2019 marks 50 years of Britain’s nuclear weapons system, Trident. Theresa May took the opportunity to praise the “independent deterrent” while also affirming Britain’s place in the imperialist NATO alliance. This anniversary has not passed by without criticism. The SNP led a debate in the House of Commons, wherein they called for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
By Shaun Morris, Glasgow Marxists
Trident took centre-stage during the 2014 indyref, representing to Yes voters the very essence of the British ruling class’ warmongering ways and the unequal position of Scotland in the Union. Despite opposition to Trident being stationed in Scotland, represented by the SNP and even the Scottish Labour party, the Faslane naval base is by all accounts an untouchable cornerstone of Britain’s “national security”.
How a world-ending weapon is part of a legitimate defence strategy is never explained. Rather, Trident represents to the ruling class its own sense of power and legitimacy. It’s ideological importance to British chauvinism far outweighs its actual military usefulness. The slogan of “national defence” is as always a means for the bourgeoisie to pull the wool over the workers eyes and pretend that their interests are fundamentally the same.
The false sense of importance that Trident gives the British ruling class was famously pointed out by SNP MP Stewart McDonald during the Westminster debate. Belittling Britain’s boaby, McDonald dubbed Trident renewal a “big willy gesture of a small willy nation”.
As is widely known, Jeremy Corbyn has been opposed to nuclear weapons his entire political life. This draws the ire of the ruling class, who have consistently labelled him a “threat to national security”. Unfortunately, he has compromised with the representatives of the ruling class within his party — the right-wing Blairites in the PLP — meaning the Labour front bench meekly defends Trident.
This compromise on principles is a major source of criticism from the SNP benches in Parliament. This is correct of course, but the SNP cannot escape criticism either. While consistent in their opposition to Trident, the same cannot be said of their opposition to warmongering itself.
Under pressure from the right, the SNP reversed their long-held opposition to NATO in 2012 to the dismay of many rank-and-file members. While decrying the cost of Trident, Stewart McDonald did not take the opportunity to explain how this money could be spent on education, health or other social goods, but instead proclaimed the SNP’s priority as “conventional” weapons.
This raises serious questions for the independence movement. Will an independent Scotland, likely governed by the SNP at first, continue to spend billions on militarism, albeit “conventional” weapons? Considering that NATO is fundamentally an alliance of imperialist powers, what will membership mean for Scotland’s foreign policy? In the past it has even been suggested by SNP figures that while they want to be rid of Britain’s independent nuclear arsenal on the Clyde, they may not be opposed to a nuclear alliance within NATO. How much would such an alliance cost Scottish workers and might it mean nuclear submarines still patrolling the Scottish coast?
As Marxists, we see that only capitalism — marked by war, global inequality and imperialist meddling — could produce such a weapon as a nuclear bomb, which has the power to indiscriminately kill millions. To end the madness of nuclear weapons, we fight for the abolition of capitalism and a more rational, socialist society. No jobs would be lost, and billions of pounds per year would be freed. The 11,500 workers directly employed by trident could be given a pay rise and shorter working days. Their skills could be put into developing thing useful to society. We campaign for this as part of our struggle for a Scottish Workers’ Republic and World Socialist Revolution.