that are espoused by the bulk of those involved in the Yes campaign, there can be little doubt that there exists a variety of possible alternatives to the status quo that COULD help to bring about a more just and fair society.

The same cannot be said, however, for those on the other side of the referendum debate. For them, the entire line of argument rests on the proposition that independence will only make matters worse.

In making this point, the Better Together side have tended to focus entirely on proposals from the SNP and tried to point out that either the sums don’t add up or that the proposals leave too much down to wishful thinking.

While I believe this to be absolutely fine as a starting point for discussion in this debate, I am convinced that it is nowhere near good enough given the magnitude of problems faced by a great number of people in Scotland today. Surely they deserve more from those in favour of keeping Britain together than a semi-measured critique of one party’s specific vision for independence?

Perhaps I am misjudging the situation here, but I would guess that the grievances of the Scottish people will not be placated following a No vote in September by Westminster politicians telling them that they should just be thankful for what they have and that the alternative, a Yes vote, would have made things much worse.

And yet, despite it being abundantly clear to anyone with a pulse that things cannot go on as they are, those opposed to independence have been able to entirely side step the fundamental problem at the core of this debate – the disastrous status quo. As a result, they have offered absolutely nothing in terms of how they would do things differently after the referendum in order to alleviate the genuine hardship of millions of citizens.

I’ll say it again: the only reason why we are having a referendum in the first place is because the current situation is simply not acceptable.

It is therefore only logical that when asking why they should reject Yes as a solution to their problems, the Scottish public should also be entitled to ask how endorsing No will make things better.

The above statistics alone surely mean that a vote against independence cannot possibly be conceived as a ringing endorsement of contemporary Britain.
To treat a No vote as an acceptance of rampant levels of inequality would be simply absurd.

So what do we do now?

In light of the above, the question “so what do we do now” that Scotland will wake up to on the 19thSeptember – a question that is widely considered to be reserved for those in favour of independence – must surely be equally applicable to the other side in the debate.

And here we have a problem: except from one paper from the Scottish Labour Party, I have not seen or heard any proposals for a change in direction from those opposed to independence.

Instead, the main political parties in Britain have opted to bury their admittedly small differences and ram home the message that independence would make matters worse, rather than offer a frank and open critique of Britain today coupled with proposals for change.

It surely cannot be the case that everyone opposed to Scottish Independence fully endorses the devolution commitments of the Labour Party – particularly with regards to their commitments on issues like taxation and welfare policy that could make a difference to inequality.

So why are they not saying so?

We can all be certain that if the Labour party produced a policy paper on anything from education to energy there would be Tory and Lib Dem ministers queuing up to take a pop at it. But when it comes to setting out a plan for moving the nation forward following its closest shave with dissolution in 300 years, the Labour party’s devolution policy just sits there unchallenged.

While this may have made sense from a short term, tactical perspective earlier on in the campaign, there can be no doubt that it has now hit the point of diminishing returns. This is because evading the “what next” question not only leaves the Scottish people somewhat in the dark about the consequences of a no vote, it also, more importantly, is really starting to irritate people.

To start with, if we really are Better Together to such an extent that there is not even the slightest hint of contestation and debate between the 3 main political parties in the UK on the future of governance in Scotland after a No vote, what is the point in voting for any of them at all? And how come the 3 main Westminster parties can work together perfectly well when it comes to telling Scotland what it CANT have (e.g. the pound) but are all over the shop when it comes to telling Scotland what it CAN have if its votes No (e.g. specific commitments on devolution)?

I am in no doubt that as we get closer to the referendum the No campaign’s message of “vote to stay but we can’t tell you too much about what will happen if you do” is really starting to backfire. It is backfiring because those in favour of staying in Britain are now beginning to attract the very same criticism that the Yes side has been subject to all along: “we can’t vote for it, we just don’t know enough about it.”

With the people of Scotland going to the polls in September to vote in a referendum that would never have arisen in the first place had successive UK governments not failed so comprehensively on inequality and social justice, it is only right that those with a vote be given a genuine choice between competing visions of how best to address the magnitude of the problems faced by its citizenry today.

Should this not materialise, votes will have to be cast in the knowledge that there is only one side offering an alternative to our currently dire state of affairs.

A continuation of the status quo after September is not possible.

We can’t go on like this anymore.

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