Speaking for Scotland Against the Monsters

skelmorThe number of times a Trident submarine has had some sort of calamity would be hilarious if it wasn’t so utterly horrifying.

How many times have you read, or heard, some variation of “Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t speak for me” or “the SNP don’t speak for Scotland?” Usually it’s by people who didn’t vote for the SNP. Frequently it’s by people who include non-voters on their side, making preposterous arguments that the SNP are in fact only representing a “tiny minority” of Scots when you include people who didn’t – or couldn’t – go to the ballot box.

I understand when people say that the First Minister, the Scottish Government, or the SNP as a party don’t represent their beliefs, interests, or policies. That’s the nature of party politics. But to say they do not speak for Scotland is rather confusing: for if the democratically elected First Minister, or the democratically elected Scottish Government, or the third largest party in the British Isles, do not speak for Scotland… then who, exactly, does? The next largest party in the Scottish Parliament has barely over a fifth of the popular vote. Same with the third largest, which has been plummeting every year since the Scottish Parliament reconvened. The former third largest party in the UK is now the smallest party in the Scottish Parliament, with less than a tenth of the voters’ support.

Much is made, fairly so, about the SNP gaining 95% of Scottish seats in Westminster based on 50% of the vote. Nonetheless, the SNP candidates in no less than 35 of those constituencies won on an overall majority – which means that 59% of all Scottish seats were represented by individuals with over 50% of the constituency vote. None of the three non-SNP seats were won on anything like such a majority – only a few thousand votes, and Scotland would be entirely yellow.

Nonetheless, social attitudes surveys show that there are situations where the response from those interviewed suggested a divergence between the electorate and the elected. One of these is Trident – and it’s something I think we seriously need to talk about.

I’ve stayed out of the Trident debate lately: nothing I’ve said before has changed, and we don’t need to go over old ground. But something that does need to be addressed is the Scottish peoples’ opinion.

A number of folk say that the SNP don’t represent the people of Scotland when it comes to Trident renewal: mostly they point to the ICM May 2016 poll which showed a tiny majority in favour of maintaining Trident:

Trident, the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons system, is based in Scottish waters. Would you rather it was scrapped or maintained?
Scrapped: 42%
Maintained: 43%
– ICM, 10th May 2016

I don’t think it’s unfair for me to consider this question to be rather ambiguous. What does “maintained” mean in this case? From context it seems clear that the question means “should the UK’s nuclear deterrent be scrapped or maintained,” not Trident itself. But I think it could also be taken to mean Trident should be maintained instead of scrapped in favour of a new generation of nuclear weapons – which is exactly what the vote was about in Parliament this month. People who are particularly invested in nuclear weapons, be they pro- or anti-, will know what is meant by the question, but can the same be said of the general public, who have been inundated with government propaganda and misinformation?

Perhaps some people might have replied “maintained” because they don’t want a new generation of nuclear weapons, and would rather we stick with what we have currently. Conversely, some may have chosen “scrapped” because they do want to replace Trident with a successor nuclear weapons system. When the question doesn’t satisfactorily present the actual argument in front of us – replacing Trident with a successor, or having no more nuclear weapons at all – then it muddies the waters to include an option that could give the false suggestion of a status quo.

This shows just how important a question is in polling, as the wording and focus of the question can easily provide very different answers. I had a look over at What Scotland Thinks, and rummaged through the archives for any question I could find that referenced Trident or nuclear weapons.

Scotland should refuse to allow any successor to the Trident nuclear missile system to be based in Scotland
Agree: 54%
Disagree: 27%
– YouGov, 26th April 2007

Thinking about the issue of nuclear weapons, do you agree or disagree with the following statements? Britain should continue to have its own nuclear weapons
Agree: 44%
Disagree: 40%
YouGov, 8th January 2008

It is right that Scotland pays its fair share towards Britain’s nuclear weapons
Agree: 55%
Disagree: 31%
– YouGov, 8th January 2008

Do you think that the Scottish Parliament should have more powers so that it can bring about the removal of Trident nuclear weapons from Scottish waters?
Yes, I do: 46%
No, I don’t: 35%
– YouGov, 12th October 2012

Are you in favour or against Britain having its own nuclear weapons?
Strongly in favour: 13%
Somewhat in favour: 24%
Neither in favour nor against: 16%
Somewhat against: 18%
Strongly against: 28%
ScotCen, 2013

Assuming for a moment that each statement was accurate, what effect, if any, would that have on the way you would vote in the referendum? … An independent Scotland would not be allowed to be a member of NATO unless it agreed to allow nuclear weapons in its territory
5 – Much more likely to vote for independence: 13%
4: 7%
3: 26%
2: 9%
1 – Much less likely to vote for independence: 30%
Don’t know: 14%
– Panelbase, 21st January 2013

The UK Government plans to replace the existing Trident nuclear weapons with a new system, at a cost of £65 billion. Do you support or oppose the UK Government buying a new nuclear weapons system to replace Trident?
Support: 15%
Oppose: 66%
– TNS-BMRB, 28th February 2013

Britain’s current system of submarine launched nuclear weapons, known as Trident, is coming to the end of its useful life and will soon have to be scrapped or replaced. The cost of replacing Trident has been estimated at 20 to 25 billion pounds. What do you think Britain should do when Trident reaches the end of its useful life?
Britain should replace Trident with an equally powerful nuclear missile system: 24%
Britain should retain a nuclear missile system, but it should be less powerful and cost less than replacing Trident: 29%
Britain should give up nuclear weapons completely: 36%
– Lord Ashcroft Polls, 2nd May 2013

Britain’s nuclear weapon submarines are currently based at the Faslane Naval Base in Scotland. Do you think the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapon submarines should or should not continue to be based in Scotland?
Should continue to be based in Scotland     43%
Should not continue to be based in Scotland     39%
– Lord Ashcroft Polls, 2nd May 2013

In principle, do you support or oppose the United Kingdom having nuclear weapons?
Support: 37%
Oppose: 48%
– Lord Ashcroft Polls, 2nd May 2013

Some people think that Britain needs nuclear weapons less these days than it did during the cold war when there was a threat from the Soviet Union. Other people think that there are now other potential nuclear states and Britain still needs nuclear weapons. Do you think the United Kingdom needs nuclear weapons more than it did during the cold war, less than it did during the cold war or about the same as it did during the cold war?
Britain needs nuclear weapons more than it did during the cold war: 10%
Britain needs nuclear weapons less than it did during the cold war: 29%
Britain needed nuclear weapons during the cold war and needs them just as much today: 22%
Britain did not need nuclear weapons during the cold war and still doesn’t need them: 25%
– Lord Ashcroft Polls, 2nd May 2013

Imagine Scotland became an independent country after the 2014 referendum, but the rest of the United Kingdom wished to continue leasing the Faslane naval base. In these circumstances, do you think the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapon submarines should or should not continue to be based in Scotland?
Should continue to be based in Scotland: 35%
Should not continue to be based in Scotland: 50%
– Lord Ashcroft Polls, 2nd May 2013

Which of these threats do you think the siting of nuclear weapons in HMNB Clyde (Faslane) provides Scotland with a practical defence against?
Being attacked by North Korea :12%
Being attacked by Iran: 11%
Being attacked by terrorists: 11%
Being attacked by Russia: 9%
Being attacked by China: 8%
Conservative gov’ts elected by rest of UK: 5%
Being attacked by space monsters: 3%
None of the above: 40%
– Panelbase, 6th August 2013

Very broadly speaking, what are your views on the following issues? …The UK having nuclear weapons.
In favour: 12%
Against: 77%
– Panelbase, 24th October 2013

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement? If Scotland becomes an independent country, Britain’s nuclear weapons submarines should continue to be based in Scotland.
Strongly agree: 7%
Agree: 29%
Neither agree nor disagree: 16%
Disagree: 26%
Strongly disagree: 16%
Don’t know: 5%
– ScotCen, 2014

Trident, the UK’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent, is currently located at the Faslane naval Base on the Clyde. In the case of Scotland voting to become independent, which of the following is closest to your opinion:
Continue to host Trident: 41%
No longer host Trident: 36%
– Survation, 7th April 2014

Trident, the UK’s submarine-based nuclear weapons system, is located on the River Clyde, and is coming to the end of its operational life. Which of the following statements is closest to your view?
I support a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons being based on the River Clyde: 34%
I oppose a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons being based on the River Clyde: 44%
– Survation, 17th February 2015

If there is a hung Parliament and the SNP hold the balance of power, do you think they should or should not request each of the following in exchange for supporting a Westminster government? Getting rid of Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system
Should ask for this: 46%
Should not ask for this: 42%
– YouGov, 9th April 2015

Trident, the UK’s submarine-based nuclear weapons system is coming to the end of its operational life. Which of the following statements is closest to your view?
I support the renewal of Trident: 32%
I oppose the renewal of Trident: 45%
– Survation, 20th April 2015

Do you support or oppose the UK Government replacing the existing Trident nuclear weapons with a new nuclear weapons system?
Support: 31%
Oppose: 41%
Neither: 28%
– TNS-BMRB, 14th December 2015

Q3. Trident, the UK’s submarine-based nuclear weapons system, is located on the River Clyde, and is coming to the end of its operational life. Which of the following statements is closest to your view?
I support a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons being based on the River Clyde: 31.6% (DK removed: 40.1%)
I oppose a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons being based on the River Clyde: 47.2% (DK removed: 59.9%)
– Survation, 20th January 2015

Could you please tell me whether you support or oppose the following policy? Get rid of all nuclear weapons in Britain.
Support: 51%
Oppose: 40%
– Ipsos Mori, 7th February 2016

Could you please tell me whether you support or oppose the following policy? Get rid of all nuclear weapons in Britain even if other countries keep theirs.
Support: 44%
Oppose: 46%
Ipsos Mori, 7th February 2016

Britain’s current system of submarine launched nuclear weapons, known as Trident, is coming to the end of its useful life and will soon have to be scrapped or replaced. What do you think Britain should do when Trident reaches the end of its useful life?
Britain should replace Trident with an equally powerful nuclear missile system: 22%
Britain should retain a nuclear missile system, but it should be less powerful and cost less than replacing Trident: 31%
Britain should give up nuclear weapons completely: 34%
– YouGov, 11th April 2016

So, out of the 26 polls above, 9 have a pretty clear majority in favour of nuclear weapons, while 17 are broadly against. The highest percentage for even a vaguely pro-nuclear weapons answer is 55%: the highest for an anti-nuclear weapons answer is 77%. And this is just including the latest responses for each question: several polls have asked the question multiple times over the years, with several showing a gradual increase against nuclear weapons.

Why on earth is Scottish public opinion on nuclear weapons so crazily erratic?

My guess is cognitive dissonance. Case in point:

Could you please tell me whether you support or oppose the following policy? Get rid of all nuclear weapons in Britain.
Support: 51%
Oppose: 40%
– Ipsos Mori, 7th February 2016

Could you please tell me whether you support or oppose the following policy? Get rid of all nuclear weapons in Britain even if other countries keep theirs.
Support: 44%
Oppose: 46%
Ipsos Mori, 7th February 2016

This was the same group of people, in the same poll, conducted in the same period, going from an 11-point gap in favour of getting rid of nuclear weapons in Britain to a 2-point gap opposing it over the space of two questions. Speaking broadly, it seems that people don’t really like nuclear weapons – it’s only because there’s a perception of their necessity that we put up with them. Yet when the questions are qualified with costs, people seem a bit more reluctant.

We don’t know what the people of Scotland truly think when it comes to nuclear weapons: even a referendum only shows a snapshot.

I’m not happy with this ambiguity. I’d love to say I can see both sides of the Trident debate, but at the end of it all, I can’t – not a fair one, at least. All the arguments for nuclear weapons in the UK is based upon a completely false prospectus. It is based on a notion that Trident keeps the UK safe from foreign threats – which it doesn’t; that it will not present any danger to the people of Scotland, which it clearly does; that it is the UK’s Independent Nuclear Deterrent, which it is not; that it is essential for “thousands” of jobs, rather than costing untold numbers more; that our allies want us to have it, which they do not.

There are many dangerous fictions regarding nuclear weapons lingering from the dark days of the Cold War. There is no place for them in this new century, any more than arguments for slavery or against universal suffrage. And if there is no place for the arguments, there can be no case for the weapons themselves.

3 thoughts on “Speaking for Scotland Against the Monsters

  1. Robert Kerr says:

    I quote from The Song for Three Soldiers by Stephen Vincent Benét.

    “Oh, where are you coming from, soldier, gaunt soldier,
    With weapons beyond any reach of my mind,
    With weapons so deadly the world must grow older
    And die in its tracks, if it does not turn kind?

    Stand out of my way and be silent before me!
    For none shall come after me, foeman or friend,
    Since the seed of your seed called me out to employ me,
    And that was the longest, and that was the end.”

  2. I used to stay where I regularly saw trident submarines coming to load and unload their weapons. Each time the sight sent a shiver of fear through me. So much money for so much potential destruction when it could be spent on improving lives and life chances. I know which way I’d vote, and I wouldn’t be ambivalent about it.

  3. Macart says:

    Neatly done as usual.🙂

    Top three threats faced by the state:

    Global terrorism
    Cyber terrorism
    Global warming and climate change

    Not much on there a nuke provides an answer for tbh, but setting that aside there is always the issue of democratic deficit. An ever present crime against Scotland’s electorate, that no matter how many Scottish MPs vote against the sighting or renewal of WMDs in Scotland, the votes and representatives of another country will outweigh those wishes. In this instance that would be 99% of Scottish representation in chamber incl. Lab and Libdem voted against renewal. So yeah I’d say they spoke for Scotland on this issue, the other partner in the treaty of union simply chose to ignore those wishes.

What're your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s