UN Conference to negotiate a legally binding treaty to abolish nuclear weapons
Scottish CND briefing note
In any referendum on independence, the people of Scotland have a rare privilege, the power to cast a vote which can lead to nuclear disarmament. In the United States and France there has never been an election where a party advocating nuclear disarmament had a serious prospect of winning. Support for disarmament is widespread across society and civic Scotland, beyond the Scottish National Party membership to include Greens, Socialists and many individuals who eschew party politics. If Scots reject nuclear weapons, the UK would not have an alternative site.
Trident would not be relocated. If Scotland frees itself of nuclear weapons, it seems that that will lead to London having to scrap Trident and its replacement. Relocating Trident is not like moving house. In fact, finding a site for Trident would be far harder than trying to shift a nuclear power station. Two new facilities would be needed: a submarine base to replace Faslane and a nuclear weapons’ depot to replace Coulport. The second would be the biggest problem. The original choice of site was Scotland, and possible locations that were rejected are now even less viable. Greenfield sites are scarce, and nuclear activity is permissible only on existing nuclear sites.
The Scottish Affairs Committee of the UK Government considered the issue in 2012. Nick Harvey, Armed Forces Minister, said that relocating Trident was “the least favoured option,” adding, ”It would take a very long time to complete and would cost a gargantuan sum of money”. He told them, “Coulport would be very difficult.” Rear Admiral Alabaster said, “it would be very difficult – in fact, I would almost use the word ‘inconceivable’ – to recreate the facilities necessary to mount the strategic deterrent, without the use of Faslane and Coulport.” The Committee concluded, “Identifying and recreating a suitable base to replace Faslane and Coulport would be highly problematic, very expensive, and fraught with political difficulties.”
Utilising a facility abroad was also discussed. The UK government response to the Scottish Affairs Committee summarised the problems, “Operations from any base in the USA or France would greatly compromise the independence of the deterrent and there would be significant political and legal obstacles.” The Scottish Affairs Committee in the House of Commons acknowledged that unilateral nuclear disarmament would be an inevitable consequence of independence, if a Scottish government pursued current SNP policy and insisted on safe removal of Trident. Rear Admiral John McAnally, former Commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies, said “If Britain were expelled from Faslane…it could be forced into unilateral nuclear disarmament”.
In June 2012 Scottish CND published a report which argued that the Trident nuclear weapon system could be put beyond use within 7 days, that all nuclear warheads could be removed from Scotland within 2 years and that they could all be dismantled within 4 years. The Scottish Affairs Committee of the House of Commons said: “ We accept the analysis of Scottish CND that, with the cooperation of the Navy and the UK Government, this process would be both speedy and safe,” and the Scottish Government’s response was: “We are firmly committed to the earliest possible withdrawal of Trident from Scotland …. The suggested timetable is a welcome indication of how quickly Trident could be removed once Scotland has the powers to decide its own defence and security policy.” The removal of Trident might be even more rapid. If the appearance of an independent anti-nuclear Scotland was imminent, Washington might insist that the American-built missiles and the nuclear warheads, which contain American components, were removed from Faslane and Comport, and not left on the territory of an actively anti-nuclear sovereign state.
While the arms industries in England and America might try to use their muscle, we will have support from the many non-nuclear nations who are behind the global initiative for the Ban Treaty. It is wrong to suggest that if Britain abandoned Trident this would have no effect on the rest of the world. It could break the logjam and lead to wider progress towards nuclear disarmament. With a nuclear-free UK, France would have to reassess its expensive nuclear programme.
We must secure a constitutional clause for a future independent Scotland that puts nuclear weapons beyond the pale for any future Scottish Government. The Ban Treaty creates an imperative, and it underscores existing enthusiasm. Scotland’s commitment to nuclear disarmament is growing and becoming more articulate, a process which has gained traction since devolution and the establishment of a devolved parliament elected by proportional representation.
Scotland’s legal institutions and system of law was maintained after the union of the crowns and the parliaments of England and Scotland. It is distinct and separate from the rest of the UK. In 2009, a high-level legal conference was convened to consider Trident and International Law; Scotland’s Obligations. His excellency the late Judge Christopher Weeramantry, former vice-president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) told the conference that while defence matters are reserved to The UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament has international humanitarian and legal obligations that weapons of mass destruction violate. He said, “ Gross violations of international obligations aren’t excluded from the purview of the Scottish Parliament. The absence of power in the former area cannot cancel out its responsibilities in the latter.” He also asserted that non-violent resistance to nuclear weaponry could be justified in international law.
“Anti-nuclear civil resistance is the right of every citizen of this planet. For the nuclear threat, attacking as it does every core concept of human rights, calls for urgent and universal action of its prevention.”
Non violent direct action has led to court cases where the legal status of the UK’s nuclear weapons sited in Scotland is challenged and reported. Tracking and recording the movements of warheads on public roads has led to many more people in Scotland becoming aware of the danger and the impunity in the UK Government’s actions in disregarding the will of the people.
Despite Prime Minister May’s view that the time for another referendum on Scottish independence is ‘not now’, the current political situation in the UK and the increased support for Jeremy Corbyn might lead to a new opportunity to vote on Scotland’s future sooner rather than later. The Ban Treaty will be a spur to that happening, as we hope that Scottish opposition to UK nuclear policy can be a spur to changing it.
Note: information from the late John Ainslie’s reports No Place for Trident and Disarming Trident are at (http://www.banthebomb.org/index.php/publications/reports) or the SCND office in Glasgow, his chapter in Reaching Critical Will’s Assuring Destruction for Ever and also from Trident and International Law – Scotland’s Obligations, published by Luath, Edinburgh. Info Janet Fenton firstname.lastname@example.org 07795594573