The second in our ‘We need to talk about nukes’ events with BASIC came at an interesting time for British politics: despite the Scottish Nationalist Party’s (SNP) promise to remove Britain’s nuclear weapons from Faslane in Scotland in the event of a yes vote for Independence, Scotland had indeed just voted no.
So, we were a little nervous as we travelled up to Scotland in early October to meet students, campaigners and politicians at the Edinburgh World Justice Festival to ask them – is it possible to create a world free from nuclear weapons, and what role can Scotland play in achieving it?
First we heard from Bill Kidd – a Member of Scottish Parliament for the SNP. As Chair of the Cross-Party Group on nuclear disarmament in Scottish Parliament, and a Co-President of PNND (Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament) it’s perhaps no surprise that he believes a world free from nukes is possible.
(Not a surprise, but always refreshing coming from a parliamentarian in the UK where the two main political parties continue to back the renewal of the UK’s nuclear weapon system, Trident. – ed)
“Nuclear weapons are symbolic of our Cold War history”, says Bill. “But that’s in the past – are they really the answer to today’s main security threats? And even if they are and then they’re used; the humanitarian impact would be absolutely devastating.
“You just have to listen to the personal stories of those who continue to be affected by nuclear testing to know how horrendous these weapons really are. That’s why the Marshall Islands are currently in the process of suing the UK for their failure to honour their international agreements to work towards a world free from nuclear weapons.”
Of course, even the staunchest supporter of nuclear weapons would agree that the humanitarian impact if they were used does not bare thinking about. But the counter argument goes that these weapons are not there to be used, but to stop other nuclear weapon states using their weapons to blackmail / threaten / attack the UK. Many of our leaders today support the idea of a world free of nuclear weapons – they just don’t want the UK to take the lead in becoming a nuclear weapon free zone.
So is Bill’s vision for global nuclear disarmament possible, and if so – how?
“Remember no one can stop you from making your living room a nuclear weapon free zone”, Bill suggests. And the crowd begin to buzz with newfound enthusiasm as they break off into groups to share their ideas. Lively discussion ensues – lobby policymakers! Mass demonstrations! Celebrity endorsement! Social media campaigns! Mobilize young people!
All useful tools for sharing a voice, most agreed, but not if the voice isn’t there to begin with.
Hannah, 19, a student and President of the Edinburgh People & Planet Society who helped organise the event, explains: “The IndyRef in Scotland saw a massive increase in political participation among young people, but this is the exception not the norm. And I’d say the majority of young people probably don’t know that much about nuclear weapons either. So there’s definitely a need for more education and myth busting on this issue before we can begin to stand up together and be heard.”
Political participation is key – we can learn a lot from the voter turnout for the Scottish referendum. It’s clearer now than ever that politicians must listen more closely to young people’s views, and young people must speak out more loudly to get their views heard. But, as one long-time campaigner asked “how to do we get young people in the UK as passionate about creating a world free from nuclear weapons as we were back in the 60s and 80s?”
Meredith, a student at Edinburgh University and a member of UNA UK Youth said at the event: “Young people’s passion and interest is the key to making the issue of nuclear weapons relevant again in the UK. We can begin to build this interest by talking about the issue to our friends, posting on social media and even making our homes, schools and universities nuclear weapon free zones. It’s definitely possible.”
The views in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of BASIC or participants in the aforementioned event.