Drive an hour-and-three-quarters west from Edinburgh and you’ll come to Faslane Naval Base on the Clyde. That’s where you’ll find the UK’s nuclear deterrent, in the shape of four Trident nuclear submarines.
The SNP wants rid of them. So does Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party. The Tory party wants to renew them. Who’s right? Does Britain really need a nuclear deterrent?
A good friend of mine tells me that without a nuclear deterrent we could be attacked by a lunatic dictator like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. We could be attacked by Martians too, in theory, but how likely is it in reality?
There are 196 countries in the world. Only nine of them have nuclear weapons. Only two countries in Europe have them; Britain and France. Does that mean Britain is a safer place to live than Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and all the other European states? Or does it mean we are more paranoid? When you go on holiday to Mallorca or Sardinia do you feel that you are taking a mortal risk by leaving the nuclear safety of your native shores?
The principal argument for retaining a nuclear capability is that of deterrence. Trident supporters tell us that the only reason our enemies haven’t attacked us with nuclear weapons is because they know we would immediately retaliate with our own nuclear weapons. This stance reminds me of the National Rifle Association’s stance on gun laws; the more guns we have, they argue, the safer we are. If the bad guys have assault rifles, we need assault rifles too. If the bad guys have nukes, we need nukes too. “Look,” says the pro-Trident lobby, “nobody’s launched a nuclear attack on us since we got our nukes. That’s proof of deterrence.” Which is like saying: “Ever since I put the electric fence round my garden we’ve been safe from tigers.”
When a country develops a defence strategy to protect its people, it needs to make its calculations on the basis of risk. Are we really at risk from nuclear attack by a foreign power? Probably the best people to answer that question are the army’s top brass. Here’s what the former head of Britain’s armed forces, Field Marshall Lord Bramall, said in a letter to The Times – and his words were backed up by two senior generals:
“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism. Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant, except in the context of domestic politics.”
It’s not often I agree with Tony Blair but this is what he said about nuclear weapons in his autobiography:
“The expense is huge and the utility . . . non-existent in terms of military use.” He said he could clearly see the force of the “common sense and practical argument” against Trident, but in the end he thought that giving it up would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”.
Yo Blair. There you have it from a former British prime minister. We keep our nuclear deterrent because it makes us look more important on the world stage.
Depending on whom you believe, renewing Trident is going to cost British taxpayers anywhere between £25-100 billion. Given our own experience with the cost of the trams and the Scottish Parliament, I suspect the bill to be nearer the top than the bottom of that price range. That is the only way that Trident adds up.
Cowardly congressmen must stand up to gun lobby
In 1994, an Aberdeen man got lost in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. He knocked on the back door of a house to ask if he could call a taxi. The householder shot him dead through the door. The case didn’t even come to court. The man who pulled the trigger was cleared of all blame. In this country, he would have been charged with murder.
America’s “right to bear arms” has been enshrined in their constitution since the end of the War of Independence. Originally the law was designed to allow American citizens to form a militia if they felt threatened by their own government but the wording was careless.
In the 21st century, it’s clear that this piece of legislation is dysfunctional to the point of insanity. In the past three years alone there have been 1000 school shootings. If you watched Obama’s face as he reacted to the latest of these in Oregon, you could see that he was sick and numb. America is addicted to guns and there is nothing the most powerful man on the planet can do about it.
You can’t buy a Kinder egg in the USA. They’re afraid somebody might choke on the toy inside. But you can walk into a gun store, purchase an assault rifle, load it with bullets and carry it into a Krogers supermarket. Your little girl can’t eat an ice-cream in a Krogers store. Your son can’t bring a skateboard inside. But you can stroll around buying groceries with a fully-loaded assault rifle slung over your shoulder. That is off-the-scale insane but America can’t see it. Over half the population is in favour of NO CHANGE to the gun laws.
If it wasn’t so tragic it would be funny. America’s householders say they keep their guns for “self-defence”. Er, that’s an assault rifle, sir, not a ‘defence’ rifle. They say “I’m a responsible gun-owner, I keep my guns locked up.” Oh right. So somebody comes into your house with a gun and you tell him to wait a few minutes while you go and unlock your gun cupboard? There are infinitely better ways to protect your property than by filling it with loaded weapons.
After Dunblane, we banned guns. There hasn’t been a school shooting in the UK since then. This cuts no ice with the gun lobby. “These kids were massacred because their school was a gun-free zone. If they and their teachers had all carried guns, nobody would have gotten hurt.” So said the official spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, the fiercest opponents of gun control. And who funds the NRA? Take a wild guess. They get all their money from gun manufacturers. They don’t even believe the lunatic arguments they spout. Neither do the cowardly US congressmen who repeatedly vote down any kind of gun control. Until they grow a pair, nothing’s likely to change.
Clumsy cup holders
My pal Les and I were reminiscing about the rugby recently. He told me that in 1988 he was walking home along Market Street when he saw two big men throwing a silver object back and forward like a rugby ball. There was a mighty clatter as one of them dropped it on the cobbles. There was laughter. Les recognised the men: Scottish legend John Jeffrey and England hooker Dean Richards. And the silver object? The Calcutta Cup.