Leaders: Trident | Land reform

A Trident submarine on the Clyde. Picture: TSPL
A Trident submarine on the Clyde. Picture: TSPL
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IT MAY only have been written as part of a military exercise scenario, but the supposed Queen’s speech revealed in declassified government papers gives a stark insight in to the mind set that existed within the UK government and, presumably, military in 1983.

It is clear there were genuine fears of nuclear war. And why shouldn’t there have been?

It was the year that US president Ronald Reagan denounced the USSR as the “evil empire”, enraging its leaders, sent American nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to RAF Greenham Common and other parts of Europe, and the Soviet leadership saw a Nato exercise as a cover for preparing for war.

The British government was privately sufficiently alarmed to run a covert exercise simulating the run-up to a nuclear war, which included the sombre royal broadcast.

The world has changed a lot since then. The Soviet Union has gone, many of its satellite states are friends and not foes, and Russia itself – while not exactly Britain’s friend – is certainly not the threat it used to be three decades ago.

Nevertheless, Britain still maintains a nuclear deterrent, though quite who it deters is not obvious. And it is worth remembering that the first duty of every incoming prime minister, David Cameron included, is to write a letter to the commanders of the Trident submarines, telling them what to do if there is a major emergency threatening Britain’s security and communications with himself and defence chiefs are cut.

Such a possibility in the modern world – where cyber attacks are a clear and present danger, and the possibility of a terrorist threat using nuclear materials cannot be discounted – is not remote. This, plus the chilling revelations about what was going on deep in government just 30 years ago, is a sharp reminder that nuclear weapons still do present real and very big risks.

It is supposed, for example, that modern governments have no mandate to launch strikes which could kill hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people. But given what we now know about events in 1983, is that supposition still valid?

The declassified documents bring into sharp focus the question of whether maintaining the nuclear deterrent in its current form, as the Conservative and Labour parties wish to do, or scaling it down, as the Liberal Democrats are suggesting, or abandoning it altogether as others including the SNP want, is the right thing to do.

In considering these options, it should be remembered that while the world has changed and terrorism and cyber-attacks are more of a threat than nuclear warfare, it cannot be presumed that the world will stop changing, or that further change must necessarily mean that a nuclear attack or even nuclear blackmail will become inconceivable. Aggression, sadly, is constantly with us.

Keep politics out of land reform debate

A FACT of which Scotland ought not to be proud is that the country is one of the last remaining – if not the only – parts of the developed world where the reform of land ownership is a hot political and social topic.

It is because land is a valuable asset and Scotland is one of the few places where that wealth is concentrated in the hands of remarkably few people.

Whether that ought to change is now the subject of intense discussion. Giving landless people the power to make change through such things as giving tenant farmers the right to buy and enhancing the ability of communities to buy from landowners are issues now on the agenda.

This debate ought not to be pursued in terms of political dogma, but in search of what is best for the countryside, the people who live there, and for food production and public recreation.

Rural economies and ecosystems are fragile and wrong-headed meddling could have disastrous consequences.

Landowners are right to argue that they should no longer be regarded as villains. There will be a few bad landlords, just as there will be a few bad tenants, and neither exception proves any rule. Many landlords invest heavily in maintaining and improving their land from which the incomes earned can be uncertain. Tenant farming also has a role to play as it does in housing.

Nevertheless, there may also be a case that rural economies would benefit from a wider spread of ownership, as has been proved to be the case in the Highlands and Islands where community buy-outs have brought new life and vigour into previously stagnant areas. It should be a lively debate.