Scotland has to take a stand against the horror of nuclear weapons
Seventy-eight years ago this week the world entered the age of nuclear warfare.
The Hollywood Blockbuster Oppenheimer has had the public bedazzled by the story of how America “won” the race to develop an atomic bomb.
Of course, other films that are about warfare and the indiscriminate deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents would have a sense of taboo when it comes to waxing lyrical about the magnificent cinematography, acting and musical score. But doesn’t this simply highlight that when it comes to nuclear warfare, the sheer scale and force of death and destruction is so immense that it is abstract to nearly every single living person? I myself, before I could comprehend this, thought President Carter to just 'nuke' Iran during the hostage crisis in 1979-81. That was before I worked on the US base at Holy Loch.
It shouldn’t be abstract, certainly not for people in Scotland and certainly not for anyone once they understand the timebombs of megadeath that are spread across the world, which if used wouldn’t be limited to the dropping of a couple of bombs as in 1945 but today would lead to retaliatory attacks which would bring life as we know it to an end.
Deep in the mouth of Loch Long, in one of Scotland’s most tranquil and beautiful places, the UK’s 'deterrent' rears its ugly head. This is where the Ministry of Defence loads Trident nuclear warheads onto the Vanguard fleet which is maintained over the hill at Faslane.
Each Trident missile can deliver 12 independently-targeted warheads, giving each Vanguard-class submarine the capability to deploy 192 warheads. In practice it is British Government policy to deploy no more than 48 warheads per submarine and probably around 12 missiles per submarine with 3-4 warheads each.
The warheads carried by the Trident missiles are closely based on the 100 kiloton American W-76 warhead design used for the U.S. Trident fleet. By comparison, the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was approximately 14kt.
That means that one Trident missile has the potential to unleash a force that is 85 times the destructive force of the Hiroshima bomb dropped on 6th August 1945 that resulted in the death of an estimated 90,000 to 140,000 people.
The UK is a nuclear power because we were at the table in the aftermath of the Second World War and Labour's Ernest Bevin was determined to 'have a bomb with a Union Jack on it', but the 300 or so warheads that make their way from the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston up the motorway and via our towns and cities en route to Coulport are a drop in the ocean in contrast to the nuclear firepower of the USA and Russia which have deployable nuclear weapons inventories of roughly 7000 to 8000 each.
If a nuclear power embarked on a ‘first strike' attack then they would do so unchecked by Richard Nixon's theory of MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction. That was in the gold old days where the weapons were not highly accurate or capable of knocking out an enemy's C4i (command, control, communications, cyber and intelligence). Now we are, because we have that first strike capability in Trident, which could hit the Statue of Liberty within a CEP(circular error of probability) of 250 feet. This high accuracy is how we, as well as other nations have escalated the arms race and vertically proliferated in direct violation of Article VI of the Non Proliferation Treaty.
When President Truman sanctioned the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki he knew that there would be no retaliation in kind because no other country possessed nuclear bombs.
But today, there would be no one -off strike because respective states know each others arsenal’s.
Therefore there would be a series of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons strikes against foreign military establishments of strategic importance. This puts the west of Scotland as high on a target list as anywhere in the world. In fact, years ago, Scotland was already viewed as independent in US nuclear war planning-it was called 'Unit Eleven'. In tandem with this would be the use of nuclear weapons to destroy command centres and cities. Spotted by early detection systems there would be a retaliation in kind.
Scientists have 'war gamed' a scenario where roughly half the inventories are detonated.
This would cause an estimated 770 million direct deaths.
These are the people in the immediate blast zones. They are vaporised, incinerated, killed by flattened buildings or die within days from acute radiation sickness. This would mean that in the US alone a fifth of the population would be killed outright. For those who survive, what happens next is even worse .
Massive fires from the destructive force of the explosions would send 150 Tg (teragrams) of soot into the atmosphere from burning cities and forests. That’s 150 trillion grams. Rising to the stratosphere, these black carbon particles would block 60-70% of incoming sunlight, causing worldwide gloom. They would also destroy most of the ozone layer-as I once called it, 'climate change on steroids.'
Global warming would then become a thing of the past as we enter a new ice age. The weather would stay below freezing throughout the northern hemisphere throughout summer. This means crops could not be grown; the current grain crisis in eastern Europe would be academic as there would be a complete collapse of the world’s food supply.
In the immediate years after a nuclear war we would see rainfall on the planet halve. It would take a decade for anything like what we class as a normal climate to be restored. People may instinctively think they need to protect themselves from cancer-causing radiation but the reality is that most people would already be dead.
This is because most people who survived an all out exchange of nuclear weapons would die in a global famine that would be unpreventable. Food stocks would disappear and hand to hand combat across the planet would transpire as people fight over food wherever they were still alive.
Last year, the Alliance for Science set out the most specific modelling we have seen. Averaged over 5 years, China would see a reduction in food calories of 97.2 percent, France by 97.5 percent, Russia by 99.7 percent, the UK by 99.5 percent and the US by 98.9 percent. In all these countries, virtually everyone would starve to death.
Some people would survive in a new dystopian future living on a devastated, barren planet.
The price of nuclear war would see today’s climate emergency look like paradise in comparison.
But we can’t ever let this happen and the only way to ensure it never happens is a complete global ban on WMD-weapons of mass destruction. Isn’t it odd that the global community never wants to impose economic sanctions on the countries that have the ability to blow us all back to the Stone Age?
I am very impressed by the uncompromising position of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party.
They want to see the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland from day one of independence. I’ve seen those in some quarters, particularly in the SNP say this isn’t credible but the reality is that is very much is. One of my dearest friends in the peace movement, Chrissie MacWhirter was the first female National Secretary of the SNP. She left Harold Wilson's Labour Party over his decision to modernise Polaris warheads with Chevaline. Even 10 years ago SNP politicians could calmly tell incredulous Radio 4 Today Programme interviewers that 'keeping nuclear weapons is a red line for us. Most of us were in CND before we were in the SNP. '
If Chrissie were alive I think she would be shocked beyond belief to hear SNP MPs fraternising with the American hard right Herirage Foundation who argue to retain this Anglo American folly 30 miles up the Clyde from one of our biggest cities or the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster chaired by an SNP MP spending most if its time fantasising about Scotland's usefulness to NATO rather than addressing the pressing concerns of our daily lives-food, shelter and heating.
The Vanguard Fleet regularly comes back one sub at a time to have its weapons removed and replaced (we can talk about half lives in another column). Therefore from the moment that Scotland knows when Independence Day will be we simply have to tell the UK Government that from that day no submarine will be allowed to have nuclear weapons unloaded or loaded onto it from Scottish soil. It will be their choice how they want to manage that. They could take the warheads off and send them back to Aldermaston. They may even decide to ship all their materials off to America to have the mating of the warheads carried out there next to the shared pool of US missiles that the UK uses; some say Northern Ireland others say Wales might be prepared to host Megadeath. Funnily enough, nobody ever proposes alternative sites in England.
The reality is that that’ll be a decision for the successor UK Government to make. From my perspective I can’t see how England could sustain the cost of relocation -least of all when its centuries long exploitation of Scotland and its resources has at last been brought to an end.
Faced with that political pressure there would be a strong possibility of Britain disarming. Perhaps this is why CND has long been a friend of the independence movement-the SNP may be softening its anti nuclear stand but Alba Party remains totally committed to the cause of nuclear disarmament.
Marjorie Ellis Thompson, former Chair of UK CND