OF ALL the Yes campaign’s pretended moral high-grounds, the promise to remove Trident from Scotland is one where the oxygen is thinnest.
It is widely said that nuclear weapons are intrinsically evil, that their only purpose is the mass slaughter of the innocent. It has also been argued that, by enabling their expulsion from Scotland, independence would revive international disarmament. Neither of these claims are true.
First, nuclear weapons have more than one use. They could be used to kill masses of civilians indiscriminately, which would indeed be appallingly wrong. Alternatively, they could be used to deter an enemy from attacking, which has been their only use by the UK since it first acquired them more than half a century ago. Imagine how much less constrained in Ukraine the Russians would now be, if they didn’t have to worry about provoking a nuclear-armed Nato. Their troops wouldn’t be skulking in the woods; they’d be driving down the highways in broad daylight.
Second, the removal of nuclear weapons from Faslane and Coulport, even if it did precipitate the UK’s unilateral disarmament, would have no effect at all on France or the US, not to mention Russia, China, Pakistan or North Korea. Nuclear weapons are not the cause of international mistrust; they are the symptom. So unilateral disarmament would not automatically make the world a friendlier and safer place. On the contrary, it would encourage the Putins of this world to chance their arm even further.
In this, as in so much else, the Yes campaign appeals to our desire for a simpler, purer world, unconstrained by tragedy, moral ambiguity, compromise and risk. The vision is beautiful, but the paradise is a fool’s.
Nigel Biggar, professor of Christian ethics, University of Oxford