Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Chest wig

Today an alliance of the SNP/Plaid Cymru/Greens has tabled a motion calling for Trident not to be renewed.  This has been branded as a 'stunt' by many Labour MPs, most of whom will not be in the House of Commons for the debate and who will therefore not be voting on it.  One honourable exception is Katy Clark, who ran against Kezia Dugdale for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.  She will be voting for the motion.

The Trident programme was announced in 1980 and began patrols in 1994.  It consist of four Vanguard-class submarines each carrying a maximum of eight missiles and 40 warheads, which are intended to provide 'the minimum effective nuclear deterrent as the ultimate means to deter the most extreme threat.'  There are various safeguards and checks in place to ensure that the missiles are fired only after following a series of steps.  However, if the submarine commander has reason to think that the UK government is no longer operational (and one of the checks is whether BBC Radio 4 is still broadcasting), they are able to retrieve letters of last resort written by the Prime Minister and follow those instructions.

The motion proposed by the SNP/Plaid Cymru/Greens has arisen because the submarines have a life expectancy of approximately 25 years, meaning they will be due for replacement in the 2020s.  Discussions are currently taking place on whether to extend the life of the Vanguard-class submarines, replace them with a new submarine design or replace them with a modified design.

The option that is not being discussed by any of the major parties is that of simple not replacing Trident at all.  The Liberal Democrats would prefer to look at less costly options, but still believe that the UK needs to have a nuclear deterrent.  They are all in favour of us retaining our manly chest wig equivalent.

Really a step back needs to be taken here.  We are a set of small islands on the western fringes of Europe.  We once had an empire that spanned the globe, but these days we are of very small account to large powers such as the US, Russia and China.  Psychologically, however, our politicians are still wedded to the idea  of Britain 'punching above its weight' and having a seat at the top table in the UN Security Council.  The reality is somewhat different.

Most European nations do not have a nuclear deterrent and manage perfectly well without one.  We could do that too.  Getting rid of Trident would mean we no longer have to have weapons of mass destruction stored near Scotland's largest city, and no longer have to have convoys of warheads travelling through Scotland's most populated areas.

Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrats have both said that they want to look at cheaper alternatives to Trident.  Well here's an idea - how about not having one?  Can't get much cheaper than that.

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