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Soon a thing of the past? HMS Astute  sailing up the Clyde to the Faslane nuclear naval base. Photo: UK Ministry of Defence via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Soon a thing of the past? HMS Astute sailing up the Clyde to the Faslane nuclear naval base. Photo: UK Ministry of Defence via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
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Election 2015 could see off the UK's nuclear missiles

Jonathan Woodrow Martin

7th February 2015

There's a growing chance that the UK's 2015 General Election could bring about the end of its Trident nuclear 'deterrent', writes Jonathan Woodrow Martin, as its renewal looks likely to be central question in the formation of a Labour-SNP coalition government.

Election 2015 could just create the moment to force a globally unprecedented move: the willing disarmament by a world power of their nuclear arsenal.

Imagine it, one of the biggest nuclear powers in the world committing to the dismantling of its nuclear weapons industry. How could this happen?

Both parties comprising the current coalition, the right-wing Conservatives and their 'centrist' Liberal Democrat junior partners, are politically committed to replacing the UK's Trident nuclear missile system.

No final decision has been made, indeed this does not have to be made until 2019 - when the renewal programme will have to begin, if it's to be completed in time to replace the current Trident system before it becomes technically obsolete.

The main investment decision on the programme is due to be taken by 2016. If the same coalition is returned to power, even with a smaller LibDem contingent (they are facing a near-wipeout following the abandonment of many key principles) there's no doubt that it will decide to replace the missile system.

The Scottish uprising changes everything

That's something the formal opposition, the Labour Party, also supports. But what happened north of the border in the Scottish referendum in 2014 has opened up an intriguing possibility for those opposed to the perpetuation of the UK's nuclear madness.

The near-victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Scottish Greens in the referendum for Scottish independence continues to resonate across the country.

In the aftermath of the referendum the SNP - a progressive left of centre party - have pushed the Labour Party to second place in Scotland and look set to win 45 out of 59 Parliamentary seats in the General Election, trouncing both Labour and the discredited LibDems.

This makes it very difficult for the Labour Party to secure an overall majority at Westminster Parliament - and raises the prospect of a coalition between the Labour Party and SNP.

The SNP's leader Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely clear on the current Trident system and its successor. Her resounding 'No!' includes a firm promise to "halt Trident renewal in its tracks". Indeed Sturgeon has 'done an Obama' and made the scrapping of the system and its replacement a red line in any talks on a possible coalition. As she told the Telegraph,

"If we deliver a strong team of SNP MPs at the general election, an absolute priority will be getting Trident renewal halted. And the more MPs we get elected, the greater the chances of holding the balance of power and achieving the end of Trident, which will free up enormous resources."

When push comes to shove, Labour will fold

Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander promptly dismissed the very suggestion, insisting that the UK's nuclear weapons were non-negotiable on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show. "Defending this country" would not be the subject of political horse-trading, he insisted.

These are ridiculous statements. Firstly, this is from the same party that led us into the Iraq war, the single most critical factor in the build-up of the terrifying levels of threat the country lives under today.

Secondly, the mantra like reference to 'deterrence' rings very hollow. What is this country being defended from with these useless weapons? ISIS? The still non-nuclear weapons state of Iran?

Thirdly, if a coalition with the SNP is Labour's only chance of government, you can bet your bottom-dollar (pound) that everything will be on the table - including Trident.

Indeed there are some within the Labour ranks who would support the dismantling of the system, even if they are not in the positions of power. There would certainly be little grassroots opposition within the party to agreeing to dump Trident - and possibly considerable support. Most of the party's membership is far more progressive than its MPs and leadership.

Nor would there be significant public opposition to this move. There's a fairly even split between those for and against possession of nuclear weapons, with only a small percentage strongly in favour of keeping them.

Ultimately, it's not an issue like the NHS or pensions: people aren't going to march through the streets to keep nuclear weapons - but they will and do march to abolish them.

But there are still powerful interests to overcome

This is not to underestimate the strong and deeply rooted vested interests in the continuation of the nuclear weapons industry.

Pension funds, banks and other shady investment groups are all invested in companies involved in the industry. The US has a strong stake in wanting the UK to stay a nuclear weapons industry, and will surely deploy its full persuasive powers to that end.

Meanwhile the multinational companies actually involved in the industry - BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Babcock International and The Redhall Group - are hardly uninfluential or public-serving entities, and will no doubt fight dirty if nuclear disarmament becomes even a remote possibility. Much will surely be made of the thousands of jobs that could be put at risk.

But despite these aligned corporate and governmental forces, the waking up of the left in UK and across Europe (see Greece and Spain) may become irresistible to a voting public seeking an end to austerity.

And it's not just the SNP who want to ditch Trident. Britain's Green parties also support its termination. With the Greens rising steadily in the polls, they could help to bring out an increased share of young voters, and wake them up to green issues including the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has for decades campaigned to end the madness and recently attracted tens of thousands of protestors to London for their 'Wrap-up Trident' demo.

Above all the will to abolish is there among the public - especially as budgets are increasingly tight across a broad range of essential social and health programmes. To many the idea of committing £30 billion to Trident over the next ten years appears little short of insane when there are so many competing priorities.

Election 2015 could just create the moment to force a globally unprecedented move: the willing disarmament by a world power of their nuclear arsenal.



Jonathan Woodrow Martin, sometime blogger, can be reached at

This article was originally published on CounterPunch.



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