The Trident Nuclear Deterrent: Is it really a case of ‘bairns’ versus ‘bombs’?

Alex Salmond, SNP MP for Gordon, will be leading an SNP-secured debate in the Commons in the first week of the new parliament. And what is it about? Not the lowering of the voting age, or parliamentary/electoral reform, or the funding model for Scotland that they so criticised in the Scottish referendum last year, or austerity, or minimum wage increases: basically none of the things we, as a country, need to discuss, and they, as the third largest party and representing the left wing, should be discussing. No – it’s about Trident.

The SNP’s attitude to Trident during the Scottish referendum really annoyed me. I am pro-Trident myself, but I have respect for anyone who believes in the case for disarmament. However, the SNP want to have their cake and eat it: they want to be part of NATO (despite NATO’s clear warning that a nuclear deterrent must remain to remain a member), and maintain defence, but only if Trident is not in Scotland and not paid for by Scottish taxpayers. Suggestions of moving Trident to Wales or Gibraltar were made by the SNP – as long as it is not in Scottish waters.

Whilst the SNP have made it clear that they continue to strongly oppose Trident, they seem to try and oppose everything in Westminster these days – the role of not only an opposition party but an anti-establishment party being filled rather well. So it has seemed, to me at least, to be ‘just another’ of the things the SNP disagree with Westminster about, and had taken a backseat to the EU referendum, the Human Rights Act abolition etc. Particularly when the SNP did not get the chairmanship of the defence committee which they had been hoping for in their settlement as third party in the House.

Of course, the ‘whistle blowing’ by William McNeilly has stirred the pot up again. Despite the MoD making it very clear that McNeilly’s claims were purely anecdotal, and therefore not breaching the Official Secrets Act, and being embarrassing rather than a security problem, and his subsequent arrest being due to him going AWOL whilst on duty at Faslane, the SNP have turned him into a hero who is being silenced by the military for his brave actions. Salmond is determined that the claims McNeilly has made should not be brushed back under the carpet, and wants to use this  current media focus on Faslane to try and whip up support for disarmament – or, at least, shifting the nukes out of Scotland.

Personally, I don’t agree that we should be able to insist on keeping the benefit of a nuclear deterrent (NATO membership, increased safety from international nuclear threats etc) whilst also insisting we don’t want it in our backyard. I am Scottish, and love Scotland, but we have to remember that the decision to run Trident from Faslane was not because of anti-Scottish sentiment, but because very few places exist that meet the requirements on nearby population, depth of water and tides. Faslane also means we ensure a decent military base in the Central Belt, which, after the closure of Scottish military bases like Lossiemouth, is an assurance we could do with in a country with such a low population density.

Regarding McNeilly’s report, I just can’t believe things are as bad as he claims. Faslane has to deal with a lot of protesting on its doorstep, and if security was as lax as McNeilly claims, we would have seen more security breaches – and high profile ones at that – than we have. But I do agree that security at Faslane is likely another thing that needs overhauling by the current government, and probably won’t get it.

Despite believing the system needs changing, however, I can’t agree with the SNP that scrapping Trident is about ‘bairns before bombs’. I’m sorry – choosing to prioritise education, health and welfare for children and maintaining a nuclear deterrent are not mutually exclusive. The SNP have had their failure in Scottish education exposed this week, and they only have themselves and their budget underspend to blame – not Trident. And I can’t see the Conservatives or Labour being convinced to scrap Trident any time soon.

So, it looks to me like the SNP have not only been behaving like immature children in their parliamentary induction, but have picked a complete non-starter of a first debate in the Commons. If this is how their time in parliament is going to proceed, I think it’s going to be a gradually increasing public feeling of *headdesk* here in Scotland.

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