Scottish CND held a post-election conference in Glasgow on 15 May to discuss the consequences for lobbying against Trident renewal in the new parliamentary world of the Lib-Con alliance.
John Ainslie, SCND co-ordinator, started with the projected timescales and costs of Trident replacement. According to the MoD’s 2006 guidelines, the design phase of Trident renewal should have commenced last year. However, the “initial gate” decision which would have given the go-ahead for work to start on reactor design, fuel core development and Aldermaston modernisation was delayed.
John established that in the post-election scenario the “initial gate” decision could be taken as soon as July 2010, confirming this from minutes of the Defence Board’s meeting in November 2009 which he had requested and received in heavily censored format. John also presented financial projections showing that the cost of Trident has doubled from £1 billion to £2 billion per annum since 2003, with the expectation that it will rise to £3 billion by 2014, with much of this accounted for by the modernisation of Aldermaston.
£60 billion will be spent on the nuclear weapons program between now and 2031, when the UK government’s deficit reduction plan is due to be completed. Likewise, in the USA, Trident replacement has also doubled in cost, with US defense secretary Robert Gates speaking in March 2010 about how submarine replacement could cripple the US navy’s ship-building budget.
This placed the subsequent conference discussion firmly in the context of how lobbying might benefit from making an economic argument against Trident rather than developing broader anti-militarist arguments.
Cutting Trident was an alternative to swingeing cuts to public services, a view backed by Bill Butler, Labour MSP, who spoke of the need to link arguments about nuclear weapons to “people’s material conditions”.
Likewise Mike Kirby from UNISON talked of a “politics of priority” where the “cut agenda” presented big opportunities for campaigning against Trident replacement. Patrick Harvie from the Greens countered saying that both economic and moral arguments against nuclear weapons had been made for years to little effect.
He suggested a diplomatic case against Trident renewal as it represented a rearmament, allowing multilateralist arguments to be challenged.
Less optimistic about prospects for lobbying leverage, he described a small opportunity in having individual Lib Dems in the UK government who were opposed to Trident.
Also, though the TV leadership debates had been nauseating and tawdry, they had raised awareness of the defence review and had made Trident replacement a more public issue.
Not so liberal?
Much attention was focused on the contribution from Robert Brown, the Liberal Democrat MSP. This included criticism from the floor about his party’s façade of opposition to Trident. Of course he easily neutralised opposition from Labour- and TUC-aligned audience and panel members by pointing out that both the Tories and Labour had pro-Trident policies.
There was agreement that Danny Alexander, the new (Lib Dem) Scottish secretary, should be a target for lobbying and Robert agreed to make personal representations to him. However, the conference noted that the new foreign secretary, William Hague and defence secretary, Liam Fox both represented right wing “nasty party” foreign policy.
Scotland and the NPT
Both Bill Kidd from the Scottish Nationalists and Alan McKinnon from SCND had recently returned from the NPT review conference at the UN headquarters in New York. They agreed that independent representation from Scotland was valued.
There was awareness that the Scottish government held a unilateralist position, which Bill suggested was vital to progress. They also reported that the UK representative John Duncan had been silent at the conference, the delegation being stopped by the UK government from even mentioning that there was defence review.
So, from the conference floor, how did the lobbying section of the peace movement in Scotland re-orientate itself? Aside from a strong emphasis on making the economic case against Trident renewal there was broad agreement to lobby for the inclusion of Trident in the defence review, for the delay of the “initial gate” decision and to publish the full costs of renewal.
The lobbying itself would be directed towards the Liberal Democrats. As the chair, Isobel Lindsay said in her concluding remarks: “There’s a lot out there to lobby for!”