Scottish Morning Star Spring Conference

by our Scottish political affairs correspondent

THE Scottish Morning Star Spring Conference took place on Sunday at the Scottish TUC’s Glasgow HQ on the theme of “Trident: Arms Conversion versus NATO and Imperialism”. It was dedicated to the memory of the late Alan Mackinnon, a Glasgow GP who devoted much time and energy to Scottish CND as Chair and Secretary. A particular contribution of his was on working on influential STUC—CND reports on the economic and employment benefits of dropping Trident, and arms conversion, themes that loomed large in the course of the conference. Amongst the many tributes paid was a recorded message from the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of CND, pointed out in her opening speech that the dangers of United States imperialism are unchanged by whoever is the occupant of the White House. America’s recent focus on an anti-China Pacific strategy, often depending on local allies, means that it is less interested in Eastern Europe. Thus demands by the new Polish President for permanent siting of NATO nuclear missiles in Poland are likely to go unheeded by the Americans. This position is shared by many European countries that do not want to irritate Russia unnecessarily. Much will depend on the attitude of American business towards Russia. Many of these issues will be discussed at the next NATO summit to be held Warsaw this July. She welcomed that fact that, although weak, the Polish peace movement is mobilising to support the customary counter-demonstrations in which CND will participate.

John Ainslie of Scottish CND provided a detailed dissection of claims that not renewing Trident would be bad for the economy both locally and nationally. He pointed out that of the 520 civilian workers at Faslane only about 50—100 actually work on warheads. Getting rid of the missiles would be a decade-long process. Because many workers are no longer spring chickens retirement will account for many jobs. He detailed a number of long-run options for the Faslane and neighbouring Coulport sites. They are suitable for non-nuclear surface naval bases, which would retain many existing jobs in non-nuclear military roles. He outlined other alternatives, including wind farms or developing the tourist trade to encourage more people to come and look at the mountains and drink the local whisky.

Later in the conference Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC, stressed that plans for diversification from military expenditure need to be carefully thought out if they are to address properly the legitimate concerns of workers. Although the GMB have exaggerated the extent of job losses that would result from cancelling Trident, detailed and realistic plans need to be drawn up to reassure workers.

Denise Christie of the Labour Party Campaign for Socialism said that there was an urgent need for the implementation of proposals made by the STUC and Scottish CND for the establishment of a Scottish Defence Diversification Agency.

Although sharing the same platform, one who was not paying attention to Hudson’s comments about NATO was Bill Kidd, the SNP Anniesland MSP, who skilfully managed to ignore the question of the SNP’s beloved NATO completely. He was also shocked to discover recently that nuclear weapons travel by train. London CND have been campaigning on this very issue for decades and advise spotters to look out for long, clean freight trains with no advertising. Another SNP speaker, Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South West, sounded like a retired admiral writing to the Daily Telegraph when he complained that there was not nearly enough spent on the maritime defence of the British Isles. He argued that there was a respectable military case for ditching Trident: the money saved would release funds to build more warships on the Clyde, thereby creating a bigger Queen’s Navy to rule the waves.

Lesley Brennan, Labour MSP for the North East of Scotland, said that anti-Trident campaigners could capitalise on military discontent with Trident, noting that a former Tory Defence Minister is “on our side” in wanting to see the back of Trident on the grounds that it prevents the Ministry of Defence from employing more soldiers. She added that public pressure could win over at least some of those Labour MPs presently supporting the renewal of Trident. Labour’s Neil Findlay MSP welcomed the Scottish Labour Party’s recent switch of policy to opposing Trident and laid into the SNP government for their miserable record in power.

Noticeably absent of the conference was billed keynote speaker Andrew Murray, Chair of Stop the War. It is possible that his day job, as Chief of Staff in Unite the Union, which has many members working supports Trident, prevented his attendance.