Monday, 09 July 2012 22:38
By a Newsnet reporter
A Conservative MP has admitted that Scotland drew the short straw when the UK Government decided to house nuclear weapons on the Clyde.
In an interview with the Real News website, Mark Garnier, the Conservative MP for Wyre Forest in Worcestershire, also admitted that the siting of Trident nuclear missiles in Scotland is "undemocratic", given that opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Scots want rid of the weapons system.
However the privately educated MP went on to argue that "someone is going to draw the short straw", with the implication that the defence policies of Westminster are more important than the democratic will of the Scottish people.
Mr Garnier and his party believe that Westminster's desire to maintain a nuclear weapons capability overrides the desire of Scots to be rid of the weapons of mass destruction.
Asked for a response to the fact that a majority of Scots oppose Trident and want it to be removed from Scotland, Mr Garnier said:
"Arguably it is undemocratic. But we have to look at the protection of the British Isles, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, as well as the Western world.
"You know, someone's going to draw the short straw in that. That's not a very satisfactory answer, I know, to the people in Scotland, but we have to have it somewhere, and Faslane is a deep-water harbour which is where they can go safely."
Conservative MP Mark Garnier on the siting of WMD in Scotland
The renewal of Trident was a Conservative manifesto pledge in the last general election. The party have always maintained that the UK must retain a nuclear weapons capacity.
Labour's position on nuclear weapons is far more confused. While in office, Labour governments have proven as enthusiastic as the Conservatives in their support of nuclear weapons, although some in the party, such as Scottish leader Johann Lamont - while a backbench MSP - have voiced their opposition to nuclear weapons. Ms Lamont has not made a public statement on Trident since becoming Labour's Holyrood leader.
Each Trident warhead has an explosive power equal to 100 kilotons of conventional high explosive, 8 times the power of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. There are four submarines in the Trident programme, each carrying an estimated 8 missiles. Each missile can carry up to 5 warheads, giving the entire system a destructive capacity equal to 1280 Hiroshimas.
It is believed that as many as 250,000 people died as a result of the Hiroshima bomb, those killed in the blast, or who died shortly after due to radiation poisioning, and those who died later due to illnesses caused by exposure to the fallout. The Trident missile system has the potential to kill 320,000,000 people, about half of Europe.
The initial costs of Trident renewal were assessed at between £15–20 billion in an MoD white paper published in 2006. The plans to renew the nuclear weapons system were passed by the House of Commons in March 2007, under a Labour Government. 95 Labour MPs rebelled, but the motion was passed with the support of the Conservatives.
By May 2011, the then Defence Secretary Liam Fox admitted to the House of Commons that the price for constructing the replacement submarines alone was likely to rise to more than £25 billion. This figure does not include the missiles, warheads or running costs of the system over its 30 year lifespan.
According to CND campaigners, once these other items are factored in, the total cost of the renewal of the Trident missile system is likely to surpass £100 billion. The UK Government has committed itself to this expenditure even though it is making drastic cuts in conventional defences, including handing redundancy notices to squaddies and reneging on its promise to re-instate the Scottish regiments axed by Labour.
The missile system has been heavily criticised, not just for cost-overruns, but also because it is claimed it does little or nothing to contribute to the defence of the UK. The missile system, initially named Polaris, was originally designed for the Cold War era, whereas in the modern world the threat of all-out nuclear war between the large powers has receded, and there is a growing threat from terrorist and insurgent groups which require a conventional, intelligence-led, defence response.
The legality of Trident renewal has also been questioned. The anti-nuclear organisation CND has claimed that renewal may contravene the UK Government's obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Critics of renewal additionally point out that if some states renew their nuclear weaponry it encourages proliferation elsewhere. A number of states, most notably Iran, have been accused of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capacity.
Even the Royal United Services Institute, a defence think tank which is traditionally in favour of strong UK defences and has links to the MoD, has expressed reservations the renewal of the nuclear weapons system. In a report published in July 2010, the RUSI assessed "four possible options for maintaining both an effective nuclear deterrent and also reducing costs in light of anticipated budget restrictions."
The paper concludes that "given the opportunity costs for conventional capabilities that current plans for Trident renewal are due to incur over the next decade...there is now a growing case for a re-examination of whether there are less expensive means of pursuing this objective. A key element of such a review is likely to be a reconsideration of the need to maintain a commitment to CASD [Continuous At-Sea Deterrence] in strategic circumstances that are now very different from those in which it was first introduced."
However Mr Garnier's remarks make it very clear that whatever considerations the MoD and the UK Government take into account when making decisions about nuclear weapons, the wishes of the Scottish people do not figure amongst them.