Trident debate leads to CND membership surge

An anti-nuclear weapons demonstration at George Square in Glasgow takes place in April.
An anti-nuclear weapons demonstration at George Square in Glasgow takes place in April.
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THERE was a time when the profile of Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was so low that people often presumed it had folded.

The group, which advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the UK, has been “rejuvenated” by the recent referendum on Scottish independence and the continuing debate on the likely replacement of the Trident weapons system.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a long-term member of CND

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a long-term member of CND

Membership north of the border has doubled - from around 1500 to more than 3000 - since September 2014.

“We’re averaging around a dozen applications for membership each week. It’s biggest increase since I became involved,” said Scottish CND chairman Arthur West (61), who has been a member of the Glasgow-based group for more than 30 years

“People occasionally think we faded away - but we’ve been here in Scotland since the late 1970s. But certainly in the last four or five years, our issue has come back into focus and our membership has began increased. Our profile is higher and our membership rejuvenated.”

CND is enjoying its highest public profile since the days of the Greenham Common peace camp in the early 1980s.

If there is a vote for a Trident replacement, I think the general view in Scotland will be one of disgust and opposition

Arthur West, CND Scotland chairman

There are several factors behind this revival. In 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron backed a like-for-like replacement of Trident, which is carried by Vanguard-class submarines, by the end of the 2020s. A parliamentary vote on the issue is likely to be held next year.

The SNP’s long-held stance against nuclear weapons became a hot topic during the 2014 referendum campaign, and its Westminster group of MPs will likely be among the most vocal opponents of renewal when the subject comes up for debate.

In September, Jeremy Corbyn, a long-term member of CND, was elected Labour leader. Weeks later, he was at the Scottish Labour conference where 70 per cent of delegates backed a motion calling for Trident not to be renewed.

“We were a bit surprised at the Labour vote,” West admitted. “We did feel, having spoken to delegates outside the conference hall, that there was movement on the issue. There were calls from the grassroots that a debate was needed. I wasn’t surprised at the result, but I was at the size of margin.

“Scottish Labour must now campaign to change the UK party position.”

West is hopeful a CND group will now best established within Labour, similar to existing blocs in the SNP and Scottish Greens.

While opposition to nuclear weapons may be in rude health, Scottish CND are realistic about the short term.

Given the Conservative majority at Westminster, and the UK Labour policy of backing renewal, it is unlikely a Trident replacement will receive the backing of MPs.

“It would be a set-back,” West said. “But hopefully MPs will see sense.

“If there is a vote for a Trident replacement, I think the general view in Scotland will be one of disgust and opposition. I think we will see an increase in our membership and existing members will be re-doubling our efforts.”