So much for accentuating the positive. Barely a week into 2013 and we’re knee deep in scare stories already. Though it has to be said that this year some are scarier than others. Last week’s shock horror report from the Treasury claiming that Scots would lose £1 a year if they voted to leave the Union didn’t exactly make the hair stand on end. We’re promised another eleven of these Treasury reports in 2013, which will please the Yes Scotland campaign.
And we’re also being told, once again, that Scotland is going to be thrown out of Europe if we vote for independence. That’s if David Cameron doesn’t get us thrown out first, with his No Surrender speech on Europe next month. The eurosceptic noises coming from the Tory benches have so frightened business leaders like Richard Branson of Virgin that a collection of them have written to the Prime Minister urging him “not to put our membership of the EU at risk”. Funny, I thought it was only Alex Salmond who was allowed to do that.
But fright night would not be complete without the old faithful: Trident jobs losses. West Central Scotland will be devastated if the Scots dare to challenge the presence of weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde. Pick a number, any one will do: 19,000 jobs to go according to anonymous government sources yesterday; 11,000 according to Jackie Baillie, the local Labour MP; and 6,000 according to the Better Together Campaign. Then again, the Scottish Trades Union Congress puts the number of jobs at direct risk from Trident removal at 1,536, based on government figures, and the Ministry of Defence told the Sunday Herald last year that “there are 520 civilian jobs at HM Naval Base Clyde, including Coulport and Faslane, that directly rely on the Trident programme.” . So you pays your money and you takes your choice – around £100bn as it happens. That’s a hell of a job creation programme.
The economics of this are questionable to say the least. If no defence review were to be permitted unless it involved zero job losses we’d still be building Dreadnoughts. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea. At least the World War One battleships were of some conceivable use; we could send them to the Falklands to wind up the Argies. You can’t do that with Trident, which is only useful for destroying Russian cities. In fact, the government could mop up those Trident job losses by building a range of heritage naval vessels, which could double as theme parks when we’re not being threatened by foreigners.
Well, that makes about as much sense as spending tens of billions on an intercontinental ballistic weapons system that has no conceivable target. On the government’s reasoning, the peace dividend that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the superpower arms race was actually a peace PENALTY. Why did no one tell us at the time? The US and Russia must have killed tens of thousands of jobs by scrapping all those ICBMS in the mistaken belief they were making the world a safer place.
And when exactly did Labour become the nuclear weapons party anyway? The last time I looked, Labour was committed to multilateral disarmament under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Didn’t Jim Murphy, the shadow defence spokesman, tell Labour’s policy forum last year that he’s “working for a world free of nuclear weapons”. The truth is out: Jim Murphy is a secret nuclear job killer too – that’s if you believe anything that Labour says about nuclear defence.
Actually, I’m not so sure I believe a lot of what the SNP say about getting rid of nuclear weapons any more. They are supposedly committed to expelling Trident, but their resolve has been weakening since they decided to remain in Nato, which is of course a nuclear alliance. Alex Salmond insists that he would still get rid of Trident from the Clyde – but perhaps not right away. In July the First Minister was quoted as saying: “If [nuclear weapons] are regarded as an asset, which I would find difficult to regard it as, then I am quite certain that we can trade that asset for something more useful”. These negotiations could last some considerable time.
Which sounds very much as if the weapons might be around rather longer than the Scottish Affairs Select Committee in Westminster suggested in its report last hear. The Labour-led committee of Scottish MPs announced that nuclear weapons could be “disarmed within days and removed within months” following a vote for independence. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a threat or a promise. But this week, the Ministry of Defence has said that it doesn’t see this as remotely possible and argues that it would take many years and around £3.5billion to move the submarines to Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Devonport, on the south coast of England, or some other last resting place.
There are many ways of eliminating nuclear weapons. One obvious solution might be to keep the Faslane base, and even the Vanguard Class submarines that carry Trident missiles, but remove the warheads out of Scotland. This decommissioning would be relatively easy to achieve because the nukes have to be transferred south to and from the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire every three years or to be serviced and maintained. Just give them a one way ticket. Job done. The 19,000 jobs scare is only credible if you believe that the UK would abandon the entire Naval infrastructure in the Clyde, which of course does not just service Trident, but will also house a new generation of conventional submarines.
There are many solutions to the problem of removing nuclear weapons and very few of them involve losing tens of thousands of jobs. But in the end, this is surely not an employment issue, but a moral one. Scotland has had weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde now for half a century. No one argues that England should be forced to be nuclear free. But it is surely time for them to look after their own .