2016 will be the crunch year for Trident – the year when the UK parliament will decide whether to go ahead with the replacement programme for the submarine-based nuclear weapons system.
After that the main contracts will be signed and it will be harder to stop. Not that the Government is waiting. It has already spent £1.2bn on ‘long lead’ items such as the propulsion system and the missile compartment – in an attempt to tie the hands of the next government. But the big money – around £30bn procurement costs – will be only be committed after the main contracts are signed next year.
With a further round of even deeper welfare cuts in the pipeline if the Conservatives get back into power, the stakes could hardly be higher. The £100bn lifetime cost of Trident is perhaps the most appalling misuse of public funds ever. The £3bn annual running costs could fund 6 state of the art hospitals, 150,000 new nurses and teachers or 180,000 new jobs in housing construction a year.
This is a weapon designed to fight the wars of a bygone bipolar world. But the world is now multi-polar. Even senior military figures admit it is militarily useless. Despite the constant bracketing of the word ‘Trident’ with ‘deterrent’ our possession of nuclear weapons has deterred no one – not Galtieri over the Falklands, not Milosevic over Kosovo, not Saddam Hussain over Kuwait and certainly not Putin over Ukraine. The truth is that no one believes they can be used. And by simply possessing them we put our own citizens and others at risk of humanitarian catastrophe. So why have them?
Two weeks ago 4,000 people attended a Scrap Trident rally in Glasgow – the biggest event of its kind for years. Repeat polls show that opposing Trident is no vote loser – quite the opposite. That’s why this election is so important. It is about electing the maximum number of MPs who will commit to voting against Trident.
And for Scottish voters there are several options – and pitfalls. One of these is to secure a bloc of nationalist MPs in the hope that they will hold the balance of power in the event that Labour is the biggest party. And the ‘red line’ issue for their support would be scrapping the Trident programme. That does sound attractive. There is already widespread internal Labour Party opposition to Trident and, according to a recent poll, 75% of its general election candidates oppose Trident and would vote against it. Could this tip the balance and force a Labour leadership to rethink its position? It is possible.
But this is a high risk strategy. An equally likely outcome, perhaps more so since gains for the SNP would come principally at Labour’s expense, is that the nationalist intervention would prevent a Labour victory and result in a Tory government. Either way, it could play well for the SNP. Another 5 years of savage Tory austerity from a government that Scots did not elect could see support building for independence as the only way to deliver the Scottish people from Tory tyranny.
Across Europe, people are losing faith in social democratic parties which have failed to protect their people from austerity and neo-liberal economics during the deepest recession in living memory. In its former Scottish heartland, disillusion with Labour is particularly widespread.
But none of this should blind working people to an uncomfortable truth. No matter the plethora of parties and possible post-election coalitions, this election will present only two real choices – a Labour or a Tory government. A Tory government would make it virtually certain that Trident would go ahead in its present form.
Moreover, this election is about much more than Trident. Another 5 years of Tory rule will devastate the lives of people on both sides of the Tweed, shrink, fragment and privatise what is left of the welfare state and force through new anti-union legislation which could fatally wound the only organisation capable of leading the fightback. There was never a time when the old dictum – vote SNP, get Tory – was more relevant.