May 28, 2012 : The forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence raises questions about the kind of Scotland its people want to have. That it should be free of nuclear weapons already seems clear.
A poll published by YouGov in 2010 showed that almost 70 per cent of Scottish people were opposed to the replacement of Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system. While similar polls have shown clear majority opposition across Britain as a whole, Scotland’s record has been stronger and often more vocal.
One explanation might be that this is because Scotland has had nuclear weapons thrust upon it since the 1960s. But I don’t believe this strength of opinion is simply a ‘not in my back yard’ approach to the Trident submarines and nuclear warheads situated at HMNB Clyde.
Of course, it would be rational and sensible not to want to play host to such monstrous weapons. Not only are the potential consequences of a nuclear accident, just 25 miles from Glasgow, unthinkable, but in a hypothetical (although of course unlikely) nuclear war, Scotland would doubtless be a target.
However, there seems something deeper in Scotland’s opposition to nuclear weapons, a sentiment which has perhaps been fostered by housing them for so long. This position chimes with a similarly forward-facing international momentum which recognises that these are Cold War weapons systems which come with a crippling price tag (taxpayers’ money which could be much better spent on meeting public needs) and an unconscionable destructive power, the unleashing of which would be illegal under international law.
Indeed, Scotland’s progressive orientation has been focused on as competing parties jostle for the hearts of voters in the independence referendum. It is no surprise, for example, that Ed Miliband said that Scotland’s progressive instincts would be best nurtured if it remained part of the United Kingdom: “The Scottish people have always stood out for their strongest ideals of social justice, shown by the history of educational opportunity for all, shown by the campaign down the years for the right to work – and the opposition to the poll tax. But my case is that these ideals for Scotland can best be realised in the United Kingdom.” Alex Salmond, too, has sought to harness these progressive attitudes, stating that in an SNP-led independent Scotland the welfare state and the NHS would be championed: “An independent Scotland can be a beacon for progressive opinion south of the border and further afield – addressing policy challenges in ways which reflect the universal values of fairness and are capable of [being implemented] within the other jurisdictions of these islands, and beyond.”.