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.

GE 2015: what happened in Scotland?

As you can imagine, as a non-SNP supporter in Scotland, whose excellent, experienced Lib Dem MP (who I’d dealt with a lot over the tuition fees debacle), who was prepared to go against party whip for his constituents if required, has been replaced by a 23 year old career politician (for whom politics is in the family) who has been filmed saying he will never vote against the party, I am feeling a little like politics has died. However, my personal feelings aside, here’s what’s happening here in Scotland, and how much the rise of the SNP really has to do with independence.

The SNP have been out to destroy Labour’s support in Scotland since the referendum last September. The cries of ‘red Tories’ and ‘Liebour’ (even with the most left wing Labour leader in 40 years!) have been loud for months. It was accepted by most of Scotland that certainly Glasgow and the majority of the central belt at least would fall to the SNP. I think the SNP managed to outdo even their wildest hopes with the result they achieved, though.

However, that sentiment of Labour not being left enough (regardless of truth) has been pervasive, and has turned many stalwart Labour supporters to the SNP. A decent proportion of No voters also voted SNP, on the belief that the SNP would push for Scottish interests in a Labour government, as Sturgeon has repeatedly claimed.

However, the voices since the result have been mixed. I’ve heard ‘I wouldn’t have voted SNP if I’d thought the Tories would win’, ‘Labour is as dead as the Tories in Scotland’, ‘now we have a mandate for UDI’, ‘it doesn’t matter how Scotland votes anyway and didn’t affect the Tory win, so why not vote for a Scottish party rather than a branch office?’, and of course the Lamentations of the Left, who see the rejection of old style left wing Labour by the Scots as pushing a move back to middle-England-pleasing centrist politics and the legacy of Blairism.

What do I think? I think communication has gone out the window and fear is rife. The English electorate see voting in the SNP as an anti-English move, when it is an anti-Westminster parties protest vote (think UKIP, but generally left wing and progressive, with an actual record of arguably successful government). The Scots on the other hand see the anti-SNP rhetoric spun by the mainstream UK media as being anti-Scottish thanks to criticism of our chosen representatives, and the Scots are well known for being stubborn (or as we say, ‘thrawn’) as hell and determined to have what we’re told we can’t. Ultimately, both sides are perpetuating the division that Scotland voted against in September.

So the political picture here is an odd one. It’s been historic; jubilant for some whilst desperately sad for others; there is the threat of nationalism but more so there is hope for the socialism that Scotland desperately believes in.

Personally, I’m heartbroken, and have just joined the Labour Party ahead of next year’s Scottish elections so that I can cast my vote for the new leaders of Labour and Scottish Labour. I guarantee that a different result will be seen next year – no FPTP means Scottish government is much more representative than Westminster, thankfully, and 50% of the vote will produce closer to 50% of the representation. If Labour can pull themselves together and find something worth standing for again, they might even start to make a comeback.

The SNP got just over 1.45 million votes on the 7th of May. The losing Yes campaign in September got over 1.6 million. So support for independence has absolutely not increased in real terms. And the SNP MPs have made it clear that they are not pushing for independence with this result. Except for Alex Salmond. But he’s a bit fishy anyway.

I don’t think they will either. Ultimately, they lost in September – why try again until they have increased their popularity, and the support for independence, or else they start to become a running joke and lose the real momentum that they have gained.

Wait until 5 years of a majority Tory government has hammered Scotland.

Regarding the role the SNP will take in Westminster itself: thanks to the Tory majority the SNP can only be part of the opposition at best, and more likely only unofficial opposition bench seats rather than shadow government. So in actual fact, they have very little actual say, other than filling the role they already fill on Scotland’s eyes of shouting a lot at the Tories. Unfortunately, a role as the opposition rather than the smaller party in coalition government will probably increase support for them – a role in government would have thrown up their mistakes, rather than their objections, and would have forced them to accept responsibility. Look what it did to the Lib Dems. However, England was having none of it – and may have done more harm than good.

So what happens next? The SNP will soon realise that flouting parliamentary rules on applause and photography are about as much rebellion as they can create, and Labour will have to analyse what the SNP are providing for the people of Scotland that they aren’t – and quickly. Personally, I’d love to see a split of Scottish Labour from the main Labour party, and Scottish Labour becoming an affiliated party like the SDLP in Northern Ireland.

But we may yet see another referendum before we see that.