UK's Nuclear Deterrent (18 Jul 2016)

Too often today we have heard that Trident is classed as the ultimate deterrent. Yet the great warmonger, Tony Blair, is already on record as saying that it is a status symbol that “serves no military purpose”. What it means is that some others aspire to have that status symbol. We do not argue that we need to stockpile chemical and biological weapons to deter rogue states, so why do we argue that we need nuclear weapons? If we encourage a reckless gambler to play poker, he will not be afraid to go “all in” with his chips, so why do we argue that we should risk nuclear Armageddon as a possible deterrent? That is not the way to go. The only country ever to have suffered a nuclear attack is Japan, and it has never felt the need to get a nuclear weapon as a deterrent against a future attack. Instead, Japan makes the clear and logical argument that we need to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

The new Successor submarines, we have heard, will cost approximately £200 billion, yet they will not even protect us from the tier 1 threats identified in the 2015 SDSR. For me, it is incomprehensible to have a review that leads to 35% of the defence capital allocation going to a tier 2 threat when at least six higher-ranked risks were identified in the SDSR. Of these tier 1 threats, it is clear that Trident does not protect us from terrorism or from cyber-attacks for which the nuclear systems will be a top target. Some of the arguments we have heard today, such as that nuclear weapons guarantee us peace, are pieces of nonsense.

The argument for job creation, at a cost of £200 billion, is also nonsensical. If we are to believe the figure from the Ministry of Defence, 31,000 jobs will be created over the lifetime of Trident. At £6.5 million per job, that is the most expensive job creation scheme in history. It is actually a job creation scheme in reverse, given that it is risking jobs in the Clyde shipyards, and other men in the conventional forces—in the Army and the Navy—are being paid off to subsidise Trident.

What could we do with that money? We could spend more on renewables fabrication. We could engage in oil exploration off the west coast of Scotland, which nuclear subs have prevented. There would be alternative shipbuilding possibilities. We could invest in carbon capture and storage, and stimulate coal mining again. There could be infrastructure upgrades, and specific regeneration funding for the communities in which losses might be felt most.

Labour Members keep saying that they are worried about losing their heartlands. One of the appealing aspects of the leave vote was the fact that extra money could be spent on the national health service. Labour Members could now go to those heartlands and argue that the £2.4 billion annual cost of Trident—that is £50 million a week—could be spent on the NHS. Labour Members have also said that the argument against Trident was lost in the 1980s, but the SNP have won elections in 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2016 on an anti-Trident platform. Given the Labour party’s internal nuclear warfare, we will go on winning in Scotland: that is a fact.

Part of the thrust of today’s debate has been worry about rogue states. I must say, and I want to put this on the record, that I also worry about the possibility of a Donald Trump, or one of the wannabe Prime Ministers in the Conservative party—Boris Johnson, or Dr Fox—getting his hands on the red button. As Billy Connolly said, you wouldn’t trust them with a TV remote control, let alone that red button.

Let me end by quoting some lines from a song that I listened to last night:

“Cos when the madman flips the switch

The nuclear will go for me.”

Those lines come from “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum”. Nothing has changed since 1981, when it was written, and we certainly should not be signing a blank cheque for Trident.