Scottish Labour Members Clash Over Trident Renewal

Scottish Labour members have clashed over the party's stance on the renewal of Britain's nuclear deterrent during a debate on the final day of its annual conference.

Trade unions members of GMB and Unison took opposing views on the continuation of Trident, while high-profile MSPs including Neil Findlay and Jackie Baillie were also split on the controversial issue.

Members of local party branches and trade unions agreed on Saturday to discuss a motion opposing renewal of the weapons system after a ballot on priority issues.

Stephen Low, of Unison and Glasgow Southside Constituency Labour Party, opened today's debate, stating that renewing Trident "is something that we do not need and cannot afford".

He said: "Its purpose is to detonate a nuclear warhead above a city, killing everyone in its radius.

"There are other facts about Trident, but that's the central one, and one we should never forget."

Mr Low told delegates that the UK was not the target of countries such as Russia or China.

"When it comes to the real threats to this country, things like terrorism, things like cyber attacks, things like climate change, Trident is utterly, utterly useless.

"We shouldn't want Trident renewal even if it were free, but of course it is not free, it comes at an utterly bewildering cost."

On defence jobs, Mr Low said Trident was the "real threat" because the cost of renewal is so huge that it will lead to cutbacks in conventional defence spending.

"This is a life and death decision," he said.

"Conference, let's choose life, let's choose to be the change we want to see in the world, let's cancel Trident renewal."

Mr Low's view was in stark contrast to that of Gary Smith of GMB, who said he was speaking in support of the union's policy to back renewal.

He said: "We are told that the motion recognises the importance of jobs, but the fact is that is utterly disingenuous."

He said the motion, which contains backing for a "firm commitment on the retention of defence workers' jobs", contained no detail about future employment opportunities and pay and conditions.

"This debate is a nonsense, and frankly it is an utter indulgence," he said.

"We've closed dozens of yards, we have closed thousands of factories up and down this country, and people have seen what actually happens.

"High skilled well-paid union jobs replaced by part-time, low skill, low paid work. Rising levels of unemployment, increasingly levels of poverty - that's what the real alternative is."

He added: "I stand here in defence of workers up and down this country who have a stake in Trident.

"The position of the GMB may not prevail today, but let me tell you, tomorrow GMB shop stewards in the yards and factories across Britain will walk tall knowing that their union unequivocally, unashamedly stood full strength behind their own members and voted against a motion which represents Alice in Wonderland politics and pie in the sky jobs."

The debate could cause a rift between Labour north and south of the border, if members in Scotland vote against renewal of the weapons system, based at Faslane on the Clyde.

While Labour's position continues to be to support the continuation of Trident, UK leader Jeremy Corbyn is firmly against nuclear weapons.

His backing for unilateral disarmament puts him at odds with Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, who instead supports the removal of nuclear weapons on a multilateral basis, and who watched the debate from her seat on stage.

Mr Findlay, who opposes nuclear weapons, told delegates: "We have nothing to fear from open, democratic debate. We are stronger when we do it and weaker when we don't."

He criticised "ill-judged and crass" contributions to the wider debate from SNP MSPs - who also oppose renewal, and who he claimed had adopted a "morally superior" stance.

"I appeal to anyone who takes that road to think again, because moral superiority does not provide one defence engineer with a new job," he said.

"Collective sanctimony doesn't keep a single shop near a base open, and spending the Trident budget again and again and again weakens the credibility of our argument, it doesn't strengthen it.

"In this debate, the workforce is key, and we have to give reassurance to the engineers, the technicians, the fabricators and the small business owners that we have a real and genuine plan to create jobs for every worker.

"If we do that then I am absolutely convinced we will win this argument."