Andrew Wilson: Scaring the Faslane community is part of the ‘No’ deal for Labour
It states: “We will fight for multilateral disarmament, working for a world free of nuclear weapons.”
This is not news but someone may like to mention it to those engaged in the past few days in the furore about Trident, Faslane, job security and the independence referendum. Of course it reflects party policy that has existed since Neil Kinnock persuaded the party away from unilateral disarmament arguing that with the end of the Cold War multilateral disarmament was a future we could touch.
But let’s take the intent and the commitment at face value. Labour wants a “world free of nuclear weapons”. Odd therefore that the party’s representatives in Scotland as part of the ‘No/Better Together’ campaign (delete according to prejudice) should choose to make criticism of the SNP’s anti-Trident position centre stage.
Their argument is that if the country votes yes, Trident goes and the jobs associated with the base must too. Views on how many jobs seem to vary from 2,000 to 20,000 depending on which deeply serious politician or source you listen to at any one moment in time. Odd that. They are now allowed to put whole communities in a state of anxiety, fulfilling their target of spreading “fear, uncertainty and doubt” about the case for change.
The SNP counter with their own plans to replace the nuclear base with a conventional one and with the obvious observation that there are many more jobs to be created with the £25 billion plus that could be saved from Trident. But it is politically much simpler to create fear about jobs that currently exist than to offer hope about a future that doesn’t yet, no matter how much more positive that future is.
Which got me thinking – why is it that the record of the status quo is not subject to the same burden of proof? Because it should be. What the Labour manifesto makes clear is that they want Trident gone as well, they just disagree with the when and the how. I was very interested to come across statements made in the Scottish Labour leadership election campaign by a young politician I don’t know but who seems to me to have the makings of a major talent, Anas Sarwar MP. As well as being now deputy leader of Scottish Labour he is co-ordinating their referendum campaign.
When asked by Scottish CND for his position on Trident as he stood for his deputy post he said: “I believe that Trident is undesirable in a 21st-century country and we should be looking at alternatives and supporting others to do the same.”
Which leads me to ask, if the manifesto and one of the most impressive leaders on the team want Trident gone (with tonal differences on urgency I concede) then is the jobs scare position fair, accurate and reasonable? And much more to the point, what happened to the debate we ought to be having on whether we should be spending £25bn plus on weapons of mass destruction in the first place?
Turn next to the autobiography of former UK prime minister Tony Blair. You find that when he decided to renew Trident the decision was marginal at best: “The expense is huge and the utility in a post-Cold War world is less in terms of deterrence, and non-existent in terms of military use”.
Remarkably candid, but he concludes: “In this instance, caution, costly as it was, won the day.” If the decision was marginal when Labour took it in government in March 2007, at the height of the fiscal boom, how can it be anything but massively against now at a time of scything austerity?
Remember, Tony Blair didn’t see a military case – it was about positioning for Britain and for the party. Now after the economic crisis former Conservative defence minister and Treasury chief secretary Michael Portillo goes further. He was quoted last week saying: “I think the UK nuclear arsenal is completely past its sell by date,” arguing it was neither independent or a deterrent and “done entirely for reasons of national prestige”. How odd that so many former progressives are happy camped to the Right of Michael Portillo on an issue like this and at a time like this, and why? Because opposing the SNP matters most to too many.
Yes, the burden of proof should be demanded of campaigners urging us to join the 195 or so other countries in the world as independent states, there’s plenty of living examples of them to draw upon and strive for. But it should also lie with those who would rather spend £25bn of scarce public money on weapons of mass destruction as a symbol of national greatness we don’t need at the same time as denying benefits and dignity to millions who most certainly do need.