Yesterday, I spoke in a Scottish Government debate on Trident with my colleague John Wilson and Patrick Harvie. An often-cited concern of those speaking for the renewal of Trident is that thousands of jobs would come under threat if the weapons system is discontinued.
In my speech, I argued that scrapping Trident shouldn’t be seen as a threat to workers, but an opportunity to make the best use of the skills and experience of our workforce. Scotland desperately needs more engineers working in sectors such as renewables, oil and gas decommissioning and energy efficient housing. We need a funded, well-planned transition for the jobs currently tied to the weapon system to be transferred to sustainable, ethical industries.
Read my full speech below.
Welfare over warfare? Welfare of course—and the Green and independent group will vote for the Government motion and the Labour amendment, but we will oppose the Conservative amendment. Even if Trident was entirely free, we should continue to demand its end and removal because it is an abomination.
On Saturday just past I was delighted to be part of the conference that was held to celebrate 20 years of campaigning by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. The work of the campaign is crucial if so many other campaigns are to succeed, because aggression is less likely if people cannot get their hands on the means to deliver it.
I am pleased to join the majority of colleagues across the chamber in calling for a shift in UK Government priorities away from funding weapons of indiscriminate mass civilian slaughter to investing in people. I am pleased to have the privilege, on behalf of the Green and independent group, of supporting my colleague John Wilson’s motion calling for an end to the UK’s membership of NATO, the first-strike nuclear alliance, and declaring the UK and its waters a nuclear weapons-free zone.
We can, by putting in place a properly funded jobs transition, and by moving to a clean low-carbon energy system and investing in new energies, provide more jobs than the entire arms industry. If we are serious about the security that we all want, it is imperative that we do so.
We must remember that security is not just about military matters. Real security will come from global action on a scale that has not yet been witnessed to address climate change and to cut our emissions urgently. We need to redesign our approach to defence from scratch. We need to develop our ability to promote diplomacy and peace, to lead in conflict resolution and to address threats to security such as pressures on food, water, land and energy. It really is time for the UK to get its priorities right and for us here in Scotland to set a good example.
We are focusing on the question of Trident today, but the debate provides an opportunity to analyse our spending priorities more broadly. UK-made weapons have been used in Israel’s attacks on Gaza, the UK has supplied all sides in Libya’s civil wars, we have armed Russia and the Ukraine, and our weapons have caused tens of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sometimes it feels as if increasing GDP is valued more than life itself.
Trident is all about the UK’s obsession with punching above its weight. It is absolutely useless in helping us to tackle cyber crime, climate change and terrorism, as Neil Findlay pointed out. How secure do our citizens feel when they are juggling two or three zero-hours contracts, when the insecure roof over their heads eats up almost all their income, and when they have to visit yet another new local food bank because of an inhuman benefits sanction? Tell the parents of the one in four children who are living in poverty in the UK that investing in nuclear weapons increases their security.
As we debate more powers for Scotland, it is time to challenge the way that we do business and the business that we do. Why are Government agencies and public funds used to support firms that make weapons for war? Most people in the UK would be appalled if they learned that we have the sixth-highest military spend in the world while one in four children in the UK is growing up in poverty. Priorities?
Lockheed Martin benefited to the tune of £2.5 million from the Scottish Government’s regional selective assistance programme. That was not because it was required to protect jobs or because the firm was struggling. Lockheed Martin is the largest arms company in the world and 80 per cent of its work is for the US Department of Defense. It is moving to Glasgow to allow it to work more closely with the city’s university. Through a freedom of information request from the National Union of Students Scotland, we have learned that Scottish universities, including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde, have invested millions in arms companies. I congratulate and thank those students and others who are campaigning for the divestment of public pension funds from that trade.
Here in this very city, we have Selex-ES producing radar, drones, targeting and weapons control systems. It took part in the recent defence and security equipment international fair in London, attracting buyers from a range of countries that have poor human rights records. Not much of a fair, is it?
The use of such language normalises such activity but those people who work in such industries can have a productive and positive future in other industries, and it is up to us to make that happen. Our talented engineers have skills that will be needed in the industries of the future. The oil industry has told us that 5,500 wells and 10,000km of pipeline need to be decommissioned during the next 35 years. Whether they be in Government or Opposition, all politicians should promote a positive manufacturing strategy for Scotland that is based on promoting industries such as renewable energy, not companies that sell equipment to human rights abusers. Engineering UK estimates that the UK will need 87,000 engineers per year; last year, just over 50,000 were trained.
Scotland desperately needs more engineers. We need to invest in the industries of the future. Let us put their skills to positive and productive use. Let us reject bloated military budgets and prioritise skilled jobs and apprenticeships in a sustainable and ethical economy. “Jane’s” online itself tells us that the world-wide defence market is worth $1 trillion annually; the energy and environmental market is worth at least eight times that.
In closing, I remind members of the words of President Eisenhower that were recently brought to my attention by my colleague, Patrick Harvie. In his famous chance for peace speech, Eisenhower said:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed”.