There is a chance that at the end of voting come the 2015 General Election in the United Kingdom, the nation’s nuclear “deterrent” and its renewal may become central to the formation of a coalition government. Imagine it, one of the biggest nuclear powers in the world committing to the dismantling of its nuclear weapons industry. How could this happen?
The current coalition, The Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat junior partners have looked to commit to replacement of Trident but no definitive decision has been made, indeed this does not have to be made until 2019, when the programme will have to begin, in time to replace the current Trident system. The main investment decision on the programme has been tasked to take place by 2016. The orthodox-thinking of the right-wing Conservative party and the collapse of principles of the Liberal Democrats (who are facing a near-wipeout in the next election) made for a fairly easy decision to look to replace the missile system, something which the formal opposition, The Labour Party, also supports. However what happened north of the border in the Scottish referendum in 2014 has opened up an intriguing possibility for those opposed to the continuation of the nuclear madness in this country.
The near-victory of the Scottish National Party (The SNP and supported by The Scottish Greens) in the referendum to break the union between Scotland and England continues to resonate across The United Kingdom. The SNP have pushed the Labour Party in to second place in Scotland and look set to win a majority of Labour seats in the General Election. This has the many-fold effect of making it very difficult for the Labour Party to secure an overall majority at Westminster Parliament and makes the possibility of a coalition between the Labour Party and SNP quite possible.
The SNP, under leader Nicola Sturgeon, are quite clear on the current Trident system and its successor. It is a resounding “No”. Indeed Sturgeon has done an Obama and made the scrapping of the system and its replacement a red line in any talks on a possible coalition. Labour have “hit back” with a dismissal of this;
The Shadow Foreign Secretary said that a minority Labour government would exclude Britain’s nuclear deterrent from any negotiations with other parties if there is a hung parliament.
He echoed Ed Miliband by refusing to categorically rule out a deal with the SNP but told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “defending this country” would not be the subject of political horse-trading.
Ridiculous statements for two reasons. Firstly, this is from the same party that led us to war in Iraq, the single most critical factor in the development of the terrifying levels of threat this country lives under today. Secondly, the mantra like reference to deterrence rings very hollow. What is this country being defended from with these useless weapons? ISIS? The still non-nuclear weapons state of Iran?
I digress. On-the-face of it then, there is no chance right? SNP want Trident gone, Labour will not allow this. Wrong. If a coalition with the SNP is Labours only chance of government, you can bet your bottom-dollar (pound) that everything will be on the table, including Trident. Firstly there are some within the Labour ranks who would support the dismantling of the system, if not in the positions of power, therefore there would be little opposition to this acceding the SNP demand within the party and possibly much support. Secondly there would be little opposition to this move by the UK population with a fairly even-split on support for and against possession of the weapons, with a small percentage strongly in favour of keeping the weapons, my point being that it is not an issue such as the NHS or Pensions. People are not going to march to keep the weapons, but they will and do march to abolish them.
This is not to underestimate the strong foundational vested-interests in the continuation of the nuclear weapons industry. Pension funds, our lovely-cuddly Banks and other shady investment groups are invested in companies involved in the industry, the US has a strong stake in wanting the UK to stay a nuclear weapons industry, and the thousands of jobs that could be at risk will no doubt be trotted out. Apart from that the multi-national companies actually involved in the industry, BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Babcock International and The Redhall Group are hardly uninfluential or public-serving entities and will no doubt fight dirty if this becomes even a remote possibility.
Despite these aligned corporate powers, the waking up of the left in UK and across Europe (see Greece and Spain) may become irresistible to a voting public seeking an end to austerity. It is not just the SNP who oppose the continuation and renewal of Trident. The Green Party of England and Wales also support the abolishment of weapons and are rising steadily in the polls and could play a part in the waking-up of a rapidly-rising share of the population’s younger voters to green issues, including the abolishment of these weapons. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has for decades looked to end the madness and recently attracted tens of thousands of protestors to London for their “Wrap-up Trident” demo.
There is a will there amongst many same-minded people and organisations and if given a chance they could help force an unprecedented move; the willing disarmament by a world power of their nuclear arsenal.
Jonathan Woodrow Martin
Originally published on Counterpunch on February 3rd, 2015.