Providing an example

IssueApril 2005
Comment by David MacKenzie

The dismantling of the model Trident submarine in Edinburgh on 10 March (see news item on p2) was a dramatic performance in which different elements, with varying degrees of willingness, played essential parts. The activists inside and around the sub had an ideal plot in mind but realised that it might have to be adjusted as circumstances changed. In the end it went almost entirely to script.

The late evening denouement put the police centre stage. They increased the dramatic effect by moving supporters and spectators back behind steel barriers and then began to strip off the outer covering and expose the ribs of the vessel and its locked-on crew. A special touch was added by third floor residents in the houses opposite the Parliament who put a loudspeaker out of their window and gave the police operation the accompaniment of the Toreadors' March from Carmen, until warned sharply to leave off.

Three hours and many hiccups later there was no trace of the sub. Apart from a few key bits saved by the makers it was all crunched up by the cleansing department carts. The police had done what we asked--they had dismantled Trident.

Providing an example

The dramatic irony in that final scene was powerful. In Trident Ploughshares we recognise that the full and safe disarming of the Britain's WMD will in the end have to be done by those who at present maintain and protect them in all their deadly alertness.

OK, we have and will continue to put some fine spokes in the wheel. The best and most direct instance of that was when Rosie James and Rachel Wenham knocked lumps out of testing equipment on HMS Vengeance (PN2434) and, by MoD admission, held up its entry into service by several weeks. But we know we are mainly providing an example.

The Edinburgh play also involved actors from the Scottish Parliament. Trident Ploughshares pledger and MSP Rosie Kane was in the submarine and knew the script, but many other MSPs and researchers buzzed around the portholes. The Parliament as a whole seemed quite relaxed and good humoured about the event, even when submariners bursting for a pee were signed into the MSP office suite. There seemed to be some acceptance that what was going on outside in the street complemented the proceedings inside.

A downward slope?

The police delayed their cutting-out and arrest operation until the Parliament was closed and the streets were relatively quiet, and they released Rosie Kane from custody early, thus giving us the implied compliment that our action was having political effect.

To what extent these decisions were in response to Executive pressure is anyone's guess, but it does offer encouragement to the view that there is potential for Scotland to provide the initial skid on the downward slope for Trident and many other militaristic ills.

Proportional representation has made a great difference to the parliamentary climate— on one analysis only 25 switched votes would be needed at present to achieve an anti-T rident vote at Holyrood. On its own that would mean little, given that defence is a Westminster matter, but if it were accompanied by a big and sustained popular stushie it could have a real impact on Westminster decisions.

An ethical identity

It's not all good, of course. For example, it was painfully instructive that in Scotland during the lead up in 2000 to the repeal of Section 28 (which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities) there was backing for its retention by rich and powerful people in a strident campaign that had some popular backing, making one wonder what further horrors lie behind the skirting boards. And the performance of the Scottish courts over WMD has been sickeningly subservient. Nevertheless, the fact that many of the activists inside and outside that sub were non-Scots is testimony to the good potential.

Now we hear that Gordon Brown is hitching a lift on the British identity and patriotism issue. The only identity worth speaking about is an ethical identity. I want Scotland to be known for its commitment to peace, sustainability and justice--the rest of it follows a good way behind.

And, of course, hope is the thing with feathers...

Topics: Nuclear weapons
See more of: David Mackenzie's diary