Though politicians may be ready to abandon what they see as a wasteful and immoral industry, ordinary workers may not be so keen to see their future compromised
Scottish Labour members’ decision to vote overwhelmingly for the scrapping of Trident has put the nuclear question firmly back on the table.
The passing of the motion—by a convincing 70.3 per cent to 29.7—at the party conference in Perth last weekend can be seen as emblematic of the vast divide between Scottish Labour and their Westminster counterparts, who were quick to dismiss the possibility of debating Trident back in September. This rift is based primarily around the question of whether the United Kingdom can risk a fall from grace on the world stage that the non-renewal of Trident would apparently bring. I on the other hand, intend to look at this development from the perspective of whether Scotland can afford to lose yet another of its previously proud industries.
Unison policy officer Stephen Low opened the debate with a compelling critique of Trident and the horrors that are innately linked to it. ‘Its purpose is to detonate a nuclear warhead above a city, killing everyone in its radius. There are other facts about Trident, but that’s the central one, and one we should never forget’, he began. ‘We shouldn’t want Trident renewal even if it were free, but of course it is not free, it comes at an utterly bewildering cost’. Pat Rafferty of Unite sided with Low. He argued that Britain should be at the forefront of nuclear non-proliferation but stressed that this must be coupled with a jobs diversification plan to help thwart a potential unemployment crisis in the region.
This is certainly not the unanimous trade unionist position however, as GMB Scotland, the group that represents shipyard and defence workers, came out in fierce defence of the industry. Having spoken with their National Secretary for Energy, Gary Smith, a very bleak picture of a post-Trident Scotland was painted. ‘The future for many workers in Scotland, including Rosyth, is the scrapheap if the Trident successor programme does not go ahead’, Smith claimed. ‘The impact on whole communities will be profound’. I then asked him if he realistically regarded something as immoral and costly as Trident to be part of Scotland’s long-term future. He failed to fully answer this question, instead opting to stand firm with those his union represents whilst rubbishing the proposed jobs diversification plan.
‘I am acting Secretary of GMB Scotland and my priority is the jobs of our members’, he responded. ‘The successor programme is vital to tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, highly skilled, well-paid union jobs. The type of jobs we do not have enough of. The suggestion that there are alternatives for workers in the sector, both in Scotland and England is just nonsense’.
On GMB’s side is Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, a fervent advocate of Trident renewal as a means to saving the livelihoods of defence workers, despite the majority of union members he represents disagreeing with him on this. So too is Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, whose Dumbarton constituency encompasses the Faslane naval base, and who highlighted the scale of unemployment its closure could cause.
So what exactly does the future hold for the defence industry workers of Scotland? The immoralities and astronomical costs of Trident mean that, sooner or later, we must look to move beyond it and accept it for what it is. However, doing this at a time when a Conservative government continues to ravage industry across Scotland and Britain is perhaps not the wisest move. If the proposed jobs diversification plan is a definite to be carried out in its entirety then certainly the renewal should be scrapped and the transition should begin. However, if it cannot be guaranteed, then perhaps it is not the time for Scotland to abolish an industry that brings such pride and employment when so many similar industries have already fallen in this era of neoliberalism.