THE prospect of Scottish Labour backing the scrapping of Trident nuclear weapons was gathering momentum last night after it emerged that the trade union Unite is poised to come out against its renewal.
Ahead of a knife-edge vote on the issue at this week’s Scottish Labour conference, anti-Trident party activists are doing their utmost to ensure maximum support from the trade unions.
With Unison committed to getting rid of Trident, the stance taken by other unions – and Unite in particular – is likely to determine the position taken by Scottish Labour in the most important vote at conference.
In the past the Unite leader, Len McCluskey, has indicated that it supports renewal of the multi-billion weapons system because scrapping Trident would cost its members jobs.However, Scotland on Sunday has learned that the Unite Scottish delegation will vote to get rid of nuclear weapons from the Clyde provided it receives assurances that action will be taken to protect jobs.
The formal adoption of an anti-Trident position by Scottish Labour at the conference in Perth would be seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Nuclear weapons have proved a hugely difficult issue for Corbyn since he took over the UK Labour Party. Throughout his political career Corbyn has been committed to scrapping Trident, putting him at odds with the parliamentary Labour Party and Labour’s long-standing policy on the nuclear deterrent.
The UK leader suffered a blow to his authority after a bid by the Labour leadership to press for a vote on Trident was overwhelmingly rejected at the party’s UK conference last month.
Corbyn’s critics were delighted that the UK party spurned the chance to change Labour’s policy to renew the weapons when the current fleet of four submarines are decommissioned in the late 2020s. Labour has not supported unilateral disarmament since the late 1980s.
Although taking an anti- Trident stance would delight those on the left of the party and bring Scottish Labour into line with the SNP’s position against nuclear weapons, it could also prove embarrassing for Kezia Dugdale.
The new Scottish leader has indicated that she supports a multilateral approach.
“The decision by the Scottish party not to renew Trident is going to be totemic and it will give Jeremy a lot of support,” said Bob Thomson, a former chairman of Scottish Labour and the co-editor of the Scottish Left Review magazine. Thomson, a long-term opponent of nuclear weapons, said he was confident that the rejection of Trident by Scottish Labour could force the UK party to adopt the same position.
“If Scotland comes this way, then the whole party will be changing its existing position on the renewal of Trident and my judgment is that it will be carried in Scotland,” Thomson said.
Thomson’s optimism has been informed by speaking to other Labour members and a particular clause included in the anti-Trident motion specifically designed to get the unions on board.
The clause seeks to address Unite’s concerns about job losses arising from the cancellation of Trident.
It says a future Labour government should establish “Defence Diversification Agencies” to help communities whose “livelihoods are based in the defence sector, so that engineering and scientific skills are not lost”.
Unite will not officially come to a position until the night before the conference opens on Friday. But Scotland on Sunday understands the union is not looking to back a highly expensive renewal programme provided the party makes the sort of jobs commitment outlined in the motion.
Thomson said: “It is hoped that paragraph will keep the unions – particularly Unite on board. It is recognising there are job implications and saying that we have got to put alternatives in place, so hopefully we will get movement on this.”
Trade union block votes are responsible for 50 per cent of the vote to be held a week today with the remaining half coming from the Scottish party’s 73 constituency parties, who are believed to favour disarmament. The position taken by each union is decided by a delegation from each organisation. The decision taken by the three largest unions Unite, Unison and the GMB will prove critical in how the vote goes.
Unison has already declared that it is for scrapping Trident while the GMB is likely to vote for renewal to protect the jobs of its members working at Faslane.
Last night one of Corbyn’s key Scottish allies, Katy Clark, the former Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, said: “The majority of members will vote against Trident renewal. There is a significant minority in favour of Trident renewal, but I think the majority of members are against it.
“A lot of people who are active in trade unions don’t want Trident, and don’t want to renew Trident, but I think we all understand the position the unions are in in terms of jobs. But it will come down to the detail of the wording in the motion.”
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Dugdale said she was “acutely comfortable” with the idea of a members’ debate on Trident. “If it’s debated at conference – and that’s down to members, it’s a priority ballot so members have to choose – there will be a vote and the vote that takes place at conference will determine the position of the conference. It’s that simple to me.”