20 March 2013

S4M-05988 Trident

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05988, in the name of Keith Brown, on Trident.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The debate has engaged people who, though they have a variety of views, are united in the common belief that the Trident missile system has served any purpose that it may once have had.

The argument that I want to develop is that investing in Trident kills our servicemen and women. Having been engaged in this subject since I first became a member of CND, almost from the outset in the 1960s, I suggest that we look at what the UK Government has to say about Trident. The UK Government says that Trident is the “ultimate guarantee” of our national security against nuclear adversaries. Perhaps a case can be made for that, as the Tories will continue to argue, but politics is about making choices. First, Trident is not a weapon that the UK Government is able to control, as the US decides when, where, how and whether such weapons can be used.

More fundamentally, as a defence strategy, Trident fails utterly. The real threats to Scotland—and, for that matter, the UK—are not now from nuclear nations. That is not the paramount issue. The threats come entirely from elsewhere and are the kind of threats that need to be dealt with by soldiers and by boots on the ground. When we spend money on nuclear weapons, we take money away from capability for those who put boots on the ground.

As the minister highlighted in his opening remarks, there are effects from the defence choices that we make. In Kosovo, it was reported that many of the soldiers could not get their mark 4 radios to work effectively in the mountainous terrain. Fortunately, the mobile phone network worked reasonably well, so soldiers paid for their own calls on their own telephones to tell headquarters what was happening on the front line. That lack of investment in modern equipment put troops in danger.

In Iraq, the very simple problem is that it is a bit hot, but the MOD did not seem to know that. Reports were that the rubber in the soles of the soldiers’ boots was melting. Many of the soldiers used the internet to order leather-soled boots so that they could march across the deserts of Iraq. A choice was made to spend on Trident and a choice was made to provide inadequate equipment to our military in areas of threat.

Afghanistan illustrates the point even more. I choose a particular point in time, when there were 66,000 US troops in Afghanistan, mainly in Helmand, who experienced a casualty rate of 3 per cent. There were 9,000 UK troops in Afghanistan at the same time, with a casualty rate of 4.9 per cent—a 60 per cent higher casualty rate among UK soldiers. Why was that? The reason was captured by United States defence secretary Robert Gates. It was all down to helicopters—having them or not. Initially, the US did not have enough helicopters in Afghanistan. Robert Gates reported that no double amputees were surviving battlefield injury. Once the US put in helicopters—and they now have a large number of them—the helicopters could not only scoop up the injured and get them back to the hospital, where they now largely survive; they could also transport troops to areas of difficulty in comparative safety, free from interventions from roadside improvised explosive devices.

The UK has very few helicopters in Afghanistan. What is the effect for our soldiers of that difference in investment in equipment? The effect is that difference in the casualty rate. That is 177 soldiers, whose families do not have them now. The people of Wootton Bassett, to their eternal credit, have turned out on each occasion that a coffin comes back. They would not have wanted those 177 soldiers to be returned and marched down their street, and neither would I. The price of Trident is bodies, when we do not equip our soldiers to undertake that most difficult mission that we ask of them. I do not deploy any argument about the conflicts themselves. I utterly support the soldiers and demand that we divert the money away from that weapon which cannot and will not ever be used, into properly equipping our soldiers so that they can defend our interests.

This is not something that I have felt passionate about in the last five minutes: I have always felt passionate about it. I remember, during the Cuban missile crisis, a friend being sick at the side of the rugby pitch when a black cloud appeared, because he thought that it was a nuclear cloud. This is something that engages real people in real concerns. Trident must go.


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