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Monday, 2 January 2012

Nuclear bases, nuclear subs and Trident–a complex defence question for independence

The Today programme of Friday 30th December 2011, focusing on the defence implications of independence, with contributions by Lord Forsyth, Lord West, First Sea Lord and Angus Robertson MP seems to me a highly significant marker on the course to Scotland’s independence.

It illustrates how media works in this new media age, and Marshall McLuhan’s prescient words of over half a century ago acquire new force every day.  The Today programme on BBC Radio Four goes out in the early morning. It catches the early morning commuters who listen to something important in the morning than the turgid sea of mediocre to awful pop groups that seems to obsess so many young to not-so-young professionals (if Twitter is anything to go by) who should have developed better taste by this time.

I tend to miss it, because when I listen to radio at that time, it tends to be BBC Radio Scotland. I was alerted to this broadcast on the iPlayer by Twitter. I replayed it on the iPlayer and it seemed fairly interesting to me, but it was clearly necessary to isolate the three contributions from the totality of the three hour programme, scattered like currents in a dumpling as they were, and group them as a single sound clip for comparison purposes. This forced me to listen again, and I found new aspects second time around. I then prepared them as a YouTube sound clip, which involved another listening, and a third level of understanding.

I decided to then isolate the Angus Robertson contribution to permit rapid access for those who only wanted to hear the SNP position, and this fourth listening revealed new nuances.

This then led me to transcribing the broadcast clips for the purpose of commenting in my blog, and this slow process involved yet another level of understanding.

So what started out as a series of radio studio comments early in the morning – one medium, the broadcast spoken word became a second medium, the repeat on iPlayer, a third medium, the YouTube sound clips and a fourth medium, good old fashioned text – the written word.

The kernel of the broadcast for me was the nuclear issue – in more ways than one – because it matters fundamentally to me, and bluntly, to the world. It again clarified in my mind the vital distinction between nuclear-powered submarines not carrying WMDs and those that do – the delivery system for the obscene Trident weapons system.

Cutting through all the sentimental crap about Britishness and British identity, about fiscal and financial matters, this is what matters to the British Establishment – their nukes, the badge of their power, their claim to being a global power, and frankly, a money machine for the whole sordid apparatus of Westminster, the M.O.D. and the military/industrial complex. Trident is the ultimate symbol of the deliberately paranoia-inducing Unionist state, the state with its operating principle as perpetual war, perpetual fear of a nameless aggressor. This is what they fear losing, this is why Scotland’s independence strikes terror in their hearts.

And that is why Scotland must lose its WMDs – its nuclear bases. But –the picture is not a simple one. I have reprinted below my September blog on the nuclear-powered subs vs nuclear-powered subs carrying missiles aspect of this debate, crucial to the UK, to the US, to NATO and crucial to Scotland.


NUCLEAR (My blog of 22nd September 2011)

The nuclear lobby has been lying low since Fukushima, after an initial bout of futile propaganda, but they’ve crept out of their nuclear shelters since then, and are beginning the insidious fightback – radiation’s not so bad really, it may even be good for you, the real threat to humanity is wind farms polluting the landscape, alternative energy will never work, the wind doesn’t always blow, the waves don’t always wave, etc.

The symbiotic twin of nuclear energy, the WMD industry, is also out and about, alarmed at the prospect of losing their WMD dumping ground, Scotland, and the vital submarine bases. I was more than disturbed that the SNP government seems to be rather less hostile to nuclear submarines and appeared to be welcoming the retention of nuclear submarine bases in Scotland as part of the defence-as-job-creation scheme thinking that regularly pollutes and distorts rational debate of defence matters.

Now I accept that there are difficult moral questions when one comes to weaponry, because it is designed to kill and maim other human beings, and the scale of horror from, say, the flamethrower, designed to burn alive another human to the baton, designed to inflict a sore head, involves moral dilemmas and choices even in individual cases. Unless one rejects all defence concepts for a nation and all conventional weaponry – I don’t – choices have to be made.

When one comes to the incinerations of millions and the pollution of the planet, human imagination quails, and human morality often fails. I am become Death – the destroyer of worlds.” The Bhagavad Gita, quoted by Robert Oppenheimer as the full horror of what the implications of his work dawned on him as he observed the first nuclear explosion. This choice should be simple, and for me and many others, it is – starkly simple.

But as a nuclear-powered submarine is not a weapon in itself – it is the carrier of a weapon or weapons system, and the nuclear reactor that powers it is not a weapon – why should we object to it, especially if it provides jobs?

Well firstly, I reject the defence as job creation scheme argument, and believe that defence policy and expenditure should be based solely on defence considerations. But the UK is deeply in the grip of the military/industrial complex and the armaments industry, and all our politicians are infected by this kind of thinking. It is the kind of thinking that powers graft and corruption wherever and whenever it occurs.

Secondly, I believe the retention of nuclear-power submarines in Scotland is the thin edge of a nuclear wedge – it compromises the SNP’s position on nuclear power and WMDs.

Nuclear power is unacceptably dangerous. A young serviceman, armed and drunk, attacked his shipmates and killed his officer on a nuclear submarine recently. He has just been sentenced to 25 years for this crime. A recent television documentary on nuclear subs showed a crew member being disciplined for drunkenness on board the the sub. It’s not so long ago since two armed nuclear subs crashed into each other on the high seas.

This is the nuclear reality that nuclear proponents would like to slide over, with their emphasis on the safety of the systems and procedures. No system is safe against human fallibility, against human error, not to mention human greed and corruption in defence and civil nuclear contracts in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment. The nuclear error is one that humanity cannot afford to make – other errors pale into insignificance beside it. But we have politicians who are the moral and intellectual equivalent of a five-year old playing with a loaded gun or a live grenade.

Keep nuclear, in all its manifestation, out of our new Scotland.

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