Starfish on the shore

IssueJuly - August 2008
Feature by Sarah Young

It’s hard to imagine what it’s like at Faslane. If you think about a port, then images of dockland housing, pubs and assorted services spring to mind. But Faslane is an isolated port, with none of the usual hinterland, surrounded by an impenetrable perimeter fence. It sits in a fabulous loch-side setting with a jagged mountainous backdrop.

Military bases focus our minds on the reality of what state power is and what that power represents. Power created through the acquisition of wealth; wealth that must be allowed to accumulate through coercion and violence. We know that most people want Trident to be dismantled, yet we can clasp the fence at Faslane and feel powerless to stop the activity taking place on the other side. The very presence of Faslane intimidates us.

In bad weather, with a grey, threatening loch and landscape obscured by mist, Faslane is a particularly depressing place.

On 14 June, forty years after the first submarines arrived at Faslane, several hundred people made their way to Faslane, by organised bus or under their own steam. They came to participate in the creation of a “Peace Chain” around Faslane. Obviously, with it being a port, a chain couldn’t encircle Faslane unless a vast flotilla of boats were involved! But a human chain was planned to follow the perimeter fence from the Peace Camp to the North Gate.

Unlike the “Faslane 365” series of blockades, which resulted in more than one thousand arrests last year, this was an entirely legal protest. It meant that many direct action orientated peace activists were absent. But some of the protesters, ones who engage exclusively with traditional protest marches, hadn’t been to Faslane for many years.

As we walked along the perimeter, people peeled off to take up pre-allocated positions on marked fence panels. This was a highly organised event! Anyone who dared step off the grass verge and onto the road was quickly dealt with by stewards, police and, bizarrely, a very small platoon of folks claiming to be the Clown Army.

People from different regions, cities or organisations had been invited to pre-book space along the fence panels. This meant that the SNP, Greens and Scottish Socialists could be seen in their blocks and the relative success of their mobilisations easily assessed.

Once in position, Scottish CND stewards swiftly transported themselves back and forth along the human chain, filming it (the film will be available on YouTube). It was strange to think of Scottish activists sorting themselves into a line, according to region or organisation, so that they could be photographed!

The event was taken very seriously but with some humour. The gap between me and my nearest human link was too great for us to grasp hands. My neighbour insisted on cutting off a length of string that we could hold to connect us. Suddenly, Robin Harper (Green MSP) popped up from behind, and his trademark Dr Who scarf was utilised to seal the human chain. Who said parliamentarians aren’t useful?

What had we achieved? Were we mere participants in a symbolic publicity stunt? Or was this protest part of a snowballing campaign that could influence UK foreign policy?

On the bus, a fellow protester described her feelings about coming to Faslane. She recalled the story of the girl walking along a beach strewn with thousands of stranded starfish. A man observed her efforts to save the starfish, by throwing them back into the water. “Why bother,” he said, “there are too many stranded for you to make a difference”

The girl threw another starfish back into the sea. “Well, I made a difference to that one”, she replied.

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