18 Jul 2016
July 18, 2016


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In my earlier days as a Labour MP I voted as whipped for Trident replacement. Later on, when I thought about it properly, I opposed Trident replacement (and was a member of the anti-Trident group along with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell) on the grounds that the political argument for its retention didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Since we acquired nukes, all parties have based that possession upon only one thing – staying close to the US and, by extension having a bigger say in world affairs. However, Iraq has shown that we don’t get much from the US for special loyalty and Germany’s power in the world shows that a state doesn’t need nukes to have serious status. After 70 years, it’s time we thought again about the issue, surely?

Trident isn’t a defence issue in itself, of course, because there’s no scenario where a UK government would go against US wishes and nuke a developing state (if the US were in agreement, they’d do it themselves). In the UK, Trident is only counted as defence insofar as it keeps us above the 2% of GDP figure we sort of view as an important marker – but otherwise at the MoD only the Navy pretends it’s truly a defence issue. That’s because a decision not to renew would have serious implications for its configuration and prestige.

The Labour Party has never been able to jettison its support for Trident because, first, it has (rightly) always feared that it would not be trusted on Defence as a consequence. Chris Mullin writes about that here. In other words, as Chris writes, only the Tories can kill Trident off. But there’s another reason Labour finds it hard to say goodbye to nukes, and that’s the union jobs the programme assures. Of course, it would be possible to argue that a serious effort an economic diversification away from nuke production could provide jobs in other manufacturing sectors, but no-one could guarantee that the putative new jobs created would be in the same few constituencies where the nuke jobs would be lost. The GMB Union is understandably making this point today.

For now, with the Tories mainly not up for scrapping Trident, Labour can’t support that either and won’t. But for Scots, it’s academic. An independent Scotland would have no interest in owning nukes any more than Sweden or Norway do. As for nuke assets based in Scotland – that would take many years to re-organise so although this may sound cynical there’d be no job loss until such a time as real alternative jobs had been created in other industries via a genuine, if modest, Scottish diversification effort (or a reconfiguration of NATO assets in Scotland, as the SNP argues for).

For Scottish MPs, voting against Trident today is really a no-brainer if that vote in is Scotland’s interest. If that vote is cast on the basis of internal party warfare or a cabinet minister’s party loyalty, then that’s fair enough at a certain level as long as everyone understands that those folk chose something other than Scotland’s interests as their priority.