Campaigns Disarmament Left Politics Scotland SNP

The SNP and nuclear weapons

A reply to Rise founder, Jonathon Shafi.

Last week political activist and co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign Jonathon Shafi tweeted that the SNP were preparing to sell out on nuclear weapons. This was based on the fact that the SNP’s Defence Spokesperson Stewart McDonald was – in Jonathan’s view – insufficiently vocal in opposing nuclear weapons in his response to Gavin Williamson’s defence plans.

This sparked something of a stooshie, with suggestions that the SNP might be willing to allow the UK to keep nuclear weapons in an independent Scotland, a suggestion strongly denied by Stewart McDonald and the SNP. This prompted Ungagged to ask me to write something about the SNP and Trident.

Before I do so, however, I want to say that Jonathan has every right to challenge the SNP, to be critical, to be provocative. There is an awful lot of nonsense, on social media in particular, about people associated with RIC and Rise being Labour stooges, with questions being raised about their commitment to independence.

There is a strong radical left tradition in Scotland to which people like Jonathon belong. It is part of their role to question and challenge the mainstream and highlight radical alternatives. Mainstream politicians should welcome and listen to constructive criticism and ideas. Sometimes our critics are right. Sometimes they are wrong – and when they are wrong we are entitled to say so. But it is completely out of order to label people stooges simply because they challenge the SNP.

On this occasion I have to say they were very wrong indeed.

Compromise is written into the DNA of the SNP. It has to be. As a party we are a very broad church with members whose political views on non-independence issues can be very different. Compromise is therefore essential. But there are some issues where compromise is not on the table – and nuclear weapons is one of them.

Quite apart from the moral case against weapons of mass destruction, there is simply no functional argument for an independent Scotland having nuclear weapons of its own. The idea is ludicrous.

Neither is there a case for an independent Scotland hosting the UK’s nuclear arsenal. That idea is also ludicrous. What kind of self-respecting country would agree to make itself a target to spare a neighbouring nation the inconvenience and risk of having to host its own nuclear weapons?

No, with independence nuclear weapons will be removed from Scotland.  Not immediately, of course, it will take a number of years to arrange a safe removal – not least because the UK at present has nowhere else to store them. My hope is that, faced with this reality, the UK would re-assess its position and decide to end the UK’s nuclear weapons programme.

At present, however, that is more of a hope than an expectation.

The reason for this is that – in my view – the commitment of UK politicians to Britain remaining a nuclear power is psychological as much as it is political. It is all about reassuring themselves the UK is still a world leader. Being capable of threatening mass destruction is part of that mindset. The ability to wave a big stick at the world is something that matters a great deal to these men and women and they will not lay down their big sticks easily.

Of course the consequence of this nuclear obsession is that conventional defence capability and indeed strategy has been neglected – and this was the point being made by Stewart McDonald. The UK’s approach to defence has been all fur coat and nae knickers for quite some time now. Stewart is correct to call that out.

Arguably Gavin Williamson’s statement took British defence policy from merely incredible to downright delusional as he painted a picture of a post-Brexit Britain standing alone in the world wielding its hard power like a mighty sword.  It is possible that we could pinpoint this as Peak Brexit, the moment the British Government finally and completely lost the plot.

Perhaps, as some argue, Brexit is merely the last stage in the process of England learning to acknowledge that Britain is no longer an imperial power, a final flourish of jingoism as Britannia sinks beneath the waves. We can only hope so – and trust that a more realistic, responsible and collaborative approach to defence emerges from the Brexit wreckage. But I still don’t count on it.

An independent Scotland will, of course, become responsible for participating in the defence not only of our own territory but of Europe and the North Atlantic with the assumption of nationhood. This is a responsibility which the SNP accepts and which lay behind the party’s change of position on membership of NATO.

I am not going to rehearse that debate, save to say that the policy adopted by SNP Conference stated that “An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations.”

In other words, for the SNP, Scotland’s membership of NATO will be conditional on NATO accepting our non-nuclear position. If they won’t do that, we won’t be in NATO. No-one should be in any doubt that we mean this.

Of course I understand those who argue that we should have no truck with NATO full stop and I imagine this is the position of many who amplified the suggestion that the SNP might change its position on Trident. But they are quite simply wrong.

The position the SNP has arrived at is one which carefully balances our opposition to nuclear weapons with our desire to be a good neighbour and ally. That entails a level of compromise for sure – but not on hosting nuclear weapons on the Clyde. In an independent Scotland an SNP Government will make Scotland nuclear-free. You can take that to the bank.


By Mhairi Hunter

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear from more left voices on our podcast

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.