AMONG the ragtag-and-bobtail of Jurassic socialists, fading Blair babes and public-teat sucklings that calls itself “Civic Scotland” it has long been an article of faith that Britain’s nuclear deterrent is “immoral” and the fact that it desecrates Scottish soil is “obscene”.
This, however, does not imply a blinkered and dogmatic opposition to all nuclear weapons: in the days when global geopolitics were still ornamented by the Soviet Union, the podium in Red Square on May Day groaned beneath the weight of Scottish fellow travellers admiring the peace-loving ICBMs being paraded past the Leader of All Progressive Humanity, as a prelude to pigging out on complimentary vodka, accompanied by the more cringe-making songs anent the brotherhood of man from the Robert Burns canon.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament was a cause calculated to appeal to the Scottish Left: it was anti-British, pro-Communist and cretinous – what was not to like? When the Soviet empire imploded under the burden of a Marxist command economy, further depressed by the Reagan-Thatcher Star Wars initiative, there was little dancing in the streets on Clydeside. Today, although the Faslane peace camp is history and a newspaper headline last month pathetically proclaimed “Trident protests: Hundreds march in Glasgow”, there is still a leftist element in the Scottish psyche that likes to parade unilateralist sympathies. A poll commissioned by CND recorded 60 per cent of respondents as opposed to renewal of the Trident system, with only 14 per cent in favour.
This provoked Lord Ashcroft last week to publish a poll of Scots with somewhat different results. It broke down the options into replacing Trident with a like-for-like system (favoured by 20 per cent), substituting a less powerful and cheaper system (supported by 31 per cent), or having no nuclear weapons at all (endorsed by 34 per cent). The obvious significance of those results is that 51 per cent of respondents favoured retaining a nuclear deterrent, with 34 per cent opposed. When asked if the nuclear deterrent should continue to be based in Scotland, 43 per cent said yes, 39 per cent no. In the hypothetical case of Scottish independence, however, only 35 per cent said yes and 50 per cent no. Moreover, the headline figure at the start of the survey recorded 48 per cent opposed to nuclear weapons in principle, with 37 per cent supportive.
So, more than a few contradictions were recorded in that survey. It differed from the CND poll in stating the true costs of renewing Trident, whereas the former ludicrously exaggerated it at £65 billion. That figure arbitrarily represents the running expenses for 30 years plus the upfront costs. Even so, Alex Salmond and Nick Clegg might have felt CND had sold the pass, since their preferred scare statistic is £100bn, based on an even more arbitrary 50 years’ running costs. Employing Alex Salmond’s accounting method, the welfare budget should be assessed at £1.4 trillion. The true replacement figure for Trident is £21bn, phased over 15 years. Nick Clegg was allowed to squander £7bn on the premature “pre-school” socialisation of two-year-olds. At the recent march of hundreds against Trident in Glasgow, one of the organisers said: “We want the resources that go into Trident to fund disability benefits…” Apparently he had not heard that 900,000 Britons have elected to forgo those benefits rather than submit to the medical tests now required (white-coat phobia, perhaps?), so that particular budget was an impolitic choice for shroud-waving.
Perhaps the 31 per cent in the Ashcroft poll favouring a cheaper system represents Scots’ instinct for a bargain. However, it would be a false economy. Any replacement other than like-for-like would be likely to carry many unforeseen costs, while providing less effective protection. The minimum necessary defence is the “four-hull” system of four Vanguard submarines: one on patrol, one on training exercises, one in port being prepared for departure and one undergoing maintenance. So far as future military technology can be predicted, deep-water submarines offer the most reliable deterrent. Cruise missiles travelling at a speed that enables schoolboys to collect their serial numbers are no guarantee of security.
Of course, the cynical calculation of separatists is that they can make a morally grandstanding gesture by expelling Trident while continuing to enjoy the protection of the UK nuclear umbrella. How Braveheart is that? Nuclear proliferation is a current reality. North Korea and Iran may be the most obvious threats, but the defeat of the West in Afghanistan heralds the return there of the Taleban to government. From Afghanistan, jihadists could engineer a takeover of Pakistan. That would deliver around 100 nuclear warheads and missiles with a 3,500km range into the hands of the West’s most ruthless enemies. In that geopolitical context the SNP’s posture is as irresponsible as it is infantile.