Last week the UK Government set out their Strategic Defence and Security Review. After the shambles of the last Review, the UK Government should be commended for at least some of the decisions outlined in the new one.
In 2011, the UK Government chose to spend £200 million literally chopping up our fleet of brand new Nimrod aircraft which had cost £4,300 million to build. Whilst defence chiefs at the time called the decision ‘perverse’, the government claimed it would save money on operating costs. In the course of ‘saving’ money, the UK was left without the capability to patrol our coastal waters; relying instead on fishermen and twitter to discover when the Russian Navy was patrolling off Scotland’s coast.
I am particularly pleased that after a long running campaign by SNP MP Angus Robertson to highlight this shortcoming, the UK Government has committed to procuring a fleet of nine maritime patrol aircraft, to be based at RAF Lossiemouth.
Whilst this is undoubtedly a positive step, I was appalled to learn from the accompanying strategy document that the cost of the proposed new Trident nuclear submarines has rocketed. It is perhaps not the best use of our resources to invest £167,000 million in weapons of mass destruction designed purely to vaporise millions of people and level cities at the touch of a button. The Review also stated a contingency of £10 billion would be set aside, suggesting the Ministry of Defence fears that costs could spiral even further.
Of course, the military case for renewing Trident is extremely weak, with even former head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Lord Bramall - backed by two senior Generals - arguing that Trident was ‘completely useless’ against the threat we now face; terrorism.
A fortnight ago SNP MPs led a debate opposing Trident renewal. The issue is undoubtedly contentious and, as with other recent votes, there was no guarantee that even a majority government would win. Furthermore, with Labour’s new leader a CND vice-president, there was real hope the vote would be carried in favour of scrapping this expensive Cold War relic. Unfortunately, that hope quickly dissipated as, one by one, Labour MPs spoke in favour of Trident. Indeed, despite party whips advising them to courageously abstain - as they do all too frequently - 14 Labour MPs voted with the Tories to support Trident.
I appreciate that it can be difficult to keep track of where exactly Labour stands on the issue, so I will try to summarise their position as best I can:
Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn MP, opposes Trident but abstained in the recent vote. The majority of his Shadow Cabinet and MPs favour renewal. Labour’s Leader in Scotland, Kezia Dugdale MSP, is in favour of Trident, but she and all but one of her MSPs voted not to renew it. Further to this, Labour delegates at their recent Scottish conference voted against Trident. However as a ‘branch office’ their votes don’t influence UK Labour policy.
Trident renewal is hugely important; whilst cost alone makes it a vital issue, especially at a time of ongoing budget cuts, when the nature of the weaponry and its actual strategic value is brought in to the equation, it is clear that political parties have a duty - at the very least - to have a coherent policy. That Labour is unable to unite on this issue betrays a serious lack of credibility and woeful lack of conviction.
The final decision regarding Trident renewal is yet to be taken and will likely come before Westminster in early 2016. I hope that by then Labour will have sorted itself out and joined the SNP in opposing the renewal of this abhorrent weapon of mass destruction.