Why Scotland The Brave Needs Our Help To Become Nuclear Weapons Free

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Thousands have been marching, calling for a nuclear weapons-free Scotland.
Thousands have been marching, calling for a nuclear weapons-free Scotland.
Thousands have been marching, calling for a nuclear weapons-free Scotland.

SCOTLAND THE BRAVE: Porridge, haggis, bagpipes, kilts and All Black victories at Murrayfield. These are common images of the Land of Heather in the minds of Kiwis. With a bit more effort we think of intellectual giants like poet Robbie Burns, economist Adam Smith and philosopher David Hume.

But soon to enter our consciousness is a battle that will bring New Zealanders closer to the Scots and remind us of the long struggle in New Zealand and the Pacific to become nuclear weapon free and to assert our right to an independent foreign policy.

I attended this April a conference in Edinburgh held by Abolition 2000, an international coalition of organisations campaigning for a nuclear weapon free world, and hosted by the governing Scottish National Party. My entry card was as the representative (unpaid) of the New Zealand chapter of the Parliamentarian Network for Nuclear Disarmament and as a former NZ Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control. And I can assure readers that in the social hours and under the influence of the delightful malt whiskies of Scotland that I never threatened any waiters that I would use my influence with John Key or Alex Salmon to have then sacked.

At the conference porridge and haggis were banished from my thoughts and instead I was to be educated on the campaign for independent nuclear weapons free Scotland. In turn our Scottish hosts were eager to learn how New Zealand changed from a committed Cold War nation under the nuclear umbrella to being a champion of nuclear weapon free zones. For as brave souls in Scotland, led by the governing Scottish Nationalist Party, strike out to win their battle for an independent Scotland at the referendum in September 2014, the same bullies familiar to New Zealand – The USA, Great Britain and France- are just as determined to forestall an independent Scotland with a constitution that excludes the nuclear armed Trident submarines at Faslane, 40 kilometres from the centre of Glasgow.

Not only has this nuclear arsenal been forced on Scotland by successive UK governments, but in 2007 the London Parliament launched under PM Blair a programme to upgrade the Trident submarines and the nuclear weapons they carry.

Blair and his successors committed the British public to a doubling of the expenditure on Trident from 1 billion pounds in 2005 to 2 billion pounds a year in 2012. By 2020 this figure will have risen to 3 billion pounds per annum.

This spending is in a Britain which is a fully paid up member of the austerity club and is savagely cutting back on health, education and the living standards of the population in general. However, there is money to spend, apparently, through to 2070 to the tune of 100 billion pounds on these WMD.

This commitment has been made to 2070 (so much for good faith on nuclear disarmament) despite a clear majority of the Scottish people being opposed. In a March 2013 poll by TNS BMRB 25% were undecided on the question. But of those with a preference 81% were opposed to Trident and the upgrade.

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The Scottish Parliament reflects this widespread opposition and passed a motion on 20 March 2013 calling for “the UK Government to acknowledge the opposition of the Scottish Parliament to nuclear weapons and to the presence of Trident in Scotland, and further calls on the UK government to explore options for the removal of Trident ahead of the so-called main gate decision in 2016”.

Support for the SNP on Trident is coming from previous high placed supporters. Lord Browne, Blair’s Defence Minister, who initiated the Trident upgrade now, has this to say: “[nuclear weapons] offer less of an insurance policy against the challenges we will face in the future…Are we telling the countries of the rest of the world that we cannot feel secure without nuclear weapons on continuous at sea deployment while at the same time telling the vast majority of them that they must forego indefinitely any nuclear option for their own security?”

And former Tory Defence Minister Michael Portillo was even blunter. When asked if Trident should be renewed he said:

“No, it’s completely past its sell by date. It’s neither independent, because we couldn’t possibly use it without the Americans, neither is it any sort of deterrent… It’s a tremendous waste of money. It’s done entirely for reasons of national prestige and at the margins its proliferation.”

But going into overdrive is the propaganda machine of Whitehall to advise Scots that independence will mean being cast out of the European Union and sinking into penury despite control of North Sea oil and gas. An independent Scotland, the threat continues, would be required to apply for EU membership and only one member (could that member be a vindictive UK?) needs to deny the application.

Moreover, it will also mean that NATO membership is to be relinquished as well. This “threat “is repeated by the US and France and those loyal NATO countries who followed the US and Britain to Iraq in search of WMD’s which were actually stored in Europe. So the Scots are told constantly by one or other of the NATO countries who are lined up: Scotland will be out of NATO and left alone to face the might of an aggressor.

The Washington Post has thundered that an “independent Scotland would significantly weaken the foremost military and diplomatic ally of the United States , while creating another European mini-state unable to contribute meaningfully to global security “ . Presumably that would mean it would be harder to find accomplices for illegally invading other countries.

And Madeleine Albright was brought out of retirement to lecture at a Glasgow dinner that “in this day and age we have to all try to figure out how to work together, not so much separately…The US and Europe have more in common than any other places in the world and there are so many issues going on in other places, so the point is how strong can a EU be… How can we be partners to each other, and so fragmentation does not help us on that.”

Does this threatening sound familiar? Kiwis will recall the visit of US Secretary of State George Schultz in 1984 to derail the Lange government’s anti-nuclear course and the innumerable proclamations from the US and its loyal allies in the subsequent years on New Zealand’s vulnerability to first Soviet aggression and then with the end of the Cold War from unnamed countries. Without the nuclear umbrella and membership of ANZUS Kiwis were doomed. And of course along with those warnings went the not so subtle hints that we would suffer economically as well.

Could it be that the bigger fear was that the New Zealand nuclear free example would spread and more and more countries would assert their right not to be part of the nuclear weapon club? Could it also be that the Nuclear Weapon States did not want attention to their own obligation, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enter negotiations in good faith to abolish their nuclear weapon arsenals?

An independent Scotland is an even bigger headache for the Masters of War. NATO is the largest military spender in the world. Over 70% (with 50% being that of the US) of all military expenditure, including maintaining and developing the nuclear weapon capacity, is by the NATO countries. NATO played a pivotal role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the forging of smaller states that would be loyal allies of NATO. The virtues of independence were sung. But not so for Scotland. For breaking free of the nuclear weapon club and its exorbitant costs sets an example for the other NATO countries and encourages their populaces to question the expenditure on arms, nuclear and conventional, and the point of that spending.

And just as nuclear free and ex-ANZUS New Zealand was not overrun by the Soviet Union and flourished as an independent sovereign nation with world-wide respect, an independent Scotland would demonstrate that Europeans could safely exit the nuclear weapons club, remain secure and use the money saved to pull Europe out of recession. Furthermore, they would actually contribute to a safer world with another nuclear weapons free zone and put the acid on the Nuclear Weapon States to disarm according to their treaty commitment.

So New Zealanders get in behind! Our Scottish brothers and sisters need encouragement and support from Nuclear Free New Zealand.

Don’t expect John Key and Murray McCully to lead a campaign of solidarity with Scotland. They are keeping their heads down on this as they set about begging to be readmitted to the US-led military club.

But ordinary Kiwis can use their campaigning creativity, their Scottish connections and the social media to reinforce the Scottish determination to bring sanity to their part of Europe and declare themselves to be the next Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

Editor’s Note: This is Matt Robson’s first article for The Daily Blog.