Meeting date: Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 08 February 2017
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Jobcentre Plus Network, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Trident (Case for Non-renewal)
- Portfolio Question Time
- Jobcentre Plus Network
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Trident (Case for Non-renewal)
Trident (Case for Non-renewal)
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02776, in the name of Bill Kidd, on the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s report “Trident and its Successor Programme”. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament welcomes the recent report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Trident and its Successor Programme, and congratulates its joint-authors, Mike Danson, Karen Gilmore and Geoff Whittam; believes that it succinctly puts the case for non-renewal of Trident; understands that the authors based this on employment diversification and the moral, philosophical, economic and defence case for abandoning any proposal for what the UK Government terms as the successor weapons programme, which it plans to continue at HMNB Faslane/Coulport, and believes that its continued presence would be a threat to Glasgow and the majority of Scotland’s population.17:05
There is quite a lot to say in the debate, so I will not touch on every single element. I hope to make a few interesting points that might not have been considered before, as well as some points that are reasonably well known.
Before I start, I extend a warm welcome to the people in the gallery, including representatives of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the “Ban the bomb” campaign, Medact Scotland, the “Navy not nuclear” campaign and many others, whose support illustrates the high level of public engagement on nuclear disarmament.
In November 2016, “Trident and its Successor Programme” was published by the Jimmy Reid Foundation and launched here in the Scottish Parliament. Today we welcome the findings of that report by bringing them into Scottish political discourse.
I will also take this opportunity to emphasise how we in the Scottish Parliament are not alone in re-examining the nuclear debate. Last year, I attended a United Nations General Assembly debate on holding a special conference this year to analyse the case for nuclear weapons being banned on the grounds of humanitarian concerns and the evidenced suffering by populations. The conference will result in a vote on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. It should be noted that the vote that established the conference, which will take place this year, had 126 nations for, 38 against and 16 abstentions. Confidence is therefore high that an historic decision will be made this July, which will validate the points that are raised in the Jimmy Reid Foundation document. I believe that the well-researched findings of the Jimmy Reid Foundation have been affirmed by international discussion of them by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, in response to the tangible and very serious dangers of hosting and transporting nuclear weapons within a country.
I argue that to continue any nuclear weapons programmes in Scotland—especially weapons that are vulnerable to misfiring or error—is to undermine the basic function of governance: that is, the safety of the people within a state’s borders.
Findings from the Jimmy Reid Foundation show not only that the case for Trident renewal is, based on their indiscriminate nature, redundant because of moral and philosophical considerations, but that the economic and job-oriented justifications for Trident renewal have been proved to be wishful thinking—that might be a nice way of putting it—according to the report, which states that fewer than
“600 civilian jobs are dependent on the existing Trident system at Her Majesty’s Naval Base ... Clyde”.
The figures are sourced from the Ministry of Defence, through the Westminster Parliament.
The evidence that was submitted by the Jimmy Reid Foundation is highly corroborated by UN House Scotland, United Nations Association Scotland, UNA Edinburgh and the respected Acronym Institute, through their draft report “The International Conference on Humanitarian and Environmental Impacts and Responsibilities of Hosting Nuclear Weapons”. It highlighted that, since the two bombs were dropped on Japan at the end of the second world war, 2.5 million survivors have sought treatment by hospitals that are run by the Japanese Red Cross Society. Those hospitals exist purely for people who are still suffering the effects of weapons that were dropped more than 70 years ago. As recently as 2015, they treated 11,000 patients. The report’s findings also show that DNA damage is evidenced by the number of child survivors who are now middle aged and elderly, who are suffering from cancer.
At this point, I will go off at a slight tangent if you do not mind, Presiding Officer. I would like to mention the situation of a friend of mine from Kazakhstan. Karipbek Kuyukov is a famous artist in central Asia, who has to hold the paintbrush between his teeth or in his toes. In common with 1.5 million people in his homeland, Karipbek was born with genetic damage from acute radiation syndrome that was caused by nuclear tests that the Soviet Union carried out in his home area. He was born of restricted height and is completely without arms, hands or fingers.
Karipbek is also an anti-nuclear weapons spokesperson back home. In that role, he was invited here to the Scottish Parliament two years ago, but he was refused a visa to enter the United Kingdom because he could not supply fingerprints to go with his passport identification. However, the human spirit is undimmed, and Karipbek Kuyukov sends his very best wishes for our deliberations here today and to all the Scottish people.
What about us? We are not immune to radiation, nor do we have a level of moral superiority that means that we should be trusted with weapons of mass destruction while others are seen as rogues. Some of them are rogues—there is no doubt about that, and there is no doubt about the fact that they might acquire nuclear weapons because we have them. Nuclear weapons exist in the world, which makes the world a more dangerous place, not a safer one. Real human security is for all peoples and cannot be maintained by the threat of annihilation of entire populations. Anyway, this is a small world and nuclear radiation cannot be contained within space and time.
Regarding the risk that is posed by accident or potential terrorist incident along the three-times-a-year nuclear convoy route—not only to Scottish residents, but to many other people in the UK, especially those who live in the Birmingham, Preston, Wetherby and Newcastle areas, which the convoys pass through—I note that, even without malice aforethought, plutonium and other radioactive materials can leak from warheads and contaminate communities, thereby greatly increasing cancer risks and causing major long-term environmental damage. Evidence suggests that, in extreme cases, accidents could trigger a nuclear reaction known as “inadvertent yield”, which would deliver lethal radiation doses.
Moreover, according to the MOD’s internal safety watchdog report, a terrorist attack could cause
“considerable loss of life and severe disruption both to the British people’s way of life and to the UK’s ability to function effectively as a sovereign state.”
That consideration falls in line with the evidence on what the larger humanitarian impact would be if such weapons were detonated in a war. The International Committee of the Red Cross projects that, if 100 nuclear weapons were targeted in the whole area of south-east Asia, for example, a projected 20 million people would die within the first week. In considering that that would be the impact of 100 nuclear warheads, we should remember that there are 240 warheads in the Trident fleet.
I end by saying that the very fact that the Jimmy Reid Foundation report has prompted this debate shows that we can still hope, that we can look to this year’s UN conference with belief and that we are not helpless in the face of nuclear state obliteration, because we must all take responsibility for our own actions and those of our elected representatives. We sit here as elected representatives, and we represent the people who could be affected by these nuclear weapons. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr Kidd. I have 12 members wishing to speak in the debate. Due to that large number, I am minded to accept a motion without notice under rule 8.14.3, that the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Bill Kidd.]
Motion agreed to.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer.
I absolutely concur with the debate being extended for as long as necessary, as I do for most members’ business debates. However, on a point of principle, when I wanted to move a similar motion yesterday, I was told that debate timings had been agreed by business managers. This is not about this debate; this is about a point of principle. Why is it—
Mr Findlay, can I just halt you there?
Can I finish my point?
Please sit down a minute.
One of the explanations for what happened—and I can see the point here—is that when business managers agree the time for a debate, not all amendments will have been lodged; amendments are sometimes lodged later. I understand that there is to be a discussion with the business managers about whether, when a lot of amendments are lodged in an important debate, thereby making the timings tighter, there can be further discussion on the timings for the debate.
Had the debate been extended yesterday, it would have meant moving decision time, and it would have meant a five-minute suspension, a vote and so on, all of which would have eaten into the debate. I agree that there is an issue, but business managers had agreed the timings on behalf of their parties—and the parties had an equal say.
The matter is worth revisiting and I understand that there is a desire on the part of members to consider it. As I said, when a lot of amendments come in, it changes the timings for the debate. The matter will be looked at. Is that okay?
That has taken a little time, but not a lot.
We move to the open debate, in which, I am afraid, speeches will be of four minutes.17:15
I thank Bill Kidd for bringing this members’ business debate, and I thank the Jimmy Reid Foundation and the authors of the report for their hard work in putting the case for non-renewal of what is an obscene weapon on Scotland’s shores.
The report shows the impact that the Trident successor programme will have on Scotland. It destroys the claims from Labour and Jackie Baillie that not renewing Trident will cost thousands of jobs. In reality, 600 civilian jobs are dependent on Trident at Faslane and Coulport, and the successor programme fails to bring a single new job to the base. Of course, those 600 jobs are vital to the community, but if there is no renewal there will still be work at the bases for civilian workers for the next 12 to 15 years. By that time, half those workers will have reached retirement age and others will have benefited from redeployment or voluntary exit from the sector.
Renewing Trident will also have major knock-on consequences for Clyde shipbuilding, with renewal costs meaning fewer orders of new type 26 frigates.
Scrapping Trident renewal is not a risk to jobs, but the astronomical cost of Trident—£200 billion—is costing jobs. We all know that the money could be spent far more productively. It could be used to counteract the continuing decline in armed forces expenditure—a decline that is causing job losses not just on the Clyde but across the country.
However, there is far more to the argument than pound notes. The recent Trident misfire and subsequent cover-up demonstrate the huge risk that those war machines present to us all. If the weapons are not risky enough, we cannot forget that the man who has control over them on our land is President Trump. Can anyone say, hand on heart, that such a prospect does not terrify them?
Then there are the warheads that are transported by road through Scotland’s most populated city. The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimates that an accident on the convoys could lead to plutonium and uranium spreading across distances as vast as 17km, covering most of Glasgow and outlying areas, including my constituency in East Dunbartonshire. The risk that the convoys pose to human life is simply unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.
The Clyde naval base was chosen to be home to the UK’s nuclear submarines because of the depth of the Gare Loch. However, that body of water is nowhere near as deep as the splits in the Labour Party on Trident. Labour’s position on Trident has become farcical, with a leader in Scotland who is in favour of nuclear weapons but opposes them, and a UK leader who is opposed to them but leads a party that supports their renewal. Confused? I certainly am.
Will Rona Mackay take an intervention?
No. I thank Neil Findlay, but I am almost finished.
The Scottish Government has a mandate to get rid of Trident. The Scottish National Party has been elected for an historic third term, and in every one of our manifestos we have said that we do not support Trident. Now is the time for us to start making plans about how we can get rid of it. We cannot wait for permission that we will never get from the UK Government. We have to go ahead and rid our country of that obscene political weapon.
We are the only party that can and will do that. We owe it to our children to support bairns, not bombs. I support the motion.17:19
Bill Kidd, who lodged the motion, has brought several debates on the subject, over a number of parliamentary sessions. Sometimes the obvious knee-jerk reaction on the part of Conservatives to people who bring such debates, particularly people who have a kind of schoolboy crush on unilateralism, is immediately to dismiss them.
I do not do that to Mr Kidd, because I have come to find him an extremely genuine, articulate, measured and—from the perspective of the argument that he makes—convincing proponent of the cause that he promotes. I have come to a different conclusion from him, but I do not in any sense dismiss the argument that he makes or the compassion with which he makes it. In the way that he articulates it, he demonstrates that he understands the nuance of it and the people who are involved in the ultimate consequence of anything that might arise from nuclear conflict. I believe that that is what genuinely motivates him in ensuring that the issue is raised repeatedly in the Scottish Parliament. I want to make those points absolutely clear at the beginning of my speech.
My own journey on the issue has been different. I was a child of the late 1950s who was born not long after the war—as were other members, who have come to different conclusions to mine. I was vaguely aware of, and then understood, the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s, and the heightened international tension that arose over the Vietnam conflict and the geopolitical manoeuvring of the huge world superpowers. I understood the consequences of the Berlin airlift and, when I was in Berlin in 1983, I saw—as other members probably did during that cold war period—the reality of the stand-off between east and west, and it scared me. I was part of a generation who, at school, participated in a cadet force and grew up believing that we might actually have to fight a war, with conscription and all the international geopolitical conflict. I do not believe that my children have to consider that as a realistic and immediate prospect, but I did as I grew up.
When the Berlin wall fell, I flirted with the idea that all this might no longer be necessary. I have come to the view that I still believe in the nuclear deterrent but, in all the years leading up almost to the day on which the Berlin wall fell, I never imagined that that was a genuine possibility. I could not have predicted it. I did not anticipate such a huge change in the geopolitical balance of power in the world and, when I sat there in 1989, I did not foresee the wholly different way in which the world has since evolved and threats have emerged. Therefore, I cannot, with any certainty, look forward another 30 or 40 years and predict what the existential threats might be to peace, security, this island and the peoples on it.
For those reasons, I have come to the view that we should retain a proportionate nuclear deterrent as part of our defence capability. As a country, we have significantly reduced our reliance on it, in terms of the number of warheads that we have, and the cost per person is something like 20p in every £100 that will be spent on defence over the next 30 or 40 years. I recognise that others fundamentally disagree with my position. I also recognise that, when the issue came up most recently in the House of Commons, it was overwhelmingly supported by some 400-odd votes to 117 votes.
I do not know whether that will always be my view. I hope and wish to believe that we will live in a safer world in which I might ultimately be able to come to a different conclusion. As I said, I have not held to my position blindly but have tried to assess the evidence and have retained my position with it. However, for those reasons, much as I respect Mr Kidd, I cannot support the argument and believe that we must retain our independent deterrent.17:23
I thank Bill Kidd for securing the debate. He has been honoured by folk who respect his views on the matter by being nominated for the Nobel peace prize. It is just a pity that he did not get that prize.
Once again, we stand in this chamber, making the case against nuclear weapons of mass destruction. I am sure that we all agree that, for the sake of our small planet, we must find a way to disarm. What these weapons of mass destruction are designed to do is almost unimaginable to us all. We have built bombs that can reduce cities to ashes and missiles that are designed to fly thousands of miles and then split into 12 individual warheads, each containing enough destructive power to destroy all life at its target and beyond. At supersonic speeds, they tear through the sky in a trail of fire. Scientists call that wicked sight the “fingers of God”. Indeed, it seems as though those people are trying to play God.
The madness of the Trident nuclear missile programme is beyond comprehension. Nuclear bombs will never be used again—it would be mutually assured destruction. However, for me, what invokes horror is the potential for human error. Last month, we were told that a Trident missile malfunctioned because of a miscalculation caused by its engineers. History is littered with mankind’s mistakes—when arrogance overtook rationality and ignorance eclipsed sanity. We should not be so arrogant as to presume that nuclear weapons will end well; it is unwise to suppose that we can contend with such unimaginable forces.
A vast underground arsenal of nuclear warheads is stored a few miles from my constituency. In the event of human error, the consequences could be cataclysmic. My Clydebank and Milngavie constituency would be utterly eradicated in the event of a detonation, along with the whole of the central belt all the way through to Edinburgh. The aftermath of such an event would wipe out almost the entire Scottish nation, given that most of us live in the central belt.
It might seem ludicrous to stand in the Scottish Parliament and talk about a nuclear holocaust in Clydebank and beyond, but the notion of 1,000-bomber raids over Clydebank seemed eccentric before world war two. If there is radiation leak when the weapons are being driven through my constituency, thousands of people will be exposed to it, causing untold misery.
The point that I am trying to make is simply that human error is inevitable—it is just a matter of time. We must surrender the weapons before it is too late. All sides need to strive for nuclear disarmament for the sake of our small planet. Scotland must make her voice heard. We are a nation known for our resistance to the British state’s nuclear programme; we are a forward-looking and conscious people who reject those immoral weapons.17:27
I thank Bill Kidd for bringing the debate to the chamber and for giving me an opportunity to talk about the interests of workers in my constituency.
I respect those who believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament. I take a different view: we should negotiate to rid the world of nuclear weapons on a multilateral basis. I want to achieve global zero.
Whatever people’s point of view, we need to take responsibility for those who are employed at Faslane. Here are the facts about employment at Faslane and Coulport. A freedom of information response from the Ministry of Defence in September 2014 revealed that 6,800 people are directly employed at the base by the MOD and Babcock. A Scottish Enterprise study commissioned from EKOS identified an extra 4,500 jobs in the supply chain and the local economy. That makes 11,300 jobs. Following a decision that was taken when Gordon Brown was Prime Minister to make Faslane the home of the UK’s whole submarine fleet, we expect about 2,000 more jobs in the next couple of years. We are approaching 13,000 jobs in total, not 600 jobs, as the report that we are discussing would have people believe. I invite people to stand at the north and south gates of Faslane at 7 am to see the cars and buses queuing as thousands go to work—and that is just the morning shift.
Faslane is the biggest single-site employer in Scotland, providing highly skilled, well-paid jobs that account for more than a quarter of the full-time workforce in West Dunbartonshire. When we speak about renewing Trident, let us remember that we are referring to the new fleet of submarines and all the jobs that are associated with its construction, maintenance and support. Thousands of workers at Barrow depend on Trident, too. We have a naval base in my constituency because of Trident; it would serve no strategic purpose without that.
I would like to share with members the instructive observation of Derek Torrie, the trade union convener at Faslane and Coulport. In response to the report, he said:
“It is like asking how many people at Glasgow Airport directly rely on planes landing or taking off for their jobs, and then answering it is only the people who drive the tractors to move planes to the runway, or the people who wave them in with their lollipops. In reality, of course, without planes there would be no airport. It is exactly the same at HMNB Clyde—no submarines = no base and no jobs.”
Will the member take an intervention?
I am sorry—I do not have time.
According to GMB Scotland, the jobs impact extends to the 200 to 300 workers at BAE Systems on the Clyde who will be redeployed to Barrow to work on the new submarines while waiting for the type 26s to ramp up. We should not forget, either, the workers at Rosyth who are working on the Successor programme.
I want to touch on defence diversification. We had a defence diversification agency—it was set up by a Labour Government in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, it failed to produce anything of note. Here is what others had to say about it: in its executive council statement on 17 July 2016, Unite the Union said that defence diversification was
“a pig in a poke”,
while GMB Scotland called on politicians to stop playing fast and loose with highly skilled jobs. Those are not my words, but the words of people who have a deep knowledge of the defence industry. We should listen to them.
I make a plea to members, whether they are unilateralist or multilateralist: please do not pay lip service to the workers in my constituency on jobs, and do not pretend and tell them that the number of jobs affected is smaller, because they know what the truth is.17:31
I thank Bill Kidd for lodging his motion and giving us the chance to debate this subject, as well as for all the work that he has done in campaigning for nuclear disarmament. I welcome the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s report, which I think perfectly encapsulates and answers the case against Trident renewal.
Nuclear weapons are abhorrent and indiscriminate, and there is no justification for their use. When the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, it led to the death of an estimated 246,000 people, the majority of whom were civilians.
The nuclear weapons that are sitting around the world today, including at Faslane, are up to 3,000 times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. That means that the bombs at Faslane have the power to completely incapacitate Scotland if anything were ever to go wrong at Faslane, which, as we all now know, it very nearly did. The co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union said:
“The prospect of death and destruction caused by an accident is no less terrifying than the thought of it being caused deliberately”.
I entirely agree.
Morally, we simply cannot support the renewal of such weapons of mass destruction, nor should we be forced into accepting them on our own doorstep. The storage, the testing and the transporting of the weapons and their waste all put Scotland at risk on a day-to-day basis, and if anything went wrong—whether by accident or by design—the effect on our country would be absolutely catastrophic.
Let us look at the economic case against Trident renewal. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament currently puts the cost of Trident renewal at a colossal £205 billion. Even the best-case scenario estimate from the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, puts the figure at £179 billion.
This time last week, Sandra White led a debate on the women against state pension inequality campaign, which fights for the women who were born in the 1950s who have, in effect, been short-changed by the acceleration of the timetable in the Pensions Act 2011. Is Westminster making any funds available to address the serious inequality there?
Towards the end of last year, I took part in a debate on social security in which MSPs gave account after account of constituents who were suffering at the hands of Tory-imposed austerity, who included people who had been forced into starvation and illness because of sanctions and people with disabilities who were having their money reduced. Agency after agency told us about the effect that austerity and cuts to benefits and welfare was having on their members, and there were reports of people becoming increasingly ill, isolated and suicidal. We have seen the proliferation of food banks across our country, we suffer from food poverty, and an estimated 22 per cent of children living in Scotland live in poverty.
I think that that £205 billion could be better spent, and not only in the areas that I have mentioned, as it could be invested in industries—carbon capture and storage, for example, and our renewables industry—that have a real future in Scotland but which Westminster has also seen fit to cut funding for. What infuriates me most is that when it comes to war and weaponry money is never an issue and can always be found but when it comes to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society we are told about the dire straits that our economy is in and there is never any budget.
There is no such thing as a nuclear deterrent. Nuclear weapons have not stopped terrorist attacks here or elsewhere in the world; they have not prevented wars from being started and they have not helped to end them. There is also the whole hypocrisy behind all of this. How can the UK be so hypocritical as to have nuclear weapons while criticising and rallying against others who look to have them, too? The situation is preposterous.
The whole Trident renewal process and the absolutely colossal expense that goes with it are simply a means of gratifying the UK’s—actually, the Westminster Government’s—superiority complex. It is a dangerous vanity project that needs to be scrapped.17:36
I, too, congratulate and thank Bill Kidd for bringing this debate to the chamber this evening, and I also thank him for his consistent and principled stance and all the work that he does on this area.
I was pleased to take part in November's launch of the Jimmy Reid Foundation report “Trident and its Successor Programme”, and I am grateful to the authors, Mike Danson, Karen Gilmore and Geoff Whittam, for making such a clear, well-researched and well-argued case for non-renewal, employment diversification and our contribution to peace.
Parliament has previously voted with the Greens for a constitutional ban on Trident and a global ban on nuclear weapons, and I know that a majority of members believe that, even if Trident were cost free—even if there were no charge—we should continue to demand its end and removal, because it is an abomination even to consider using such weapons of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction.
Although I appreciate Jackson Carlaw’s words, there is, in my view, no proportionate nuclear deterrent. For those who are not convinced by what I and others see as the strong moral and philosophical case against renewal and who cite the economic benefits of spend—I cannot call it “investment”, because I never want to see the return on nuclear weapons—we must be clear that Trident provides great benefits, but to whom? To banks, to arms suppliers and to multinational companies. The missiles themselves are American, and the report confirms that
“much of the hardware and software is reliant on imported technology”.
Trident renewal offers little to the Scottish and UK economies in the way of economic activity and multiplier effects, and reports from Oxford Economics show that better economic outcomes could be achieved by investing in social security, for example, or our food and drink sector. The UK Government might have clearly decided to safeguard this specific area of defence, but many quality jobs in the public sector have been lost due to cuts, with the impact on those employees, their families and communities clear to see.
The impact on conventional defence forces is clear, too. Indeed, former Ministry of Defence personnel such as Lord Arbuthnot and Lord Browne now oppose renewal. Trident destroys jobs elsewhere in Scotland and the UK and prevents investment in the jobs of the future and the just transition to the sustainable low-carbon jobs that we urgently need. Real security is about having those kinds of jobs, a home and guaranteed clean drinking water.
Along with the Jimmy Reid Foundation and CND, the Campaign Against Arms Trade produces valuable research. Its 2014 report “Arms to renewables: work for the future” sets out clear examples of how a diversification agenda would be of great benefit through the creation of good-quality, secure jobs and the utilisation of the skills that we really need in our new industries. According to CAAT’s research, offshore wind and marine energy could produce more jobs than the entire arms industry.
CAAT has described its vision of a “safer world” as
“one which guarantees highly skilled manufacturing jobs that will be there in the future—and”
crucially—this is really important—
“which creates the kind of future we might want to see”
and that we might want to be part of. After all, it is us who create the future that we are going to live in.
However, who is “we” when it comes to discussing Trident in general? The moral and philosophical case that the Jimmy Reid Foundation has presented makes clear the democratic deficit that is involved in ignoring the overall position of the people in Scotland towards Trident.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation’s report is dedicated to Dr Alan Mackinnon and John Ainslie, who campaigned tirelessly for nuclear disarmament before their passing in 2015 and 2016 respectively. I am proud to do anything in my power to carry forward their incredible work along with colleagues in the Parliament and the millions of people across the world who want to see Governments pursue a radically different and more peaceful agenda.17:40
I thank Bill Kidd for bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber.
I fully and definitely appreciate Bill Kidd’s views, but the only thing that stopped the world slipping into a third world war in the 20th century was the existence of opposing nuclear powers—France, the United Kingdom and the United States on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other. The ability to destroy one’s enemy but only at the cost of destroying oneself has proved to be the greatest reason against waging war on one’s enemy. That prevented the cold war from turning hot.
In the 21st century, we do not face exactly the same challenges as those of the 20th century, but similar old problems are raising their heads again. A resurgent Russia is pursuing an aggressive policy against its neighbours; the Chinese are illegally gobbling up territory in the South China Sea; and rogue states continue to try constantly to get their hands on nuclear weapons so that they can threaten us and hold us to ransom.
I think that Maurice Corry is generally developing an argument in support of the possession of nuclear weapons. What criteria would he apply to decide which countries should be allowed to have nuclear weapons and which ones should not?
Those that show proper control should be allowed. As the cabinet secretary probably knows, a monitoring force is in place, which is financed and supported by the major nations of the world and the major nuclear powers, to ensure that nuclear warheads are kept safely and properly guarded around the various former Soviet Union states.
I presume that weapons that are under “proper control” means ones that go in the correct direction when the button is pressed.
Everything has to be tested, and sometimes a test proves the need to change a mechanism or whatever. We cannot have total, 100 per cent perfection on that. Obviously, that is what happened in the case to which Neil Findlay refers. The weapon self-destructed. That is what it was supposed to do, and it did that perfectly.
Will the member take an intervention?
No, I must continue.
With 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world, no one in the chamber can know what threats will continue to emerge in the coming decades.
When I served in the Balkans—particularly in Bosnia—I was fortunate enough to liaise with the Russian brigade, and I was given some very good advice from my Russian army opposite number. He told me, “Do not drop your guard. You never know who will be in charge in my country, Russia. We admire your strong strategic nuclear defence force. Do not drop your guard.” I advise the dear members here that that is advice not to be ignored.
Maurice Corry articulated the case for the balance of terror, but that case was predicated on rational state actors. Does he consider that the heads of state of each of the P5 countries in the present day are rational actors?
I would take a certain judgment on that. Like the curate’s egg, there are good parts and there are bad parts.
Now is not the time for the United Kingdom to disarm and leave itself defenceless against the other nuclear nations or groups that could get nuclear weapons. With the cost of maintaining our nuclear deterrent running at only 6 per cent of our defence budget and 0.1 per cent of total Government spending, the cost of running that deterrent is affordable and represents an important and sensible investment in our future national security.
That is not to mention the benefits to the West Scotland region, which I represent. Our nuclear deterrent secures thousands of jobs at Faslane, which is now one of the largest employer sites in not just the west of Scotland but the whole of Scotland. With the entire fleet of submarines to be based out of Faslane in the future, the number of jobs that are sustained will go up from the current 6,800 personnel who are employed at the base to more than 8,200 by 2022.
However, we should bear it in mind that Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, not the camp on the A814, is the real peace camp. The base brings with it significant economic benefit for the local communities that surround Faslane. There are also the thousands of jobs at Rosyth and on the Clyde that will be protected thanks to the construction projects of the successor submarine programme. GMB Scotland has estimated that up to 40,000 jobs in Scotland are dependent on Trident—that is a lot of people employed. The GMB Scotland secretary, Gary Smith, was right to say:
“The 40,000 defence workers in Scotland are as vital to our national security as the Armed Forces. Without the skills of the workforce in the yards on the Clyde and Rosyth the Royal Navy could not defend the Nation.”
For almost 50 years now, the United Kingdom has been kept safe thanks to the current fleet of Vanguard submarines patrolling and maintaining our nuclear deterrent 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. Their four replacement submarines—now named the Dreadnought class—will ensure that that protection remains in place until the 2060s. It is vital for our national interest and security, the interests of our allies abroad, the safety of citizens and the thousands of people in Scotland whose jobs depend on our nuclear deterrent that we keep that deterrent in the uncertain world in which we live.
I am sorry, but that is where you must stop. Your argument is that we should keep Trident. That is lovely and you made—
I was just going to say that we must remain part of the United Kingdom—
No, you have to stop. I gave you extra time for interventions.17:46
After the previous speech, where do I start?
I thank my colleague Bill Kidd for bringing the debate to the chamber. I am pleased to speak on the subject of Trident because it is one of the reasons why I got involved in politics. I have been involved in politics so long that I remember the debate about Trident as a replacement for Polaris. I disagreed with having nuclear weapons then, as I do now. My old dad went to his first demonstration at Faslane at the age of 63. He came to the conclusion that there is no place in our world for such weapons of mass destruction. If an old guy like my old dad can change his mind as a pensioner, I am quite sure that there are others who will see the light with regard to the argument against Trident.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation report effectively presents the case for the non-renewal of Trident and for not having a successor programme to replace it. The report is set out in three sections that explain the moral case, the economic case and the defence case for non-renewal. For each of those three areas, the report states in no uncertain terms that renewal will negatively impact the people of our country and specifically those living in and around the west of Scotland.
Renewing Trident and continuing to fire hundreds of billions of pounds into something that we all hope we will never use, at the cost of funding projects that will benefit the community, the environment and Scotland’s economy seems bizarre to me. In Paisley, for example, local families and businesses are struggling, but Westminster thinks that it is okay to spend £205 billion on weapons that would undoubtedly affect only the very civilians who we claim we are trying to protect. That does not make sense.
The moral implications of the successor programme are extreme. The existence of nuclear weapons threatens the whole of civilisation. Unlike conventional warfare, a nuclear attack does not discriminate between hostile aggressors and innocent civilians—or, in the speak of the White House president, the good guys and the bad guys. That position directly contradicts the principles of what is known in some circles as a just war. How could we support the destruction of thousands of innocent civilians if we ever had to use those weapons?
The response to that point would no doubt be that the order for a nuclear attack would never be given. Where is the sense in spending a fortune on something that will never be used, while families are struggling financially throughout our communities? Deterrence is the rationale used by those who support nuclear weapons, but the Jimmy Reid Foundation report almost humorously renders that argument useless. Instead of creating fear and uncertainty, the non-renewal of Trident would free up massive amounts of money for public sector jobs, education, healthcare and conventional defence strategies—the list goes on. Even I cannot imagine the financial benefits that would come to Paisley and Renfrewshire alone from that.
To me, the Trident issue is simple. While Westminster covers up missile test failures costing up to £17 million each, submarine collisions in the Atlantic and breaches in submarines’ fuel cladding, the fallout from a Tory hard Brexit will undoubtedly hit the poorest in my community the hardest. Given the sticky situation that the people of Scotland are already in because of something that we did not vote for, how can we support the successor programme? The people of Scotland have said on numerous occasions that they do not want it. The reported £205 billion that it will take to replace Trident will cost every UK taxpayer £3,000 a year and cost my constituency of Paisley alone £242 million. We can imagine what that money could do for Paisley or for other members’ constituencies. Instead of investing in nuclear weapons, I, for one, would rather invest in the people of Scotland.17:50
I commend the Jimmy Reid Foundation report and I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing the debate, on his tireless campaigning on the issue and on his approach to building a cross-party coalition on the matter.
Scottish Labour has a recently confirmed policy against Trident renewal and anyone who is genuinely anti-Trident will welcome that.
There is an economic case and a defence case against renewal, but we should always begin with the moral case, which is well summed up by the former foreign minister of Australia, Gareth Evans. He said:
“The fact remains that the existence of nuclear weapons as a class of weapons threatens the whole of civilization. This is not the case with respect to any class or classes of conventional weapons. It cannot be consistent with humanity to permit the existence of a weapon which threatens the very survival of humanity.”
When we take away the smoke and mirrors, the patriotism and the difficult history that the issue has in Scotland and the UK, it comes down to this: those missiles are designed to kill on an industrial scale. That is wrong, it is repugnant and it is immoral. The answer is not simply to move them from Scotland to England; it makes no difference whether those weapons are based in Faslane, in Barrow or in the US. They are a terrifying threat wherever they are.
It is past time that we in the UK took seriously our obligations under the UN Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. We cannot simply wait for Russia or the US to do it, and we should lead the way.
In November, I helped to host the initial announcement of the report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation here in Parliament. As we have heard, the report sets out the cost of Trident, the cost of getting rid of it—the economic cost, but also the personal cost to those who work with it—and the lengthy history of resistance against it.
There are some people—we have heard them—who say that getting rid of Trident would be an attack on workers, a number of whom are highly skilled, and I understand that point and have some sympathy with it. No one should lose their job due to Trident decommissioning and we must ensure that that is part of any plan. However, as the report states, 600 civilian jobs are directly dependent on the existing Trident system at Faslane and, in a civilised, 21st century society such as Scotland’s, we should be able to redeploy 600 workers into suitable sectors, preferably in or around the existing base. According to the well-researched report, the remaining jobs at HMNB Clyde are for
“work on other submarines and surface ships and are not at risk.”
The report suggests setting up a Scottish defence diversification agency, as proposed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, which would help to redeploy workers and to integrate them into new roles. This week, Unison made the point that some of our most skilled craftspeople should have more socially and economically productive work than on the upkeep of weapons of mass destruction. If people see that a plan is in place, it is much easier to make the argument against renewal and, after this debate, anyone who wants to debate that point can do so with the authors of the report.
The UK Government estimates that renewal of Trident submarines will cost around £31 billion, but the report shows that the lifetime cost of maintenance, staffing and so on will be £205 billion. That price is not worth paying for a deterrent that simply makes us part of the international bully boy club. The economic argument for scrapping Trident seems fairly clear to me. Spending billions on renewing nuclear weapons is wrong at any time, but it is particularly wrong when vicious cuts are being unleashed on so many areas.
Reports such as this only bolster my belief that Trident should not be replaced and my resolve to fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Storing our own weapons of mass destruction is wrong, replacing them is wrong, and using them would be not only wrong, but reckless, despicable and immoral. I congratulate Mike Danson, Karen Gilmore and Geoff Whittam on their report, and our colleague Bill Kidd on bringing the debate to the chamber this evening.17:54
I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing the debate and thank the Jimmy Reid Foundation authors who produced the report that stimulated it. I put on record my opposition to the renewal of Trident.
Much ground has been covered in the debate, so I will focus my remarks on the question of Trident’s supposed independence. Its independence is often asserted, but the assertion is both ill-informed and misleading.
Let us consider what independence means in this context. There are two aspects and the first is the concept of operational independence, whereby the UK has the ability to patrol and launch the missiles. Although it is technically plausible to claim that the UK has that ability, there are significant political complications, to which I will return later in my remarks.
The second crucial aspect of Trident’s independence relates to its procurement and maintenance. Given that the missiles on British Trident submarines are part of a common pool of missiles that is shared with and maintained by the United States, it is understood that
“If the United States were to withdraw their cooperation completely, the UK nuclear capability would probably have a life expectancy measured in months rather than years.”
Those are not my words, but the words of the cross-party Trident commission that was co-chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Sir Menzies Campbell and Lord—formerly Des—Browne, two of whom are former UK defence secretaries.
That means, in the words of Professor Colin Gray, who was cited by the cross-party commission, that the
“British nuclear deterrent ... is hostage to American Good Will ... the dependency”
Writing in 2014, the commission stated:
“It might be difficult today to imagine circumstances where the United States would cease to have a strong interest in the strategic survival of Europe”,
but it went on to say, rather presciently, that there was a doubt
“related to the possibility that isolationist tendencies that have always existed within the United States could strengthen again ... US interests are different from British or European ones.”
Given recent developments in American politics, I am sure that members will wish to reflect upon those serious points.
There are two aspects to operational independence: technical operational independence and political operational independence. Although the technical aspects of operational independence are difficult to verify from information that is in the public domain, I believe that it is possible to say something on the question of political operational independence, which is already compromised by the complete lack of independence in procurement and maintenance.
The power to authorise the launch of an armed Trident missile rests with the UK Government. The most likely scenario in which such authorization would be given is a US-led NATO strike against a nuclear-armed state aggressor. In such a scenario UK participation would be not only tokenistic but strategically unnecessary. The UK does not impact upon the strategic balance and it can be argued that, from a NATO perspective, resources would be better deployed on conventional forces, such as for anti-submarine warfare in the north Atlantic.
The UK’s membership of NATO vitiates the argument of deterrence, given that the US is the effective nuclear guarantor of article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
The final argument adduced in favour of Trident is one described by the cross-party commission as
“future circumstances in which”
the UK faces
“a strategic threat where the extended US nuclear deterrent is under question, but in which the United States would not obstruct the UK exercising its independent operation.”
Such a situation is all but impossible to conceive, but there is a useful historical example to demonstrate how such a scenario could play out. During the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy stated:
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
In making that statement, Kennedy made it clear that the Soviet Union would not be able to limit the theatre of any nuclear exchange to North America and the Caribbean. Any launch from Cuba would be regarded as an aggressive act by not just Cuba but the USSR.
Were an aggressor nation to be faced with the threat of a unilateral nuclear strike from the UK, in the face of annihilation it would have nothing to lose in stating that it would regard any such action as an attack by NATO and the United States. The cross-party commission notes:
“extended nuclear deterrence is inherently problematic ... requiring the sponsor”—
in this case the United States—
“to risk their own cities’ destruction to protect an ally whose actions they may not agree with”.
It is clear that, if such a scenario were to transpire, the United States would do all that it could to obstruct a unilateral British strike and would make the pressure applied to the UK during the Suez crisis pale in comparison.
Unfortunately time limits me, but I hope that with my remarks I have succeeded in convincing some members that it is simply not sustainable to describe the UK’s nuclear deterrent as “independent”.17:59
I, too, thank Bill Kidd for lodging his motion. I fear that we will come to the matter from different angles, but I am grateful for the chance to discuss it.
My thought process on nuclear weapons goes back to the 1980s, when I was a soldier in the British Army in the Rhine. We were deployed there to prevent the incursion of the Russian Army and we were outnumbered by six to one; in fact, the Russian Third Echelon troops alone outnumbered our entire force. Our job out there was to form a bridge to stop the Russians coming in and to wait for air support from the USA. We would have needed to delay them for five days, for which we had a plan based on holding them at the Fulda Gap. At that stage, the Russians knew that our plan was to hold them there, and their plan was to get us out of the way as quickly as possible. We practised in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare so that we would be able to defend against anything that they threw at us. As horrific as it might seem—I agree that such things are abhorrent—we had to be prepared. We knew that if we delayed the Russians for anything like four days, the response would be nuclear or chemical weapons to get rid of us.
At that stage, the UK had approximately 560 nuclear weapons spread between battlefield nuclear weapons, which were Lance missiles, tactical nuclear weapons, which were airborne missiles, and strategic deterrent in the form of submarines. That is a lot of nuclear weapons and it was, and is, a frightening thought.
I was therefore delighted when, in 1991, Boris Yeltsin came to power and we saw the end of the cold war. We started to knock back the number of nuclear weapons. In fact, we knocked back so considerably that the figure dropped to 180 nuclear weapons. When we get to the successor programme, we will go down to 120 nuclear weapons. That is a 79 per cent reduction in the number of nuclear weapons that we have. No other country in the world has reduced nuclear weapons to that level.
If any member had wanted to interrupt me there, I would have taken an intervention because there is actually one such country: Ukraine. Overseen by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on 5 December 1994, Ukraine signed the Budapest memorandum, when it agreed that it would unilaterally give up all its nuclear weapons and rely on the Soviet Union or America to protect it. As we know, that did not happen.
Will the member take an intervention?
I am sorry, but my time is so short. I might in a moment, if I can develop my point a bit more.
At the moment, our army of 82,000, with an American army of 535,000 has fewer soldiers in the field than North Korea. In fact, North Korea has 1.7 million soldiers in arms and 7.7 million soldiers in reserve. China has 2.8 million regulars and goodness knows how many reserves—just about all of them could become reserves. The Russian army has 771,000 regulars and 2 million reserves.
It is therefore right that we should have an ultimate deterrent. To me, the argument that we should not have one is not right: it is about how we manage it. The argument is about whether we should have three or four boats. I believe that three boats would be sufficient and that, at 4 per cent to 5 per cent of the UK defence budget, the running costs are perfectly manageable.
Will the member give way?
I am sorry but I am running out of time. I do not believe that Trident is a dangerous weapon. I have guarded nuclear weapons and I know the care that is taken of them. I therefore support having nuclear weapons as a weapon of very last resort and ultimate deterrent. I believe that to give that up would be extremely dangerous.18:03
I thank Bill Kidd for bringing the debate. He is a consistent campaigner and someone who seeks to build bridges on this issue.
I say to Edward Mountain that the idea of a nuclear weapon that is not dangerous is a novel concept to me.
Politics is about debating the big issues of the day—hearing counterarguments and attempting to influence people and win them over to a position through strength of argument. This is one of the big issues. For those of us who are opposed to Trident renewal, that is our task. In Parliament, the Scottish Labour Party, the SNP and the Green Party are opposed to Trident renewal. The political task for us should now be to convince others. I want the Liberals to be on board and, as a socialist, I am always an optimist, so I urge the Tories to join us in opposition to Trident renewal. However, if Rona Mackay thinks that her speech is the way to bring people together and grow a coalition against Trident, she might want to reconsider.
We will not build that coalition through moral indignation. The argument will be won when we are able to address defence, economic and other concerns head on and can reassure those who are worried and who will be directly affected, whether they be workers on the Clyde, business owners around Faslane or people who are fearful about the country’s defences. We need to convince those people that we have the answers to those fears.
The arguments are there to be won. The military argument grows weaker by the day. Now, ex-generals, field marshals including Lord Bramall, and General Ramsbottom say that changes in international politics make Trident an irrelevance.
I very much take the point that there are some military generals who might argue against Trident. However, none of the people who have been mentioned have been regular soldiers—actually serving—within the past five years. Has Neil Findlay got an example of someone from the past five years who would support his argument?
The people whom I mentioned have operated at the very highest levels of the armed forces, and former defence secretaries of all parties are also coming on board. There is a growing case against Trident, and the military argument grows weaker. Major General Patrick Cordingley, who led British forces in the first Gulf war, said:
“Strategic nuclear weapons have no military use. It would seem the government wishes to replace Trident simply to remain a nuclear power alongside the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council. This is misguided and flies in the face of public opinion; we have more to offer than nuclear bombs.”
The people whom I have mentioned identify cybercrime, climate change and terrorism as the main threats to our security. It is on those issues that any defence investment should be focused.
For me, the jobs argument is one of the most important remaining arguments that we have to nail. In this debate, the workers and communities who are affected by Trident are a key consideration: we want them to join us in the cause of disarmament. We have to give assurances to local supply-chain companies, small businesses, engineers, technicians and fabricators that we have a genuine plan to create new jobs for every worker—not imaginary jobs, but jobs with a guaranteed future. With £205 billion, surely we can do that. It cannot be beyond the wit of woman and man to use that eye-watering sum of money for things that will benefit humanity and not—if the weapons were ever to be used—destroy it.
According to the Scottish Parliament information centre, around 15,000 jobs across the UK are associated with Trident, and the Jimmy Reid Foundation paper says that the figure is 11,000 jobs—a mix of direct jobs, supply-chain jobs and jobs in local associated services. Using those figures, we can say that every job costs between £14 million and £18 million. As a job creation scheme, that does not represent good value for money over the lifetime of the contract—leaving aside the fact that we are talking about something that we hope never to use, because using it would wipe out the human race.
I welcome the Jimmy Reid Foundation report as a contribution to the debate. I look forward to a world that is free of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. I believe that all of us in here want to live in peace and solidarity with our fellow human beings.18:08
I thank Bill Kidd for bringing this issue to the chamber.
Times have changed since the cold war. The UK Government’s own national security strategy identifies terrorism, cyber-warfare and natural disasters as greater threats to national security than nuclear warfare. However, the UK Government still wants to renew Trident, even though it knows fine well that it is outdated and ineffective in the face of those major threats to global security.
Not only does Trident fail to enhance our security in the 21st century, it fundamentally undermines it. If the UK can argue that Trident is essential for its security, can other states not reach the same logical conclusion? The UK’s refusal to give up Trident shows a blatant disregard for the principles of the non-proliferation treaty to which it is a signatory.
There is clearly a strong moral and ethical case against nuclear weapons. Their use can never satisfy the principles of just war theory, because of their disproportionate force and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians. Let me put it into perspective: the destructive power of one Trident missile is estimated to be the equivalent of eight Hiroshimas, and each of the UK’s four nuclear submarines carries 16 Trident missiles. We know that Trident is both powerful and indiscriminate. If it was used, it would kill millions of innocent men, women and children, and it would affect the health of future generations.
One issue that we face in the Highlands is the storing and transporting of nuclear material. That should be a lesson to us all not to burden and endanger future generations with the decisions that we make today. Right now in the Highlands, we have US Air Force cargo planes transporting weapons-grade uranium from Dounreay on the north coast to the US. The material came to Scotland for safe storage from behind the iron curtain at the end of the cold war. Last year, David Cameron did a deal with President Obama; now, we are sending that material to Trump. Although many people in the constituency are very glad to see it go and not to have the burden of keeping it safe for the next 100,000 years, many have expressed concerns about safety and security, particularly as the airport runway is too short for such a big plane to take off from, so refuelling at a base in Moray is needed before that particular cargo crosses the Atlantic.
The extraordinary cost of Trident diverts resources from conventional defence. In Scotland, all the investment is being stripped out and, with the closure of Fort George in the Highlands, we will be left with no personnel. Sure, some will visit us to use the bombing ranges, and the deeply unpopular nuclear submarine will still go up and down our coast, disrupting our fishermen.
Like Tom Arthur, I wonder whether our independent nuclear deterrent is really independent. The debacle of the recent failed test showed us that, because of US Government involvement, the people of the United States are better informed about Trident than we are. Polls have consistently shown that the majority of Scots oppose Trident, and the Scottish Parliament and most political parties in Scotland oppose Trident. There is a fundamental issue of democracy here.
In summary, Trident diverts resources, it is ineffective, it is immoral, it is dangerous, it is not independent, and we do not want it. Let us not have it.18:12
As ever in the chamber we have heard informed and passionate debate against Trident, as well as its successor programme, and indeed against all nuclear weapons. Like others, I commend Bill Kidd for again bringing the matter for debate in the chamber. I echo his words to those in the public gallery today and to those who have been involved in the report, which very effectively demolishes the arguments of Jackie Baillie and her claims for jobs dependent on the successor programme.
We have had something of a minimax thing. On the one hand, we have heard Jackson Carlaw minimising the cost, I believe, referring to it as being 20p in every £100—and then quietly adding that that is over the next 40 years. It is a hard way to try and describe £205 billion and what that means to people. We have heard the maximisation argument from Jackie Baillie, referring to jobs—not just the number of jobs but the idea that jobs are the argument. She made one or two introductory comments about multilateralism, as she usually does, and then her speech was all about jobs. There is no way on earth, as Alison Johnstone and others have said, that we can justify expenditure of £205 billion on the number of jobs that are said to be dependent.
Above all, as has been said, the main opposing argument is that nuclear weapons are morally wrong. They are morally wrong for a number of reasons, in particular their indiscriminate nature. It is not possible to launch a strike with nuclear weapons and restrict it to those we would see as being our enemy without taking in huge numbers of civilian and, often, innocent populations. They are indiscriminate, and they are devastating in their impact.
Given that, it was interesting when I asked Maurice Corry which countries should be allowed to have such weapons and he replied:
“Those that show proper control”.
I am sure that, if he thinks about it a bit longer, he will quickly think of countries that could quite conceivably have “proper control”—whatever he means by that—over nuclear weapons but which he would not want to see anywhere near having nuclear weapons. The point that I was trying to make was: how do we decide who is deserving and who is responsible enough to have nuclear weapons, and who is not? If we cannot do that, it is hypocritical to say that we can have them but others cannot.
Nuclear weapons are extremely expensive, and there are consequences of that expense in terms of opportunities forgone. Many members have mentioned social programmes, but we can even just restrict it to the military aspects, I met senior military figures this afternoon, and they were talking about the cuts to defence services—cuts that have taken place over many years. P45s were seen being handed out to soldiers in Afghanistan who were on active duty. Soldiers in Afghanistan had also told them that the regiments from Scotland that they had joined were being abolished or merged. Those are the effects of the cuts. Those are the opportunity costs, even if we just restrict them to the military, of expenditure on Trident and nuclear weapons. That is one of the reasons why, as Neil Findlay said, so many former serving personnel, who have to be quite quiet about what they say, and senior political figures who have been involved in defence have now said that it is not worth the candle in many different ways.
As members will know, in July last year the UK Government voted in favour of the Trident successor programme despite all but one Scottish MP voting against renewal. As members will also be aware, in January this year The Sunday Times led with a story that there had been a misfire of a Trident test missile one month before that vote, which the UK Government chose not to disclose. There was a light-hearted exchange about missiles going off in the wrong direction, but we should just think about the consequences had that missile had warheads on it and been fired in anger. Think about the consequences. It could quite easily have come back on to the very people we were seeking to defend in deploying it against somebody else.
In fairness—I know that the cabinet secretary has military experience, exactly as I do—it is true that all weapons will, at some stage, misfire. The whole point is that there are fail-safe mechanisms in place for any weapon—apart from small arms—that allow the missile to be detonated to get rid of it. In the incident to which the cabinet secretary refers, the missile did not have a nuclear weapon on top of it—the MOD was simply testing the missile system. Will he accept that missiles sometimes go wrong and that it is important to test them?
Of course I accept that; there are lengthy processes for testing weapons of all different descriptions. I am talking about the consequences. If an SA80 rifle misfires, that will do damage to the person who is firing it. If a Trident nuclear missile misfires, the consequences are felt by hundreds of thousands, or millions, of people. It is a question of scale, and the reports to which I referred are deeply worrying.
Will the member take an intervention on that point?
I suspect that you have to, cabinet secretary. [Laughter.]
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and cabinet secretary for taking the intervention.
I have pursued the issue of nuclear testing for 10 years with numerous Governments, be they Labour or Tory. When will the UK Government abide by the rules, take responsibility and compensate the nuclear test veterans who were used as guinea pigs at Christmas Island? People have been genetically modified: they have lost children and have had all sorts of health conditions because of those tests, which were done without any real oversight. The UK Government needs to take responsibility for those people.
That was a long intervention, Ms McKelvie, and not absolutely on point.
The cabinet secretary will not mind.
I entirely agree with the member.
The tests to which I referred were not disclosed to Parliament—that is the important point. All previous missile tests were publicised by the MOD, and it is of serious concern that the information about the misfire incident was not disclosed before the vote on Trident. Even now, the Secretary of State for Defence refuses to confirm or deny that such an incident took place. I do not know whether he realises how foolish that makes him look, given that the information is readily available to people in the United States. He did not confirm that the incident took place when he was called to account in the House of Commons. He simply stated:
“we have absolute confidence in ... our independent nuclear deterrent”.—[Official Report, House of Commons, 23 January 2017; Vol 778, c 463.]
I do not think that that is the case; Tom Arthur gave a very good speech on the putative independence of the system. The refusal to acknowledge the incident is unacceptable, and the Scottish Government calls for full disclosure from the UK Government.
As we have heard, there are various estimates of the figures involved. Crispin Blunt, a Conservative MP, mentioned a figure of £180 billion, and others have referred to a cost of £205 billion. Replacing Trident will lead to billions of pounds being wasted, and that is money that could be better spent elsewhere.
One of the most compelling arguments is the one that was made by Maree Todd and others. This Parliament has had a number of votes over the past six years in which it has clearly expressed its opposition to the basing of such weapons in this country. We have also had 58—or maybe 57—of the 59 MPs from Scotland voting against it. That is a pretty explicit expression of the will of the people of Scotland.
Worse than that is the fact that the weapons are based here in this country. The consequences of a rogue missile or a test that goes wrong will be felt here. This week, the MOD said that it has looked at whether the weapons should be based in Devonport and has ruled that out because it is not safe enough for the local population. What does that say to people in west-central Scotland? Jackson Carlaw is shaking his head, but maybe he has an answer.
What does it say about the relative value that is put on the lives and livelihoods of people in west-central Scotland that, specifically on 7 November, the MOD announced that there will be a 20 per cent reduction in the defence estate in Scotland? Those cuts will have far-reaching economic and social impacts. For example, as the report highlights, the removal of the Army from Fort George, near Inverness, after a 200-year history in that area will result in more than 700 job losses and approximately a £20 million loss of income to the local economy.
The report also questions the impact—
The cabinet secretary will have to close, I am afraid.
—on jobs. As Neil Findlay and others have said, that is a very real concern, although the report that has been produced goes in some detail into the possibility that those jobs can be safeguarded. We have a strong system of business support available through Scottish Enterprise and other organisations to make sure that diversification can happen.
Finally, I would like to stress to the chamber that the Royal Navy and its personnel have the full support of the Scottish Government, as we support all our armed forces and their highly professional and skilled personnel. Our opposition remains to the possession, the threat and the use of a weapon system that is strategically and economically wrong, and whose use would bring unspeakable humanitarian suffering and widespread environmental damage. The Scottish Government therefore continues its commitment to the safe and complete withdrawal of Trident from Scotland. We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to cancel its plans for the renewal of Trident, and we will continue to do so.
That concludes the debate. I thank all members for their contributions in the debate, and I close this meeting.Meeting closed at 18:22.