THE Labour party in Scotland is to campaign for an end to the Clyde-based Trident nuclear weapons system after supporters of UK leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday helped push through the change at its autumn conference.
The decision was welcomed by Mr Corbyn, who hopes it will be the first step on the road to the wider UK party ditching its support for Trident.
I think it’s been great for the party and the members are delighted they’ve had a say on what’s a major policy issueIan Murray MP
The move comes as a blow to new Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, who backs Trident renewal, although senior party figures last night insisted her authority has not been undermined
The Conservative government warned the loss of the UK’s nuclear weapons would pose a threat to national security, with MPs to take the key vote on renewing the submarine-based missile system next June.
Labour delegates overwhelmingly backed a motion yesterday for Trident to be “abandoned” and nuclear disarmament now becomes formal party policy north of the Border.
It means Labour in Scotland is now at odds with the UK party’s official policy which is for still renewal – despite Mr Corbyn’s opposition – after a debate on the issue was bodyswerved at its conference in Brighton last month.
In a further split with the UK party, Scottish Labour also came out yesterday against the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) amid fears it could threaten and even privatise the NHS and other public services.
MSPs, trades unions and local branches were split on Trident during an hour-long debate yesterday. In the end, more than two-thirds – 70.3 per cent – of delegates backed a motion not to renew the nuclear weapons system yesterday. It is now likely to feature in its manifesto for next May’s Holyrood election.
Most unions backed the call to scrap Trident despite the feared impact on thousands of jobs because the motion included a key line insisting a defence diversification plan must be in place to protect employment.
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “The vote by the Scottish Labour Party Conference on Trident renewal and the protection of defence jobs is a clear sign that Labour’s democracy has opened up. Scottish Labour party members have spoken.”
Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray, himself a long-time Trident opponent, said yesterday it will now feed into a defence review being carried out by Labour south of the Border under the auspices of shadow defence secretary Maria Eagles.
“I don’t think we should be renewing Trident so I’m pleased that the party membership have been given the space created by Kez to have these debates,” he said.
“We’ve come to quite a conclusive decision. I’m pleased at the democracy of the party and Kez is delighted that she can change the party, redemocratise the party and give the membership a real say.”
Mr Murray said it is now official Labour party policy and “should” feature in next year’s manifesto.
“I think it’s been great for the party and the members are delighted they’ve had a say on what’s a major policy issue.”
He insisted that the shadow cabinet has always had members who were opposed to and in favour of Trident and that will still be the case.
A motion brought forward by Stephen Low of the Campaign for Socialism – a key supporter of Mr Corbyn in Scotland in the recent UK leadership battle – called for the UK not to seek the replacement of Trident and “abandon plans to spend billions of pounds on a new generation of nuclear weapons”.
Mr Low last night said it could be the first step towards convincing the UK party to back the abolition of Trident.
He said: “What we now have is an open debate withing a significant section of the Labour party and specifically on Trident renewal coming out and saying ‘we don’t want it’.
“You can’t point to anywhere else in the party structure where we’ve had that kind of debate in some time.”
But UK Secretary of state for Defence Michael Fallon last night condemned the move.
“This underlines the danger that the Labour leadership poses to our national security,” he said.
“We cannot know what threats will emerge over the next 40 years. Renewing the nuclear deterrent is crucial to ensuring we are prepared for the worst of them. It will also guarantee thousands of jobs.
“For 60 years, successive Labour and Conservative governments have been united on this issue. I appeal to moderate Labour MPs to back our decision to maintain a round the clock nuclear capability – the ultimate guarantee of Britain’s security.”
Labour members voted in favour of the motion by 70.3 per cent to 29.7 per cent. A total of 11,444 votes were cast by members of constituency parties, 70.2 per cent backing the motion, and 29.8 per cent rejecting it.
The trade unions cast 196,875 votes, with 70.4 per cent voting in favour, and 29.6 per cent voting against.
It followed a passionate debate on both sides which saw unions split over the threat to jobs.
Gary Smith, of the GMB which represents most workers at Faslane, branded the debate “nonsense and utter indulgence”.
He added: ‘’We’ve closed dozens of yards, we have closed thousands of factories up and down this country, and people have seen what actually happens.
‘’High-skilled well-paid union jobs replaced by part-time, low-skill, low-paid work. Rising levels of unemployment, increasingly levels of poverty – that’s what the real alternative is.’’
But Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the Unite union, backed the calls for the nuclear weapons not to be renewed – but stressed this must go ‘’hand in hand’’ with efforts to support workers into new jobs.
He said: ‘’Everyone wants a world free of nuclear weapons but a multilateral position should not be used as cover while waiting for others to take a lead.’’
MSP Neil Findlay, who opposes nuclear weapons, told delegates the emphasis must now be placed on reassuring defence workers.
‘’In this debate, the workforce is key, and we have to give reassurance to the engineers, the technicians, the fabricators and the small business owners that we have a real and genuine plan to create jobs for every worker,” he said.
MSP Jackie Baillie, whose constituency includes the Faslane base, said some 13,000 jobs could be under threat if Trident is scrapped.
She said: “Faslane is the biggest single-site employer in Scotland.
“More than a quarter of West Dunbartonshire’s full-time workforce are employed there in good quality, well-paid jobs.’’
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “At their conference Scottish Labour have confirmed their shift to the left contesting that political territory with the SNP.
“With the Scottish Tories lurching to the right it leaves a huge space for the Liberal Democrats in the liberal, centre ground.
“Liberal Democrats are building a platform that is pro-environment, pro-Europe, pro-business and pro fairness.”