A TIPPING POINT FOR TRIDENT?

Events in the last few days and weeks may finally have seen the dawn of sanity over the Trident renewal programme.  With the Scottish parliament voting overwhelmingly to reject a new generation, the Scottish Labour conference begging to differ with its UK comrades on the subject, and senior Tories querying the wisdom of an austerity strapped nation throwing £167 billions at one controversial project, we may just have reached a tipping point.

Add into these events the parade of retired service chiefs openly questioning the value of Trident - now that their pensions are safe - and the Americans, whose system it effectively is, also suggesting that the programme is fatally wounding the UK's capacity to respond to international demands for conventional forces and there's little doubt  the debate has entered a critical stage.

As has been the way of these things over many administrations of different political colours, billions has already been ploughed into the research and development of a renewal which the UK parliament has yet to endorse. Those of us with long memories can remember a Defence ministry led by the late Denis Healey rubber stamping the upgrading of a previous generation of nuclear weaponry without bothering to trouble the elected members for approval.

The case against Trident is now overwhelming.  It is, and always was, morally reprehensible and illegal under international law given its self evident inability to discriminate between civilian and military casualties which, in either case, would run into millions.  

It is strategically obsolete in terms of current threats - it cannot combat cyber terrorism (though its own firing codes could fall victim to it), it is futile against suicide bombers who, by definition, don't see death as a deterrent, it drains vital sums from our armed services leaving us with a minimalist army unable to shore itself up with enough reservists, an air force with only some elderly planes, and a navy with more admirals than ships.  

Of course we do have two shiny new aircraft carriers under construction.  Just a pity we don't have anything  of our own to launch from them.

Outside of defence spending, every non ring fenced Westminster department is currently having to model cuts of between 25 and 40 per cent on the instructions of an ideologically driven Treasury. Meanwhile parts of the health service struggle to keep afloat, police forces battle falling numbers, students in parts of the UK pile up eye watering debts,  and the rug is pulled from under programmes to keep poorer children in education longer.

Most disgracefully of all, a fraction of the Trident budget is being wilfully pulled from the Department of Work and Pensions, cheered on by Iain Duncan Smith its appallingly short sighted  Secretary of State. !2 Billions may not buy you a lot of missiles at todays prices, but it's certainly enough to devastate millions of low waged families.

Tony Blair's memoir confirms that he too was unpersuaded by strategic arguments for Trident, but gung ho to keep his ticket to the top table.  You might well think we would gain rather more influence by publicly sticking to the terms of the nuclear non proliferation treaty.  The world already has an alarming number of nations - many of them historically unstable - who possess nuclear weapons.  Upgrading our own capability is hardly likely to persuade them to scale down theirs.

At Holyrood only the remaining Lib Dems and Tories voted for renewal alongside the solitary labour rebel. Jackie Baillie is the MSP for the area which encompasses the Faslane and Coulport nuclear bases.  I have no doubt she genuinely wants to protect local jobs.  Equally I have no doubt that she especially wants to protect her own.

The proposed diversification programmes to re-direct skills and talent at the bases may not save all the current jobs there.  The all purpose defence HQ there envisaged by the current government in the event of independence will doubtless involve change and redeployment.

But keeping Trident has also cost jobs.  It has cost us airforce bases and the jobs of many civilians dependent on them. It has lost us new generations of aircraft too.  It has cost us army numbers. It has been the big ticket expenditure which has impacted on every area of public spending including the Scottish block grant.

But above all else it is indefensible. Who and what could possibly justify killing millions of innocent people? Who would really press that button?  And if the answer is no sane person then why on earth would you squander tens of billions on it?