Anti-Trident activism and Scottish party politics

IssueMay 2011
News by Brian Larkin

Four years ago the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), in coalition with the Greens, formed a minority Scottish government. Its manifesto and campaign literature had prominently declared opposition to the Trident nuclear weapon system.

After the Westminster government authorised design work for the replacement of Trident submarines, the Scottish parliament answered with a resolution calling upon the UK government not to replace Trident.

Then, in October 2007, the Scottish government convened a summit of stakeholders, from civil society groups to trade unions, on the future of Scotland without nuclear weapons.

Anti-nuclear groups including Scottish CND, Nukewatch and Trident Ploughshares took part. Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon declared that the people and parliament were united in opposing the UK’s basing of nuclear weapons in Scotland.

The Faslane365 year-long blockade of the Faslane nuclear submarine base had just finished and Nicola Sturgeon paid tribute to the persistent nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons. The summit led to the formation of a “working group on Scotland without nuclear weapons” with the remit to look at what the Scottish government could do, within its powers, to bring pressure to bear on Westminster to remove Trident from Scotland.


The anti-nuclear movement eagerly awaited the working group’s report. Published November 2009, that report and the Scottish government’s official response were deeply disappointing. Two members of the working group recently condemned the Scottish government’s conclusion that Trident is legal (see PN 2531).

The Scottish government did say that it would take steps to ensure that safety regulations were enforced, that it would request the UK to inform police before nuclear weapons convoys travelled on Scottish roads and that it would investigate the possibility of regulating the transport of nuclear weapons on Scottish roads. To date it has not publicly stated that even these steps were taken.

In December 2010, a delegation met with Bruce Crawford, minister for parliamentary business, calling for substantive action and arguing that the government was wrong to accept that Trident is legal. Assurances were given that the Scottish government had written to the MoD and would publicise the actions it has taken. That has not happened and there was no response to the submission.

As PN goes to press Scotland is in the midst of another election campaign. Opinion polls indicate the SNP have a strong lead. And a Scotland’s for Peace survey suggests a majority, including many Labour and Lib-Dem candidates, in the next Scottish parliament will favour calling for the UK to “cease deployment of Trident.”

Despite the SNP government’s cautious response to the working group report, an incoming SNP-Green Scottish government offers the best hope of progress. The SNP manifesto declares that it will “continue to press the UK government to scrap Trident and cancel its replacement.” It is, however, difficult to imagine what the SNP means when it claims that it has been pressing the UK government to scrap Trident.

The March 2007 Holyrood motion only called on the UK not to replace Trident “at this time.” The nearest the SNP has come to exerting pressure was when SNP leader and first minister Alex Salmond led the “People and Parliament” march and rally against Trident. But the UK government does not sit in Edinburgh’s Grass Market.

It now seems clear that in considering what it could do about Trident within its powers, the SNP government never intended to risk being seen to exceed what are widely believed to be the restrictions of the Scotland Act under which military affairs are “reserved” to Westminster.

But the new book Trident and International Law, (reviewed in PN 2531), confirms that Trident is illegal and that the Scottish government has the authority and obligation to refuse complicity with its deployment.

The professed opposition of the SNP and of a likely majority of the next Scottish parliament to Trident is an open door which we must push further open. It is not enough for the Scottish government to declare opposition to Trident. Whichever political parties form the next Scottish government, they must, formally and publicly, call upon the UK government to cease deployment of Trident. They must then take substantive steps to end their complicity with Trident.

Campaigners must persuade, invite, cajole, and demand that Scotland’s next government fulfils its legal and moral responsibilities in relation to nuclear weapons. Disarmament activists will not be supine. Plans are afoot for all levels of action.

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