‘The North Gate is temporarily closed,’ announced the loudspeakers at the naval base in Clyde. Cheers rang out from the protesters blockading the entrance. ‘Only temporarily?’ jeered one.
The protesters braving the January rain were just one group participating in ‘Faslane 365’, a year-long campaign bringing opposition to nuclear weapons to the door of Britain’s most significant military base. Since the movement started in October 2006, over 2,000 protesters have blockaded the home of ‘Trident’ in Scotland. At the time of writing 462 have been arrested.
Trident consists of four nuclear submarines with missiles and warheads which, taken together, have 1,500 times more power than the Hiroshima bomb. British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to renew Trident this year at an estimated cost of £15-25 billion ($30-50 billion) The opposition Liberal Democrats claim this figure will rise to £75 billion when maintenance is included. A parliamentary vote will take place in March to rubber-stamp Blair’s decision.
‘What we need is sustained civil resistance,’ said Rebecca Johnson, a matriarch of the 1980s women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, still with rosy cheeks and a delicate voice.
‘A one-day protest is fun, but afterwards everything gets back on track at the base,’ Lucy Mason from Edinburgh University agrees. ‘Most of us were on the march against Iraq and we saw that it had pretty much no effect whatsoever. At least here we are actually blocking something.’
Locals in Helensburgh are less enthusiastic, reminding protesters that the base provides 7,000 jobs. ‘It‘s true some are opposed,’ said Johnson, ‘but Helensburgh is a relatively economically depressed area because the base has impeded development in more dynamic sectors such as tourism and recreational sports.’ No-one can deny that the base is a blemish on the landscape; the barbed wire and barking dogs stand in stark contrast to the beauty of Gare Loch.
The Trident base is also a scar on international law. Renewing Trident is against Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, an international agreement signed in 1968 by 188 states to limit the spread of nuclear weapons.
The British Government maintains that the main threat to UK security comes from terrorist networks rather than nuclear states. If this is true, protesters argue, then Trident is more likely to serve as a useful terrorist target than a credible threat against attack. The demonstrators contend that it would be far better to spend security budgets on real threats – global warming, instability in Afghanistan – than on upgrading weapons systems conceived back in the Cold War.
According to Faslane 365, not only will renewing Trident undermine any attempt to call on other states to cease developing their nuclear weapons, it will actively encourage them to procure more arms to compete with the Britain’s renewed arsenal.
Johnson believes that: ‘Scotland can be the place where the nuclear chain gets broken by massive civil opposition.’ She looks forward to a day when the loudspeakers in Faslane announce: ‘The North Gate is closed – permanently’.Rowenna Davis