03 November 2015

S4M-14681 Trident

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14681, in the name of Keith Brown, on Trident, welfare or warfare.

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

On the side of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial, the founder of the US social security system is quoted as saying:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

We simply cannot discount the fact that, when we choose to spend vast amounts of money on a particular item of defence, we choose to take money away from those in our society with the greatest need. I am not simply talking about radical social reformers such as FDR. Winston Churchill spoke of the tragedy of poverty and the tyranny of war. In Liverpool in 1951, he said:

“Evils can be created much quicker than they can be cured.”

That absolutely touches on today’s issue.

Like others, I very much welcome Labour members supporting an anti-Trident motion 48 hours ago. That was not the first time that Scottish members have done so, of course. I wish them well and give them every encouragement in capturing their whole party for their position, although the portents are not particularly encouraging. Perhaps too many parliamentarians south of the border are taking up entrenched positions before they have heard the arguments from the Labour Party’s Scottish conference. However, I wish those Labour members well.

Neil Findlay perhaps overegged the pudding a little when he talked about members’ freedom to choose the debate at the Labour conference. In something that I read today, he is quoted as saying that there is no debate in the SNP. I can tell him that SNP members choose the subject of our debates and have debated weapons of mass destruction on nine occasions since 2000, condemning WMD every time. However, it is not a competition. Every debate that takes the argument forward is worth having, wherever it takes place.

As we heard from the minister, Scotland’s share of the expenditure on Trident is £13.8 billion, and we hear that the overall cost will be £167 billion over the life of the system. In her speech on Sunday, Jackie Baillie suggested that 13,000 jobs depend on Trident. The MOD disagrees and says that the number is 520, but for the purposes of the argument—and solely for those purposes—I am prepared to accept Jackie Baillie’s numbers. I dispute Jackie Baillie’s numbers, but if we accept them, we must accept that the cost of providing a job in the Trident industry is more than 10 times the cost of providing a similarly high-skilled job in another area of the economy.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Stewart Stevenson keeps referring to “Jackie Baillie’s numbers”. They are the MOD’s numbers, obtained through a freedom of information request. They are numbers that established economists came up with in relation to the local supply chain and the local economic multiplier effect. They are not my numbers; they are the numbers of credible organisations, as, I am sure, he agrees.

Stewart Stevenson: On the same generous basis, I hope that the member agrees that when we divide one number by the other, we end up with jobs that are 10 times as expensive to provide as the jobs that the highly qualified and gifted engineers who work in the nuclear industry could do in other areas.

The Conservative motion says:

“in an increasingly dangerous world, having a nuclear deterrent protects against both foreseen and unforeseen threats”.

A series of questions arise from that. Have our missiles—or, more properly, the United States’ missiles, which are carried on our submarines—been directed away from the former Soviet Union and towards new targets? Have the missiles deterred the Taliban, in their Afghan mountain fastnesses, from taking action? Were they a deterrent to Saddam Hussein, in his bunker in Iraq? Are they a deterrent to Daesh in Syria and Iraq?

Of course, the questions answer themselves. The missiles are no deterrent of any kind to the threats that exist in today’s world. They are merely a Potemkin village of a defence provision, which has nothing behind it that contributes to defence.

The difference between the Conservatives and the SNP is that the Conservatives would spend any sum of money, or so John Lamont tells us. I would not spend my last penny on something that delivers nothing and in any event is immoral, as other members argued.

Our nuclear weapons are not targeted at our enemies and never will be. They do not attack the military capabilities of those who would attack us. They are by design focused on civilian populations over the horizon—beyond our view, beyond our ken and beyond our care. They are focused, often, on people in totalitarian regimes, who have made no contribution whatever to decisions about peace or war.

I return to Churchill’s dichotomy. When we choose to spend our money on weapons of mass destruction we address neither the tyranny of war nor the tragedy of poverty.


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