On 18 July, MPs voted in favour of renewing Trident by 472 votes to 117. But opponents of the motion pulled no punches in the debate, exposing the pro-nuclear establishment’s worrying lack of logic with a number of poignant comments.
Trident is Britain’s sea-based nuclear weapons system located on the River Clyde in Scotland. It is owned by neither the navy nor the government, and its maintenance, design, and testing all come via US companies. According to official estimates, its renewal will end up draining away at least £179bn of government money over its lifetime.
But one of the biggest concerns about Trident’s renewal is not necessarily the fact that it’s in private hands or that it has a gargantuan cost.
One massive worry we should have is that the pro-nuclear establishment seems not to be able to put itself in the shoes of Scottish citizens, UK defence sector employees, or the inhabitants of non-nuclear nations.
1) Scotland doesn’t want Trident
A big driving force behind the desire for independence in Scotland is the fact that non-Scottish MPs can make significant decisions without the nation’s consent. And in the Trident vote, 58 of 59 Scottish MPs in the House of Commons voted against renewing the nuclear weapons. For this reason, the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson told his parliamentary colleagues:
It would be democratically unacceptable if in the face of this clear opposition the UK government were to impose Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde against Scotland’s wishes.
Robertson then gave prime minister Theresa May an ultimatum – based on the fact that Scotland’s government, parliament, MPs, churches, and trade unions overwhelmingly oppose nuclear weapons. He said:
(May) must now make clear she respects Scotland’s decision… and remove these nuclear weapons of mass destruction from the Clyde.
2) The defence sector will pay the price of renewing Trident, says one Tory rebel
The chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, intervened in the parliamentary debate to stress his opposition to his party’s official support for renewing Trident. He said:
…the cost of this programme comes at the expense of the rest of the defence programme…
It is not only damaging to our economic security. This comes at a deeply injurious opportunity cost to conventional defence.
In a full statement on his blog, Blunt described the renewal of Trident as “the most egregious act of self-harm to our conventional defence”. He explained how there was “a growing body of evidence that emerging technologies will render the seas increasingly transparent in the foreseeable future” – making nuclear submarines useless – and he insisted on the vulnerability of the system to cyber attacks.
3) The renewal of Trident will escalate the arms race further
Finally, Green MP Caroline Lucas exposed the dangerous logic behind the decision to renew Trident, saying:
If keeping and renewing our nuclear weapons is so vital to our national security and our safety, then does [Theresa May] accept the logic of that position must be that every other single country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons?
Does she really think the world would be a safer place if it did? Our nuclear weapons are driving proliferation, not the opposite.
Empathy isn’t a word in the pro-nuclear establishment’s dictionary
One might hope that the government and its supporters in the Trident vote would be able to put themselves in the shoes of those living in Scotland, working in the defence sector, or facing the threat of mass murder in non-nuclear nations.
But because they don’t appear to have been blessed with the gift of empathy, they could well push Scots to seek independence again, defence workers to seek alternative employment, and non-nuclear nations to ‘defend’ themselves in the same way that Britain believes it must defend itself.
Parliament’s decision to renew Trident goes against international obligations like the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has highlighted. And it very much speaks of a continuing attitude of arrogance in establishment politics which insists that military might is the best way of ensuring the UK remains a dominant nation in the world.
This is a stance based not on understanding others, but on bullying them. And that is the image we continue to send out to our neighbours throughout the world.
Watch the full Trident debate here:
Take action with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Write to your MP to express your views on Trident.