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nuclear weapons

by David Mackenzie
Scrap Trident Coalition

David Mackenzie Scrap TridentThe decision to engage in mass popular protest against Trident over the weekend of 13th to 15th April did not come from some bureaucratic NGO “strategy” meeting. It has arisen from a particular context and particular events.

Whatever your approach to the 2014 question the very fact that the vote is happening has begun to prompt more and more Scots to ask the big question: what do I want the place, the community, the nation I live in to be like? As they ponder this, the 2014 conversation is less and less about traditional identities and more and more about values. You see this in the talk around a constitution in which values may one day be specific, not just held to be self-evident but actually written down.

Oddly, Angus Robertson MP, by driving the successful campaign to switch SNP policy on NATO, can take some of the credit for jolting the peace movement in Scotland into a state of high alert. On the issue nuclear weapons there had been increasing concern that while the SNP continued to make regular anti-Trident statements their failure to take on Westminster on the issue of the system’s illegality under international humanitarian law led to doubt about their ability to stick to their stance when the independence negotiations got serious. The NATO volte-face set these concerns on fire. How serious could you be about nukes if you want to willingly join a nuclear armed alliance? Any remaining wisps of an illusion that the leaders of the independence movement would carry us to a peaceful nirvana while we folded our arms were dissipated.

The diverse No To Nato Scotland Coalition that formed round this livid concern very naturally morphed into a group determined to put the Trident question at the very heart of the 2014 debate. Hence the Scrap Trident Coalition. It was given a huge boost by the energetic Radical Independence Conference and its decision to have Trident at the centre of its work for the coming year.

buttonsThe rationale is simple. We cannot leave this to the politicians. Sticking to a timely Trident rejection position is a highly confrontational stance which will put us up against very powerful interests. Scottish political leaders who want Trident scrapped will be under huge and varied pressure to wobble from their principles. Delays, compromising and shady backroom deals are very possible. They will need courage to face the likely threats and intimidation. They will need the encouragement and backing of people who will make popular Scottish rejection on these hideous weapons visible. The Scrap Trident April weekend of protest is a first step.

We are paying around £2 billion per annum to keep the current system going. Many millions have already been spent in upgrades at Aldermaston towards Son of Trident and Westminster is ready to sign off in excess of £35 billion for the new boats and related facilities. At a time when the Coalition is using the on-going financial crisis as a god-given opportunity to dismantle welfare provision strip by strip, Trident grows more and more obviously grotesque. There are the opportunity costs – the wholesome and essential things we could do with these billions. But there is also the deeper connection – Trident as the iconic representation of all the hatefulness that goes into austerity programmes, the aggressive flaunting of wealth and privilege in the face of poverty, the callous bureaucratic mistreatment of people with disabilities, the abject failure to invest in a sustainable future. To all those directly affected or saddened by all this, Trident is a gratuitous insult, a visible reminder that they do not matter.

How we respond to the Trident challenge is not just about Scotland or just about getting something horrible out of our country. It is something we can do for the world. The removal of Trident from Scotland will have the knock-on bonus of disabling the UK’s nuclear weapon system for lack of a suitable location, plus the hope that the nuclear disarmament of Britain will kick-start the stalled engine of global abolition.

For the last two years peace activists have been unsuccessfully urging the Scottish Ministers to base their stance on the fact that, as an indiscriminate weapon of mass destruction actively deployed, Trident is illegal under international humanitarian law. But it is that argument and the ethical case that underpins it which provides the basis both for the essential confrontation and the moral courage to take it on.

The weekend will begin with a national demonstration in Glasgow on April 13th followed by a mass peaceful blockade of the Trident base at Faslane on Monday 15th. We will be marching through Glasgow as a reminder that these weapons keep our cities under constant threat of a nuclear accident. On Monday we will solidify our message by taking non-violent direct action to shut down the Faslane naval base, where the daily business is preparing for nuclear war.

There is scope for everyone to take part.

A Trident missile

A Trident missile: What would Hamish Henderson say?

By Andy Anderson

It seems to me very appropriate in the run up to the independence referendum to reflect on the words of one of Hamish Henderson’s wonderful songs, Freedom come-all-ye. It is already a decade since we lost Hamish, who died on 8 March 2002.

In this simple folk song Hamish touches on the very heart of the issue, and in a few simple words makes the case why Scotland’s independence is so vital and that “Devo Max” or any other option will not meet the Scottish people’s needs.

Hamish played many different roles in his life. Famous writer, academic, linguist, broadcaster, folk singer, parent; but perhaps it was his experience as a Scots soldier during the period of British imperialism that gave him the ability to express so clearly the Scots rejection of the whole imperialist idea and its associated horrors which he refers to in this song.

This song is a total rejection of imperialism, of racism, of elitism and of its tools and equipment, and it recognises that the Scots soldier was often one of these essential tools. He identifies the role of racism in the process when he says: “Black and White yin till ither mairriet, maks the vile barracks o their maisters bare.”

Those of us who had the experience of serving in the British army in a “British Colony” during the imperialist period can recognise immediately the connection between racial and cultural prejudice and the domination over other peoples, which allows a small elite to exploit a whole country.

Broken families in lands we’ve herriet,
Will curse Scotland the Brave na mair, nae mair.

There are many good economic, political and cultural reasons why Scotland should now establish its independence from “Great Britain”, and the economic case alone is substantial; but even if there were no other grounds, the need to break free from our imperialist past would still be an overwhelming reason for the Scots to establish Scottish independence. Again Hamish anticipates the imperialists’ reaction to such aspiration:

So come aa ye at hame wi freedom,
Never heed whit yon hoodie croaks fer doom.

We certainly have had a few hoodies croaking fer doom recently and blatantly using the media – including the “impartial” BBC – to spread their propaganda. As I remember the old Scots, a “hoodie” was someone who was likened to a hoodie craw which was considered to be selfish, opportunistic and unreliable. (One who would raid his neighbour’s nest when he was from home.) So Hamish tells us that our attempts to establish our independence will come under verbal attack from the hoodies in our community, and he was not wrong there.

Perhaps he might allow us to update the second part of his last verse by submitting:

When McLean meets wi his freens in Springburn,
Aa the roses an geans will turn tae bloom,
And at last at oor referendum,
Dings the vile spectre o the Trident doon.

Because it is now clear and indisputable that a “yes” vote in the Scottish referendum will kill off the weapons of mass murder stored under the mountains between beautiful Loch Lomond and Loch Long, as far as Scotland is concerned. It is now also clear that what is left of “Britain” after Scotland leaves will be most unlikely to be able to retain a nuclear weapon of mass destruction and to find a “suitable” home for it.

This could finally bring the political class in Scotland, and the rest of the UK, to a realisation that their imperialistic dreams are over and that “Great Britain” is no longer a “leading power” in the modern world needing to show its muscle all over the globe to keep the subjugated “subjects” in order. Just as it kept Scots, Irish, Welsh and English subjects in order for so long.

This could bring nothing but good to all the people living in these islands and create a better and stronger basis for us to continue to work together as good reliable neighbours.

Trident submarine on the Clyde <em>Picture: JohnED76</em>

Trident submarine on the Clyde Picture: JohnED76

By Rob Edwards

The safety of the nuclear bombs and submarines on the Clyde is being increasingly jeopardised by the UK government’s spending cuts, a Ministry of Defence (MoD) report has warned.

The public, military personnel and the environment could be put at risk of accidental explosions, spillages or radiation leaks, according to a new assessment by the MoD’s internal watchdog, the Defence Nuclear Environment and Safety Board.

A summary of the board’s report for 2010 by its chairman, Howard Mathers, says that safety issues “present a risk that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain that the defence nuclear programmes are being managed with due regard for the protection of the workforce, the public and the environment.”

The report by Mathers, posted on the MoD’s website without announcement, warns that there is a “lack of adequate resource to deliver the Defence nuclear programmes safely”. There is an “adverse trend in resources’, Mathers points out, “which I expect will become yet more painful.”

Mathers adds that “the frequency and significance of incidents remain too high as a result of poor control of work”. The principal dangers in the medium term, he says, “are the adequacy of resources, both money and staff complement, and the maintenance of a sustainable cadre of suitably competent staff.”

The MoD was accused by one of its former senior safety officials of allowing defence cuts to “trump” safety. Lessons from previous reports had been “ignored”, said Fred Dawson, who was head of the MoD’s radiation protection policy team before he retired in 2009.

“Decisions were taken in the defence review without a proper consideration of their impact on safety generally and nuclear safety in particular,” Dawson said. “The ability of the MoD’s internal regulator to do its
 job is being compromised by the lack resources.”

The assessment by Mathers is the latest in a series of warnings from within the MoD about the impact of cutbacks on nuclear safety. It comes in the wake of reports last week that UK defence ministers had decided to hand over the management of the nuclear bomb base at Coulport on Loch Long to a group of private companies, including the US arms dealer Lockheed Martin.

Trade unions, politicians and disarmament campaigners warned that public safety would be endangered because companies could be tempted to cut corners. A motion expressing concern was lodged in the Scottish parliament by the SNP MSP, Bill Kidd.

The Coulport sell-off was also condemned as “absolutely horrific” by the SNP minister and newly-elected MSP for neighbouring Argyll and Bute, Michael Russell. “The privatisation of weapons of mass destruction is a policy without precedent and can only be described as both foolhardy and reckless,” he said.

The move, however, was defended by the local Liberal Democrat MP, Alan Reid, who pointed out that the site would still be owned by the MoD. “The Labour Party started the privatisation of our nuclear deterrent,” he said. “This is a continuation of the process begun by Labour.”

An MoD spokesman said: “The MoD takes its nuclear safety responsibilities very seriously. Work is underway to deliver continuous safety improvement in the areas raised by the report.”

Rob Edwards, environmental news and comment.

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Shahid Afridi <em>Picture: Harrias</em>

Shahid Afridi Picture: Harrias

Technically, it’s at the six-sevenths stage – 42 matches down, seven to go – but this feels like the pivotal point in proceedings. The tenth cricket world cup, being played across India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, has reached the end of its group stage and the knockout matches – the proper, consequential contests – await.

In the tournament preview, it was argued that the good side / poor side imbalance of the two seven-team groups would lead to “a strong sense of a month having been wasted”. Well, that’s been the case in terms of which teams failed to qualify: Zimbabwe, Kenya and Canada from Group A, Bangladesh, Ireland and the Netherlands from Group B. So far, so straightforward.

Group A was something of a pointless exercise – literally so for Kenya, who plunged from semi-finalist status eight years ago to played six, lost six this time round. The top part of the group was glorified net practice, mere jostling for position.

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Many of the matches were stupidly one-sided: New Zealand twice won by ten wickets (against Kenya and Zimbabwe), Sri Lanka beat Canada by 210 runs. Even the mini Tri-series between the minnows failed to produce any close contests: Zimbabwe beat Canada and Kenya by 175 runs and 161 respectively, Canada beat Kenya by five wickets.

The markedly stronger Group B, however, was a different matter. The predicted qualifiers again made it through, but the group provided almost a tournament’s worth of entertainment in itself – largely due to the efforts of England. Rarely can such a sequence of crazy, umbrella-chewing games have been played in top-level sport – recent Scottish football qualification campaigns had nothing on this. Thus far, almost all the enthralling matches have involved England – winning narrowly, losing spectacularly, or enjoying that rare bird among cricket results, the tie.

As the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew noted after qualification had been secured by the (inevitably tight-squeeze-ish) win against the West Indies, there is no point in Andy Flower, Andrew Strauss and co worrying about the Irish defeat: Kevin O’Brien’s onslaught was a once-in-a-lifetime, force-of-nature innings, against which any team would have wilted.

O’Brien’s name will be added to the list of extraordinary one-off batting assaults – a list stretching from Ted Alletson to Nathan Astle. It didn’t provide much overall information, but it did add hugely to the atmosphere of what already appears to be a happier, more enjoyable – for players and crowds alike – tournament than the 2007 edition in the West Indies.

The Bangladesh defeat, however, was different. Losing straightforwardly to a team that could only muster 58 against the West Indies and 78 against South Africa really shouldn’t happen. As in the close shave against the Dutch, a tired-looking England outfit seemed uncertain in terms of tactics and friable when things start to go wrong.

Despite all the English brinksmanship and crowdpleasing, the match of the tournament thus far was the South Africa–India encounter at Nagpur. Seen by various pundits (the present writer included) as a trial run for the final, this was a remarkable affair. Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambir swaggered through the first 39 overs, racking up 267 for 1, at which stage it was simply a question of how far above 350 they could reach. But nine overs, nine wickets and just 29 runs later, South Africa had a target to chase. And chase it they did, with Robin Peterson – rapidly becoming a real star – thumping 4624 when they needed 13 from the final over.

Now, with just eight teams left and an unfussy knockout format, it’s engagingly open. Australia’s defeat by Pakistan in their final group match not only ended a 12-year, 34-match unbeaten run, but also meant that every team had lost at least once. India and South Africa remain the strongest, best-balanced outfits, but the field has bunched.

All four quarter-finals are intriguing. First – today, in Mirpur – comes Pakistan–West Indies, which has the air of two teams vying for a losing semi-final slot. Chris Gayle, on his day, is the most destructive batsman in world cricket, but his day comes only occasionally. Darren Sammy’s team is the flimsiest of the eight, having qualified courtesy of wins against the weaklings.

Pakistan remain, as ever, an enigma, and could yet march through and win the whole thing. Shahid Afridi’s batting mostly misfires these days, but his haul of 17 wickets, the most by any bowler, has helped greatly. Pakistan are a good bits-and-pieces side, and ought to reach the semis.

There they would meet the winner of India–Australia. On paper – and how strange it is to write this – Australia are very much the underdogs. Their batting, even with Michael Hussey now back in the team, stutters more than Colin Firth. The pace attack, Brett Lee excepted, looks uncertain in the radar department. India, by contrast, have a tremendous top order, with Tendulkar seemingly destined to “do a Boycott” and reach a lifetime landmark – his 100th international 100 – on his home ground in the final.

Yuvraj Singh is having a good tournament, while Virat Kohli is a classy strokemaker. But there are doubts. The lower-order hitters, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan, haven’t really sparked, the bowling is insipid at times, and that collapse from a position of huge strength against South Africa might come to be seen as telling.

The construction site that is the Australian team could yet grind out a win – or three – with Ricky Ponting hitting form one last time and the team coalescing around him. Tim Nielsen, the Australian coach, described Thursday’s Ahmedabad game as “a mini-grand final”. But it’s hard to see his team progressing, and an India–Pakistan semi looks likely. That would put Old Firm tensions into perspective: no one at Parkhead or Ibrox has access to nuclear weapons, after all.

The third quarter-final, New Zealand versus South Africa, will also be fascinating. The Proteas have the best attack (Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir, with Peterson proving to be a “finisher” with ball as well as bat), and have moved to overall-favourite status. Their batting is in no doubt: AB de Villiers, averaging 106, was born to play in the world cup, and he is supported by a strong cast. In 11 days’ time the “choker” tag could well have been seen off by sheer skill and strength.

That said, New Zealand were dark horses at the start and are an even stronger outside bet now. Losses to Australia and Sri Lanka were offset by solid wins, and their extraordinary late-innings blitz against Pakistan was the undoubted Group A highlight (but probably said more about Afridi’s team than Daniel Vettori’s).

Then there is Sri Lanka–England. It’s to be played in Colombo, and home advantage could prove decisive. If Kumar Sangakkara wins the toss and helps his team rack up 320-plus, that should be enough. But England – the wayward and currently dropped James Anderson aside – have mostly been a handy bowling unit, with Tim Bresnan, James Tredwell and Graeme Swann performing well. Their having been joined by a bloke named Jade seems curious, however.

The batting has just been on the healthy side of curate’s egg status, with the ultra-consistent Jonathan Trott and the patchier-but-classier Strauss nos.2 and 3 behind Sangakkara in the tournament run-scorers list.

England, though, need to get their batting and bowling departments having good days together, not alternating like weather-house figures. Just as significant, however, might be their battle-hardened status after the run of tight games. Writing in the Guardian before the final group matches, former England coach Duncan Fletcher had this to say: “If they qualify England will be a dangerous team to come up against. They can take a lot of confidence from the fact that they are used to playing under the pressure of knowing that they will be knocked out if they lose. Other sides are going to have to readjust to that change of pace, which is a sharp switch to have to make when you have been playing soft games in the group stages. England have quite an advantage because of that.”

That seems a reasonable assessment. Although England might quietly regard pre-tournament expectations as having been met were they to lose in Colombo, just now they are in a remarkably strong psychological position. Whether they have it in them to push on and win the trophy for the first time remains to be seen.

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Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Harris Morgan</em>

Alex Salmond Picture: Harris Morgan

The address given by First Minister for Scotland and SNP leader Alex Salmond to the SNP spring conference held in Glasgow, 12 March 2011.

Delegates, first and foremost our thoughts are with the people of Japan in their time of extremity.

Yesterday I sent a message to Prime Minister Kan on the sympathy that the Scottish people feel to our Japanese friends at this time. We stand ready to support or help in any way that is wished, in any way that we can.

Delegates, by your applause please express your solidarity with the people of Japan.

One of our Scottish connections with Japan is the great industrial combine of Mitsubishi, founded by a Scot, Thomas Blake Glover – born in the Broch – founded as the Nagasaki shipping company in 1870.

Now Mitsubishi are making a great impact on modern Scotland, already committed to a £100 million research and programme, and one of the intended industrial partners for the power of green energy innovation now rising on the banks of the Clyde.

For we are in Glasgow – a city of invention. Of entrepreneurs, engineers, of trains and ships.

It is said when the QE II was launched, she actually stretched – and this city’s influence has stretched across the world. First as the workshop of the empire and now as a creative city – building a new empire of the mind.

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But I believe it stands on the brink of another great success, Gallus Glasgow goes on, as a city at the cutting edge of the green revolution. For on the banks of the Clyde made famous by is traders and its shipbuilders, a new industry is rising.

Yesterday I announced a £90m investment – Government and private sector – in Strathclyde University’s International Technology and Renewable Energy Zone, dubbed IT-REZ – less of a mouthful!

That is £90m and 700 jobs at the cutting edge of the green revolution and the knowledge economy. Combining Scotland’s great strengths – our environment, our people and our education.

It is aspirational Glasgow – can do Scotland – a university and a Government and the private sector like Scottish Power, the Weir Group and Scottish and Southern Energy, coming together to stake their claim for the future.

It is aspirational Scotland, can do Glasgow, it is a revolution of expectation believing that we can lead the world in key aspects of technology and innovation.

Delegates, this is an example of Strathclyde technology. It is a miniature map of Scotland, hardly the width of a human hair

Nano-lithography, the manipulation of molecules, with great applications in medicine and across the sciences.

This is a miniature Scotland, but Scotland itself isn’t small. Scotland’s only small in the minds of our unionist opponents – people who think small.

What did they once try to call us? – The best wee wee country in the world. Why not just aspire to be the best country in the world!

And this is a revolution in which all of Scotland is involved

Before Christmas I announced the Mitsubishi investment. Then there is Gamesa’s investment in Dundee. These are not scraps blowing in the wind but solid investments, setting roots in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. In Machrihanish, Methil and Arnish.

We are in the rapids of a new energy revolution.

Let me state for this Conference and for this country the purpose of our objective. We intend that this nation – this Scotland – researches and develops, constructs and fabricates and then supplies and maintains the new green energy systems that will dominate this century.

We intend that this city of Glasgow, marine engineers the 21st century just as it once led the marine engineering of the 19th – when ships from the Clyde carried a nation in their hold.

These investments being made now will pay off for years and generations to come. We reckon this will be worth £30 billion for Scotland in offshore wind alone by 2020. With up to 130,000 job opportunities in the low-carbon sector.

The green energy revolution in which we are embarked is the right course. It is the right course for Scotland, for Europe and for the planet. We shall be the green energy powerhouse of the European continent and a world leader in many of the key technologies.

And yet amid all of this progress, more could be done with the real powers of a real parliament.

Let us take but two examples:

In London right now under OFGEM, there is a bank account of almost £200 million of Scotland’s money paid by fossil fuel generators – places like Longannet and Peterhead. By law, these funds can only be used and accessed to support renewable development in Scotland.

We need them right now to ensure that the infrastructure is in place so that places like Nigg and Dundee are able to benefit fully from the thousands of jobs which depend on these investments.

So why don’t we just access them right now? Because the Treasury say that if we do, then they will deduct the same sum from the block grant to fund education or health.

Now the Liberal Democrats – that party of moderation and commonsense – and of course of pandering to Tory rule in Scotland – they say give up your £250 million and we will lend you the same sum through the Green Investment Bank in a few years time – a sum certainly less than the Green Investment Bank would be lending in Scotland anyway!

So they take our money and then lend us back less in a few years’ time – and that’s meant to be a good deal? Delegates, that is the sort of deal Nick Clegg is offering to English students!

I’ve an alternative idea. Why don’t we just invest in the power of an independent parliament and then decide for ourselves to invest our own money in developing our own resources?

The second example concerns oil. Norway is the only country in Europe with more oil than Scotland. They have breezed through the world recession, largely because of the £300 billion fund for future generations accumulated over the last 15 years.

We should have done that.

Delegates, with oil set to last another 40 years we still can.

Scotland is the second-largest oil producer in Europe, but we have among the highest prices for petrol and derv, placing our families under pressure and our industry at a competitive disadvantage.

The oil price rises mean that revenues rise. This coming year they could rise by £4 billion to £14 billion – the highest ever – around £3,000 a head for every man, women and child in Scotland.

If you applied even half of that £4 billion windfall to cutting fuel tax in Scotland you could reduce it by 50p per litre in Scotland – in the UK by 5p a litre.

We have had enough humming and hawing on this. The case for a fuel tax regulator is made. Let the message go out loud and clear from this conference to the chancellor – cut fuel duty and cut it now.

Our country is rich in resources. So here we are in this lucky, lucky country – we have oil and gas aplenty, we have huge supplies of the most precious resources of the 21st century, water, we have land and sea resources, we have one quarter of Europe’s wind resource, one quarter of its tidal resource and one tenth of the wave resource and we have the skilled and inventive people.

Delegates, the unionist parties tell us we are too poor to be independent and that the only reason that Tory Government in London have set their face against independence is concern for out welfare. The reality is quite different.

The unionist parties oppose independence not because they Scotland is too poor, but because we are rich. What they really fear is the loss of Scottish resources.

It is time we put the wealth of the land to the good of the people, and delivered a nation that looks after its own and does good for the world.

On this subject, I have some more news for you about Glasgow. As you know, we intend to give Scottish Water a new direction, to become a dynamic player in our economy, and to project our humanitarian values around the world.

I can announce today that Glasgow has been put on the short list, along with South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, to host the 2015 World Water Forum. 30,000 delegates to this city, indeed to this very Conference Centre, to try and solve one of the world’s biggest challenges.

We will campaign for this prize with the same vigour that brought the Commonwealth Games to this city for 2014. We intend to win it for Scotland.

Delegates, we are Scotland’s first ever SNP Government and we are standing for re-election. We do so with the best record, the best team and the only real vision for the future of our country.

In the party broadcast last evening, you saw that we claimed a record 20,000 modern apprenticeships – 20,000 investments in the future. That was this year’s figure. Next year I fear we cannot repeat that.

Instead we have determined on 25,000 apprenticeships – not just another Scottish record but 66 per cent higher than the number we inherited from Labour in 2007.

Today we publish 100 key achievements of your SNP Government. The world’s leading climate change targets – done. NHS budget protected – it was, it is and it will be. Prescription charges – ended. Bridge Tolls – removed.

A thousand extra police officers – achieved. Over 1,000 council houses built – Labour only built six! Council tax frozen – done. A commitment to our infrastructure. A new Forth crossing and £2.5 billion of capital investment.

The business of government is a steep learning curve – particularly for a minority. No doubt we could have done some things better.

Yet – even in the teeth of world recession and the consequences of Brown’s bust – we have still achieved more in four years than any other Scottish government, and we have so much more yet to do.

I wanted Scotland to have her own government, so that together we could make Scotland better. I wanted the SNP to form that government so we could serve.

I am the First Minister of Scotland. We have plenty still to do. With the people’s support, I intend to continue to be Scotland’s First Minister.

Mind you, it’s a miracle I made it here today at all. This Wednesday, Ed Balls came to Scotland and said that Labour were going to use me as a punchbag. The next day Iain Gray said he would “take me on”. He took exception to me speaking to him calmly and got very upset. And they say they are not scared of the SNP!

Well, they are right to be scared, scared of our record and scared of our team. Scared because so many Scots of all political persuasions want to see this SNP Government re-elected. Scared because only the SNP speaks for all of Scotland.

Fear leads to people doing all sorts of strange things. It has even made Labour reverse its long-standing policy of charging young people for their education, and now they are engaged in council tax gymnastics.

Let’s just remember it was Labour who introduced tuition fees north and south of the border. It was this SNP Government which removed them.

Ed Balls doesn’t speak for Scotland. He’s the man who commissioned the Lord Browne review – the self same review that the Tories are now using to impose £9,000 a year fees on English students. He’s the man who wrecked the UK economy, Gordon Brown’s aide de camp. He’s the man who failed to regulate the banks – a failure he admitted this week.

This is a Scottish election for a Scottish parliament. Ed Balls ain’t standing. Neither is Ed Miliband nor even Douglas Alexander – indeed not even Wendy Alexander.

They were all on the media circuit this week trying to convince us otherwise. They hope that it will distract Scotland from what is really at stake in May. They want to convince us that this election is about enhancing Labour’s status at Westminster.

But this election is not about who rules in London. It is about who is chosen to serve Scotland. Labour expects that Scotland will do its duty, to move slavishly back into line. They don’t even think they have to present any ideas. They don’t speak for Scotland. They have nothing of significance to say about Scotland. That was true in their long years of Government.

Did Labour speak for Scotland when they took us into the Iraq war? Did Labour speak for Scotland when they raise the Council tax by 60 per cent? Did Labour speak for Scotland when they signed the PFI deals that now cost the public purse £800 million a year?

Did Labour speak for Scotland when Alistair Darling promised cuts which were to be “deeper and tougher” than those of Margaret Thatcher?

Did Labour speak for Scotland when they backed the obscenity of nuclear weapons – including £100 billion to be wasted on a new Trident system?

Labour didn’t stand up for Scotland when they had their chance. Why would they do any better now?

A noted Scottish journalist recently asked what Labour stood for apart from cheap booze and higher council tax.

Cheap booze and higher council taxes. Keir Hardie will be birlin in his grave in Cumnock cemetery – the Labour Party in Scotland – cheap booze and higher taxes. Has there ever been a more miserable and depressing prospectus ever proffered to the people of this nation?

Of course we all know they stand for more jobs – their own. They refused to back the SNP on 25,000 more apprentices. But even as they opposed supporting young people they wanted plenty of jobs for the boys.

I don’t think that Scotland want to go back to Labour’s crony state, where helping out your pals came before helping the poor. Where a party card was a passport to the cushiest numbers.

Remember Strathclyde Passenger Transport – whose Labour-connected officials had to leave in disgrace after an expenses scandal? They were meant to run the trains, but they were too busy operating the gravy train – like so much of Labour in Government.

Labour speaks for vested interest. The Scottish National Party speak for all of Scotland.

We speak for the poorest Scots the low-paid families and pensioners who have benefited most from our freeze on the council tax and our ending of prescription charges.

We speak for the young delivering the 25,000 apprenticeships that Labour voted against, lowering class sizes and keeping education free.

We speak for the vulnerable – we are protecting them with 1,000 extra police officers who have led crime to a 32-year low.

We speak for the aspirational. The millions of Scots who want a better future for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.

We speak for those who want to start their own business. The small business bonus has cut or abolished rates for 80,000 small businesses. Labour voted against that as well.

We speak for the communities of Lossie and Leuchars who have served this country well and expect loyalty not betrayal in return.

Delegates, we speak for all of Scotland and all of Scotland needs the Scottish National Party.

Let me tell you about Nancy. I met her on Kilmarnock High Street three weeks ago. I meet a lot of folk. It’s real politics – listening to real concerns from real people.

Nancy’s concern was that her disability living allowance would be taken away. That’s the thing that allows her to be in a job, to feel useful, wanted worthwhile.

And Nancy was worried – is worried – that her disability allowance will be taken away by the Tory-led coalition. And she understands that these were hard times, and that everyone had to cut their cloth.

But she wanted to know why she had to pay so much, for a crisis that had nothing to do with her.

Now when I talk real politics, I talk of Nancy – of the need for the ordinary people to be given a fair shout and a decent chance.

And as she told me her worries Nancy started to cry, not tears for herself but tears of worry, of uncertainty. And I felt concern and then sympathy and then anger – anger at the idea that a group of rich men in a London cabinet could cause such hurt to a women who overcomes adversity every single day of her life.

You see I’m all for a big society, but I’ m also for a fair society. The late Jimmy Reid didn’t learn about a big society on the playing fields of Eton. He learned about a fair society on the shipyards of the Clyde.

I know who received the better education in humanity, and to that concept we shall remain true.

In a sense that society should try to be as equal as it can be – as in our attitude to education. The widening of the mind is the greatest gift.

To learn of the universe and the atoms. Of the poets and philosophers. It is the one real luxury available to all according to their appetite to learn.

And this nation pioneered free education for all, which resulted in Scots inventing and explaining much of the modern world. We called this the Scottish Enlightenment. And out of educational access came social mobility as we reached all the talents of a nation to change the world for the better.

We can do so again.

Some of our university Principals say that we will fall behind England. We will not. We do not intend to withdraw the state from higher education. Any funding gap will be closed.

We would only fail if we were to betray our traditions and mortgage the future. So when it comes to the question of university fees or graduate taxes, I know where I stand.

The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students – upfront, or backdoor. This party restored free education to Scotland in our first term. We will protect it in the next.

This is part of the Scottish Settlement our social contract with the people. In the course of this coming week the Scottish Government intends to move forward again with that contract.

The cuts promised by Alistair Darling – remember, “deeper and tougher” than those of Margaret Thatcher – are upon us and now under the other Tories.

Across the public sector we face adversity. So let us face it together. As we are duty bound to do. We decided to protect the health service when Labour didn’t know what to do.

We have protected local government as best we could because they deliver some of the most vital services.

That has meant that the cuts being faced by our own administration are the most serious of all – 10 per cent this year and three per cent each year after that.

And yet this coming week we are committed to agreeing with our staff unions in the civil service the continuation of our no compulsory redundancy agreement.

And that comes with the pay-freeze that is inevitable and flexibility in the workforce which is necessary. But the prize in return is great.

I believe that such an agreement could and should be extended across the public sector through local government, through our schools and also into our colleges, as well as throughout our health service.

It will not be easy, but let me tell you why it is important. It is important to individuals to be relieved of economic uncertainty. It is important to have valuable staff properly valued. But it is also important to the economy.

For eight months now, thanks to the work of John Swinney, we have had rising employment in Scotland even in the most difficult of circumstances.

For three months we have had falling unemployment even as it has risen across the rest of the UK.

This is the direct result of our capital acceleration in building houses and stimulating capital projects.

In the first three quarters of last year, construction employment was up 16 per cent in Scotland – even as it fell across the UK.

Now the Tories are implementing the savage capital spending cuts planned by Labour.

We will respond by a £2.5 billion non-profit distribution programme. By moving ahead with the Southern General in Glasgow – a new bridge will span the River Forth, a new road around Aberdeen.

However, we will still be under pressure. One further response is through the economics of security.

If people have the fear of compulsory redundancy removed, then they are able to plan and to spend for the future of themselves and their families – that preserves jobs and helps the wider economy.

That is why as First Minister I will spend every day securing our agreement with the Scottish Government unions and then seeking to see it expanded across the public sector.

As a candidate I will campaign for it and if the people return me as First Minister then I will secure that prize – of no compulsory redundancies and economic security – that it brings.

Delegates, we have a rich land, but too many of our people live in poverty. We have a 21st century vision, but are held back by 19th century prejudices and structures. We are ready to play our part in the world, to help from the personal to the universal.

If we are to become a crucible of the new society, then we need the power of independence – we must have these powers. And there is only way of getting those, of making further advance.

To vote for Scotland, not because we are better than anywhere else, but because we are the same people as people all over the world. We seek fairness and justice and responsibility.

And we are the lucky nation, rich enough to deliver it all, yet we cannot without power. Our sense of the common weal is strong and should not be denied by the rich elites of elsewhere.

A Scotland caught between the universality of hope, and the parochialism of power for power’s sake. And as Labour peddle fear, we have led hope.

We live in tough times, but when the decision came to protect family budgets, it was straightforward – the council tax freeze stays because it’s worth more than £300 to the average family since 2007.

The NHS budget could have been cut, but for us it was a clear decision – the health service protects Scots young and old. Its budget is safe with the SNP.

We have made Scotland secure not by the kneejerk nonsense of locking people up for short sentences, but by putting 1,000 extra police on the street and taking crime to a 32-year low.

We have the best team on the park and we govern for the whole of Scotland.

But politics is nothing without a bigger vision. In government, much is in the day-to-day, but you must still keep an eye on the horizon, on the big prize.

For us, that prize is independence – but independence is a means to an end. That end is a society safe, happy, healthy, confident in its skin. A global citizen acting to help the world where it can.

Because the mapmakers’ ink is becoming smudged on every border. Globalism, the rise of the knowledge economy, the big economic changes, the great environmental challenges – all point to a world where the responsibility of the nation is to raise people who are responsible to the world.

And the definition of a nation is a community of people with a shared commitment to their culture and to their children. By having a strong sense of ourselves.

That allows our new communities from Asia to know what it meant to be Scottish and to give them something to join, to be part of. And that sense of self is built on community, on the shared value of helping each other out, lending a hand, on a sense that society should try to be as equal as it can be.

That is what we value and what we think is the purpose of government. To the rights of the ordinary to triumph over vested interests.

In our capital city of Edinburgh there stands a monument to Thomas Muir and his fellow friends of the people. His memory should cast a beam across the work of every civil servant in the Scottish Government and every Minister – because the monument to Muir and his fellows revolutionaries spikes out of Calton graveyard like a shaft of stony light across from St Andrew’s House.

And this monument contains Muir’s own vision: “I have devoted myself to the cause of The People. It is a good cause – it shall ultimately prevail – it shall finally triumph.”

And his message was not just for this place, but for every place. For his spirit, for Robert Burn’s spirit, Jimmy Reid’s spirit, our spirit, it is for the common weal.

The rights of man – and of women. And the legitimacy of the ordinary over the powerful.

This party has travelled a similar path. This movement, this nation, has been patronised, talked down, told it wasn’t good enough. And yet this party has risen from a few MPs and a land without a parliament, to a Scotland with a parliament, and an SNP government.

We never lost the strength of hope – and we fought on to triumph. But we, in our mix of the national and the international, of the personal and the political, we fought not to govern over people, but for the people to govern over themselves.

It is for that reason and that reason above all that we are the Friends of the People of Scotland, and for that reason we shall prevail.

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Operation Grapple

Operation Grapple


By Richard Doherty

In 1957 the British military began carrying out atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons around the former colony of Christmas Island. After the initial tests in 1957-58, independent UK experiments ceased, however “Operation Grapple” as the series of tests was known, continued as a joint US/UK exercise until 1962.

Of the 20,000 servicemen involved, 2,500 were British. One servicemen, a sapper in the Royal Engineers, Ken McGinley, was chairman of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) from 1982 to 2000. I spoke with him following the Appeal Court’s Decision last year to reject nine out of ten test cases seeking compensation from the MoD.

Following “Grapple Y”, the biggest of Britain’s nuclear tests, Mr McGinley, from Renfrewshire, vividly remembers seeing the bones through his hands like an x-ray image, large heavy drops of discoloured rain and the birds in disarray, eyes burned out by the intensity of the blasts.

Due to the terrible condition the birds were in, the soldiers were ordered to bludgeon them to death with pick-axe handles before going off-duty. “I did not like doing this but we had no choice because of the terrible condition they were in.” said McGinley.

Back in Britain, Mr McGinley awoke in his barracks in a pool of blood. Only as a result of this did he become aware of a duodenal ulcer that had now burst. He would go on to discover further health problems that have been commonly reported by other servicemen from Christmas Island, including skin conditions, cysts and infertility.

When he discovered his health problems, Mr McGinley couldn’t sue. Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act (1947) exempted the Crown from actions for death or personal injury caused by members of the British Armed Forces to other members of the British Armed Services. This section was only suspended under the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act (1987).

“If I was allowed to sue at the time, it would have cost me £100,000 and I had no chance of getting legal aid. I was beat every way I turned. They would have crushed the case and the £100,000 would have been for nothing. They already turned down my war pension claim for sterility, so how was I going to win?” Mr McGinley asks.

According to BNTVA statistics, 30 per cent of British veterans died in their 50s. Spina bifida rates in their grandchildren are more than 5 times above the UK average.

After more than half a century struggling to convince the MoD to accept responsibility for health and psychological problems suffered by the veterans and their families, Mr McGinley was among 1,000 soldiers granted permission by the High Court in London in 2009 to sue for compensation.

This was despite the MoD’s claim that under the Limitation Act, the servicemen’s claims could not be heard because they referred to events more than three years old.

“Many of my problems were discovered almost half a century ago, so it is basically a catch 22. We expected compassion in the least due to our age, but justice in the UK has been in a coma.” Mr McGinley said.

Under the United States’ Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, in 2006 Roy Prescott of Burton-upon-trent was given £40,000 in compensation by the US government after contracting terminal lung cancer. The decision was a response to evidence and research in the US that identified Mr Prescott’s lung cancer as a rare form of the disease that can result from the effects of radiation.

This opinion piece is part of The Caledonian Mercury’s ongoing debate about Scotland’s national life and is part of our commitment to raise the level of debate in Scotland. If you or your organisation would like a platform to voice your views then please contact us at stewart AT caledonianmercury DOT com.

In 2006, the MoD refused to acknowledge this research as an indication of negligence. Denying compensation, they rejected Mr Prescott’s claim for an enhanced war pension, arguing through a spokesperson at the time as follows: “The US compensation scheme does not require claimants to show that their illness was as a result of service.

“The UK government, however, does ask those claiming compensation to show a reasonable link between their service and their illness. Unfortunately there is insufficient evidence to indicate that Mr Prescott’s illnesses are attributable to his participation in these tests.”

Benjamin Browne QC, acting on behalf of the servicemen, said the attitude of the UK government in determinedly denying accountability was out of sync with other countries such as France or the US. He also suggested advances in science could accurately determine the causal link the MoD claim would be impossible.

Mr McGinley maintains that “we would have gone away if the UK had even set up a ‘no fault’ compensation scheme. The UK has this attitude that the bomb only affects you if it lands on your head.”

In accepting the servicemen’s claims could proceed to court in 2009, Mr Justice Foskett rejected the MoD’s suggestion that negligence was ultimately certain not to be proven by causal link, deciding that the link of any health conditions to the testing could only be determined by a judge with full consideration of all evidence.

Mr Sampson of Rosenblatt Solicitors, acting on behalf of the servicemen, said at the time of the 2009 judgement, “We hope that the Ministry of Defence will recognise this and agree to settle the claims of the veterans out of court, rewarding them with the compensation they rightly deserve.”

The prospects of an out of court settlement now seem more unlikely given the latest ruling of Appeal Court judges that nine of the test cases claiming for compensation cannot proceed to trial.

The judges maintain that it will be very difficult to prove direct causation between the nuclear tests and the illnesses. They also supported the MoD position that the cases were brought out with the legal time limit.

The tenth test case which is that of the late Bert Sinfield was not appealed by the MoD on account of their supposition that the case is not strong enough to be successful.

Lady Justice Smith said “We have no doubt that it will appear that the law is hard on people like these claimants who have given service to their country and may have suffered harm as a result.”

Mr McGinley accuses the politicians of hiding behind five hundred documents relating to a specific operation on Christmas Island. “The documents prove that mistakes were made, the operation was carried out in great haste, influenced by money and with little consideration for the men involved.

“They dropped the bomb on the edge of the island instead of on a separate, deserted island much further away, as was originally intended. The court ordered these documents to be released, but they haven’t been.” McGinley said.

Grapple Y, the biggest-ever of Britain’s nuclear tests, was officially three-megatons, but possibly much more powerful than stated, many times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Mr McGinley was only 25 miles away from the blast.

Since 1947, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (since 1975 the Radiation Effects Research Foundation) have conducted medical and biological research on the effects of radiation, beginning in Hiroshima.

The MoD therefore has known from the beginning that exposure to even a little radiation is harmful. As a result of this, much of their defence is based on the claim that the men cannot prove they were exposed. This is ridiculous according to McGinley,

“They deny that it rained, even though the task commander was quoted as saying the weather deteriorated immediately. It rained big heavy dark drops. Inhaling or swallowing it is known now to be highly carcinogenic.”

Mr McGinley claims that the BNTVA have a NATO document from 1995 stating that servicemen, if exposed to low level radiation (LLR), will face consequences of developing cancer in the years to come and their children may suffer mutagenesis.

Mutagenesis is alteration of the genetic information of an organism, often resulting from radiation and a cause of birth defects in humans – the same problems the MoD deny has any causal link with the tests.

Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP and now the Armed Forces Minister, had previously stated his support for the veterans’ campaign. Giving evidence in earlier hearings he said, “It is in the public interest to find out why other countries have recognised their atomic veterans. Britain, however, continues to ignore her veterans and hide behind legislation to deny a fair and democratic hearing in the public domain.”

After the latest ruling however, a spokeswoman for the MoD said that: “Mr Harvey reviewed the evidence himself and came to the same conclusion as the court, that there was a lack of causation evidence.”

Mr McGinley describes Harvey’s change of heart as, topsy turvying. “What has happened there is he has finally got some authority in his life at last.”

Mr McGinley is scathing of the governments, of whatever colour, for making this a political, rather than human issue.

“I have letters from Neil Kinnock and John Reid saying once Labour got elected they would immediately work to pay out compensation. The problem is, in opposition they’re fine, but with a wee bit of power they’re all the same.

“Harvey claims his change of mind is a result of seeing new evidence. If so, produce it.”

In his time as chairman of the BNTVA, Mr McGinley was accused of being a trouble maker by the MoD for his role in section ten of the Crown Proceedings Act being suspended. “Aye, that was me. And I got Christmas Island cleaned up too at a cost to the British government of £7m! They told me I’d taken part in 145 interviews. I didn’t realise that, but it would’ve been 146 if I had accepted the invitation to be a puppet on Spitting Image. hey wanted me to go on and hit Heseltine over the head with a big marrow every time he refused to answer a question. It would’ve been fun but I thought it might make our argument look less serious.”

The case for compensation for the Christmas Island veterans is made more complex given that in the period of time since the tests, many of the personnel who planned and implemented the tests are not available to be called as witnesses.

Counsel for the MoD, Charles Gibson QC, claimed over 90 per cent of the 114 essential witnesses have died or cannot be traced.

Nevertheless, the action is all the more urgent when considering the age and health conditions of those servicemen who seek acknowledgement of the perceived injustice they hold the MoD responsible for.

With the possibility of it being 2012 before the present action proceeds to court for what may be a doomed trial as far as the veterans are concerned, the legal team are already planning to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The veterans’ legal team said in 2009 that 59 of their clients had passed away since the beginning of the action in 2004.

Phillip Munn, the first person to receive a pension as a result of McGinley’s campaigning, has since died of leukaemia.

From the island, the five men who stayed in the same tent as Mr McGinley are all dead now. His friend Brian in Wales died a few days before my interview.

Nevertheless, at the age of 72, the latest legal set-back and personal loss is nothing Ken McGinley hasn’t had to get used to over the years, “We’ve had many disappointments and good results in the past. We just take it in our stride.”

With the prospect of many more years and many millions of MoD pounds spent on the case – on top of the £4m spent so far, it is sure that many more veterans will be unable to see their fight through to the end.

Mr McGinley said, “I hope I’m here to see the conclusion and I hope the British government act in a more compassionate way.”

Operation Grapple

Operation Grapple


By Richard Doherty

In 1957 the British military began carrying out atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons around the former colony of Christmas Island. After the initial tests in 1957-58, independent UK experiments ceased, however “Operation Grapple” as the series of tests was known, continued as a joint US/UK exercise until 1962.

Of the 20,000 servicemen involved, 2,500 were British. One servicemen, a sapper in the Royal Engineers, Ken McGinley, was chairman of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) from 1982 to 2000. I spoke with him following the Appeal Court’s Decision last year to reject nine out of ten test cases seeking compensation from the MoD.

Following “Grapple Y”, the biggest of Britain’s nuclear tests, Mr McGinley, from Renfrewshire, vividly remembers seeing the bones through his hands like an x-ray image, large heavy drops of discoloured rain and the birds in disarray, eyes burned out by the intensity of the blasts.

Due to the terrible condition the birds were in, the soldiers were ordered to bludgeon them to death with pick-axe handles before going off-duty. “I did not like doing this but we had no choice because of the terrible condition they were in.” said McGinley.

Back in Britain, Mr McGinley awoke in his barracks in a pool of blood. Only as a result of this did he become aware of a duodenal ulcer that had now burst. He would go on to discover further health problems that have been commonly reported by other servicemen from Christmas Island, including skin conditions, cysts and infertility.

When he discovered his health problems, Mr McGinley couldn’t sue. Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act (1947) exempted the Crown from actions for death or personal injury caused by members of the British Armed Forces to other members of the British Armed Services. This section was only suspended under the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act (1987).

“If I was allowed to sue at the time, it would have cost me £100,000 and I had no chance of getting legal aid. I was beat every way I turned. They would have crushed the case and the £100,000 would have been for nothing. They already turned down my war pension claim for sterility, so how was I going to win?” Mr McGinley asks.

According to BNTVA statistics, 30 per cent of British veterans died in their 50s. Spina bifida rates in their grandchildren are more than 5 times above the UK average.

After more than half a century struggling to convince the MoD to accept responsibility for health and psychological problems suffered by the veterans and their families, Mr McGinley was among 1,000 soldiers granted permission by the High Court in London in 2009 to sue for compensation.

This was despite the MoD’s claim that under the Limitation Act, the servicemen’s claims could not be heard because they referred to events more than three years old.

“Many of my problems were discovered almost half a century ago, so it is basically a catch 22. We expected compassion in the least due to our age, but justice in the UK has been in a coma.” Mr McGinley said.

Under the United States’ Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, in 2006 Roy Prescott of Burton-upon-trent was given £40,000 in compensation by the US government after contracting terminal lung cancer. The decision was a response to evidence and research in the US that identified Mr Prescott’s lung cancer as a rare form of the disease that can result from the effects of radiation.

This opinion piece is part of The Caledonian Mercury’s ongoing debate about Scotland’s national life and is part of our commitment to raise the level of debate in Scotland. If you or your organisation would like a platform to voice your views then please contact us at stewart AT caledonianmercury DOT com.

In 2006, the MoD refused to acknowledge this research as an indication of negligence. Denying compensation, they rejected Mr Prescott’s claim for an enhanced war pension, arguing through a spokesperson at the time as follows: “The US compensation scheme does not require claimants to show that their illness was as a result of service.

“The UK government, however, does ask those claiming compensation to show a reasonable link between their service and their illness. Unfortunately there is insufficient evidence to indicate that Mr Prescott’s illnesses are attributable to his participation in these tests.”

Benjamin Browne QC, acting on behalf of the servicemen, said the attitude of the UK government in determinedly denying accountability was out of sync with other countries such as France or the US. He also suggested advances in science could accurately determine the causal link the MoD claim would be impossible.

Mr McGinley maintains that “we would have gone away if the UK had even set up a ‘no fault’ compensation scheme. The UK has this attitude that the bomb only affects you if it lands on your head.”

In accepting the servicemen’s claims could proceed to court in 2009, Mr Justice Foskett rejected the MoD’s suggestion that negligence was ultimately certain not to be proven by causal link, deciding that the link of any health conditions to the testing could only be determined by a judge with full consideration of all evidence.

Mr Sampson of Rosenblatt Solicitors, acting on behalf of the servicemen, said at the time of the 2009 judgement, “We hope that the Ministry of Defence will recognise this and agree to settle the claims of the veterans out of court, rewarding them with the compensation they rightly deserve.”

The prospects of an out of court settlement now seem more unlikely given the latest ruling of Appeal Court judges that nine of the test cases claiming for compensation cannot proceed to trial.

The judges maintain that it will be very difficult to prove direct causation between the nuclear tests and the illnesses. They also supported the MoD position that the cases were brought out with the legal time limit.

The tenth test case which is that of the late Bert Sinfield was not appealed by the MoD on account of their supposition that the case is not strong enough to be successful.

Lady Justice Smith said “We have no doubt that it will appear that the law is hard on people like these claimants who have given service to their country and may have suffered harm as a result.”

Mr McGinley accuses the politicians of hiding behind five hundred documents relating to a specific operation on Christmas Island. “The documents prove that mistakes were made, the operation was carried out in great haste, influenced by money and with little consideration for the men involved.

“They dropped the bomb on the edge of the island instead of on a separate, deserted island much further away, as was originally intended. The court ordered these documents to be released, but they haven’t been.” McGinley said.

Grapple Y, the biggest-ever of Britain’s nuclear tests, was officially three-megatons, but possibly much more powerful than stated, many times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Mr McGinley was only 25 miles away from the blast.

Since 1947, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (since 1975 the Radiation Effects Research Foundation) have conducted medical and biological research on the effects of radiation, beginning in Hiroshima.

The MoD therefore has known from the beginning that exposure to even a little radiation is harmful. As a result of this, much of their defence is based on the claim that the men cannot prove they were exposed. This is ridiculous according to McGinley,

“They deny that it rained, even though the task commander was quoted as saying the weather deteriorated immediately. It rained big heavy dark drops. Inhaling or swallowing it is known now to be highly carcinogenic.”

Mr McGinley claims that the BNTVA have a NATO document from 1995 stating that servicemen, if exposed to low level radiation (LLR), will face consequences of developing cancer in the years to come and their children may suffer mutagenesis.

Mutagenesis is alteration of the genetic information of an organism, often resulting from radiation and a cause of birth defects in humans – the same problems the MoD deny has any causal link with the tests.

Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP and now the Armed Forces Minister, had previously stated his support for the veterans’ campaign. Giving evidence in earlier hearings he said, “It is in the public interest to find out why other countries have recognised their atomic veterans. Britain, however, continues to ignore her veterans and hide behind legislation to deny a fair and democratic hearing in the public domain.”

After the latest ruling however, a spokeswoman for the MoD said that: “Mr Harvey reviewed the evidence himself and came to the same conclusion as the court, that there was a lack of causation evidence.”

Mr McGinley describes Harvey’s change of heart as, topsy turvying. “What has happened there is he has finally got some authority in his life at last.”

Mr McGinley is scathing of the governments, of whatever colour, for making this a political, rather than human issue.

“I have letters from Neil Kinnock and John Reid saying once Labour got elected they would immediately work to pay out compensation. The problem is, in opposition they’re fine, but with a wee bit of power they’re all the same.

“Harvey claims his change of mind is a result of seeing new evidence. If so, produce it.”

In his time as chairman of the BNTVA, Mr McGinley was accused of being a trouble maker by the MoD for his role in section ten of the Crown Proceedings Act being suspended. “Aye, that was me. And I got Christmas Island cleaned up too at a cost to the British government of £7m! They told me I’d taken part in 145 interviews. I didn’t realise that, but it would’ve been 146 if I had accepted the invitation to be a puppet on Spitting Image. hey wanted me to go on and hit Heseltine over the head with a big marrow every time he refused to answer a question. It would’ve been fun but I thought it might make our argument look less serious.”

The case for compensation for the Christmas Island veterans is made more complex given that in the period of time since the tests, many of the personnel who planned and implemented the tests are not available to be called as witnesses.

Counsel for the MoD, Charles Gibson QC, claimed over 90 per cent of the 114 essential witnesses have died or cannot be traced.

Nevertheless, the action is all the more urgent when considering the age and health conditions of those servicemen who seek acknowledgement of the perceived injustice they hold the MoD responsible for.

With the possibility of it being 2012 before the present action proceeds to court for what may be a doomed trial as far as the veterans are concerned, the legal team are already planning to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The veterans’ legal team said in 2009 that 59 of their clients had passed away since the beginning of the action in 2004.

Phillip Munn, the first person to receive a pension as a result of McGinley’s campaigning, has since died of leukaemia.

From the island, the five men who stayed in the same tent as Mr McGinley are all dead now. His friend Brian in Wales died a few days before my interview.

Nevertheless, at the age of 72, the latest legal set-back and personal loss is nothing Ken McGinley hasn’t had to get used to over the years, “We’ve had many disappointments and good results in the past. We just take it in our stride.”

With the prospect of many more years and many millions of MoD pounds spent on the case – on top of the £4m spent so far, it is sure that many more veterans will be unable to see their fight through to the end.

Mr McGinley said, “I hope I’m here to see the conclusion and I hope the British government act in a more compassionate way.”

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

Patience in some Israeli quarters seems to be running out with what they see as the world community’s lame efforts to persuade Iran not to join the nuclear weapons community.

An advertisement on Israel’s Haaretz website is calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to make good on his (alleged?) promise to bomb Iran in two weeks’ time. If he doesn’t, says Israel Uncensored News, “the entire Middle East will be up in arms. In nuclear arms.”

A draft resolution circulating the UN Security Council today calls for expanding punitive measures against Iran, targeting its banking and other industries. The resolution, which was agreed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, also calls for the establishment of an international inspection regime for ships suspected of containing cargo bound for Iran’s nuclear or missile programmes.

The draft resolution is circulating despite a nuclear fuel deal brokered on Monday by Brazil and Turkey, under which Iran would send some of its uranium abroad. However, Tehran made clear it did not intend to suspend domestic uranium enrichment, which Israel and Western governments suspect is part of a programme to produce a nuclear weapon.

- The Iranian Threat (Jerusalem Post)

Rob Edwards

A Trident submarine on the Clyde. <em>Picture: JohnED76</em>

A Trident submarine on the Clyde. Picture: JohnED76

The UK government’s plans to replace Trident submarines could be thrown into disarray by growing doubts over their future in the US.

The US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, is today expected to challenge the American Navy’s plans to spend up to $80 billion (£52 bn) on 12 new submarines to replace the existing Ohio-class boats which carry Trident nuclear missiles.

Because the UK programme is so dependent on the US, this could hugely increase costs and jeopardise Labour and Conservative promises to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Gates is due to give a speech to a major US naval conference in Maryland. According to his aides, he will raise a series of questions about the Ohio replacement programme, due to commence in 2027.

Moves by President Obama to cut nuclear weapons globally, the economic crisis and competing naval programmes will all be cited, they say, as reasons for rethinking plans for future submarines.

The speech will be interpreted by observers as a direct challenge to navy chiefs. The message will be that, if they don’t cut back their submarine programme themselves, cuts may be imposed upon them.

Gates has been blunt about the implications of the high cost submarine replacement programme in the past. “In the latter part of this decade, it will suck all the air out of the navy’s shipbuilding program,” he told a House of Representatives subcommittee in March. “Some tough choices are going to have to be made, either in terms of more investment, or choices between the size of surface fleets you want and the submarine fleets.”

The submarine programme has also come under pressure in Congress. Gene Taylor, the democrat who chairs the influential seapower committee, last week threatened to recommend against funding it.

One big problem is that the estimated cost of the new US submarines has doubled. Three experts told a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on 20 January that the average cost of each submarine had risen from $3.4 billion (£2.2 bn) to between $6 and $7 billion (£3.9-£4.6 bn).

According to congressional sources, this was very likely to put up the price tag for replacing Trident submarines in the UK, estimated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as £11-14 billion in 2006. It was “highly improbably” that UK costs could now be kept that low, one expert said.

“Robert Gates is planning to cut the number of new US submarines,” said John Ainslie, the co-ordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. “This will increase even further the amount the British taxpayer will have to contribute, because this is a joint Anglo-American project.”

The cost of replacing Trident submarines would be “far higher” than the British government has admitted, he argued.

The new US and UK submarines are meant to share much of the same technology, including their Trident missile compartments, navigation systems and fire controls. The countries have also been working closely together to develop the kind of nuclear reactors that will power the submarines.

The revelation about Trident’s escalating costs in the US was described as “devastating”, by Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party’s defence spokesman and Westminster leader.

“The UK has never had a truly independent nuclear weapons system and any decision to scrap or even modify the US programme has massive cost consequences for the Ministry of Defence,” he said.

“It is no surprise, given the squeeze on their defence budget and President Obama’s desire for disarmament that the US Defence Secretary is considering scrapping the fleet. The London parties should wake up and realise the true costs of what they are proposing and scrap it all together.”

The MoD has argued in the past that it would be able to build submarines cheaper than the US. Last week, it declined to comment.

- Rob Edwards on Twitter

A trident missile being fired from a submarineBy Stuart Crawford

The most controversial issue to have topped the political debate over the past few weeks has perhaps been the renewed argument over the future of Britain’s nuclear weaponry, which received a public airing in the second televised leaders’ debate and has hardly been out of the media since.

While both Labour and Conservative parties are in favour of replacing the ageing submarine-borne Trident missile system, and are seemingly content that they won’t get much change from £100 billion if they do, the Lib Dems argue against a like-for-like replacement and have pledged to seek other, and presumably less expensive, ways of maintaining a strategic deterrent weapons system. The SNP, for its part, advocates getting rid of it altogether and spending the money saved on more pressing needs.

What, if any, alternatives are open to whichever flavour of government is in power at the end of next week?

There are two fundamental problems with the so-called independent nuclear deterrent. The first is that it isn’t independent. No-one in their right mind can foresee circumstances where the UK would unilaterally unleash its nuclear missiles on some enemy or threat, real or imagined. World disapprobation at even a hint of such a course of action would be overwhelming, and of course the United States would just not allow it to happen.

So, in the extremely unlikely event that Britain’s nuclear missiles were to be fired in anger, it would inevitably have to be in cahoots with some other nation with a nuclear arsenal, which to all intents and purposes means the US.

The second problem is that it doesn’t deter anyone. There is no current threat – which means a combination of capability plus intent – which menaces the survival of the UK or its national interests which merits a nuclear response. Arguably such a threat existed during the Cold War, although I and many others were never convinced. There could just conceivably be such a threat at some indeterminate point in the future, although I cannot think of a plausible scenario for it.

We could, I suppose, hypothetically, fall out spectacularly with the US and/or France, Israel, Russia. And it is just possible that Iran night develop its own nuclear capability, although not if Israel has anything to do with it.

But there’s no credible threat to the UK at the moment, and our Tridents do not deter the Taliban, or al-Qaeda, or the Real IRA for that matter, from their deadly business. Flattening Kandahar just because the Taliban is using it as a base to attack our troops just isn’t an option. So our nuclear weapons aren’t a deterrent either.

What are they for then? Greater minds than mine have applied themselves to this conundrum and have failed. The best that can be said is that they are a sign of national testosterone and the anachronistic desire to be a player on the global stage. A remaining vestige of British imperialism, all the more important to some now that the Empire is no more. Churchill saw nuclear weaponry as a means to “dine at the top table”. Nowadays, the most frequently argued rationale is that it allows Britain to maintain its permanent place at the UN Security Council.

Is this really relevant today? Most people are, I think, content with the UK as a medium-sized regional power with residual global interests, a legacy from its imperial past. Some, no doubt, wish Britain to be a global power as in the past, but they cannot be many in number and are delusional. Those days are long gone.

Against this background the UK nuclear deterrent is clearly obsolete (both philosophically and technically), hopelessly expensive, and ineffectual. What is not clear, however, is whether other alternatives, such as a submarine-launched cruise missile system, would either be much cheaper or indeed as robust. Cruise missiles travel slowly and can be shot down more easily. The Lib Dem proposal is not quite as straightforward as it may seem.

Be that as it may, cost issues must be secondary to the moral and ethical problems associated with maintaining such hugely destructive and indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction. Are we happy to belong to a nation which espouses such weaponry? Do we think it right that Britain owns the means to destroy several major cities and all their inhabitants at one blow? Should we accept that this is a legitimate and ethical part of national policy?

I for one don’t, and suggest the moral dimension is the clincher. A modern, civilised state like Britain should have no need of such awesome destructive capability; if we ever need to use it we have truly failed.

Of all the major political parties, the SNP have got it right this time. The only sensible course is to get rid of Trident altogether and to look for better ways of spending the vast sums saved.

Stuart Crawford is a former army officer who served in the first Gulf War.