The Tories have attacked the SNP over the future of Trident and the British military if Scotland becomes independent. Pressing the SNP to stick to its policy of scrapping Trident will be vitally important says Jonathon Shafi.
In a recent article on this website entitled Independence: Scotland's left must rise to the challenge I argued that there is an opportunity to seize the ground to the left of the SNP and shape the debate for independence around a progressive agenda.
The most recent spat between Salmond and Westminster will be a key battleground in this debate. It comes over the issue of the military, and the ‘Trident’ nuclear facility based in Faslane and serves as an example of one of many issues that the Left can influence.
Salmond’s vision for a future Scottish military dovetails the retention of what he calls a ‘Scottish Defence Force’ with an explicit warning that Scotland would not be bound by either state or soul to follow others into conflict:
“The configuration of the Army in Scotland, the mobile brigade, which is the outcome of the defence review, looks exactly like the configuration you’d want for a Scottish defence force – so that’s one naval base, one aircraft base and a mobile armed brigade...The great argument in favour of having a Scottish Defence Force is two-fold; firstly, there would be no requirement for the biggest concentration of nuclear weapons in Western Europe to be situated in Scotland, and secondly of course, the Scottish people would have the right to decide whether or not to participate in international engagement.”
Considering the lack of public support for both the war in Afghanistan and the presence of Trident, it would seem like an unlikely target for an attack from Westminster. UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond evidently thought otherwise, describing the plan as ‘laughable’ and saying that Scotland will share its part of the bill in moving the WMDs if the country becomes independent. In doing so Hammond fell into the same trap as Cameron had done last week, with Salmond replying:
"Only somebody with the arrogance of a Westminster politician would say to the Scottish people, apparently in all sobriety, that you’d place and station weapons of mass destruction in Scotland over a period of half a century, impose substantial clean-up costs and then try to send Scotland the bill. I don’t think that’s a feasible position."
It seems every time the Tories speak about anything connected with Scottish politics, they look even more out of touch than the last time they opened their mouths. That’s why Lord Steel, former presiding officer in Holyrood, has urged the Tories to keep out of the debate entirely.
The Ministry of Defence are considering contingency plans for Trident in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum on Scottish independence. There are two main problems they face: where to relocate the weapons to and the expense involved.
Therefore in one sense the case for scrapping Trident looks to be in a strong position: Salmond appears committed to getting rid of it, the Tories have little effective impact on the debate and the MOD are already considering contingency in case of a vote for independence.
However, the determination of the UK ruling class to keep the nukes in Faslane will depend upon how much of a problem it will be to shift them. It’s not clear where an alternative site would be and, in the age of austerity, the UK government has an obvious argument to resist stumping up the cash for its removal.
So the outcome is not clear cut. The SNP simply cannot be trusted on the issue if the pressure to reverse their position is too great.
The only way to ensure the pressure is kept up on the SNP to scrap Trident is if its made central to a pro-independence perspective. The Left – alongside the anti war movement – can help to nail down Salmond.
Our argument cannot just be one about cost. We cannot simply say the money should be spent on hospitals and schools instead of bombs, though this message must simultaneously be enforced. We must also make clear that Scotland holds no truck with imperialism, the British state’s nuclear arsenal or wars for oil and conquest. The Scotland we fight for is one of peace and international solidarity.
Lastly, socialists in Scotland also have a duty to reach out to our allies in England so that Trident is not just removed from Faslane, but disarmed permanently.
Jonathon Shafi is organiser of the International Socialist Group (ISG) Scotland. He has played a long-standing role in anti-cuts and anti-war in Glasgow and a founder member of the Radical Independence Campaign.