UK election: Scotland vote and the future of the bomb

Anti-nuclear submarine protests have quieted in Scotland since the 1980s – until now.

Anti-nuclear activists have protested the Trident submarines since 1982 [Faslane Peace Camp Community Organization]

Gare Loch, United Kingdom – Jamie Watson has been living at the side of the road for the past two years.

The 10 caravans and two disused buses at Faslane Peace Camp, on the banks of the Gare Loch, are painted with peace symbols and psychedelic murals. They carry slogans such as, “A peaceful solution to your nuclear pollution. Ban the bomb!”

“It is actually more comfortable than some of the caravan sites I went to as a child on family holidays,” Watson says with a smile.

There is still snow on the mountains, but it feels cosy with the kettle boiling on an iron stove. Solar panels generate power for their computers, and there is even broadband internet to keep them connected with the outside world.

“Most protest sites will be set up and they will last a few weeks or a few months and you win or you lose your campaign and everyone goes home,” explains Watson. “Unfortunately, we’ve not quite won this one yet so the camp has remained.”

Protesting Trident

As it says on one of the murals at the entrance to the camp, the residents here have been resisting nuclear weapons since 1982. Just across the road, a double-barbed wire fence protects the Royal Navy base that is the home of Britain’s four Trident submarines.

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There has been a tradition of anti-nuclear protest in Scotland since the early 1960s, when the US established a submarine base at Dunoon on the Holy Loch, but it hasn’t been a mainstream issue in British politics since the 1980s.

As Watson feeds the stove with drift wood, the softly spoken Glaswegian explains how the anti-nuclear movement has been re-energised by the campaign for Scottish independence.

“When the peace camp was set up CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] was a mass movement organisation and there were thousands of people turning up here to participate in demonstrations and actions. In the last few months we’ve seen that again.”

A new generation of activists who were politicised by Scotland’s referendum on independence from the UK have adopted the slogan “bairns not bombs”.

It’s a call for a different kind of future, bairns is a Scottish word for children.

Political motivation

Heather Stewart says she visited the camp when she was much younger, but it was the referendum that motivated her to more here a year ago.

“It was really exciting for me, it was like a different dimension to this campaign that had been sort of plodding on for a number of years and not really getting anywhere. It was an opportunity.”

Every Wednesday they hold a vigil at the south gate of the base.

The 30-year-old Londoner says she has never voted in a general election before. She voted for the first time in the referendum and now plans to back the SNP in Thursday’s UK general election.

“I would like to see Westminster shaken up. I think it would be really interesting if the SNP get most of the seats in Scotland. I don’t have a lot of faith that a lot of things will change, but it will be really interesting to watch.”

If the polls are right, the vast majority of new MPs that Scotland sends to Westminster will be anti-nuclear. Veteran CND activist Isobel Lindsay says they will raise issues that have been lost in the consensus between the established parties.

“Until now, there has only been an increasingly small group of left-wing Labour MPs making these arguments who are very marginalised and nobody listens to,” she says.

“If you have 40 MPs who are putting down motions and raising debates, that has the potential to create pressure on a range of issues that cannot be ignored.”

Lindsay says the plight of the Palestinian people is another issue to be raised. “They would push the UK government to give much, much stronger support to a Palestinian state and to pressurise Israel.”

Referendum repercussions

If you have 40 MPs who are putting down motions and raising debates, that has the potential to create pressure on a range of issues that cannot be ignored.

by Isobel Lindsay, activist

The fact that Scots narrowly voted to remain as part of the UK means the whole of the country is now going to have to deal with the consequences.

The SNP manifesto states it will oppose plans for a new generation of nuclear weapons, and seek to build an alliance in the House of Commons against Trident’s renewal. It also calls on the UK government to support the formal recognition of a Palestinian state.

Katie Clark was the left-wing candidate to be Scottish Labour’s deputy leader.

“It is quite interesting the way people in the SNP try to make out they are trying to help the left of the Labour Party,” she says. “I am one of the people they are trying to get rid of.”

Last month, she was one of the speakers at the biggest anti-Trident demonstration Glasgow has seen in decades.

“There were chants of ‘red Tory’ and I was heckled by sections of the crowd. I have been involved with CND since the 1980s. That would never have happened before,” Clark says.

She worries at the direction of Scottish politics and accuses the SNP of using Trident as a party political issue, rather than genuinely seeking to build a consensus with all parts of society that nuclear weapons should be a thing of the past.

Arguments also have to be won closer to home.

Michael Kerley runs a popular delicatessen in the nearby town of Helensburgh and is proud to supply the submarines with farmhouse cheeses.

Kerley says his vote will be going to a party that wants to keep the UK – and the naval base.

Follow Andrew McFadyen on Twitter: @apmcfadyen

Source: Al Jazeera