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D-Day the Sixth of... Sturgeon?

Regarding Nicola Sturgeon's recent appearance on Panorama, what I find most interesting is one small detail - namely that her views on Trident haven't changed since she wrote an essay on the subject as a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl at Greenwood Academy, Dreghorn, North Ayrshire. She's now nearly forty-five, five years younger than me. When I myself was sixteen I remember being instinctively left wing and against guns, bombs etc.

Since then, I've (hopefully) matured. Seen and read about the world's uglier realities. Accepted that Enola Gay shortened World War II by dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is a personal one for me. My father would have been one of the soldiers invading Japan if the atomic bomb had not been dropped and, as he told me, the Japanese would have fought to the last man, woman and child. The Allies were expecting about three million casualties overall and Dad was absolutely sure he'd have been one of them. As a result, and after reading (among others) Ruin From The Air (Sphere Books, 1978) and Kurt Vonnegur's Slaughterhouse Five, I have changed and revised my views.

I would tend to think any reasonable person would do the same over a thirty year period, but in this case it actually seems Nicola Sturgeon has not done so.

I'm not suggesting there's something psychologically wrong with her, but another interesting fact is that although it may seem I write like an English Conservative, I've actually lived in Scotland for nearly all my fifty years and was brought up not that far from Dreghorn. I used to train at a boxing gym in the First Minister's Glasgow Southside constituency. I have friends in South Lanarkshire's former mining villages (and very friendly places they are, too), but I've also had to note that some have simply never been exposed to different viewpoints in their lives. One very pleasant pal was rendered speechless when I told him Margaret Thatcher had negotiated the EU rebate.

Amazingly, and from my relatively local perspective, it feels a bit to me like Our Nicola's never left Dreghorn!

And perhaps this is why, at a recent Question Time. a slightly bewildered-looking Michael Heseltine had to tell her, politely but firmly, that getting rid of Trident would be "a reckless piece of irresponsibility," the subtext being that any government's first priority must be the defense of its citizens.

Those who hold high office have to make hard and hellish decisions. In 1940, Winston Churchill made it plain to Vichy France that the fleet at Mers-el-Kébir, Algeria, would be sunk if they didn't keep it out of Germany's grasp. If the Nazis had got their hands on a full fleet of warships the whole course of the war would have been changed, and not in the Allies' favour. An ultimatum was delivered beforehand, but in the end the French fleet was attacked and 1297 sailors plus one warship went to the bottom.

In 1945, President Harry S. Truman took the decision to drop the atomic bomb. Although Truman later said "it was done to save 125,000 youngsters on the American side and 125,000 on the Japanese side from getting killed and that is what it did;" neither he, Churchill nor later Eisenhower could foretell the future and they must all have gone through tortured moments of doubt and uncertainty before taking their lonely decisions.

They knew, with a clarity few others can truly appreciate, that those decisions would have monumental consequences and that the buck stopped with them.

In Truman's case, he had little knowledge of nuclear weapons and I once heard a rumour that in those early days (only three years after the Manhattan Project had begun) there were fears that when the bomb exploded, the nuclear chain reaction might not stop and global armageddon would be the result...

Truman took the decision.

But today, seventy-one years after D-Day, it is upon Eisenhower I shall concentrate. Although not yet president, in June 1944 he was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe and the man who had to work out whether or not to launch the invasion, Operation Overlord.

The weather, however, was stormy, the waiting soldiers were going stir crazy and the assault craft could not stay docked forever. A break in the weather was forecast but no forecast is certain.

In the 1962 film The Longest Day, the actor Henry Grace portrayed Eisenhower. I remember the scene where he, as Eisenhower, wrestled with the momentous decision and finally decided to go on the sixth of June.

You can virtually see him sweating.

I've heard a lot of sanctimonious junk talked about these decisions over the years by people who either don't want to or can't comprehend the ugly realities of the world in which we live. I once asked an-anti Trident protestor whether she would accept the risk (not the certainty) of being attacked if the UK got rid of its nuclear deterrent and she just huffed, wild-eyed, that it was "a stupid question."

It was and is that person's democratic right to act like an emotional idiot on a street corner, and I will (rather reluctantly) defend it to the hilt. But those who hold high office have to read unvarnished intelligence reports and make hard decisions re defending such democratic rights and/or safeguarding British citizens.

I have no idea whether Nicola Sturgeon will become Britain's second female Prime Minister, but if she does she may find herself having to revise her views in the face of grim reality, make such decisions and deal with the consequences. While I do (as she does herself) acknowledge her consistency regarding Trident, I have doubts about the suitability for high office of someone who, in this case, does not seem to have changed her views since she was a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl...

James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.

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